1955 Thrifty Parking Lot Show

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55 THRIFTY PARKING LOT

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1955 Hot Rod and Custom Car show held at the new Thrifty Drug Store on Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles.

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Original article from August 09, 2018, updated August 26, 2019.

In the 1950’s it was very common to organize Hot Rod and Custom Car shows at the local parking lots large public facilities as drug stores, stadiums etc. The parking lots were huge easily accessible and it was easy to rope off a section for the show. One of the most famous of these parking lot Shows was a show with high end custom cars held at an Los Angeles Thrifty Drug store in May 1954 which we covered in this CCC-Article.

Since we did that article I have been collecting photos of outdoor parking lot car shows I came across to add to this what I hope to become a series on parking lot car show articles. Several early and mid 1950’s magazines had a few photos taken at these parking lot shows which I had not been able to identify until I came across an article on the Hot Rod Magazine Article featuring some really great photos taken by Rick Rickman.

One photo in particular stood out to me. A picture taken at a Thrifty Drug store in May 1955 showing the Hirohata Mercury, in it later lime gold paint, Dave Bugarin’s 1951 Mercury and Bob Dofflow‚Äôs ‚Äô49 Ford. And while drooling over that photo I realized I had seen a few more photos taken at the same location, and now I was able to place them all at one May 5th, 1955 event held at the Thrifty Drug Store at the corner of Vermont Avenue and Hollywood Blvd. in Los Angeles. And, perhaps just as important. The photo caption from the Hot Rod magazine article explained why these car shows were held at the Thrifty Drug Show… and how it was possible that all these high end Custom Cars were at this and the 1954 show.

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This was taken at a show at a Thrifty drug store on May 5, 1955, at the corner of Vermont Avenue and Hollywood Blvd. From right to left we can see, Bob Hirohata’s 1951 Mercury with the new (after the Running Wild movie shoot) lime gold paint job, and door mounted mirror, Dave Bugarin’s 1951 Mercury (both by Barris), next to Dave’s Merc is Bob Dofflow‚Äôs ‚Äô49 Ford restyled by Bear Customs, and next to that we can see the top and a few other small details of what most likely is the 1948 Mercury of Cliff Rackohn (thanks Anthony White for identifying that one) Behind Bob’s Ford we can see a ’46 Chevy panel truck with roof rack, which was most likely used by Rick Rickman to make the overhead photos.

From the Hot Rod magazine article

Three rolls that Rickman logged into Petersen‚Äôs in-house lab on May 9, 1955, as ‚ÄúThrifty Drug NHRA Show‚ÄĚ mystified archive divers for decades. In our July 2010 issue, founding HRD editor David Freiburger published six pages of parking-lot pictures, including one showing NHRA‚Äôs third employee and Drag Safari organizer, Chic Cannon, with an L.A. sheriff‚Äôs deputy. Left unexplained were who organized the event, and why, and how a gathering of so many famous hot rods, race cars, sport specials, and especially customs apparently never made HRM or its sister magazines.

In 2013, Cannon‚Äôs autobiography answered the first two questions: ‚ÄúSince I had some experience organizing car clubs, Wally gave me the position of [NHRA] National Club Advisor. My cousin, Art Crawford, was in marketing ‚Ķ and had Thrifty Drug Stores as a client of his. They were developing new shopping centers all over Southern California, and Art asked me to help promote the grand openings‚Ķ. So in 1954 and ‚Äô55, I organized about a dozen car shows.‚ÄĚ As for why at least two were thoroughly photographed on Petersen film but never made print, Chic‚Äôs insight leads us to suspect that Rick‚Äôs assignment came from NHRA president Wally Parks‚ÄĒnot his HRM boss and editor, also named Wally Parks.

Possibly the photo lab supplied sets of prints, only, to NHRA and/or Chic’s cousin for promotional purposes, while the negatives were filed, as usual, with the publishing company.

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Close up of the Hirohata Mercury which was at the 1955 show with the new lime gold and organic green below the Buick spear paint. The color was changed, because it needed to be updated after having been on the road for a few years, but also because a darker hue would show better on camera for the Running Wild movie. Most likely the Mercury was still owned by Bob Hirohata, but he did sell it in 1955. Notice both the hood and trunk are open, and the public can come very close to the cars, even touch it.

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The Dave Bugarin ’51 Mercury and Bob Dofflow‚Äôs ‚Äô49 Ford a bit more close up. It must have been an amazing sight to see these high quality, magazine featured and show award winning Customs lined up in the parking lot.

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Here’s a shot of the other side of the parking lot. Possibly taken from the roof of the Hovey 1946 Chevy panel truck we can see in the top photo. In the foreground are Dave Bugarin’s ’51 Merc, next to the Hirohata Merc, and unidentified chopped padded top early 40’s Chevy and two more light colored customs I have not been able to identify. On the other sied are three drag cars including the Sparks & Bonny Willys and on the far right we can see the front of the pale yellow Chuck Porter truck. It is amazing to see that people could walk up to the car and even touch them.

