Bob Lund 50 Mercury

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BOB LUND 50 MERCURY

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The Bob Lund 1950 Mercury convertible easily fits on the list of some of the best restyled Barris Customs ever created. It sadly never received this recognition in the magazines back in the day.

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Original article from September 10, 2016, updates October 17, 2019

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Bob Lund took his 1950 Mercury convertible to the Barris Kustoms Shop in Lynwood, California. This was in early 1953, at the time when the Barris Kustom Shop was perhaps the most prolific. The team at Barris created a stunning, very elegant and well balanced Custom for Bob. A car very typical for the time it was created, with a lot of never before used parts mixed with some elements that had proven to work well on previous restyled cars. Bob Lund’s Mercury never received much magazine publicity, until George Barris used several in progress and finished photos of the car in his Barris Kustom Techniques of the 50’s book number 3. These photos showed that the Barris restyled Mercury was one the same level with some of the best known Barris Customs, that did make it in the magazines back then. For unknown reasons Bob Lund’s Mercury was never featured, even though the Custom Car magazines were really blooming around the time the car was finished.

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Factory stock 1950 Mercury convertible, similar to what Bob Lund took to the Barris Kustoms Shop in early 1953.

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Judging the early stage photos were Frank Sonzogni is working on the grille, it looks like Bob’s Mercury might have been done as a milder version first, or perhaps it was just a primer stage. I have not been able to find a photo or info to shed more light on this. The stock headlights were replaced with 1952 Ford/Mercury units that were fenched into the smoothed front fenders.

The windshield of Bob’s Mercury was chopped, but only mildly, 2, perhaps 3 inches. All emblems were shaved of the car, and the door handles were removed and electrical solenoids with door poppers installed. The hood had its front corners rounded, and the top grille bar was welded to the fenders. At a later stage a second top grille surround was cut down, and installed on the splash-pan flipped upside down, to create a nice oval shaped grille opening. A new custom grille was created from 1951 Frazer horizontal bars with integrated parking lights, and three 1951 DeSoto grille teeth were installed behind the new lower grille surround. The bottom section of the DeSoto teeth was hidden from sight by the lower grille surround. The grille created for the Mercury was nearly identical to the one the Barris shop created earlier for Dan Landon’s 1949 Chevy Coupe. Barris also rounded the bottom corner of the back side of the hood, a very subtle touch hat helped with the flow of the car.

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Barris Shop employee Frank Sonzogni is mocking up one of the 1951 Frazer grille bars for the grille on Bob Lund’s 1950 Mercury. This early stage photo shows that the headlights have been frenched, the hood shaved and corners rounded and the splash pan molded to the fenders. The stock side trim was removed. Its unsure of the windshield already has been chopped in this photo.

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At the back of the car the stock round rear fenders of the 1950 Mercury were removed and replaced with 1951 Mercury units. The 1951 Mercury fenders added a few more inches to the rear of the car, which helped create a nice long low profile for the car. Sam Barris worked on the rear fenders and he installed a pair of 1953 Pontiac wagon taillights. The top corners of the trunk were rounded to match the rounded hood corners. With all the body work done a set The Barris crew decided to install a set of 1951 Lincoln bumpers, front and rear. Those Lincoln bumpers were heavier and more exclusive than the Mercury units. They really add class to the car. At the back two exhaust ports were installed in the lower bumper ends. The combination of the 1951 Mercury rear fenders and the use of 1951 Lincoln bumpers gave the car the impression it was an 1951 Mercury model.

A 1953 Pontiac side trim was modified, flipped upside down and fitted to the Mercury side so that the trim matches the dip in the doors. A set of 1949-50 Mercury fender skirts was modified, extended down to sit level with the rocker panels. These fender skirts apparently were used only very shortly on the car, only one photo has been found that shows them. The vent windows and side glass trim were all cut to fit the new windshield height. With all the work done on the car Barris painted the car. I have heard somewhere that the car was painted a dark gold color, but so far I have not been able to get this color confirmed. As most of the Barris restyled cars had in those days, Bob’s mercury was also dressed up with a set of Appleton Spotlight.

The car was taken to the Carson Top Shop who create a very nicely shaped padded top for the car. Possibly they also did the interior for Bob’s Mercury, but for that we have no photo or other proof.

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Sam Barris working on the taillights for Bob’s Mercury. The 1950 short rear fenders have been replaced by the longer 1951 Mercury rear fenders. Sam can be seen here trying to see how how he can make a set of 1953 Pontiac Wagon taillights fit to the Mercury fenders.

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Sam having marked the fender, were the extra material needs to be removed to make the Pontiac taillights fit and cutting away the not needed metal. Sam shaping a half inch metal rod to fit perfectly around the Pontiac taillight. 

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The shaped rod surround is positioned into the new opening in the rear fender and welded in place. Some small sheet metal filler pieces are added to make the new opening fit perfectly with the rear fender shape.

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On the inside of the new opening Sam welds some bolds so that the taillights can be mounted from behind. The outside is leaded and filed and sanded smooth.

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The finished Mercury

The Barris Kustoms Shop was a master in creating stunning Custom Cars in the later parts of the 1940’s and early 1950’s. When Bob’s mercury was created in 1953 the Custom Car scene was at its top of the Golden Years. The indoor and outdoor Custom Car shows were still growing, and huge crowds started to show up at these events. But the good thing was that the cars created were still restyled to make the car look better, not restyled to score more points at the shows for bigger and more trophies. Bob’s Mercury is a perfect showcase of the less is more restyling philosophy that the Barris brothers believed in at the time. Restyling to make each car unique, and most of all better looking that it ever did before.

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When Bob Lund’s Mercury was created the Barris Lynwood shop was producing a huge amount of classic top quality Custom Cars. This photo taken on an Saturday morning in early 1953 shows how the shop looked in those days. It must have been very inspiring and helped create high quality cars like Bob Lund’s Mercury.

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This is the only photo I have been able to find showing the finished Bob Lund 1950 Mercury using fender skirts. My guess is that this is how the car was originally finished. It appears that a set of 1949-50 Mercury skirts were extended down to fill the whole rear fenders. Also notice the conservative chopped windshield and padded top with beautifully finished side window trim. This photo could perhaps be taken at an outdoor car show, judging the mid-late 40’s chopped car parked next to it.

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Beautiful low angle rear view taken at the Barris Lynwood shop, shows the 1951 Lincoln rear bumper with custom exhaust openings on the corners. The beautifully frenshed 1953 Pontiac wagon taillights in the 1951 Mercury rear fenders and the 1953 license plate tag.

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The only photo of Bob’s Mercury confirmed to be at a car show.Bob’s Mercury with the drivers door open can be seen here in good company with several other Barris Kustom restyled high end Customs. From left to right. Dale Marshal’s unchopped 1950 Mercury, Bob Lund’s 1950 Mercury convertible, Jack Nethercutt’s 1952 Oldsmobile, Bob Hirohata 1951 mercury, Chuck DeWitt 1950 Ford convertible and Tommy Thornburgh’s 1947 Studebaker convertible. According the Barris book this show was held at Lynwood park organized by the South East Car Club Association. And the show even had a Barris class, and Bob’s Mercury was among the winners.

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Close up of Bob’s Mercury at the Lynwood Park show shows that there are no skirts on the car anymore, and that George added one of his cardboard Kustoms of Los Angeles cards on the front bumper.

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Beautiful photo of Bob’s Mercury taken by Loomis Dean, Life magazine photographer at the Barris Lynwood shop. Bob is just exciting the Barris shop driveway, onto Atlantic avenue.

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This photo from the Life magazine collection (a bit more close up than the previous photo) gives us a great look at the perfectly shaped Carson padded top, and details as the rounded trunk  and rear lower hood corners. The lack of skirts, and the usage of 1950 Mercury hubcaps give the car a sportive look, but the stance is all custom. 

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Frenched 1952 Ford/mercury headlights, rounded hood corners, molded in top grille bar, molded in bottom grille bar created from a flipped upside down top bar, custom grille and a great looking 1951 Lincoln front bumper. Bob was a member of the George Barris’s Kustoms Los Angles car club, hence the brass plaque on the bumper. Notice that the Appleton Spotlights are move up, apparently some work was done under the hood around the time Loomis Dean took this photo.

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A closer look the grille and beautifully created grille opening on Bob Lund’s mercury. Hard to see, but the Custom in the background is Jack Nethercutt’s just finished Oldsmobile Custom.

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Published

Bob Lund’s beautiful 1950 Mercury convertible custom was never featured in any of the car magazines in the early – mid 1950’s. There is a series of black and white photos taken by Loomis Dean for Life magazine, but so far I have been unable to find out if these photos have ever actually been used inside Life magazine from around 1953 when the photo were taken.  Rod & Custom published a few photos of Bob’s Mercury, one, showing Frank Sonzogni working on the grille in the cars early stage in a Barris Corner Article about spending a Saturday at the shop in the August 1953 issue. And in the December 1953 issue George Barris used a photo of the finished car in his Barris Korner article about the use of side trim. It is really sad that the car was never featured.

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Rod & Custom August 1953 issue shows Frank Sonzogni working on the custom grille. It shows that the car still has the stock Mercury bumper, but the headlights have been frenched, and the hood corners rounded.

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In the Barris Korner about custom side trim published in the December, 1953 issue of Rod & Custom Magazine George Barris used a photo of Bob Lund’s 1950 Mercury (without fender skirts).

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Our friend Ross Ruiz found this neat photo of Bob Lund’s 1950 Mercury in the Wilmington Daily Press, March 1954. In this news clipping Bob’s Merc was advertising the LA Harbor Hoods custom car show. Thanks for sharing Ross.

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1953 Pontiac side trim.

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Unusual things about the Lund Mercury

There a re a few a bit strange things about Bob Lund’s Mercury. The first one is the grille. Barris always loved to create very unique custom grilles for their restyled cars, but in the case of Bob’s Mercury they recreated a similar grille that they also created for Dan Landon’s 1949 Chevy. We are not sure if this was because Bob requested this specifically, or if the Barris team thought it was just the perfect look for the Mercury.

The second thing is the use of stock 1950 Mercury hubcaps. Another thing that was rarely done by the Barrises. The only few exceptions to that where a few Cadillac they did, they also kept the stock – custom straight from the factory – Cadillac hubcaps. The smooth 1950 Mercury hubcap would later become a very popular Hot Rod part.

And then there is also the fender skirts on the car. The one photo that we have found with the fender skirts mounted clearly show that the side trim was created in such a way that it would not interfere with the skirts. The dip in the Pontiac trim did not allow for the lower rear section of the trim to go all the way to the rear. But with out the skirts, it would have been possible for the trim to go all the way to the rear. Still the side trim was not modified, extended to the rear, after the skirts were removed.

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The grille on the Bob Lunds Mercury used the DeSoto grille teeth set back, and the lower section covered behind and below the lower grille opening.

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The Grille in Dan Landon’s Chevy was created a little earlier than Bob’s Mercury. The only difference in the two grilles is that the DeSoto teeth are showing more of the lower section and sticking out further on the Landon Chevy. Other than that they are near identical.

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Unusual usage of the stock 1950 Mercury hubcap on Bob Lund’s 1950 Mercury. They do look good though, especially with the version without the skirts. It gives the car a nice, bit sporty feel.

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Sadly only very few photos have been found from Bob’s Mercury. We also have not been able to find out anything about Bob Lund, who he was, or is, and what ever happened to his 1950 Mercury. One, perhaps two of the known photos of Bob’s mercury show the car at an (outdoor) car show. So far I have not been able to find any records that show that the car was entered in any of the famous Hot Rod & Custom Car shows in the 53-55 area. Perhaps Bob was not into showing his car at the shows all that much.

UPDATE
In October 2019, Gregg Bodiford sends us an email that in his searched on the Petersen Archives he came across a few photos taken by Eric Rickman in 1958 at Lee’s Speed Shop The photos were taken of an engine that was being build at the shop, but Gregg noticed that it was the Bob Lund 1950 Mercury that was sitting in the background on a few of the photos. Sadly not shown completely in any of the photos, but all the details are there to positively identify it at the Lund Mercury. The hood is removed from the car indicating the shop might be doing some engine work on the car.

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The Bob Lund 1950 Mercury photographed at Lee’s Speed Shop in 1958.

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This is really great news, showing that the car was still around, and most likely still being used in 1958. Now lets hope somebody knows more about Lee’s Speed Shop, and what the Mercury did at the shop. Thanks for sharing Gregg!

If anybody out there has any information about Bob Lund, what happened to his 1950 Mercury, or anything else about this car. Please email Rik here at the Custom Car chronicle. We would like to find out more, and add the information to this article.  Thank you.

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(this article is sponsored by)

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George Barris First Photo Location

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George Barris was known for taking photos of Custom Cars in beautiful special locations. Hollywood Park was his first special location back in 1947.

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Special thanks to David E. Zivot, Jesse Lopez and Gerald Fassett.

After seeing the color photo of George Barris’s 1941 Buick for the first time I was not only intrigued by the gorgeous Custom, but also with the Streamline Moderne building in the background. I had seen the building before in one other photo of the Buick and in a few other photos with other customs as well, but had never been able to find out what building or which location it was.

The new color photo showed a much larger portion of the building than any of the other photos I had seen so far. The search was on, the large round section and very horizontal shape of the windows did remind me about the horse track grand stand buildings as the one at Hollywood Park, but all the photos I was able to find at first showed the building after 1950, and it had a similar Basic shape but all the details were quite different. So I searched further, in the beginning I was not even sure the building was in the Los Angeles area, George had made the trip to Sacramento already, could perhaps these photos had been taken on that trip?

Two aerial photos showing the original building with the more horizontal feel on the top, and the after the 1949 fire rebuild version which had the same overall shapes, but less Art-Deco in design and taller overall.

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The 1947 color photo of George Barris’s 1941 Buick photographed in front of the original Hollywood Park Turf Club building. The photo that started the quest for the identification of the location.