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Close up of the Hirohata Mercury and Dave Bugarin Mercury, both Barris Kustom Shop creations.

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Taken from the same high location as the previous photo, but taken at a different angle shows Bob Dofflow’s ’49 Ford the best of all the known photos shared from this event.

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Show officials checking out the Hirohata Merc.

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The Ayala/Barris Bettancourt Mercury also made an appearance.

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Also taken from the roof rack, but now facing the opposite direction from the photos shown earlier. This side of the parking lot had more of the Hot Rod entries. The only car I recognize is the ’34 Ford with the padded top which was owned by Earl Schieb or possibly his son, Al at the time.

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Slightly different perspective.

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Mild custom line up on the road side.

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Mild Mercury Hard-Top with ’53 Pontiac Wagon taillights.

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Subtle touches on this early 50’s Chevy convertible.

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Love the super smooth rear end of the 1952 Chevy fastback, especially interesting are the taillights in the Kaiser over-rider. ’51 Ford Sedan looks good with the Pontiac grille bar and smoothed hood. Simple, but very effective.

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Many thanks to the Petersen Archive for sharing these amazing photos on the Hot Rod Magazine website. And hopefully many more from those 3 rolls of film that Rick Rickman took in 1955 of this event will be shared. And hopefully more of the 1954 and perhaps any of the other events held at the Thrifty parking lot will be shared. With such top cars in attendance at these outdoor events it would make sense if many more photos were taken. By professional photographers, as well as by car owners and those who came to look at the cars at these free Custom Car Shows. If any of our readers know about more photos from these events, or know more about the events themselves, please email Rik here at the Custom Car Chronicle.

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There were quite a few photos of this customized Muntz with Hemi engine. I guess Rick Rickman realy liked it, or perhaps planned to do a feature on it?

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Awards

David Zivot send us two photo of a Trophy from his Personal Collection.
“This trophy from my personal collection
was awarded to the 2nd Place winner at a Thrifty Drugs grand opening less than a week earlier than the show from this article. It appears that the Thrifty and Alexander’s Market sponsored show (in cooperation with the NHRA) was held one street over on Sunset & Vermont, at the Barnsdall Shopping Center.
It would be very interesting to discover which customs were in attendance at this show, and who won this 2nd Place award.‚ÄĚ

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These photos, the awards and the notes from the Hot Rod Magazine article that there were a series of Car Show held at the Thrifty Drug Store parking lots across LA makes me really wonder how many of these shows were held in 1954-55. And how they were advertised. So far I have still not been able to find any announcement for these shows. Possibly announcements were made in the local news-paper, or perhaps posters were made that were distributed at the local hang-outs? Who knows more?

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1954 aerial view showing the parking lot where the ’55 Car Show was held.

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Jack Stewart Ford White Primer

 

JACK STEWART FORD WHITE PRIMER

 

In 1950 George Barris painted the Jack Stewart Ford in white primer after he had fine tuned the Ayala restyled coupe. In 2018, 68 years later, the car is back in white primer, and almost ready to hit the road.


On August 19, 2018, me and my 13 year old son were leaving the house early for our first real roadtrip together. We planned to visit my good friend Palle Johansen in Denmark, a good 6 hour trip, and visit the German city Hamburg on the way back the following day. Palle Johansen and I have been friends for many years, and the friendship intensified when Palle decided to become the new caretaker of the Jack Stewart 1941 Ford. An iconic Custom Car Restyled originally by Gil and Al Ayala in the late 1940’s and fine tuned and painted by Jack’s friend George Barris in 1950-1951.

It had been a few years since I had visited Palle, so I was looking very much to see him again, and Abe was really looking forward to meet him for the first time. Palle had been working on his ‘1947 Cadillac Custom Convertible mostly in the last couple of years, but the project was sort of halted due to some paint issues, and the Jack Stewart Ford had been on the backburner most of the time he worked on the Cadillac.

After our 6 plus hours drive up North, from the Netherlands to Denmark we had arrived in Palle’s home town and driving up to his block, when I was about to turn the last corner I told my son that he should look out for the white house at the end of the street… And when we did turn the corner, instead of seeing the white house we saw the light reflecting white paint of the Jack Stewart Ford parked in front of Palle’s white house… An HUGE smile grew instantly on our faces…. ( One that would last the entire visit )





We drove to the end of the street, and saw the white ghost Jack Stewart’s white primered ’41 Ford in all its glory…. I had not expected to see the car being parked on the road. I knew it had been painted white primer some time ago, but I had no idea Palle and his team had “secretly” put it back together again and made in road worthy. This was an amazing surprise for me, and of course for my son who, for the first time in his life, was looking at an original Custom Car from the 1950’s that had been created by the top shops of the time… And the car that had been the lead character in the book his father created a number of years ago… And which owner, builder an all other connected names had been mentioned frequently in the house, and where he had witnessed all the steps leading to the printed Jack Stewart Ford Book. And now he saw the car in the flesh.

The view we saw when driving up to Palle’s house… the Jack Stewart 1941 Ford in white primer, with temporary Danish License plates.
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White primer

When Jack Stewart had brought the completely Restyled, yet still unfinished ’41 Ford from the Ayala Shop in East Los Angeles to the Barris Shop in Lynwood in 1950 he asked George if he could try to get the car done for him in time for the annual Easter event at Balboa Island. A very popular event for young guys and girls, dancing and partying the long weekend. George worked hard, fine tuning the work the Ayala’s had done previously, rounding corners, reshaping fender lines, crafting taillights and pods for the to sit in etc.

But in the end George did not have enough time to actually paint the car, so he ended up painting the car in white primer, and that was how Jack took it to the Balboa Easter Weekend… And it looked really amazing in the bright white primer. Several photos of this version of the car were made back then, survived and were using in multiple publications since then. Quite possibly Jack owned and drove his Restyled Ford wearing white primer longer than when George Barris eventually painted the car in a copper bronze color.

Jack Stewart with his freshly white primer painted 1941 Ford in June 1950 at the Santa Ana Drags. This is how Jack drove it for a few month.
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It had always been Palle’s intention to go the same route when he was going to restore the car to how it originally looked. Do the complete restoration, and finish it in white primer, then drive it around for some time, before eventually pant it copper bronze. It was a common thing to do back the, have all the body work done on your car, add primer, and then drive it around for some time letting all the body work settle, and get all the bugs, if there where any come out and fix. At one time they, not sure who was first, really liked the idea of the white, or later color tinted primer. And by painting your car in primer first, have it on the road, and even in some shows you could later do the complete debut thrills all over when the car got completely painted. Double fun!

My son Abe shortly after he got out of the car and was ready to check out the Jack Stewart Ford in person.
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Smiling from ear to ear. There is still a lot to do, notice the cuts and uneven surface on the inside of the door jamb.
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The white primer on the car right now is however not yet the final primer. It was added to finally cover the bare metal, keeping it from rusting, and make it a bit easier to see what still needs to be done to the body to get it ready for final paint. And the white primer has made it very obvious that there is still a lot that needs to be done.

The plan for now is to get the car ready for the Danish version of the DMV inspection. Hence the grille opening and A-pillar mounted parking lights. Both will be removed again after the car has been approved for the road. Then when the car can be driven on the road legally the plan is to tackle all the issues still left, body work fine tuning as well as mechanical work. And while doing that, the car can still be driven around and enjoyed.

After checking out the car a bit, Palle said… “are you guys in for a short drive?”…. Oh yeah… we are. The car is not road legal, so we could only stay on the block he said. The Cadillac Flathead engine also needs some more work done to become reliable, and get a new air-cleaner than can be hooked up to the special carburetor allowing the air-cleaner to be mounted on the side, since there is no space for it on top with the channeled body and new low hood. But it runs, and the car can be driven.

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This was only the second time the Jack Stewart Ford was driven since the restoration got started. Man, what an experience.
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The white primer, chrome and the green tinted glass was the perfect mix. Notice the small turn signals that were added to the lower A-Pillars, where the Appleton Spotlights should be. This is needed to get the needed paper work to make the car road legal. With the papers in hand the Appleton’s will be replacing the lights later.
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When the car was originally Restyled the techniques used and demands for perfection were a bit different from today’s standards. The Custom Cars back then looked absolutely amazing, but most of them were r created to be looked underneath, inside behind panels, or shown with opened hood or trunk. Modifications as rounded corners looked perfect from the outside, but when you opened the trunk you would see that George Barris, in this case, used only sheet metal to fill in the body panel to create the new rounded corner, but there was no work done to make it looks factory finished on the inside, with a beautiful lip, like we are so used at today.

The idea is to keep most of the “flaws” on the car, make it look amazing from the outside, and in the cockpit, but retain the kind of rough around the edges standard quality custom work from the early 1950’s.

The flow of the fade away fenders and top are perfect… the white primer shows that off so much more than how I saw it last time.. in bare metal.
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The Stance still needs to be adjusted a bit… a little higher in the front, for that perfect speed-boat stance.
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The Bob Hirohata hand made taillights contrasted with the white primer. The white primer also revealed that the drivers side front fenders must have had some impact back in 1954 when the car hit a train. And it was never really fixed right, making the sides slightly out of shape. So some metal work will have to be done there to make the front fenders flow nice into the fade away door sections.
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Palle and I talked a lot about the car the day we arrived, he had driven it into his under the house garage / man-cave so we could check out all the details, while discussing the,details and remembering the good times we had when we were researching the car in the US in 2010. The next morning Palle had some appointments early in the morning, and would be back after a few hours. During that time I walked around the Ford, took pictures inside and out, took some measurements and most of all sat inside the car, behind the Mercury Monteray steering wheel and tried to visualize how it must have been for Jack and later Jim Skonzakes, to drive around in this car, driving around in the streets of Los Angeles, California, and Jim later i Dayton Ohio. Or ultimately how it must have been for Jim Skonzakes to buy the car from Jack, with the help from George Barris and then drive it in a couple of days from LA to Dayton. It was an amazing feeling sitting inside the car, knowing its history, siting on the same vinyl tuck & roll upholstered seats as Jack, Jim and later Bob Drake had done back in time.