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While searching for something else I came across an website with dome old photo’s taken at some 40’s horse track races. And one of them showed a building that looked very much like the one in the George Barris Buick photo, it was listed at 1940 Hollywood Park track in Lynwood California. I thought this must be a mistake, since the building did not even look close to how the Hollywood Park building looked in the photos I had of it. But when I find a more in depth search I found out that the Hollywood Park Horse track, run by the Turf Club, was originally built in 1938, and destroyed in a fire in 1949. Then rebuilt into the building I had seen in many 1950 and newer photos.

George Barris had his ‘41 Buick photographed in front of the original Hollywood Park Turf Club building in 1947. Not sure if George took these photos, or if he had “hired” a photographer to do it for him. With that knowledge I was able to find a few more photos of the original building which had an absolutely stunning Streamline Moderne feel, very similar in style to the famous Pan Pacific Auditorium. And I can totally see why George Barris wanted to use the building and the garden as background for his Buick. It was only around 16 miles from the Barris Compton Ave shop, a very convenient distance, plus the whole complex was very easily accessible for the cars.

When I thought a bit more about this all, I realized the original Hollywood Park Turf Club building, pre 1949, is actually the very first George Barris Photo Location. A good backdrop George used more often to photograph, or have photograph cars the Barris Shop created. We are all familiar with the House, Lynwood Drive In, Lynwood city hall, mausoleum, the Edison Power plant, and now we can add one more location to this list. The very first one Hollywood Park Turf Club building. George used this location for his own Buick, John Vera (Johnny Zaro) 1941 Ford, and Jesse Lopez’s 1941 Ford… and perhaps we do not know about.

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George Barris 1941 Buick

George Barris took his just finished 1941 Buick padded topped convertible Custom to the Hollywood Park Turf Club complex somewhere in 1947 and either had photos taken of his car, or took them himself. One of the photos, a black and white one was used in the May 1948 issue of Road & Track and would instantly change everything for George and the Barris Shop.

Did the glamorous setting of the Hollywood park complex have anything to do with this… Hard to say, but I like to believe it did. George idea of setting his stunning car in this beautiful surrounding of the well designed garden, and beautiful Streamline Moderne building in the back helped with the complete glamour picture of it all. For more info on the George Barris 1941 Buick, check out the Article here on the CCC.

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The 1947 color photo from the Gerald Fassett Collection was the first photo we found showing a big enough portion of the building in the background to identify it as the Hollywood Park Turf Club building.

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The first time I noticed the building in the background was in the photo used in the May 1948 issue of Road and Track Magazine. The photo that really changed the career of the Young George Barris.

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The same photo of the Buick was also used in the Custom Cars 101 Trend book from 1951, but here the building in the background was cut off.

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Jesse Lopez 1941 Ford

Jesse Lopez confirmed that his ’41 Ford was photographed, just as George’s persona 1941 Buick at the Hollywood Park Turf Club complex. For many years I have been trying to find out more about the famous photo of Jesse standing in front of his Ford at the Turf Club Members Only building. I knew it had to be at some sort of race track, but non of the photos I was able to find matched the photos of Jesse and his Ford. Only recently I found out the original building, that was used as the backdrop for the Lopez photos, around 1948, is gone now, and most photos found are of the rebuild, and remodeled 1950 version of the Hollywood Park building. For a closer look at Jesse’s 1941 Ford, check out the Article here on the CCC.

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Several photos of the Jerry Lopez 1941 Ford that were taken at the Hollywood Park location were used in publications over the years. This one, published in a Petersen Publication from 1987 shows the most of the Turf Club in the back. The Jesse Lopez 1941 Ford photos were taken around 1948. This is location (B) as shown in the aerial photo below

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This is the best known photo of Jesse Lopez’s Ford at the Hollywood Park Turf Club photo location. I have searched for other photos with this background for years, but never was able to find it. Which makes sense because these Turf Club letters were all replaced with new ones in 1950.

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This photo of Jesse’s Ford was taken direct in front of the main entrance (A in de aerial photo below) which is not far from where George Barris’s Buick was photographed.

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John Vara / Johnny Zaro 1941 Ford

George Barris was responsible for most of the work on this radical 1941 Ford Convertible Custom. It was originally created for John Vara, but was sold to Johnny Zaro in the later part of the 1940’s. The car was brought to the Hollywood Park location for a photo shoot around 1948. I have found three published photos of the car at this locations so far. hopefully more will surface one day. For a closer look at the Vara/Zarro Ford, check out the Article here on the CCC.

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Johnny Zaro’s 1941 Ford, most likely still owned by the original owner John Vara, was also photographed in front of the Hollywood Park building around 1948.

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The car was parked at about the same location as the George Barris Buick, only the photographer was located at a bit different point of view.

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Location A, where George Barris’s Buick and John Vara’s Customs were photographed, and Location B is in front of the Turf Club sign we can see in the Jesse Lopez 1941 Ford photos. This aerial photo was taken in the late 30’s when all the trees and shrubberies in front of the complex were still rather small.

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The Hollywood Park complex was designed by Arthur Froehlich (May 17, 1909 – October 3, 1985), of the firm Arthur Froehlich & Associates. He was an architect from Beverly Hills, California, known for his mid-century supermarkets and racetracks. Froehlich was born in Los Angeles to a cattle and dairy farmer. He attended Polytechnic High School in Los Angeles and studied at UCLA. One of his first jobs was drafting plans for Santa Anita racetrack, which opened in 1934. He began his own firm in 1938, and became well known for his design of Hollywood Park racetrack in Inglewood, CA. (wikipedia)

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Announcing magazine/news paper ad from 1938

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Color photo from an 1941 program cover.

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The main entrance had a really beautifully Streamline Moderne design which reminds me a lot about the Pan Pacific Auditorium building.

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Mid 1940’s postcard. This image shows why George Barris liked this location so much. there was plenty of space to park the cars, the back round building had a nice natural base color and was beautifully shaped enhancing the cars. Plus the trees etc looked really good as well.

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Photo taken not too long after the building had been finished around 1938

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Los Angeles Public Library photos

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Los Angeles Public Library photos

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A selection of early Hollywood Park program covers all had nice illustrations or photos of the beautiful building.

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Disaster truck in 1949 when most of the grand stand building went up in flames.

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In 1950 the new building was finished, and not long after that George Barris used it as backdrop for several photos shoots again. Later in the mid 1950’s the huge parking lot was also used for several outdoor car shows, and many photos taken there also show the main building as backdrop.

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The Hollywood Park Building around 2000. In 2015 the complex was sadly demolished.

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The route from the Barris Compton Ave shop to the Hollywood Park Turf Club for the 1947 photo shoot with George’s Buick. Around a 16 mile trip.
(A) Hollywood Park Turf Club 3883 W Century Blvd, Inglewood

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The other famous Barris Photo shoot Locations

George Barris knew that building fantastic Custom Cars was the main business of the shop. Nut what made him and the Barris Shop really unique was that he understood there was more than just building the cars. He created the Kustoms Los Angeles club to keep his clients connected and have them come back to the shop with a next custom project. He also realized that the Shops specialties needed to be promoted. And one way to promote them is to create stunning photos of the shops creations.

He knew that the Barris Shop created Customs were standing out for the crowd already with the super smooth, organic shaped look and feel. But inspired by the magazine ads, and magazine features he realized he could enhance the looks of the Barris Custom by photographing them in an equally stunning setting. He found several locations, most of them close by the Barris Shops that could serve as backdrops, to make the cars look even more attractive and glamorous than they already were. The Hollywood Park Turf Club was the first glamour location he found around 1947 when the Barris Shop was starting to bloom. And several more special “Barris” locations would follow in the years after that. Below are the most popular of these Barris Photo Shoot Locations.

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(B) Edison plant 3395 W Manchester Blvd, Inglewood, California

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(C) Angeles Abby 1515 E Compton Blvd, Compton, California

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(D) Barris The House 5199-5141 Abbott Rd South Gate, CA, California

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(E) Pan Pacific Auditorium 7600 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, California

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(F) Compton Drive-In 2111 E. Rosecrans Avenue, Compton, California

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(G) Lynwood City Hall 11330 Bullis Rd, Lynwood, California

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(A) Hollywood Park Turf Club 3883 W Century Blvd, Inglewood
(B) Edison plant 3395 W Manchester Blvd, Inglewood
(C) Angeles Abby 1515 E Compton Blvd, Compton
(D) Barris The House 5199-5141 Abbott Rd South Gate, CA
(E) Pan Pacific Auditorium 7600 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles
(F) Compton Drive-In 2111 E. Rosecrans Avenue, Compton
(G) Lynwood City Hall 11330 Bullis Rd, Lynwood

(1) Barris Compton Ave Shop
(2) Barris Atlantic Blvd Shop

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Jim Skonzakes 1949 Buick

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Most people know Jim Skonzakes aka Jim Street from his Golden Sahara. But before that he owned several very nice Customs, including this 1949 Buick Roadmaster.

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Jim Skonzakes grew up in Dayton Ohio, far away from sunny California where the Custom Car style was born. This did not prevent a young Jim Skonzakes to fall in love with Custom Cars, and spend every spare moment he had on creating his dream Custom Cars. In 1954 that lead to the creation of the world famous Golden Sahara.

Jim’s parents owned a chain of launders shops in and around Dayton Ohio, which ensured a steady flow of money in the family. This allowed Jim to make road trips out to California to experience the fantastic Custom Car Scene, of which he had heard about from friend who had visit CA., in person. He absorbed all he could on the many trips he made to Los Angeles and other places. He quickly made friends there and found out about the Barris brothers, and the magical Custom Car Shops they had in the later part of the 1940’s and early 1950’s.

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One of Jim’s everyday drivers in the later part of the 1940’s was this nicely restyled 1941 Ford. He used this car to drive back and forth to California several times.

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In the later part of the 1940’s Jim owned an chopped and restyled 1941 Ford convertible, restyled in the typical California style. A style which he had studied on his trips to SoCal. Jim had been doing most the work on his own cars himself, including paint. At this time he also had a chopped ’39 Lincoln Zephyr, painted super glossy black (Sadly Jim was not able to locate any photos of this Custom, hopefully one day they will surface). Both of his Customs were drivers and he used them to make the trips to sunny California. The ’41 convertible in the summers and when it was a bit colder in Ohio he took the chopped ’39 Lincoln for another trip from Dayton, Ohio, to Los Angeles California.

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Earliest photo of the Jim Skonzakes ’49 Buick, still in progress. Photo was taken in 1950, possibly at the Santa Ana Drag Strip. The car’s top had already been created at this time, but was not installed. The hood still needed work at the bottom. When the photo was taken the car was painted with white primer, just as the Jack Stewart Ford behind it. Interestingly Jim would buy the Jack Stewart Ford a year or so after this photo was taken.

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During the many hours in his car on the around 2300 Miles trip, he started planning his next Custom, based on a 1949 Buick Roadmaster Convertible. In Los Angeles he discussed his plans with George Barris at the Barris Shop, and they made an agreement that Jim would rent some space at the Barris Shop so that he could work on the car himself, and at the same time have the option of having one or more of the Barris employees to help him out.

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Close up of the Buick. This white primer version shows off the beautiful fender skirt that Sam Barris crafted for the car. The guy with the hat all the way on the right is possible Jim.

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For Jim is was crucial that the Buick would be a very stylish Custom, not over the top, or with a load of extras add-ons he saw back home on Ohio’s Custom Cars. It needed to be something the GM designers could have dreamed up when first designing the car. With that in mind he asked Sam Barris if he could be hired to do the main metal work. Jim liked Sam very much, and loved his sense of style and had witnessed his amazing skills for metal work. Jim also hired Stan Getz who also worked for the Barris shop and together with Sam he would do most of the work on the car.

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Jim’s Buick at the first Petersen Motorama Show held in 1950 at the Shrine Convention Hall in Los Angeles, California. Jim was not present when this photo was taken, but George Barris was, and so was Jack Stewart, and other unknown guy with a Barris tag on his jacket, and two lovely girls. Notice how at these very early car shows, the trophies as well as other publicity material was displayed on the cars.

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Color photo taken by Jim on one of his trips from California to Dayton Ohio an around 2300 Mile (± 3700 KM) trip. Jim had protected the paint on the rear fenders with 1951 Oakland Roadster Posters. (Color photo was developed on April 17, 1951)

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They started with the suspension, ensuring a proper stance, before they could lay out the rest of the custom restyling. At the rear, the frame was C’d, so the rear axle would clear the frame. With the suspension work out of the way, Sam started the body work with the windshield frame, which he chopped 3 inches. The idea was to create a removable hard top for the car that made the car look just as good with or without the top. Not a padded top, that most convertibles had in those days, Jim liked those as well, but wanted something more exclusive for this Buick.

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1950 Indianapolis Auto Show. Jim Showed his just completely finished Buick, leaving a big impression with the east coast crowd.

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This photo gives a good look at how nice the rear window glass flowed with the chopped Cadillac top.

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Beautiful restyling, everything was done to make the car look better, not just different.

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In 1951 Jim took his Buick to the Indianapolis show again, the car had no changes since last year, except for many more miles being driven. Jim taped a Barris Business card to the vent window, a common thing to do back then, to advertise the body shop who had created the cars.

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Detail of the door showing the push button door opener that was installed on the rocker panel on both sides of the car, as well as the Barris Business card on the vent window.

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A similar Barris Kustom Automobiles business card as Jim used on his Buick. (from the Tom Hocker Collection)

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Chopping these GM convertible windshields is not as easy as many other cars from this age. The whole A-pillar is covered with stainless steel, which needs to be cut, reshaped and refitted. But Sam was an excellent metal man and after doing the inner structure of the A-pillar, he worked his magic on the stainless steel bright-work, as well as the vent windows.

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A friend of Jim took this photo of Jim with his just finished Buick in Dayton Ohio at the Carillon Park, a popular hang out place for car guys, back in the late 1940’s and 1950’s.

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With the windshield chopped to the right height Jim found a 1950 Cadillac fast back that would be used to create the custom removable hard-top top for the Buick. Jim never cared for the very heavy C-pillars on the stock ’49 Buick HT’s so together with Sam he designed the new c-pillar and rear window that would work with the new lower top, and looked nice, light and elegant.

When I asked Jim about the rear glass used in the car, and if it was perhaps made of plexiglass like so many rear windows on customs in those years, he mentioned that there was NO plexiglass on the Buick. They used real glass for it. But Jim could not remember from which car they had pirated the rear glass they used, but glass it was for sure. With the metal top all shaped they needed to add all the side window channels, which were created from reshaped units Jim had found and cut off junked cars at the nearby junk yard.

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The rear fenders of the Buick were removed and replaced with 1949 Cadillac units that Jim found at the Junk yard on a wrecked car with frontal damage. They needed a bit of reshaping to fit the Buick body which Sam Barris did, and he also molded them into the body, for the desired smoothed look. Also the rear bumper from the Cadillac was used, making the Buick appear much like a more exclusive Cadillac, and many people later would actually think Jim’s Custom was based on a Cadillac.

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Photo taken at the Dayton Ohio Carillon Park shows Jim’s Buick without the top during a summer cruise. The low stance, Custom Toothed grille, Cadillac rear fenders and chopped windshield all make this one outstanding Custom that made a huge impact on the Ohio Car enthusiasts. (Color photo developed Oct. 5, 1951)

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Sam modified some fender skirts to fit the Cadillac rear fenders. The new skirts are level with the bottom line of the rear fenders, creating a much nicer flow of the rear of the body into the bumper. All small design elements Jim and Sam agreed on would improve the cars looks. A new grille was made using the top bar of a 1950 Oldsmobile 98, in which Jim wanted to install some “heavy teeth”, for a bit more aggressive look. He Liked the shape of the new 1950 Buick teeth, but they required to be cut down at the bottom to fit the new opening. A lot of work, but the end result was spectacular.

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Eddie Martinez did the beautiful interior in Jim’s Buick, including the home made wrap around rear bench. The upholstery was done in black and beige, with white piping.

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Jim kept the Buick front bumper, as well as the stock bumper guards, they were very nice in shape and complemented all the rest of the customizing very well, so those were left in place. The headlight rings were welded to the fenders, and the headlights slightly frenched into them. The side trim of the Buick was replaced with the 1949 Cadillac unit. Sam installed a set of Appleton S-552 spotlights, and wide whitewall tires and Cadillac Sombrero hubcaps complete the finishing touches on Jim’s Buick.

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The dash board and garnish molding was painted black, just as the top, and the main gauge cluster and the glove box were chrome plated

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A better look at the home made wrap around rear bench. and the very wide, white piping that Eddie Martinez used.

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Shortly after the car was painted Jim drove it back to Los Angeles to have Eddie Martinez do a complete Custom interior with special hand made wrap around rear bench. Eddie upholstered the car in black with beige off set with shite piping. With the interior finished Jim entered the Buick in the 1950 Motorama show held in November 1950, and later several other shows on the east coast. Jim really enjoyed the Buick, it not only looked fantastic, but also drove like a dream. He drove it like this until around 1952, when Jim decided it was time for an update on the Buick using a few new parts to keep the car up to date.

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Jack Stewart ’41 Ford shortly after Jim bought, and drove to Dayton Ohio, parked next to his ’49 Buick at a local park in 1951.

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The car was primered in white and Jim would drive around for some time. This version shows in one photo taken at the Santa Ana drags. Soon after that photo was taken Jim drove the car back to Dayton, where he finished the work on the Buick. He extending the lower edge of the Buick hood, where it was indented to follow the original Buick grille. In the process Jim modified the stock molding on the Buick hood (which followed the stock Buick grille surround) and did not fit with the Olds grille bar at all. Jim decided to reshape the hood molding and let it flow to a center-point just above the new grille surround. The rest of the hood’s nose was completely smoothed. Now with all the body work finished Jim picked a Tokay Beige color for the main body and black for the top, and painted the car himself.

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The Buick at an 1951 East Coast Car Show, parked next to it is the Jack Stewart 1941 Ford Jim had just bought from Jack Stewart and driven from Los Angeles to Dayton Ohio. Two amazing Customs parked side by side.

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Jim’s daily drivers were always Custom Cars, so his ’49 Buick was no exception to that. Jim took this photo in February 1951, and this photo gives us a really great look at the flow of the rear window from the trunk to the top.
(Color photo was developed on Feb 1, 1951)

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Version Two

Jim made a few changes, including the addition of 1952 Cadillac taillights, which added even more style to the already classic lines of the car. Jim also adapted the same year Cadillac rear bumper that came with bumper tip exhaust holes, Perfect for his Buick. Jim repainting the body in his own mix of very deep purple, with a metallic lavender top, mixed in his favorite RM lacquer. He took the car on many road trips in this version and later when Jim’s other Barris project car, the Golden Sahara was finished, he sold the Buick. Sadly Jim has no idea what happened to the car, he has been on many hunts for it, when somebody mentioned he might have seen the car. But so far no luck. Hard to believe that such a wonderful trend setting Custom just disappeared.

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The 1952 make over of the Buick included new ’52 Cadillac taillights, rear bumper and a new deep-dark purple paint job with metallic lavender top. Jim mixed his own colors and painted the Buick himself.

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The front of the Buick remained the same in the make over. The new dark paint shows off the custom made peek on the front of the hood really well.

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The new taller ’52 Cadillac taillights and more stylish bumpers really fitted the rear of the car very well. Jim always loved how the Cadillac bumper tip exhaust holes looked on his car.

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The Second version of Jim’s Buick at an unidentified , most likely Ohio Car show around 1952.

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Jim’s Custom Buick has been very important in the history of the Custom Car. The 1949 Buick was finished in late 1950, very early for such a new car done as a full Custom. The Buick had an very unusual light color in an era that most Custom Cars were painted deep, dark organic colors. The light color was even more special because the Buick was already a very big car, and the light color made it stand out and looking even taller.

The main thing way this Buick Custom had such an impact was that Jim showed it both on the West as well as on the East Coast. Advertising the original Custom Look from California on the East Coast and with doing that must have inspired many young guys to create new Custom Cars. Jim had always been fascinated by California, and everything that came from there. But due to his family business he was “stuck” to Ohio. So he tried to create his own little California in Dayton, using his all California Styled Custom Cars. And hoped his friends would start building cars inspired by his California Styled Customs.

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3+

41 Merc Fade-Away Convertible

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41 MERC FADE-AWAY Convertible

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1941 Mercury Convertible with full fadeaway fenders and chopped padded top. A Mystery Published Custom Car.

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Over the years I have come across a lot of Unidentified Custom Car photos in the early Custom Car Publications. Mystery Customs that appeared in just a single publication, and sometimes even in multiple magazines or booklets, but always lacking any info on the original builder or owners name. In this series of articles I will be showing some of these Mystery Published Custom Cars, and hopefully the extra publicity will lead to some more information on these cars.

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Original article from 2016, updated in April 2019.

The first “Published Mystery Custom” is an very nicely done 1941 Mercury Convertible with full fade away fenders, chopped windshield, padded top and somewhat odd looking Lincoln grille.
The first time I saw a picture of this car was on Pat Ganahl‘s “The American Custom Car” book. On page 24 of this book he shows this mercury Custom with taped headlights, windshield and race numbers on the side at one of the Russetta Timing Association events. It is unsure when this even took place, but most likely around 1950. Perhaps one of the contender lists would reveal an owners name for this 1941 Custom. Pat wrote in his book that the car was an Ford, but later I found more material showing that the car was actually Mercury based.

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Pat Ganahl writes this about the photo in his book: While customs were built more for style than peed, some did turn up at the dry lakes, where heavy weight wasn’t a hindrance and streamlining actually helped. This anonymous Postwar Ford with Lincoln grille, chopped padded top, and full fade-away’s was competing at Russetta Timing Association meet.

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The other place I have found photos of this Custom was in the 1951 edition of the Speed and Mileage Manual by Edgar Almquist. The first edition of this manual was published in 1947, but I’m not sure if this ’41 Mercury was already part of it then.

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The side view shown in the Almquist Manual shows the really fantastic Custom restyling of the car. The full fade away front fenders, the molded in rear fenders and shaving of all the trim. 
The second photo of the car shown in the Almquist manual gives us a better look at the low mounted Lincoln grille, the reshaped front section and the stock headlights rings. The Windshield was chopped, but very conservative, perhaps around 2 inches. The front bumper appears to be a 1942 Buick Special rear bumper with the guards moved closer together.

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The 1941 Mystery Lincoln looks to be a very nicely restyled Custom Car, most likely created by one of the top shops in the later part of the 1940’s or around 1950. The full fade-away fenders done this way, all molded to the body with nice leaded edges, was something both the Ayala’s as well as the Barris shops were well known for. The overall proportions are right on the money, and even though the Lincoln grille is now considered and odd choice, or perhaps better said not the most attractive, back in the mid/late1940’s they were used on more Customs and considered a high-end choice.

Around the late 1940’s a lot of full Customs were produced and there were not to many magazines out there that could or would published these cars. The owners and the Custom Builders did not take as many photos of their projects as we all would have liked. And even though this Custom Mercury did get published back then, there was no mentioning of the builder to help promote his business.

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In 2019 this photo of the Mercury was shared on Facebook. So far I have been unable to find out where the photo was taken and who shared it originally. If anybody knows more about the photo location, or who owns the photo, please let us know.

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Enlarged section of the photo shows that the car has 1948-50 California license plates when this photo was taken. Most likely with the unknown owner standing proudly next to the car. The Lincoln grille is considered an odd choice today, but back in the 1940’s it was used a lot.

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Colormelacquer shared a photos with us showing the same location of the photo above in 2019. Not too much has changed….

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From what I can see in the photos the newest parts used on the car are from 1947, Cadillac Sombrero hubcaps. So this version of the car could not have been created before 1947. The padded top has a nice flow on the back and a straight B-pillars, most likely the same upholstery shop did a full custom interior for the car as well.

Who knows more about this rather nice 1941 Mercury Convertible Custom with full fade-away fenders. Who was the original owner, and who built it. Hopefully one of our readers remembers this car from back then, or has seen more photos of it. If so, please let us know and send Rik an email here at the Custom Car Chronicle.

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0

Don Britton 1950 Ford

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DON BRITTON 1950 FORD

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Don Britton 1950 Ford Sedan was restyled in 1950 by Chuck Calvin who sectioned the body for an unique look. Where is this well published Custom now?

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This elegant 1950 Ford sedan Custom Car has been featured in quite a few publications in the early 1950’s when the car was near new. Yet it never was one of those “popular” Customs that most people think about when you mention Custom Car.

The Don Britton Ford always has had a bit of mystery around it, at least that is how it felt to me. When the car was featured in the 1954 issue of Rod & Custom Magazine it was mentioned that in a very short period the car had changed hands several times, and therefor the original owners and builders name had been lost. That always sounded a bit odd to me, especially since earlier publications from 1951 had clearly listed Don Britton as the owner and Chuck Calvin as the builder. Even today when creating this article I find odd things about the car… In fact I’m still not even 100% sure all the photos used in this article are of he same car… or perhaps there were two nearly identical 1949-50 Sectioned Ford Sedan’s.

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In progress photo appeared in the 1951 published Trend Book #101 Custom Cars. The photo shows the car was lights colored and all the black areas is where the body work had taken place.

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Original Version – Don Britton

Lets start with the things we know. The very first Custom Cars Annual, Trend Book #101 first published in July 1951 showed a few photos of the Don Britton Ford Sedan, one of them of the car in progress with most of the work done, and the body partly in primer. The photo was taken in front of a body shop that I so far have not been able to identify. Not sure if Chuck Calvin, who was listed as the body man of the car in the same booklet on page 81, had his own body shop. Also included in the booklet was a wonderful photo of the Sectioned Finished sedan parked next to a bone stock 1950 Ford to compare the two.

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The Don Britton Sectioned sedan parked next to a bone stock 1950 Sedan.

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Don Britton was the owner of the D&B Auto Sales Lot on 8221 Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood, California, a second hand car dealer specialized in Hot Rods and Custom Cars. We do not know how long Don actually owned the car, but it cannot be very long, since in 1952 the car already had moved to new owner. Possibly Don had his sectioned Sedan parked at the lot, as he most likely used it as a daily driver, and somebody visiting the lot, in search of a new Custom Car made him an offer he could not refuse.

First version of Don Britton’s 1950 Ford, possibly with Don behind the steering wheel.

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The rear view shows how the taillight wind-splits had been removed from the rear quarters, and new taillights were added in round holes in the 1949 Ford bumper guards. Notice the 1949 Chevy license plate suround.

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The firs time I saw pictures of this sectioned Shoebox Sedan was in the Fawcett Hot Rods book published in the early 1950’s the same booklet also had a couple of pictures of the Valley Custom Shop sectioned Ron Dunn 1949 Ford Coupe, and I really enjoyed comparing the two. In my eyes the Coupe Body of the Ron Dunn Ford lent itself better to the sectioning restyling than the sedan, especially with the top remaining stock height, which caused the Sedan to look slightly top-heavy… But I still was intrigued by the Sedan, I liked it a lot.

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The original version of the Don Britton Ford shows the car with the door handles in place, stock headlights, stock looking fender skirts, stock hubcaps, shortened rear quarter side trim, exhaust below the stock rear bumper with 1949 Bumper guards with integrated taillights.

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Chuck Calvin of Encino carefully measured the amount to be cut out through the body sides, 4 inches all around. He ten used tin snips and a metal saw to cut out the marked section. When the top and bottom halves were brought together, the fit was so perfect that Calvin did not have to use a welding rod, he merely fused the metal edges together with a torch.

The first version of the was not modified all that much, apart from the 4 inch section job the car dis have a rather stock appearance to it, which made it a very interesting custom. I could see how many people had to turn their heads when the car cruised the streets of SoCal. Viewers probably thought this was the newest model from the Ford Dealer. Especially since all the rest of the restyling was done so restrained and elegant… enhancing what was already there.