After Palle had driven the car in the garage for the night it was my turn to sit in it… smiling… Good to be back “home” in the car. I would spend a lot of time just sitting there the net morning… day dreaming, and remembering Jack, and Jim…
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A view from the rear seat. The headliner and seats are still the originals from 1951.
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The vent windows now work perfectly with all new rubber.
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More rough work on the door jamb where some of the lead had to be removed to be able to get the doors aligned again. The dash and garnish panels were painted in 2013 by David Martinez / Billy Crewl in time to be shown at the 2013 GNRS. The interior panels are the original units from 1951, semi restored.
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The white primer makes all the rough body work stand out extra good. Some of it will stay, since it was like this when the car was originally finished. On the other hand, some will be smoothed, since multiple layers of primer and paint back then must have helped smooth out the body work in 1951.
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Parked in Palle’s garage… and getting the replica 1951 California License plate mounted. Really looking forward to the next phase on this project… registration, then slowly fixing the body and other things to get it on the road to enjoy.
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The Appleton S-522 Spotlights are patiently waiting to be remounted on the car again… soon I hope.
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Dreaming of going on another Road Trip with Palle Johansen… Now with the primer white Jack Stewart Ford. Reliving the times Jack Stewart, Jim Skonzakes and Bob Drake, all known previous owners had shared with us with huge smiles on their face.


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A short drive in the Hirohata Mercury

 

A SPIN IN A CUSTOM CAR ICON

 

Hirohata Mercury owner Jim McNiel, asked me to jump in the passenger seat of his Mercury for a short drive. It put an instant HUGE smile on my face that lasted for days



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This article was original created in 2013, but with the passing of Jim McMiel on May 7, 2018 I thought it would be nice to put this article on Jim and driving the Hirohata Mercury back on top. RIP Jim McNiel.
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In 2010 the plan was developed to gather the very best historical custom cars, that were still around in the US, to be part of a special exhibition at the 2011 GNRS. I was invited to be one of the four organizers of this Customs Then & Now exhibition. The whole experience was mind boggling, something I will never, ever forget in my life. The “road” towards the event was special. In my mind’s eye, I could visualize the building getting filled with all the cars and people we invited from all over the US. When it was time to fly to California, a couple of days before the show, I had a hard time getting any sleep at night. Once arrived in Pomona, I saw the first historical custom cars that had already arrived. Cars like the Barris-built Dick Fowler 1938 Ford coupe, and several others, with more customs arriving every hour. I was in heaven.

On Thursday morning, set-up day before the show, I was walking from my hotel to the AHRF parking lot, towards the Fairplex building, when I spotted a long trailer with the side door opened a few inches. I immediately recognized the ice green color on the car inside: The Hirohata Mercury. So, I walked over and talked to the driver, to see if Jim McNiel was around as well. “They will be here any minute”, he said. And sure that was the case. It was really great to see Jim again, after we had met earlier at the Sacramento Autorama Mercury Gathering in 2009. We talked for a bit, and then he had to unload the car. He parked it in a nice spot at the parking lot, so I could take some photos.

Jim stepped back, and let me alone with the car for some time. I walked around it, followed every line on the car, took as many photos from every possible angle I could think of, and absorbed every little detail about this car. I had seen the iconic Hirohata Merc before in Sacramento, but seeing the car in natural light and being able to walk around it with nobody else to bump into, was an extremely nice and privileged experience.

CCC-Hirohata_Mercury-01-WThe extended front fenders and hood lip create a perfect balance for the long chopped roof line.
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The Hirohata Mercury is the Custom Car that comes to mind when somebody says the word Custom Car. At least it is to me, and I know this is the same for a lot of people. the Hirohate Merc is THE historic Custom Car icon. And the car was sitting there in front of me with nobody else around it. If I close my eyes I could hear Sam Barris and his team hammering away on the body. I could almost feel the excitement in the Barris Shop, when the car was finally assembled, and the team saw what they had created. I could almost see the huge smile on Bob Hirohata’s face, when he took it for the first spin around the block. I was in Custom Car Heaven before the show had started, and I did not even realize that – for me – the best thing that very day, still had to come.


CCC-Hirohata_Mercury-14-WThe rear 3/4 view shows show all the lines from the Buick Side trim, the chopped top, the curved side windows, custom made scoop and reshaped character line flow together .
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CCC-Hirohata_Mercury-03-WThe custom made parking lights add extra width to the front of the car. The hand made lip on the front wheel opening matches the one of the flush fitted fender skirt at the rear.
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Jim had made an appointment with a photographer from Sweden for a photo-shoot. Together they decided the best location for the shoot would be on the other side of area where we were standing. Then Jim asked me if I wanted to take a seat in the car, when he drove to the location…

Eh… Yes please!