The other custom touches on the car are; The 1949-50 Ford grille surround was cut down at the bottom to fit inside the new reduced opening. The original Ford spinner grille was replaced with a single very elegant 1951 Kaiser floating grille bar. During the sectioning process it was decided the body would look better with the taillight wind-split removed, and the rear quarters smoothed. The taillights would later be incorporated into he bumper guards. Similar lights were also added to the front bumper guards which were used as direction turn indicators. The trunk had to be cut 4 inches to fit the new reduced in height opening, and the trim and emblems were removed at he same time. The hood also was shaved of the Ford letters and center trim.

The front wheel openings were slightly radiused with a more rounded top portion, to make sure the front wheels would not rub on steering. The low mounted side trim was shortened on the rear quarters to stop right in front of the stock accessory fender skirts. With all the body work completed the car was painted metallic maroon by Ted Nielson.

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Howard Markel did the interior in gray and black leatherette.

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The suspension was lowered just a little bit to get everything back in proportion after the sectioning. The plan was a slight level lowering which was accomplished using lowering blocks in the back. The front end was dropped cutting two coils. This brought the car down to the perfect level right height. The original version of the car used the stock Ford hubcaps.

Howard Markel of Beverly Hills reworked the seats. He removed the lower, movable section of the front seat and reworked to bottom section to be mounted to the floor. The rear seat cushion and springs were cut down and rebuilt to sit level with the side window openings. The steering column location was also modified to be just right for the new seating position. The interior was upholstered in gray and black leatherette.

The finished first version of the car appeared in the 1951 Trend Book Custom Cars #101, and the July 1951 issue of Motor Trend.

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Chuck Calvin who was the body man responsible for the restyling and the sectioning of the body. The ’51 Motor Trend Magazine and 101 Trent Book Custom Cars has the car listed with with a 4 inch sectioned body, while the 1954 R&C magazine has it listed as 5 inch!

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Second Version – Dana Boller

In the October 1952 issue of Hop Up magazine the Sectioned Sedan was featured again. By now the car had changed hands and Dana Boller was the new owner. The car also had done some more restyling in the meantime. Not sure if these modifications were done while Don Britton owned the car, or after it had changed hands. The car was now listed as an 1949 model while it was listed as an 1950 model in the 1951 publications.

The door handles were removed and push buttons installed for all the openings. The headlights were frenched with a nice small lip. The grille surround was completely redone as well. a modified 1951 Ford grille surround was added that eliminated the 49-50 round center piece that was on the car before. The hood had to be filled in and a new peak was added to flows very nicely into the center of the grille surround.

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The car looked more custom in this version with the frenched headlights, ’51 Ford grille surround, lipped skirts and aftermarket hubcaps.

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Hop Up photographer Ralph Poole photographed Dana’s Ford with and without the fender skirts to show the readers the difference. The no skirt option makes the car look much lighter.

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New fender skirts were added, possibly aftermarket units, or cut down 1951 Mercury units. The antenna was moved from the stock location on the cowl, to the rear splash pan, a popular locations at the time.

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Also new for the Dana Boller version are the rear bumper exhaust outlets.

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A better look at the new exhaust outlets in the rear bumper.

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Close up of the bumper guard taillights and the splash pan mounted antenna.

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The Andrews and Evans sales lot ad showing the Ford on the far left was in Hop Up July 1953.

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Third Version – Mike Stone

From here on I have to say that I’m not 100% confident the car shown below is the same as the Don Britton Ford. There are some different details, including a new ’51 tag license plate, but for multiple reasons I do think this is still the same car. Mike Stone’s 1950 Ford had a four page feature in the July 1954 issue of Rod & Custom Magazine. Spence Murry spoke highly about this car in the article, and mentioned the cars mysterious past, which is very much the same as what is discovered about the Britton Ford.

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The Mike stone version of the Ford was even more elegant than the earlier versions. The removal of the skirts, addition of the full length side trim and use of ’51 Ford bumpers and guards made it look very sharp, and classy.

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The Don Britton and Dana Boller versions of the car had a 1951 California license plate 1N92582, the Mike Stone car has 1951 California plates 1X88047. We have seen this before on other famous custom cars that had different plates over the year. The most striking changed to the car are the use of 1951 Ford bumpers and bumper guards. The front bumper guards are stock, but in the rear new handmade vertical taillights were added. Resulting in a more elegant solution than on the early version, plus as an extra benefit the taillights are not also viable from the side of the car, an important safety feature.

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Also new on this version of the car is the grille opening. It appears as if a the grille surround from the previous version was modified with the use of a second 1951 Ford grille surround, which was flipped upside down to create a complete chrome grille surround. The Kaiser grille bar remained. Another change for this version is a full length side trim, which appears to be located a bit higher than on the earlier versions. This is one of the things that make me wonder if this is actually the same car, or perhaps there were two near identical sectioned Ford Shoebox Sedans?

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Close up of the new grille surround.

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This photo shows the nice peak added to the hood, and how it flows nice with the grille surround center line.

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With the use of the new 1951 Ford bumpers the exhaust was now re-routed to go back under the bumper again, just as it was on the original version. The ’49 Chevy license plate surround was modified to fit the ’51 bumper. The R&C article mentioned that 4 years ago when the car was originally restyled a 5 inch strip had been removed from the body. The other published articles had always mentioned it to be 4 inch.

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The interior colors for the car are now chartreuse and green. The car is now listed as being painted a deep metallic green when the photos for the July issue were taken. But Spence Murray mentioned in the article that right before the magazine went to print Mike had the car repainted all white.

In the 1990’s I came across an article on the long career of Sam Foose. In the Street Rodder Magazine article there was a small black and white photo of the Mike Stone version of the car, mentioning that Sam Foose had build the car using two totaled cars ’49 and ’51 Ford. The article did not state when Sam had build the car. Sam Foose was born in 1934, so he would have been 16 in 1950 when this car was build. Not sure if it is a mix up, or if Sam perhaps worked together with Chuck Calvin, or perhaps he worked on the car for the last changes around 1953-54? Mystery!

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As the 1954 R&C article mentioned Mike Stone repainted the car in white in 1954. I have been able to find a few photos in which the car appears in all white. Non of the photos I came across where taken of the car itself, but it appeared in the background. the two best photos were both taken at an outdoor event at the Hollywood Park Horse track parking lot in 1954. (perhaps early 1955)

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The new white paint shows off the radiused front wheel opening much better than the darker colors used on the earlier versions. Notice that the hood by now has been louvred and most likely the stock engine has been replaced, something Mike had mentioned in the R&C article he planned to do.

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Finally… there is one more photo that adds more mystery to the car… In one of Andy Southard’s books there is a color photo taken at the Barris Show showing an all white, a bit rough looking sectioned 1949-51 Ford sedan. The sectioning and removal of the stock taillights all match with the Britton Ford. Only odd thing is that the rear bumper and guards is now a 49-50 unit again, and the exhaust is back in the bumpers, like it was on the earlier version of the Britton Ford (although the exhaust tips are now much larger)

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Sectioned all white (off white) 1949-51 Ford Sedan, possibly owned by an Barris Shop employee parked at the Barris Kustom Shop around 1957. (Andy Southard photo)

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The photo was taken around 1957 I believe, and the car now has ’56 California plates on it. Again I’m not 100% sure it is the same car, but I do think it is. Now if all these photos are of the same car, the main question is… where is it now? what happened to it?

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3+

Barris Display Wall Pan-Pacific Auditorium

 

BARRIS DISPLAY WALL

 

The Barris Kustom Shop had a special wall Barris Shop display at the Petersen Motorama Shows held at the Pan-Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles. From 1951 till 1955 these Barris Shop Wall Displays were among the highlights of the event.



Petersen Publishing had a lot of experience with promoting their publications and they used their knowledge to help promote that would be come a series of most influential Hot Rod and Custom Car shows on the West Coast, and possibly in the whole USA in the early to mid 1950′. The show ran from 1950 till 1955, originally names the Petersen Motorama show, but in 1954 the name was changed to Motor Revue & Motorama due to the Motorama name now being used by General Motors for their futuristic new car show events. George Barris already worked with the Petersen Publishing people for some of their publications supplying Custom Car content. As soon as George heard about the plans for the Motorama shows he knew instinctively that these shows would become a huge success. Both locally, as well as nationally when they were covered in the Petersen publications.

George also understood that these shows were not only to show off a series of beautiful Custom Cars to the public. These shows were much more than just that. These shows were ideal to help promote the Barris name, and to draw attention from possible new customers. Potential customers needed to have somebody to speak to at these shows, so George would be there at all time, and if he had to step out, there were other employees who could show of the cars on display, and talk about possible future projects. Besides handing out actual business cards at these events George Barris understood that the cars on display were even more an business card for the Barris Shop. So from early on the Barris team tried to display their latest, and very best customs, presented the best way possible, with trophies, etc. From the 1951 Peterson event George had a special Wall Display for the Barris Shop. These wall displays drew a lot of people during the multi day event. Only in 1953 the Barris Shop did not have a full wall to be used as Shop display.

Creating displays like this for large events was not something new in 1950, it had been done by the big car brands at car shows for many years. But it might have been something new for a Custom Car Shop to promote its business like this at Car Shows. George Barris had a great sense for promoting his business, and these Barris Wall Displays at the Motorama are a perfect sample of this.





1951 MOTORAMA

In 1951 the Petersen Motorama Event moved from the LA Shrine Convention Hall to the beautiful Art-Deco Pan-Pacific Auditorium building. The first show was very well promoted, and a huge success, learned from the first show the second event at the new locations became an even bigger show. From this first Pan Pacific Auditorium held show there are very few known photos, and only one photo we know about, shows the very first Barris Wall display. Only one Barris Custom can be seen in this photo, the Larry Ernst Chevy, with George and Sam standing next to it. At this moment we are not aware if any other Barris Customs were part of this display, or if there was just the Ernst Chevy. If any of our readers has any more details about this, please let us know. The 1951 Petersen Motorama event was held from November 7th till the 11th.

1951 Motorama Program and floor plan. Sadly the Barris Shop was not listed in the incomplete list of vendors/participants, so we have, so far, not been able to find out where the Barris display was at the show.
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The only photo we have come across from a Barris Display at the 1951 Petersen Motorama Show is this photo of the all suited up Sam and George Barris standing proudly with the Larry Ernst Chevy in front of  a curtain covered wall with beautiful Art-Deco BARRIS letters.
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1952 MOTORAMA

The display wall at the 1952 Petersen Motorama was the largest of them all. At least with the greatest number of cars displayed at the wall. For this year Barris Kustoms had teamed up with the Carson Top Shop, and both their names were on the huge curtain covered back wall. 6 recently completed Barris Customs were on display in the joint display space. The 1952 show was also the first time Barris Kustom displayed their cars with their brand new Barris Crest mounted on the front fender. From this year on many of the cars on display had small plants separating the display area from the visitor path. The green plants gave the show a very special feeling. The 1952 Petersen Motorama event was held from November 10th till the 16th.

The Barris / Carson display at the show included some of the very best and recently finished customs. From left to right we can see Tommy Thornburgh’s 1947 Studebaker, Robert La Briola’s 1949 Oldsmobile, Dan Landon’s 1949 Chevy, Jack Brumbach’s 1942 Ford, Don Vaughn’s 1947 Buick and barely visible in this photo at the end of the line-up was Bob Hirohata’s 1951 Mercury.
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Tommy Thornburgh’s unusual 1947 Studebaker convertible was sitting on the far left side of the Barris Kustoms Display wall. The car was painted ice blue with a dark blue Carson Padded Top.
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Robert La Briola 1949 Oldsmobile in lime gold was a relatively mild custom, but it was exceptionally restyled for a beautiful, almost European feel.
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This photo taken by Andy Southard shows the huge Carson letters on the curtain covered wall above Dan Landon’s Chevy. In the center of the display the Barris team had displayed some of the trophies won by the cars on display, and set up a small table with business cards for the potential new customers.
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Dan Landon was a member of George Barris’s Kustoms Los Angles Club as the brass tag on the front bumper shows.
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Jack Brumbach‘s 1942 Ford came all the way from San Fransisco.
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Don Vaughn’s 1947 Buick in a deep purple must have looked stunning with its white top, plus it was parked next to the light colored, sea foam green Hirohata Merc Don came all the way from Port Orchard, Washington (But perhaps the car was still in Ca, after it had just been finished).
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The last Barris Custom of the Display wall all the way to the right was the just-in-time finished 1951 Mercury for Bob Hirohata.
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1953 MOTORAMA

At the 1953 Petersen Motorama event at the Pan Pacific Auditorium the Barris Shop did not have a wall presentation. I have not been able to find out why the hop did not have their annual wall display this year, perhaps they applied for it too late. Instead the Barris Shop displayed a number of cars spread out over the building, with the Sam Barris 1950 Buick, which was just finished in time for the how on a center stage display. The Barris name, created from gold glitter cardboard most likely for the previous years was used on the single car display of the 1947 Studebaker “the Grecian”. The 1953 Petersen Motorama was held from October 26th till November 1th.

Overview photo shows the Sam Barris 1950 Buick on the center display allowing the audience to walk around it and view it from every angle. In the background is the ’47 Grecian with the “Barris” name on the curtain behind it.
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The Grecian ’47 Studebaker had been recently finished at the Barris Shop, and there had not been enough time to do the interior. So it the car was displayed with white cardboard taped to the inside of the windows. Interesting is that the dot on the “i” on the Barris name is missing. The fact that the “Belond” sign in the background seems to be made of similar glitter card-board might indicate that this part of the displays was organized by the Petersen crew.
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1954 MOTOR REVUE & Motorama

The Petersen Show was renamed Motor Revue & Motorama for the 1954 year. This was done to make sure people would not confuse it for the GM Motorama. At the ’54 Barris Shop Wall Display the Barris crew displayed 5 new Barris Customs, plus the Golden Sahara was displayed on a huge turn table just in front to the wall. Making this one of the most spectacular Barris Show displayed in history. George Barris had just started his Kustom Of America, which evolved from the Kustoms Los Angeles Car Club. A lot of attention to the new nation wide club was paid at this event and besides the “Barris” script in gold glitter card board, a huge Barris Crest, there was now also a huge sign for the KUSTOMS of America done in gold glitter cardboard on the curtain covered back wall. The 1954 event was held from November 5 till November 14th.

Overview of the Barris Display wall at the 1954 Petersen Motor Revue & Motoramat at the Pan Pacific Auditorium. From left to right we can see the following Barris Customs; Dave Bugarin 1951 Mercury, Chuck DeWitt 1952 Ford wagon, Roy Dobb’s Simca/60, Nobby Miyakawa’s 1953 Mercury HT “The Japan” and Ed Sloan’s 1953 Plymouth Belvedere all the way on the right only showing its front fender and hood.
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Close up of the Barris letters, the Barris Crest and the KUSTOMS of America cardboard glitter signs.
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Barry Mazza shared this photo taken from the opposite side, showing the Chuck DeWitt wagon and the Dobb’s Simca. Most likely the well dressed lady and men in the picture were helping Barris to promote both the body shop as well as the Kustoms Of America club at the event.
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Another snapshot from the Barry Mazza Collection is rather blurry, but since only very few photos of this event and the Barris Wall have surfaced I like to show it here anyway. Can you imagine being able to walk around the Golden Sahara I, and then look in the other direction and see the wall full of other amazing Barris Custom creations.
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The Barris crew sure knew how to draw attention, with the Golden Sahara as highlight on the turntable and the long Display wall behind it. Custom Car Golden Years.
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The 1954 event is the first one we have been able to find color photos from. Ina May Overman, who owned a Valley Custom Shop ’52 Lincoln custom, which was also at the event, took a series of beautiful color slides, including this one of the Golden Sahara I with part of the Barris Display wall in the background. So now we know that this year the Barris Shop had a dark blue curtain as backdrop.
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The point of view in Ina May’s photo was the Golden Sahara.
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Walter Wyss took this photo of George Barris talking to Jim Skonzakes about details on Jim’s just finished Golden Sahara. This photo illustrates how these shows meant business for shop owners as George Barris.
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The Dave Bugarin 1951 Mercury was just finished in time for the 1955 Petersen show. It was put on display all the way to the left side of the designated wall and was lacking the Appleton Spotlights which would be installed shortly after the show.
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Danny Lares, the new owner of the Jesse Lopez 1941 Ford took this snapshot of the Dave Bugarin Mercury at the event.
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Chuck DeWitt, who used to have a beautiful well known Barris Kustom restyled Shoebox Ford convertible with chopped padded top had his latest Barris restyled car on display at the event A much milder ’52 Ford wagon in beautiful green with burnt orange.
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Interesting detail showing one of the woman of the Barris crew promoting the Barris shop and the Kustoms of America Car club in front of Chuck’s Wagon.
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A very unusual car for Barris to display at the event was the Roy Dobb’s Simca/60 that was slightly restyled and fitted with a flathead V-8. I guess that Barris was aiming at a new group of clients who would have the show restyle the more and more popular Sports Cars.
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Nobby Miyakawa’s 1953 Mercury HT “The Japan” was the subject in several How Two magazine articles written by George Barris.
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At the 1954 Petersen Show George Barris paid a lot of attention to promote his newly formed Kustoms of America Club. Several signs were set up at the Barris Shop Wall display, as well as a desk where you could sign up and fill out your application for the club.
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Barris even had Miss Kustoms of America hand out flyers and business cards at the show. In this photo from the Danny Lares Collection we can see here with a stack of flyers that look to be a reprint of the special Rod & Custom magazine ad George Barris ran (inset picture).
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1955 International MOTOR REVUE

The last year the Petersen event was held it had changed name ones again. It was now names the International Motor Revue, and the location was held again at the Pan Pacific Auditorium. 4 Barris Kustom creations were displayed in front of a red curtain covered Barris Display wall. Dave Bugarin’s 1951 Mercury was displayed at the wall for the second year in a row. This time it can be seen with the Appleton Spotlights installed.

From left to right are; Buddy Alcorn’s 1950 Mercury, Frank Monteleon’s 1941 Ford, Dick Jackson / Ronnie Dragoo 1954 Mercury and Dave Bugarin’s 1951 Mercury. The Kustoms of America sign is again up on the wall, but the signs on the floor and table where you could sign up used at the ’54 show are now missing.
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Buddy Alcorn’s 1950 Mercury was originally restyled for an unknown owner by the Ayala brothers, but later bought by Buddy and delivered at the Barris Shop for a complete make over. They finished it just in time for the 1955 Petersen International Motor Revue. Sadly the overview photo is the only one we know about showing the Alcorn Mercury at this event.
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Dick “Peep” Jackson / Ronnie Dragoo’s 1954 Mercury looked really amazing in Colonial White with “Sam Bronze” in front of the red curtains. The green plans and wood planters looked so great at these show. They might be in the way of showing the cars completely, but the overall effect was very classic and stylish. Andy Southard captured this show in some amazing color slides.
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Frontal view of the Jackson / Magoo Mercury.
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Frank Monteleon brought his super wild ’41 Ford Convertible to be displayed at the Barris Wall Display. The ’41 Ford was updated with later model Oldsmobile fenders which gave the car a much more modern look. The bright pink paint with white top must have drawn a lot of attention at the show.
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The top on Frank’s ’41 Ford was constructed from a ’38 Ford sedan top. Notice the beautiful detailed Midget that was done by the Barris Shop as well. 
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Dave Bugarin’s deep blue ’51 Mercury really stood out a lot better with the red curtains behind it at this ’55 show than with the blue curtains of the previous year. When this photo was taken the midget had been moved to be displayed with Dave’s Mercury.
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Mercury Perfection.
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Close ups of the glitter card-board signs on the 1955 Display Wall.
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As far as we have been able to find out the Barris Display walls only happened at the Petersen Motorama events. Of course the Barris Kustom Shop and the cars entered by this show were at many other Car Show’s around the US, but possibly never all situated together as we have seen in this article. If you have any more information about these 1950-55 Petersen Motorama events, and specifically to the Barris Displays, please let us know. We are looking to find more photos of these events, as well as personal stories, of people who attended these event. Please send the Custom Car Chronicle and email if you have more input.






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Golden Sahara Mecum Auction

 

GOLDEN SAHARA MECUM AUCTION

 

Nearly 50 years after the Golden Sahara’s disappearance from the public the Car was unveiled to the Public on May 14, 2018. The Golden Sahara sold for $350,000.



After Jim Street had passed away in November 2017 it as decided to auction off most of his car, boat and bike collection. The Dana Mecum’s 31st Original Spring Classic Auction in Indianapolis would be the event where the Jim Street Estate Collection will be auctioned. The Golden Sahara is the highlight of the collection. and a lot of attention has been paid to create as much buzz as possible around the Golden Sahara. As much buzz perhaps as what the car created in its show time from 1954 till the late 1960’s.

For the first time in decades, the Custom Car Icon will be available for public viewing just as how it had been found in Jim Street’s Garage.

The Golden Sahara as advertised on the Mucum Auctions site. Main Atraction with No Reserve.
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On Saturday May 19, 2018 at around 2 PM (14:00) EST the Golden Sahara will be taking place at the Auction hall, and the bidding will start. The Internet has been buzzing for week already about how much the Golden Sahara (and the Kookie Kar) will sell for. We know that there are several very serious possible buyers who want to have the Unique Golden Sahara in their Collection. What it will be sold for we have to wait till the auction has ended in a little over a day.

SOLD

The Golden Sahara was sold for $350,000 ($385,000 including auction fees) to Larry Klairmont who was bidding on the phone. Larry Klairmont is the owner of the amazing Klairmont Kollection in Chicago, and the car will be either on display as it it for the public to see, or will be undergoing a full restoration first and then will be on display. This is fantastic news since then the Golden Sahara will be available for people to see at all time. The kookie Kar, which sold for $440,000 was sold to somebody at the event, so the two cars will be separated.








The Mecum Presentation Team

The Mecum Presentation Team has been working overtime with the Jim Street Estate Collection, and especially with the Golden Sahara. The Team created a special booklet with a lot of historic images of the Golden Sahara from Jim Street’s Peronal Collection including a brief story on the car’s history. The Team also developed a really nicely made, huge display at the Indianapolis Mecum building were the Golden Sahara was unveiled to the publish for the first time on May 14, 2018. The Display consist  of a nice selection of historic photos printed at huge formats. Hand made 3D signs and video displays.

The Display before the curtains were opened to show the Golden Sahara to the public for the first time in 50 years

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The unveiling at Mecum filmed by the Rodders Journal.
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The Complete Golden Sahara Display. Quite spectacular work by the Mecum Presentation Team.
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Above the lower wall of static large images two large video screens showed a selection of historic images as well as some Historic video Footage.
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This was also the first time that the cars hubcaps were visible. The Bob Metz created units were removed when the original series of promotional photos were taken in March.
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This was also the first time that the car was displayed with the trunk open. When the team at Mecum opened the trunk for the first time they could not believe hos good everything looked inside… after all these years.
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All the electronics in the truck that were needed to make all the special features on the Golden Sahara work. This will be fun to restore… ore perhaps it all is still working. We hope to hear about this in the near future.
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The Golden Sahara back on the podium where it spend so many years in the 50’s and 1960’s. In its natural element.
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First time the audience could take a close up look at the interior. I wonder what the interior will look like if the plastic covers are removed.
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Opened refrigerator box in the back on the cocktail seat center section.
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The Golden Sahara booklet created by the Mecum Presentation Team.
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“There is nothing like it in the world, and there will never be another like it again.”




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Larry Watson T-Bird Vino Paisano

 

LARRY WATSON T-BIRD

 

Larry Watson Personal car based on a brand new 1958 Thunderbird with only minimal amount of body work. It was the unique paint design and use of color that made it a Trend Setter.



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This article shows a selection of photos of Larry Watson’s 1958 T-Bird. Most of these photos come from the Larry Watson Personal Photo Collection. More on Larry’s personal collection can be found in the Larry Watson section on the CCC-Site. Or on the Custom Car Photo Archive. Special thanks to Roger O’Dell for scanning this amazing material and sharing them with us on the Custom Car Chronicle.
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In the summer of 1958, shortly after Larry Watson had sold his 1950 Chevy “Grapevine” Larry went shopping for a new car. In the past years he had come up with some new paint ideas, and he wanted to try them out on a new car. The original plan was to find a slightly used ’57 Cadillac, but when he arrived at the Cadillac dealer his eyes were drawn to a one year older Cadillac Eldorado brougham, it was love at first sight. But Larry did not have the $11,000.- the limited production Brougham cost. After the initial disappointment, he later decided he wanted to have an ’58 Ford Hard-top and try out his paint ideas. When he arrived at the Ford dealer he spotted a brand new 1958 Ford T-Bird, and ones again he fell in love with a new car. He had to loan some money to make the deal happen, and told the dealer he would get the first one they would get in with an black and white factory tuck & roll interior.

A few weeks later the a black and white interior T-Bird had arrived at the dealer, and Larry was called to come and pick it up. The car turned out to be factory pink… but Larry did not mind that at all, since that color would not stay visible for very long. Soon after all arrangements had been made and Larry drove it off the dealer’s lot he drove it to have the suspension lowered at Lindy’s Muffler Shop. They also added dual pipes with mufflers and stock chrome tailpipes. But with the car now so low, the tailpipes scraped the road so much that soon the bottom half of them was pushed in and something needed to be done. They then added new tailpipes from chrome plated ’36 Ford drive shafts, mounted as high as they could and extra skid plates were welded to the bottom of the pipes.

The pink factory paint is covered in platinum silver by Larry Watson at the Barris Shop.
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Next Larry took the car to the Barris Shop where he rented shop space, and had Bill Hines and his good friend Bill DeCarr shave the handles and the trim on the bulge on the doors shave the emblems and ad push buttons to open the door. They then finished the body work with some primer. The de-chromed body looked already really amazing with all the emblems and handles removed, but Larry had something in mind that would make it look even better, and make the car look longer and lower. Larry added a set of Appleton Spotlights, 1957 Dodge Lancer four bar hubcaps which he bought brand new from the Dodge dealer, and lake pipes with unique Dave’s Home of Chrome finned end caps.

Then it was time for Larry to do his magic, all this was done at the Barris Atlantic Ave shop in Lynwood, where Larry rented a booth from Barris. Larry wanted to try out an idea he had to create an ultra fine platinum pearl. He ordered 2 gallons of pre-mixed, according his own specifications, platinum pearl nitrocellulose lacquer. Larry first covered the car in a few coats of fine metallic silver and followed that with a few coats of the translucent platinum pearl. After the car had dried overnight he took it out of the shop, and parked it across the street, where he could view it good from the shop. The already huge ’58 T-Bird looked enormous with the new light bright paint. It was just too loud, and too bright. People were actually honking their horn letting them know the reflecting sun in the bright paint, acting like a mirror, was hurting their eyes. So Larry decided to get the Bird back in the shop and do another, his second, panel paint job.


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The First Larry Watson panel Paint-job

Larry’s very first panel paint job he developed was after he was asked by Renegades member Zeno Stephen’s, who owned a mildly customized pure white 1956 Mercury. To paint his car with something different than flames or scallops. Zeno’s Mercury looked so great already, and Larry really loved the lines on the car, so he came up with the idea to highlight these body lines. He masked off all the body lines, side trim, belt line, door handles, basically all the main body lines that your eyes capture first when you look at a car. He used 1 1/2 inch masking tape to make sure the outlining was even all around. He then pained the the inside panels in GM Tahitian Red. When he had removed the masking tape it looks totally amazing. Larry striped the panels in gold, and Zeno took off, cruising to the Bellflower Clock where everybody was staring at his brand new Larry Watson outline paint job. A new trend was born.