Jim McNiel invited me to sit, and drive inside the Hirohata Mercury! Instant smile on my face. I made sure, I put my back-pack and try-pod extremely safely on the floor, in order not to damage anything, and carefully sat on the green and white tuck & roll front seat. Jim got in the car behead the steering wheel, and started the engine. It ran flawless, and the sound of the Cadillac engine was music to my ears. I looked around absorbing every little detail like the hand made laminated dash knobs, (which Bob Hirohate made himself, and which are still in place), the Von Dutch pin-striping on the dash is amazing, extremely fine and detailed, and weird above all. I also noticed the V-butted windshield, the chrome garnish around the windshield, the green hand made fuzzy rear view mirror “warmer” that Jim’s wife Sue, made so many years ago. The green and white headliner- which is still the original that the Carson Top Shop made in 1952, the slightly cracked Monterey steering wheel, and Jim holding it, slowly turning to maneuver the car thru the parking lot. It felt the car was floating, Jim drove slow and seemed to enjoy every second driving his baby.

I tried to imagine how it must have been driving this car back in the early 1950’s. The car probably just stopped traffic, and had people turn to take a second look when it was passing by back then.

CCC-Hirohata_Mercury-05-WNotice the relaxed position Jim has in the car. This photo also shows the slightly cracked -unrestored- Monterey Steering wheel. Jim added the bullet steering wheel center when he was unable to find the original accessory badge.
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CCC-Hirohata_Mercury-06-WEven Jim has a great smile on his face, and he can jump in the car and take it for a spin whenever he can.
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On the short trip on the parking lot, people turned their head when they heard the soft rumble from the Cadillac engine, realizing something special was driving by. And then the large eyes, and instant smile on the faces when they realized what they saw. An experience I will never forget, and the smile it caused on my face never disappeared throughout the duration of the show.

CCC-Hirohata_Mercury-13-WHere we can see the V-butted windshield, Sue’s hand-made mirror warmer, and the unrestored dash with the Von Dutch pin-striping.
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CCC-Hirohata_Mercury-08-WBob Hirohata also created the laminated knobs for the Appleton Spotlights.
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CCC-Hirohata_Mercury-07-WClose up of the intricate Von Dutch pin-striping “this is the City”. Notice the cracked off-white paint on the glove-box lid and dash. This is the original paint that was added in 1952.
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CCC-Hirohata_Mercury-12-WOriginal Carson Top Shop created headliner, and detail work round the curved side windows.
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When Jim parked his car, and we got out, I noticed one other detail I had never seen before on the car. I had never really seen the custom made dark green lucite piece, that Bob Hirohata made for the door garnish moldings. I noticed it, because the sun light made it look really fantastic when I opened the door to get out.
We drove the car for only a small distance, perhaps a little more than half a mile, but this was a trip inside the Hirohata Mercury… an unforgettable experience!

After making some more photos of the car at the new location, I thanked Jim for the unforgettable experience, and went to toward the main building. Jim and I were talking throughout the weekend, whenever we bumped into each other. He seamed to have a great time at the show.

CCC-Hirohata_Mercury-02-WMy own personal favorite angle of the Hirohata Mercury. This photo also shows the sectioned bumper guards at the front only covering the bottom part of the grill.
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I know the short drive was “only” at the parking lot of the GNRS, but to me it was more like a drive in early 1950’s Los Angles…. Very similar to these Photoshopped images I created¬†shown below.










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Petersen Motorama 1952

 

PETERSEN MOTORAMA 1952

 

Custom Cars at the third Annual International Motorama show held at the Pan Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles 1952.



The Annual International Motorama held at the Pan Pacific Auditorium in 1952 was the third time this event was organized. The location and the publicity given to this show in previous years made this one of California’s car show high-lights of the year. Bob Petersen was the organizer of the show, and it was advertised long in advance, so people were extremely excited to attend and see the latest in custom cars and hot rods. Aftermarket speed and custom companies were urged to set up a booth at the event and showcase their latest products. The show was held from November 10 till 16, 1952.


Official Show program cover on the left, and one of the any magazine ads that were used to promote the 1952 event.
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CCC-1952-Motorama-06-WThe “magical” Art -Deco styled Pan-Pacific Auditorium is where the Petersens 1952 Motorama show was held.
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Barris Display Wall

The 1952 Motorama couldn‚Äôt have been more perfectly timed. It was the ‚ÄúGolden Era‚ÄĚ of custom cars and the major builders such as the Ayala Brothers, Bill Gaylord, Gene Winfield and Barris Kustoms were all in their prime. Many of the cars created in this time period are still considered milestone customs today, and this show; the Petersen Motorama, had them all under one roof! The Barris Kustom shop alone had an amazing display showcasing and highlighting their work with multiple trophies and highly polished¬≠ custom cars. Consider this: the Bob Hirohata Mercury was finished just moments before the show opened up! It must have been a spectacular sight with all these perfectly shaped custom cars in their fresh, bright, vibrant and mile deep organic color paint jobs being presented¬≠ to the public for the very first time. Let‚Äôs have¬†a look at some custom car snapshots taken at this exciting and now legendary 1952 show.