Zeno’s Stephen’s 1955 Mercury with Larry’s first ever panel / outline paint job in GM Tahitian Red over factory white.
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Polaroid Insta-Matic photos of Larry’s Vino Paisano in front of the Barris shop at Atlantic Blvd. The photos were taken shortly after the car was finished by by Bob Seiger, and given to Larry. In the background on the first photo we can see Lyle Lake’s 1952 Buick “Blue Danube” sitting in the shop window. This part of the Barris shop was rented by Larry as his shop space for some time. The T-Bird was painted at this shop.
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James Potter had urged  Larry to hurry up with the T-Bird, since he wanted to use it on the cover of the 1959 Custom Cars Annual he was putting together. Larry just made the deadline for the photo-shoot at a new bank building on Willshire Blvd. The color photo above was used on the cover of the book, and so was an color photo of Larry’s ’50 Chevy. Two Watson Customs on the cover, that made Larry very happy.
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From the James Potter 1959 Custom Cars Annual photo-shoot.
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Larry figured that the bright platinum paint could do fine as outlines, as long as the majority of the body would be covered in a darker color. Larry carefully laid out his masking tape (1 3/4 inch wide), following all the major body lines on the T-Bird. Even thought Larry had paneled Zeno Stephen’s ’55 mercury before, on his T-Bird he wanted to do things a little different. The ’58 T-Bird had very distinct body lines, and he wanted to highlight those, and wanted to see how much effect on the overall looks his new design/technique would have. Making sure the platinum pearl outlines would later highlight the beautiful body contours and enhance the low look of the car. Ones Larry was happy with the tape lay-out he show the panels in a beautiful deep candy burgundy wine, mixed by Joe Sheline, straight over the fine platinum pearl. Which created the most amazing sparkle for the Candy paint when the sunlight hit it.

The Vino Paisano parked on the curb at the Barris Shop. This photo shows how the paneling Larry designed enhances the shapes of the Thunderbird body lines. This photo also shows how much difference the car is compared to anything else on the road. Imagine how much impact this had on people who saw it on the road.
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Notice that the Spotlights do not have the scallops added at this point.
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When the tape and paper were removed the result looks spectacular. After the paint had been rubbed by Dayton “Darkie Bob” Randolph and his crew in Huntington Park, Larry added some bold striping in imitation gold. But he did not like the effect and redid it the same day in a lavender with had the just perfect result, slightly softening the edge from burgundy to silver. The Watson paint design made the T-Bird look longer and lower, it really was customizing by nothing but paint.

Larry also painted the grille mesh and the mesh around the taillights in the Candy burgundy. All four taillight lenses were detailed with chrome plated bullets. And on the front Larry removed the stock bumper/grille guards and modified a set of chrome bullets and mounted those over the holes left from the bumper guards. The bullets were bought at Dave’s Home of Chrome.

As soon as Larry was finished with the car James Potter shot it for the cover of the 1959 Custom Cars Annual. And soon s that book hit the book stores everybody in the US was going wild over the incredible new style paint job Larry had done on his T-Bird. Larry used the car on the road, cruising down to all his favorite places, and in the weekends entered it in many Car Shows, where it won many Best Paint Awards. Since the car was so extremely low the cops really loved Larry’s T-Bird as well, and they awarded Larry with many tickets as well. Later Larry would add a license plate to the front, and remove the lakes pipes in the hope the cops would pull him over less than before.

Shortly after finishing the -T-Bird Larry Watson showed the car on a aluminum foil covered turn table at the Renegades Car Club Rod and Custom Motorama at the Long Beach Municipal Auditorium in 1958. The car had been named “The Burgundy Bird”. The Renegades club had honored Larry with a large top location at the entrance of the building.
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The Candy burgundy and platinum silver on Larry’s T-Bird looked amazing on the rock salt round display at the Renegades show. The car was a huge success with the crowd, and another Watson trend had been born. Notice that prior to the show Larry had added scallops and pin striping to the Spotlights.
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George Barris photo of Larry’s T-Bird at the Renegades Show in 1958. According the signs at the bottom the turntable was created by Gary McNaught.
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Larry painted the inside of the engine bay white and added chrome valve covers and air-cleaner. Notice the scalloped and pin-striped Appleton Spotlights.
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Second version

The custom paint that was available back in the later part of the 1950’s and early 1960’s was very bright, colorful, and the hues very brilliant, but most of these products were experimental and not tested very good. In fact Larry helped develop a lot of new custom paint products, and was testing material for his suppliers. It turned out that a lot of these early custom paints started to fade or crack after just a few month in the sun. This also happened with Larry’s ’58 T-Bird, so after half a year he the candy burgundy had faded so badly that he really needed to re-paint the whole car.


Karen Beach, Larry’s girlfriend at the time is posing with the T-Bird for this night shot at the Long Beach Circle. The photo was taken by Lowell Helms and according the stories two police car were using their headlights to dd some extra light for the photo. It worked pretty good to me. Notice that Larry also added a license plate to the front of the car, being sick of getting too many tickets for not having one.
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After having studied the paint and how it had faded on his car he noticed that the panels looked still good on the outside, but the further into the panel, the worst the fading became. He decided he could fix the paint with another round of paneling. He taped of the panels with 2 inch tape, making sure the outlines would be even all around. He then sprayed the inside panel with silver, let it dry and taped off the outside of the silver panel. He then fogged in the inside of the panel in Candy grape. When he removed the tape the new panels had a nice silver outline, and the inside was candy grape fading to silver. Larry covered it all with many clear coats before having Dayton “Darkie Bob” Randolph do the complete polishing on it. Another new, trend setting Watson Paint Technique. Larry would later create many paint designs based on this T-Bird paint.

Larry drove and showed the car like this for some time and then he updated the car with a set of chrome revere wheels detailed with shallow moon hubcaps, which possible are 1950 Mercury units, detailed with another chrome bullet. And later Larry decided to remove the lakes pipes. The car was extrmely low already, and the pipes, which were mounted below the body, made it even lower, and often hard to drive. After having owned and enjoyed the car for about a year Larry decided to sell his T-Bird to a young Bob Finley of Long Beach, who absolutely loved the car. Bob needed his father to finance the car. Larry moved on and bought an 1959 Cadillac which he customized again right after he got it to his shop. Bob owned and really enjoyed the car until late 1961, when he sold it to a principal of Long Beach Poly High School.

The T-Bird at the Compton Drive in photographed most likely by George Barris.
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Closer look at the panel, outline and fogged in paint on Larry’s T-Bird in front of the famous Watson’s shop wall.
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Every time I see one of the photos taken in front of the Larry Watson Rosecrans Blvd shop wall I wonder if Larry had this in mind when he designed the wall.  Posing his creations in front of the wall was a genius promotional action.
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Low angle photo shows the white painted under carriage, and it also shows how extremely low the car really was. No wonder Larry later removed the lakes pipes making driving the car a bit easier.
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Larry mounted chrome plated bullets on the stock T-Bird taillights. The exhaust tops are ’36 Ford drive shafts cut to size and chrome plated, they created a very nice mellow sound. The gas tank was painted white.
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This photo from the Larry Watson Personal Collection has seen better days, but I wanted to include here anyway since is has a nice birds eye view showing the panel work on the top and hood so nice.
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Great black and white photo taken late in the day creating long shadows.
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We could not find a clear photo  of the interior in Larry’s T-Bird, so here are two cropped images that show a little bit of the factory stock black and white tuck & roll interior.
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Larry proudly posing with his T-Bird in front of his Rosecrans Blvd shop in Artesia. The photo shows that not to long after Larry had done his personal T-Bird many customers had requested similar panel and outline paint jobs.
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James Potter made a few close ups of Larry posting with his T-Bird.
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Another George Barris photo-shoot at an unknown location that George used several times. By now Larry had removed the lakes pipes, which make the car look a little less lowered.
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Larry pointing out where the push buttons for the door solenoids was hidden.
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Two close ups photos showing the different wheel/hubcap set up used on Larry’s T-Bird. 1957 Dodge Lancer four bar hubcaps detailed with burgundy paint on burgundy painted steel wheels on the early version. And later after the car had received the paint update, Larry mounted chrome reverse wheels with shallow moon hubcaps (possible 1950 Mercury units?) with Bullet centers. The wheel wells were painted flat white, a big trend back then. As these photos show the white did not stay clean very long. Note the missing lakes pipes on the right photo.
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Larry’s T-Bird made it onto the cover and inside the magazines many times back then, and it is still used a lot these days. Larry had a lot of frames (even more than captured in this photo by Roger O’Dell) devoted to his ’58 T-Bird on his Museum wall.
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Survived

The story of the T-Bird after that is very vague (so far) we know that it has changed hands some more before ending in the hands of Mark Mohoney from Hollywood. In the early 1980’s Mark offered the car for sale in the Recycler and it was bought by Beach Collision Body Shop in Huntington Beach owner Rick Randall. Bill DeCarr had found out about the car being owned by Rick, and had mentioned it to Larry. Larry traced down Rick and looked up the car at his body shop. He sure recognized his old T-Bird which made him very happy to know the car was still around, and in good shape. Rick had started to take apart the car, have all the chrome redone and the car was in primer at the time.

I captured the restored Larry Watson 1958 T-Bird in 2011 outside of the Pomona GNRS buildings. The car was part of a huge Larry Watson display at the Customs Then & Now exhibit.
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The rear quarter view of Larry’s T-Bird is my personal favorite view. Here all the outlined panels make the car look so perfect.
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Several years later Larry’s good friend Gary Niemie asked Larry about the T-Bird, and contact was made with Rick to see if the project was for sale. Which it was, since Rick had been to busy working on the project since Larry last saw it. Larry helped out Gary restoring the car to its first version, how it was first seen by the world on the cover of the 1959 Custom Cars Annual.

Danny Hull at Corona Custom Shop in Norco, Ca was chosen to do the final paint work. Larry helped mixing the pearl silver and the candy burgundy. Danny spayed the silver, after which Larry did the panel tape work for the burgundy paint. Danny also added the Candy burgundy, but let Larry add one coat as well. Later Larry pinstriped the panels in lavender, just as he had done back in 1958.

Gary Niemie later sold the car to Ralph Whitworth who was putting together a huge Hot Rod and Custom Car museum. When the plans for the museum were canceled the T-Bird ended up at the Icons of Speed & Style Auction where the near entire collection of the museum was auctioned on September 26th, 2009. Roger and Marie O’dell, close friends of Larry Watson ended up buying the car for $55,000. After Roger had purchased Larry’s T-Bird he stored it in Larry’s personal museum, the absolute best place for the car to be displayed.

Detail showing the Thunderbird emblem on the rear of the top. The emblem can be pushed to operate the door solenoids. This photo also shows the fine pearl silver paint, candy burgundy and Larry Watson lavender pin-striping.
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Chrome bullets from Dave’s Home of Chrome covering the holes for the factory bumper guards. The grille mesh was painted candy burgundy by Larry back in 1958, the same thing was done on the restoration.
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The chrome bullets used on the taillights are restored originals Larry used back in 1958. Notice the Candy burgundy painted mesh.
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Appleton Spotlights and candy burgundy paint details.
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Watson panel – outline paint

Larry painted a large number of cars with the outline paneling technique he had developed for his personal T-Bird. In fact Larry did at least half a dozen 58 T-Birds in a similar – but slightly different in design and color – outline-panel style as his own T-Bird. The outline and paneling paint technique was a huge success for Larry from 1958 up into the early 1960’s. During this time Larry operating from his Artesia and Rosecrans shop, both in Bellflower California. Cars from totally stock, just lowered cars where he would accent all the body details, to smoothed customs where he would outline just the main body lines.

Larry was a true master when it came to this technique. He started by looking at the car for some time, and finding all the key lines that really mattered for the look of the car. Those where the lines than needed the extra color accents. Or he would choose the widest panels and found ways to make those look longer and thinner, by masking a little more, or less space around the edges. Larry’s designers eye allowed him to do custom work with nothing but paint. The result were cars that not only looked spectacular, they looked longer, lower and thinner. Something that could done only with very expensive metal body work as chopping and sectioning before. And now Larry was able to do this in a matter of hours and days, for just a fraction of the costs.

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George Barris at Work

 

GEORGE BARRIS at WORK

 

George Barris is known to the public more as the Barris Kustoms promoter, than as the Barris Custom Builder. He did however build many cars, and painted even more.


In this article we will concentrate on George at work from the early beginnings to around 1958. The work George Barris did in his hop shifted very much over the years. It all started in the early 1940’s, in his spare time after school, George started to hang out at local Sacramento, Ca. body shops, including Brown’s Body Shop and Harry Westergard’s back-yard shop. Here he swept floors and watched the masters at work absorbing every little detail these masters were doing. Harry Westergard noticed how eager George was and was happy to learn him all the fine details of the trade.

George had bought a 1936 Ford convertible and wanted to put in practice all the new techniques he had learned and visualize all the restyling ideas he had in his mind. George finished the car while working part time at the Harry Westergard shop. Westergard turned out to be the perfect teacher for George Barris. Harry had a real good feel for what was needed to make a car look better, longer, lower and more exclusive. George had this same feel for restyling cars, and with the guidance of Harry, George started very early on to create his own style, and own “rules” for what needed to be done to create great looking Custom Cars.

The ’36 Ford Convertible George had created from himself in the early 1940’s when he still lived in the Sacramento area. The work on the car was done by George with some guideline by Harry Westergard. Perhaps a little rough, but George would learn fast with experience after moving to Los Angeles.
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In 1942 Sam had joined the navy and had left for Los Angeles. George joined the Merchant Marine and moved to Los Angles to wait for further action and a ship he would serve on. In the meantime George would cruise the streets of Los Angeles, finding all the Hot Rod and Custom Car hot-spots and proudly show his just finished 1936 Ford. His car was a big hit, and especially the fact that George could open his doors with a push on a button, made a huge impact on the guys and girls. The push-button doors was something not seen yet in the LA area. (It is often mentioned that it was Harry Westergard who was the first to install them, and this must have been around the time George was working with Harry.)

George adapted the technique using Buick solenoid’s to pop the doors open. The buttons were hidden on the body and on the dash. George would be using this technique later on when he started to do customers cars. While still waiting for a ship (which would never come) George started to work at local body shops, including the Jones’s Body, Fender & Paint Shop. This was a regular body shop looking for good craftsman, since sever of its employees had joined the army and navy. George started out doing the regular body shop stuff, but slowly George introduced them into the Custom Car scene. They were very impressed with what George could do, and saw potential in it. They allowed George to promote the Custom Body Work and soon his work attracted more and more customers for the shop.

Snapshot taken at the Jones’s Body, Fender & Paint Shop on Florence and Main in Los Angeles. This was the shop were George started to work after arriving in LA, and where he introduced customizing and doing Custom Body Work. 
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In 1944 George was doing so much restyling at the Jones’s body shop, that he decided the time was right to start his own Custom Body Shop specialized in Custom Restyling. He found a suitable small shop space in Bell, California. George was working alone in the beginning, handling all the jobs needed, from suspension, to full body work, and paint. Over time some of his new friends started to help out at the body shop, when the work load became to big for George alone.When WWII ended his bother Sam returned from the navy, and visited George in Los Angeles.

George talked his brother into joining him in his body shop adventure. George trained Sam the trade of body man and Sam picked up very fast showing he was an natural in shaping metal, and more important having an eye for style as well. Together they could tackle any job, and with the two brothers now working together magic started to happen. George and Sam discussed every detail on the cars the worked on, George often made sketches of the ideas they came up with, and together they would transfer the designs into metal.

After spending shop hours working on customer cars the two bothers built restyled cars for themselves as well. To be used as daily transportation, and to promote the new Barris’s Custom Shop of course. After a bit of a hard start, things were slowly getting better and in 1946 a new larger shop was found in Compton, Ca. The new shop location and the good name the shop now had, made sure there was a work load at all time.

Barris Compton AveThe Barris Custom Shop Body & Fender Works on Compton Ave around 1947.
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There are relatively few photos of George doing the actual work, mainly because most of the shop photos were taken by George and he would be behind the camera, not in front. And most of the early photos taken at the Barris Shop that have surfaced so far have been taken by Marcia Campbell and Marcia was very good friends with Sam Barris, so most of the time she hung out at the Barris Shop and captured the work on the cars, was from Sam doing the work.




George’s life changing 1941 Buick
Around 1946-47 George found a 1941 Buick convertible which he slowly turned into a full custom with chopped windshield, full fade-away molded in fenders, Cadillac grille and padded Carson top, restyled just the way George loved it. George showed the Buick in January of 1948 at the first Hot Rod Exposition in Los Angeles. The Buick was the only Custom Car at the show and was a huge crowd pleaser winning the top award. The show gained a lot of attention to the Barris’s Custom Shop and their Kustom creations. At the show, George was introduced to Robert Petersen, which would later turn out to be a turning point. Robert would start his publishing company soon after the show and later produce most of the major Hot Rod and custom Car related magazines and books on the west coast. Their friendship turned out to be very important.

At the time the shop was still named Customs Shop with a “C” but the cars they restyled were already called Kustoms with a “K”. In may 1948 the new all round car magazine Road & Track showed a photo of George’s Buick in the magazine. The photo of the Buick was absolutely perfect showing the beauty of the car with its wonderful fade-away fenders, the Cadillac grille, shaved door handles and low padded top. The Kustoms Los Angeles plaque, which George had created for his own club also showed prominent in the photo. In the same issue of Road & Track George ran a 1/4 page ad using the same photo promoting the Barris’s Custom Shop work. Listed was; Body Streamlining, Roadster Channeling, Custom Painting, Push-button doors & windows and Tops lowered (Chopped). The ad, magazine article and showing the car at this important 1948 show really helped promote the Barris Shop name, and more an more customers were able to find the small shop. From then on George realized that building great cars was one things, but knowing how to promote them and the shop was just as important.

George in work cloth at the Compton Ave. Barris Custom shop getting a ticket for his ’41 Buick. Photo taken around 1948.
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After that George would start to spend more time, after shop hours, to start promoting the Barris name and Barris Shop. During the day George was the shop foreman, and Sam the lead body man. Friends were hired when needed, and as soon as the workload was increasing, employees were hired part and full time. But George would continue to perform work on the cars, from doing metal body work, to paint prep and those stunning organic full paint jobs. George loved to mix his own custom colors and paint the Barris creations in high quality mile deep paint jobs developing his own techniques to get the perfect result. Especially in the early years up to the mid 1950’s George was the lead painter at the shop.

Barris Bell ShopGeorge Barris and some of his friends and employees chopping the top of Larry Robbin’s 1948 Mercury.
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George working on the rolled door ends on Larry Robbin’ 1948 Mercury at the Barris Bell Shop around 1949.
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Double exposed photo of George doing some welding on Larry Robbin’s Mercury.
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George working on the new sheet metal cover to make the ’49 Cadillac grille fit the ’48 Mercury.
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The better known the Barris Shop became, the more client cars came into the shop, some for mild restyle work, but more and more for a complete Custom overhaul. Along the way it became evident the shop really benefited from a spokes person, somebody who promoted the Barris name, and the typical Barris style Custom Car. The new more constant flow of clients also demanded for somebody who would deal with the clients, new and old, in a more professional way. For George these new job function came as natural. George understood what it took to keep the focus on the Barris name, try to get as much exposure at the big and little Car Shows. And most important of all get the maximum name recognition from magazine exposure. From ads ran by the shop, but even more important magazine features and later how to articles on Barris Custom creations.

For once George Barris was on the other side of the camera for this How to Dechrome Your Car article in the 1954 Custom Cars Annual from Trend Books. This is a nice article showing George doing the work on an unidentified Mercury Custom.
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With George still at the shop doing “regular” shop work, he started to add more and more functions to his tasks, from taking photos from the work getting done in the shop, which could be used for future How To magazine articles, to starting his own local and state wide car club, organizing special events, car shows and providing magazines with complete car features, including photos and written word.


A few more published magazine photos of George at work on some Barris Customs. On the left George is molding in the headlights on Jack Brumbach’s 1942 Ford. Center photo George is fitting the rear bumper on the extended rear of Convert Michael’s 1949 Ford , and working on the grille surround of Frank Airheart’s 1951 Oldsmobile.
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George on the left, Sam on the right and two other guys, possibly one of them the client discussing ideas for this wild ’49 Mercury convertible Custom.
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George Barris at work sketching Custom Designs him and his brother Sam came up with. Sam played a huge roll in these early stages with his keen eye for Design. Together they were the golden team.
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George adding Cadillac rear fenders and taillights on an ’41 Buick.
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George shaping a new hood for a Hot Rod project at the Barris Shop.
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After the mid 1950’s the work load at the Barris shop became so big that it became harder and harder for George to find the time for actual shop work. But where possible he would love to come in and lock himself up in the paint booth to spend a weekend doing another stunning paint-job or experiment with new paint products. There were also cars that were special to George, and he tried to put in as much actual work as possible, one of those was the Kopper Kart, it would become an important Barris Promotional Custom that George traveled around all over the US.

 

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Others on George Barris at Work.

  • Jack Stewart was close friends with George from the late 1940’s. When Jack’s 1941 Ford had been sitting at the Ayala Shop, with most of the major work being done, it was George who asked Jack if he could finish the car for him. And so it happened. George Barris handled all the fine tuning on Jack’s Ford, including rounding the corners, reshaping the character line on the rear fenders and the taillight housings. (The taillights were created by Bob Hirohata). First George finished Jack’s Ford in white primer, so that Jack could start using the car. Later George finishes his work on the car with beautiful custom mixed metallic bronze paint job, which won Jack several awards.
  • Marcia Campbell had mentioned that when George was working in her ’49 Chevy convertible, George could not get the hood to fit right, after which he got very upset and damaged the hood with the hammer in frustration, the next day he got it right with a new hood replacing the damaged one. George did most of the work on here Chevy.
  • Nick Matranga “I have to salute George Barris for his patience with me. We shot so many sample color panels and let them dry and looked at them in the sun. In them days it was pure lacquer. We’d shoot the car and color sand it. And let it dry for a month. And color sand it again for the final rub out. George was a great painter, and he was careful not to put it on too wet.””George’s Greek aesthetics of color and form were amazing and unfailing, especially early on.”
  • Junior Conway has mentioned several times about George doing most of the paint work at the shop. Sam could also paint, but for George it came natural. Junior mentioned that George painted a lot of the cars at the shop, including some of the best known, like the Tom Hocker 1940 Ford, the 1955 Chevy Aztec, the Kopper Kart, and many more.

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George working in different stages on the Frank Monteleon’s 1941 Ford. Early staged working on the fade away fenders, middle shows George fine tuning the car and getting it ready for paint. And on the right is George Barris with Frank Monteleon during a TV news program about the show where Frank had just won an important award. George taking the opportunity to  advertise Barris on TV.
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George Barris working on the Chet Herberd Streamliner.
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George with the 55 Chevy pick up the Kopper Cart. George performed a lot of work on this car himself. Later he would tour the car all over the US, promoting the Barris Kustom Shop all over the US.
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We know that this is a staged photo of George “working” on the R & C Dream Truck. And that even the pink primer was added to the body just for the photo. Possibly for a cover shot, although it was never use as such. But we also do know that George was very much involved at the building of this iconic truck. George knew the importance of this project, and just needed to be part of it, personally.
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George Barris Custom Painter.

George Barris loved to mix his own color and paint cars. To see the creations he had made, or which were done by others at the Barris Shop was always special for him. The paint was always the cherry on top for him. And the Barris Shop became very well known for their special paint-jobs, especially in the early 1950’s. The first Custom Cars Annual from 1951 even wrote about this special Barris Paint method they had developed. Partly this method was really special, but it was also an early attempt to create some Barris Mystery by George… attracting more clients.

George wet sanding an late 30’s sedan.
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George applying some primer to the Tom Hocker 1940 Ford. George later painted the car Fushia Orchid, and a few years later in light blue.
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George painting the 4-door Mercury that had been completely restyled at the Barris hop for owner Jerry Reichman.
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George test fitting the grille surround on Chuck DeWitt’s 52 Ford Wagon. Photo shoot for June 1956 Motor Life magazine cover.
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George and his wife Shirley prepping Shirley’s ’58 Ford T-bird at night at the Barris Shop. The photo was staged, and part of a series made that night, but the work by George and Shirley continued after the needed shots were accomplished.
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Two photos taken around 1958 show George doing what he liked doing best in the shop around that time. Painting cars and mixing paint.
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George Barris promoting at the shows

Going to car shows often meant something different to George than it would for most of his friends. They would take their Custom Cars to the show to show of their beautiful cars, to try to win some awards, and meet with friends. For George it meant business as well. George realized after the first Hot Rod Show in 1948, where he had showed his 1941 Buick, that this was the place to attract new clients, or convince old clients into new projects. George always made sure the Barris Cars were well present and presented at the shows. Bringing all the past won trophies to enhance the beauty and quality of the Barris Customs. George started to wear his best suits to the show, to make an as good as possible impression on behalf of the Barris Shop. Handing out business cards, talking to people about the cars they had brought to the show it was all part of the job. Before and after show hours George would go back to the buildings to take photos of the cars for his own files, and for future magazine and book articles.

1950 Oakland Roadster showAt the Oakland Roadster Show held January 19-22, 1950 George made sure that he was photographed with the award winning Jesse Lopez Ford that was at the show as a Barris Custom. (even though the car was entirely built by Jesse and Sam Barris). It shows that in early 1950, George already knew the importance of promoting.
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During the 1950 Motorama show held in Shrine Convention Hall, 700 West 32nd Street in Los Angeles on November 16 through 19, George was really starting to promote the Barris Kustom Shop. In this photo George and his promoting crew, ll nicely dressed up with Barris card tags on thier cloth is posing with Jim Skonzakes’s ’49 Buick which was mostly done at the Barris Shop. David Zivot did an in depth article on this photo here on the CCC.
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The next years Motorama show was held at the Pan Pacific Auditorium. George Barris created a full shop wall display at a show, with beautiful sparkling cardboard cut out BARRIS letters on the curtain behind the displayed cars. George is all dressed up to and ready to talk to potential new clients. Sam usually stayed in the background, but apparently was asked to help promote the shop at this show. A very rear photo of Sam Barris in suit.
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Next to promoting the Barris Shop at the car shows across the US, George also started to promote the Barris work in Hollywood. And with success, The Hirohata Mercury and the Fred Rowe Mercury, both starred in the Running Wild Movie created in the mid 1950’s. And it would be followed with many more movies Barris Cars would be used in. It ultimately lead Barris to move to North Hollywood to serve the movie industry better. But that is a completely different story.
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George Barris the photographer

George Barris had always taken snapshots of his cars, but did not really get started to this on a more regular base after he was introduced to Marcia Campbell. Marcia had several Barris Cars in the late 40’s and early 50’s. And she loved to hang out at the Barris shop where she because good friends with Sam Barris. Besides Custom Cars Marcia had another passion, photography, so she started to take photos of work done at the Barris Shop, Sam doing his magical metal work, but also of finished cars around the Barris Shop. She would come in a few days after she had taken the photos with nice large photo prints, giving those to the guys in the photo. George loved it and started to use these photos to help promote the Barris Shop. Marcia taught George how to take better photo and from then on George would always carry his camera on him and shoot everything he thought would come in handy at one time.

There are relatively very few photos from George Barris doing the work on the shop floor, compared to others at the Barris Shop, simply because most of the time it was George that was behind the camera, and if he was not, he was most likely directing the photographer to get the best shots. We can all be very grateful that George had the foresight to first take all these photos, and second document and hand on to them for all these years. In the the 1990’s George knew that the time was right to star sharing his story and material, and he created a series of books about the history of the Barris Kustom Shop, and shared many of his stories and photo material in these books.