The Barris display at the show included some of the very best 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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Close up from the right side of the photo gives us a slightly better look at the front end of Dan Landon’s 1949 Chevy, Jack Brumbach’s 1942 Ford, Don Vaughn’s 1947 Buick (we can see its windshield on the left side of the guy with hat, and its drivers headlight, on the right side of the same guy. Bob Hirohata’s 1951 Mercury shows its windshield just below the guys face, and the grille next to the Vaughn Buick headlight and the girl with the handbag.
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Tommy Thornburgh 1947 Studebaker

Tommy’s father owned a Studebaker dealership in Huntington Park, California, and he mandated that if his son was going to have a custom it had to be based on a Studebaker. It was a very unusual car to customize, especially back then, but the Barris brothers did a fantastic job. In fact, so good that they asked Tommy to display the car in their special Barris wall display at the Motorama. The windshield was chopped 4 inches, the front fenders were extended 2- 1/2 inches, and the headlights were frenched. The grille opening was hand-formed and fitted with a grille made from two ’50 Lincoln grille bars with round parking lights at each end. The bumpers, front and rear, are ’52 Lincoln. The rear fenders were molded to the body, and ’52 Studebaker taillights were mounted horizontally in hand-made extensions. The rear fenders were extended downward, leveling them with the rest of the body. The body was shaved and all corners rounded. The interior was upholstered in white rolled and pleated leatherette by the Carson Top Shop. They also created the removable padded top, which was upholstered in royal dark blue cloth. This dark color for the top was a nice contrast for the ice blue paint that covers the body. Side trim, from a ’52 Pontiac featured dark blue paint in-between the stainless to match the top.

Tommy Thornburgh’s fantastic restyled and very unusual 1947 Studebaker convertible was sitting on the far left side of theBarris Kustoms Display wall.
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Robert La Briola 1949 Oldsmobile

1949 Oldsmobile Convertible was a mild but very elegantly restyled custom created by Barris Kustoms for Dentist Robert La Briola. The car featured extended and Frenched headlights. A new oval grille opening created from bended and shaped tubing. Inside was an all custom made floating center section constructed from round tubing and chrome plated. The rear fenders of the car were modified using 1951 Frazer taillights. The trunk was pie-cut section to flow better with the new rear fender shape and shaved. The door handles were removed and the car was painted lime gold.

We could not find an individual photo of Robert’s Oldsmobile taken at the Motorama show, so we used this cropped image, enhanced with a color image taken by George Barris for a magazine photo shoot. Robert is also responsible for the design of the famous Barris Kustom Crest. Which were used at the 1952 Motorama show for the first time.
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Dan Landon 1949 Chevy

The majority of the work on Dan’s Chevy, including the chop and molded in belt line was most likely done by the Ayala brothers. The finish work was done at the Barris Shop. The proportions on this Chevy are absolutely flawless, and everything works together to create an overall flow. The top on this coupe was chopped around 5 inches and some more in the back. The windshield was leaned back and replaced with a cut down one-piece Oldsmobile windshield. The top itself was reshaped to thin out the profile. The C-pillar was angled forward to flow with the new shape of the top. All door and trunk corners where rounded. The trim around the beltline was removed and the dip in the metal filled in and smoothed. This gave the car its unique smooth one-piece look.

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At the front, a new grille opening was shaped from 2-1/2 inch round tubing. The top portion was welded and molded to the hood. The grille was made up of three ‚Äė51 DeSoto grille teeth and 1951 Kaiser-Frazer horizontal bars. The front fenders were extended and the headlights rings molded into the fenders. The rear fenders were extended 8 inches. 1951 Frazer taillights complement the overall shape of the body. 1951 Packard side trim was added to create some visual length. The front bumper is from a ‚Äė49 Pontiac, with 1952 Kaiser bumper guards, and the rear bumper is from an Oldsmobile. The car was lowered using a kicked up frame at the rear and cut coils in the front. The body was painted solid metallic rusty bronze and the car was outfitted with a set of 112-Appleton spotlights. The interior was handled by the Carson Top Shop in brown and antique white leatherette. More info and photos of Dan’s Chevy can be found on this CCC article.

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 1942 Ford

Jack‚Äôs Ford had never been featured in any of the car magazines back when it was a new custom car in the early 1950‚Äôs, which is really unfortunate, since it is a very nice car with a mix of styles from the late 1940‚Äôs and early 1950‚Äôs. I think Sam Barris experimented with the roof on John‚Äôs Ford by lowering it much more in the back than in the front. The result is quite slick and streamlined. The grille was made using a 1950 Oldsmobile 98 top grille bar with a custom made floating grille using Henry J components. The headlights are frenched and a set of ‚Äė46 Ford taillights were set into hand shaped pods. Jack‚Äôs Ford uses 1949 Mercury bumpers, and the side trim was shortened on the hood. The Appleton spotlights and sombrero hubcaps on wide white wall tires are all mandatory for the style of that era. Unfortunately, we have no info on what color the car was painted. More on Jack’s Ford can be found in the CCC-Article on the car.