Ralph Pool took the photos of the Hirohata Mercury and model miss Marilyn Bordeau for Hop Up magazine and captured George in this one taking the opportunity to shoot some photos for his own files of the set up as well.
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Another photo of George taking photos, or perhaps more likely a staged photo of George taking photos of the second version of the Larry Ernst Chevy. This shows how George took photos, but very rarely people were around actually taking picture of George taking picture. So the situation was staged to “capture” the moment.
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George took mostly very good care of the photos he took. From the moment he started to use his photos in publications he kept a record of all the negatives, prints and print proofs he made. Cutting out the proof sheets, taping them onto large paper boards, and marking them for future reference. All that was done after shop hours.
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Around 1960. George Barris photographing Bob Drake’s Studebaker Custom. Two of the photos George takes that day will be used Trend Books #181 Custom Car Show-Cars, a publication by George Barris.
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Later in the 1950’s promoting the Barris Kustom Shop would take more and more time and would keep him away from the shop floor more and more. But being the promoter of his own product, he needed to keep an eye out for the quality of the work, as well as the creativity standing for the Barris Kustom name. George was only such a great promoter for the Shop, because he knew what was going on in the shop, because he knew what could be done, and how it could be done. This only worked because he had the personal experience of all the work handled by the shop.

Up till around 1957 the combination of George as the shop foreman/promoter, and Sam as the lead body man in the shop had made sure Custom Car magic had happened. The combination of skills and ambition of both brothers turned out to be gold and the Barris name and the cars they created were everywhere. Around that time Sam had decided to move back to the Sacramento area, and semi retire from building Custom Cars. The Barris Kustom Shop would continue for many decades, and great things would still come out of the shop. But times had changed demanding different cars to be created. The unique magic of the two brothers working together, enhancing each other was gone.

From the early years George Barris started his own Custom Body Shop he instinctively knew what it would take to make the Barris name and Barris Kustom Shop a success. Because of his hard work and insight of capturing it all, documenting it all, we now have the right Custom Car history we can all enjoy. Because George did the actual work in the shop for many years, he knew how to document and promote all this in the best way possible. And perhaps he knew, or at least dreamed about it back in the 1940’s and 1950’s that one day all his hard work and the Barris legacy would make a difference in the world.












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Golden Sahara II Pearl Paint

 

GOLDEN SAHARA II PEARL PAINT

 

Around 1957 Jim Skonzakes starts to experiment with with special Pearl Paste used in the jewelry Industry. He managed to use it as a finish for the Golden Sahara 2 which initiate the popularity of the Pearl Automotive Finish.



We will be highlighting the Golden Sahara I and II details in a series of articles here on the Custom Car Chronicle as a tribute to Jim Street (Skonzakes) who passed away in early December, 2017. In this article we will highlight the totally unique and spectacular Pearl Paint that was used on the Golden Sahara II.

After having toured the Golden Sahara I around the US for a few years it was time for Jim Skonzakes to take the car apart and start all over. In the past few years Jim had dreamed up a lot of new ideas to make the already stunning Golden Sahara even more spectacular. When Jim’s friend designed the Golden Sahara around 1954 everything was state of the art, especially the design features of the car, a wonderful mix between traditional Customizing, and Factory Show Car. Even though the Golden Sahara I was spectacular, Jim felt that his Dream Custom could be much more in many aspects.

From a Barris Golden Sahara Press Release in the early 1960’s.
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From the beginning the pearl paint on the Golden Sahara has been the subject for many wild stories. Some of the stories mentioned that the car was painted using a special paint mix created from fish scales bought at the local Market. The fish scale part is actually true, but they were not sourced from a local Los Angeles market as claimed. We get back to that later. Lets first tell the story where the idea of the pearl paint came from. Jim Street told me the story that would led to the Golden Sahara II paint during my interviews with him for the Jack Stewart Ford book in 2012.

Jim Street in 2012.
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During the time (around 1957) Jim was working on creating the GSII he often wondered about a new color for his car. The first version of the Golden Sahara was painted refrigerator white, and while Jim loved the color, he felt that the new much more sophisticated version of the Golden Sahara needed a more spectacular paint finish. He had looked at many metallic paints, but none of them were considered suitable for what he had in mind.





Pearl Necklace

One day while eating lunch at a local restaurant, Jim noticed that the waitress that was serving his food was wearing a pearl necklace. The pearls looked amazing, sparkly and pearly, with this amazing warm shine. He asked the waitress about the pearls, and secretly hoped they were not the real deal, but something that was manufactured. They were fake pearls the waitress said, she had bought them at the Ten-Cent store, and they were actually very cheap. She took of the necklace so Jim could have a closer look. Jim thought the pearl finish looked absolutely stunning, and would suite beautiful as paint for his Golden Sahara.

A similar cheap fake pearl necklace as Jim Skonzakes was inspired by to paint his Golden Sahara II in pearl white.
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All hyped about the new idea he went down-town Dayton Ohio, where he lived, and found the pearl necklace at the Ten-Cent store, just as the waitress had mentioned. He bought the necklace and went home to study the information on the box. The manufacture company address was listed on the back of the box, and he got in touch with them. Jim soon found out the pearls were made from plastic which were coated in a special pearl paint. After Jim had made sure he only wanted to have the paint info to see if he could use it to paint his special Custom Car, the necklace company was even so kind to provided Jim with the contact info of the pearl paint.





The Mearl Corporation

The Mearl Corporation was the one that produced the beautiful pearl paint for the necklace pearls. Jim talked to them on the phone, explaining that he needed the paint for his car. The people at the Mearl Corporation told Jim how they used imported fish scales from the orient, a by-product, as base for their paint. The scales were bought in bulk, washed and cleaned, then dried and carefully pulverized. The powder was then mixed with special resin to form a paste. This raw paste was the product that was sold and which could then later be mixed with clear nitro cellulose and sprayed onto the plastic pearls at the necklace company. The Mearl Corporation told Jim that because of the Nitro Cellulose base, it most likely would not be suitable for use on larger area’s like a complete car. But that they were more than happy to help, and supply Jim with the raw paste and even the pulverized pearl power, so that Jim could experiment with it. And they would be very interested in the results.

Part of a newspaper report on the special features on Jim Skonzakes’s Golden Sahara.
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The Golden Sahara was being constructed at the Delphos Machine & Tool Shop in Dayton, Ohio, where Jim did a lot of testing with the pearl paste together with Bud West, a local Dayton Ohio paint legend. They started with clear and mixed in the pearl paste, one table spoon first then mix it completely and very carefully, then add more pearl paste as well as pearl powder, and keep mixing and experimenting until the effect was just right. They finally succeeded in creating a paint that could be sprayed on larger areas, like a car, and it looked absolutely amazing. When the Golden Sahara was ready for paint, the car was first made as straight as possible. Many guide coats where needed to get the body as straight as needed. Then the car was painted refrigerator white and then it was covered with many coats of the translucent special pearl mixture. The end result was absolutely stunning, and just as breathtaking as Jim had visualized it. He knew he had made the right choice, and the paint was accenting all the body modifications, and enhancing all the other spectacular features on the car.



Beautiful shining pearl paint finish on the just completed Golden Sahara II.
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Close up of the pearl paint finish.
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People who saw The Golden Sahara at it first outings around 1958 mentioned the paint looked like something they had never before seen in their life “Just out of this world”.

Shortly after the Golden Sahara was painted disaster struck. The car was painted perfectly and sitting in a corner of the Delphos Machine & Tool shop to dry and parts of the car were in other parts of the shop. There was this guy working at the shop one evening and apparently he was drunk at the time. He had just finished painted a car green. He was walking around a bit with the paint gun still in his hands and trips over something on the floor. While falling down he pushes the handle on the paint gun…. green paint every-were! Part of it went over the fresh Golden Sahara II paint and and on the just finished hand made plexiglass windows. Fortunately the paint was covered with a few coats of clear, so that could be sanded down and re-polished, but the plexiglass windows were a lot harder to clean… more on that in another Golden Sahara Story.

Most people saw the Golden Sahara II at indoor Car Show around the US illuminated with light bulps. (Jim Palmer photo)
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The soft glowing shine of the pearl paint combined with the gold plated body accents looked spectacular.
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The Golden Sahara I Pearl Paint at Larry Watson’s Artesia Blvd Shop photographed in the late afternoon around 1960.
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Due to the fact that Nitro Cellulose clear paint was very sensitive to light, and would yellow and even brown over time, the first pearl paint job on the Golden Sahara did not last too long. After the clear had yellowed it had lost its wonderful sparkle and looked a bit dirty. More experimenting was needed and different products were used. Champion Bronze Powder & Paint Company as well as the Mearl Corporation were asked to help solve the problem. For the new paint job the Pearl Paste and powders were mixed in with a different base. The new paint job was done by a friend of Jim, Russ George, at a local Ford Dealer paint booth. The car was painted a few times more during its almost ten years on the show  scene. As far as we know the car was last painted pearl white around 1964 by Russ George. This same paint job although very much yellowed and deteriorated is still on the car when it was uncovered in 2018.

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About Russ George
By Russ George Jr.

My Dad, Russ George, was best friends with Jim Street all through the years until he past away in 1982. I can remember first meeting Jim when I was around 12 in the late 1950’s and since have looked up to and admired Jim for his talent and imagination, way ahead of his time and just being one of the good guys. My dad was involved with the construction and painting of the Golden Sahara and Jim always said Dad was one the the best he had ever known. He wasn’t the only one involved, a lot of talented guys from Dayton Ohio were also involved, the talent was amazing. Dad also traveled with Jim around the country for many years. If Jim had to get back to Dayton, Dad would go ahead and demonstrate the car and electronics, load up and meet Jim at the next show.

My dad painted the Sahara in 1962-1964 time period. He could have used acrylic lacquer clear like what was used on the repainted Kookies Kar, but he rather used straight lacquer clear.  Because as the paint aged it got a slight yellow tint and looked so much better than the new pearl with water clear. As you can see after 50 years the clear turned yellow/brown. My dad did lot of work on the car through years and of course painted it the last time. I’ve been around the car since Jim brought it back to Dayton right after it was built.

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Correspondence between Jim Skonzakes, The Delphos Machine & Tool Company and Champion Bronze Powder & Paint Company about Pearl Paste and how to solve the problems that happened to the first paint job.
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Correspondence with the Mearl Corporation in October 1958.
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Even in black and white photos you could see how special the glow of the pearl paint was.
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The pearl paint looked very sparkly in the Jerry Lewis Cinderfella movie.
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Golden Sahara Pearl paint shining in one of the dealer show rooms it was displayed in all over the US. The combination of the special features, unique futuristic design and out of this world Pearl Finish made the car a huge crowd magnet.
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About the Pearl Paint by Don Boeke

The Sahara II has never been any other color but white pearl in its lifetime. After Bob Metz completed all the metalwork it was painted here in Dayton by Bud West. The last time painted was also here in Dayton at Russ George’s body shop. I was only about 24 and did some prep and prime work along with his sons, plus Tom Schnebly, Jim Begley, Street of course, and several other volunteers. It was done in lacquer.

It’s present condition (2018) is result of complete neglect while stored in his business warehouse and garage. There was never gold paint on this car. That’s what lacquer does with age and why it was reformulated to acrylic lacquer a few years later. Note: The Kookie roadster was painted with acrylic white pearl the second time around 1964, and did not turn color. Note: Perfect example the shifter skull, unlike the body, and the skull above the rear end on the Kookie roadster I did in nitrocellulose lacquer base and clear, and it too suffered the same consequence over the same period of time.

The turned yellow/brown clear on the Kookie Kar shifter knob with the original nitrocellulose lacquer around 1965. The same as we see on the Golden Sahara.
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A young Don Boeke on tour with the Golden Sahara in 1965.
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The Golden Sahara moved over to the Radar Security building in 2018. This is the building where Jim Street used some of the special electronics developed for the Golden Sahara to start his Security business.
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Outside at last…. We all have been waiting for this moment many years! The Golden Sahara, and other parts from Jim Streets Collection will be auctioned in May. This will be very interesting.
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When Jim Skonzakes experimented with the Pearl Paint to be used on a car in 1957 he was not the first to do so. In the early 1930’s several car manufacturers had already offered their cars in a pear-essence paint. In 1932 Chevrolet listed a few colors in their paint options that were pearl based paint. Of special note is that these pearl colors were only optional for the upper body parts, and a special not on the paint chart was made that these colors were impractical to color match. So in case of body damage or paint damage, the whole body needed to be repainted. Therefor this type of paint, which was based on crushed fish scales, did not became very popular, and soon the option was not available anymore. During this time the first more practical metallic paints were developed.

1932 Chevrolet Color Chart listing the Pearl Essence paint.
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Murano Pearl

Murano was manufactured by the Mearl Corporation, and was originally used primarily in mass-produced plastics and costume jewelry. There were several color options: white, red, pink, blue, two shades of green, and yellow (often referred to as “gold Murano”). Originally the paste was not marketed as an automotive product, but after Jim Skonzakes had used it on the Golden Sahara and his information how he had created the paint was shared with the Mearl Corporation the Murano Pearl product was marketed in a much wider market. Murano Pearl Paste was compatible with all lacquers, enamels and urethanes due to its resin base. Its color-shifting quality came from fish scales, not pearl or abalone shell as many believed. Murano had a 30% lead content in concentrated form. Today’s lead-free mica-based products offer a nice pearlescent effect, but nothing matches the true pearl quality of a Murano finish.

In the late 1970’s lead based paints were banned, and so was Murana Pearls. Newer pearl paints based on powdered mica (like the Mearl Corporation Nacromer series) made painting pearl paints a lot easier, and much more practical and popular, but these never were able to come close to the original pearl shine of the Mearl Corporation Murano Pearls.

The Mearl Corporation produced Murano and Nacromer Pearl Paste products. The Murano Pearls were based on fish scales.
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