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Don Vaughn 1947 Buick

Don Vaughn was from Port Orchard, Washington, but that did not prevent him from taking his 1947 Buick to the Barris Kustom shop in Lynwood to have his dream custom built based on the Buick, with upgraded elements from a 1948 Cadillac. The car came out so great that Barris asked if they could include it in their Motorama display. The windshield was chopped and the hood was smoothed and peaked. The bumpers, front and rear, came from a 1948 Cadillac, as did the cut down grille which has a pair of parking lights set into the ends. The 1948 Cadillac rear fenders were sectioned three inches to fit the Buick Body and were fitted with 1951 Cadillac taillights. Paint is a deep Purple Mist lacquer. The interior and the padded top with wrap around rear window, were done by Gaylord. The steering wheel and shift knob where made of clear acrylic plastic – a very unique feature back then. Appleton spots, Caddy sombrero hubcaps and a perfect stance make this one an all time favorite.

Don’s Deep Purple lacquered Buick must have looked amazing with the white Gaylord padded top with panoramic rear window.
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Bob Hirohata 1951 Mercury

The paint on Bob Hirohata’s Mercury must have been so fresh that you could smell it at this show. The team at the Barris shop rushed to get the car finished in time. The interior was handled by two different shops (Gaylord and the Carson Top Shop) to make sure the deadline could be met. Bob’s Mercury was at the end of the Barris display wall; perhaps that was done intentionally so the audience could have a better look at the totally unique and very bright colors of solid seafoam green (on the main body) and deep organic green (below the Buick side trim). On the other side of the display was Tommy Thornburgh’s 1947 Studebaker, which also was painted a very light and bright color. I think that after several years of using mainly deep and dark organic colors, the Barris shop wanted to promote the lighter, brighter and sunnier colors. This photo of Bob’s Mercury shows that the bumper guards are still stock height. Later, they would be sectioned to fit better with the floating grille bar. More articles on the Hirohata Mercury can be found on the here.

The last Barris Custom of the Display wall was the freshly finished Hirohata Mercury.
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The Barris Kustoms Shop had a huge display at one of the walls with 6 of their very best and newest restyled Customs. This display must have been a huge crowd pleaser. Of course there were numerous more Custom cars created by other shops and individuals. Lets take a further look at some of the other custom cars at the show.




Bill Page 1940 Ford

Bill Page’s 1940 Ford was mostly created by Don Riggs, but Bill also did some work on the car. Don was responsible for most of the metal work which included a chopped windshield, reshaped frontend to accept the top three bars of a 1948 Pontiac grille. The trim and handles were all shaved for the smooth look. The team lowered the car in the rear using modified spring hangers and re-rolled springs with reversed eyes. The frame was C-ed at the back to make space for the lowered axle. Up front, a Dago axle helped lower it three inches. 1948 Mercury bumpers were used front and rear, and the interior was upholstered in maroon and white. The inside of the padded top was done in maroon rather than the usual lighter color. Aftermarket hubcaps, wide white wall tires and spotlights were all mandatory parts every custom needed in those days. The car was painted a deep maroon color which looked stunning with the white padded top.


The only color photo I have ever seen from the 1952 show is this one showing Bill Page his 1940 Ford. Hopefully one day more color photos from this show will surface.
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Ken Vertees 1951 Chevy

The windshield was chopped and replaced with a cut down one-piece Oldsmobile unit. Chavez American Auto Tops created a wonderfully shaped padded top which they called the ‚ÄúDeVille‚ÄĚ for this car. The Chevy rear fenders were replaced by Oldsmobile units with Pontiac taillights installed. A 1950 Mercury grille surround was molded to the front, and a floating grille bar was created using 1951 Plymouth components. The headlights were frenched, but the door handles and side trim remained in place. Once all the body work was done the car was painted with many coats of special mixed lime, lemon and gold metallic lacquer paint. All the work was done by Bill‚Äôs Body Shop. Chavez also did the interior, and chose green and white leather for the material. Ken‚Äôs Chevy made it on the cover of the January 1953 issue of Motor Trend magazine in full color. The magazine shown on the wall behind the car must have been hot off the presses at the November 1952 show.

Kent Vertees’s conservatively restyled ’51 Chevy with Chavez wrap around padded top.
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Jim Chapkis 1940 Ford Coupe

Jim was the original owner of this custom, but at some point in the early 1950’s he sold it to Revelle Harrison. One of them owned it when it was displayed at the Motorama in 1952, but we are not sure who. The Ford was channeled 7 inches. The front fenders were raised approximately 4 inches, and the hood was sectioned the same amount. The rear fenders were raised approximately 3 inches, but not molded to the body. The front was filled in and reshaped to accept a 1939 Buick grille. The running boards were removed and rock shields made to protect the rear fenders. The side trim was removed and so were all the handles. The car used 1940 Buick torpedo fender skirts. The headlights are stock Ford parts, but the taillights were replaced with upside down 1941 Studebaker Champion taillights. 1947 Ford bumpers are used front and rear. With the bodywork finished, it was time for a ruby maroon lacquer paint job by Larry Ackley. The car was featured in several magazines dating from 1951 to 1957, but the original builder, who did this fantastic work, was never listed.

The special display wooden fence at the Motorama show might have looked very nice and gave the whole room a nice finished look. But it did interfere with taking some good quality photos showing the complete cars.
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Ed Wilder 1952 Cadillac convertible

Restyled by Jay Everett for owner Ed Wilder of Los Angeles, California. Jay sectioning the body above the fender lines¬†4¬†inches. The cuts were made just below the belt molding. The hood and trunk needed to be widened and heavily reshaped to match the new lines. Jay also widened the front fenders, doors and rear fenders to make the car look even wider. ¬†Ed’s car originally was an convertible, but later in the process a DeVille top was added. The hood and trunk were nosed and the Cadillac fender trim was removed, but most other brightwork was retained to keep that Factory Custom look alive and “confuse” the people who saw the car. When finished the car was¬†finished¬†with a super gloss black lacquer paint job.

CCC-1952-Motorama-04-WEd Wilder  sectioned 1952 Cadillac built by Jay Everett.
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Earl Bruce 1940 Ford Coupe

Roy Hagy and Summers did most of the body work on Bruce Earl’s coupe with its unique chopped top with filler quarter windows.¬†The work on the car was done when the car was still brand new in 1940. Beside the chopped to p the car also had rounded door tops,¬†removed the running boards and all the trim was shaved of the body. After using the car for several years the car was redone and re-painted by the Valley Custom shop. This photo of Earl’s Ford shows that it was displayed with the hood and door open, to show all the engine and interior details.

Earl Bruce 1940 Ford Coupe has been around since the very early 1940’s and was still looking stunning at the¬†1952 show.
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Movie stills from the 1952 Motorama promotional movie Petersen Publishing had made.
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The 1952 Petersen Motorama Sow promotional movie with special thanks to Geoff Hacker and Forgotten Fiberglass.
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This great aerial view shows the Pan Paciffic Auditorium building where the Motorama show was held in the top left corner. It also shows the Gilmore Field, Gilmore Stadium and Gilmore Drive-In.
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The Pan-Pacific Auditorium building seen from one of the parking lots.
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The Pan-Pacific Auditorium was located at 7600 W. Beverly Blvd. Los Angles, California.
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Custom Plastic Details

 

CUSTOM PLASTIC DETAILS

 

Around 1947 Jesse Lopez experimented with the use of clear green Lucite to Custom Restyle the interior of his 1941 Ford Coupe. The start of a new trend Custom Plastic Details.



The first mass produced plastics was bakelite, its invention made it possible to cast small parts for whatever use. The automotive industry used a lot of bakelite products, like dash decorations, door knobs and some emblems. In the 1930’s other plastics evolved from it some of these were easier, and cheaper to produce, and could be created in a wider¬†variety¬†of colors etc than Bakelite. The aircraft industry saw the potential of this new crystal clear plastics to shape canopy’s for new faster airplanes.¬†Before, but mostly after WWII the plastic products and raw material as sheets¬†and¬†rods in all sizes became readily available all over the US. The new plastic materials were manufactured by several companies, but two of them DuPont and R√∂hm & Haas were the leaders in the field. DuPont marketing their product as Lucite, and R√∂hm & Haas had Plexiglas.

CCC-custom-plastic-details-dupont-lucitePossibly your Customizers were inspired by the handsomely shaped household products made available in the new plastics in the early 1940’s. This together with shop classes using the actual material might have been the start of the¬†new Customizing trend.
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Developed in the 1930s, the clear acrylic plastic branded as Lucite became a wildly popular material for costume jewelry starting in the 1950s. Less expensive to produce than Bakelite, Galalith, and Catalin and more chemically stable than celluloid, Lucite made these earlier jewelry plastics obsolete.

In its pure form, Lucite is translucent, resembling glass or rock crystal, but it can be dyed in a wide range of colors and opacity, making it the perfect material for bold blocks of Mid-century Modern colors. Hard, water-resistant, and lightweight, Lucite can be carved and polished, and it is easy to wear.

The scientists at two rival chemical companies, DuPont and Rohm & Haas, spent the 1930’s working on glass-like acrylic resins (a.k.a. polymethyl methacrylate). Rohm & Haas launched its version, the clear and nearly unbreakable Plexiglass, first in 1935. DuPont brought Lucite to the market in 1937.

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Both companies realized the future importance of their plastic products and started to promote Lucite and Plexiglas on a huge scale. Users manuals were produced and advertising campaigns were set up. They also sponsored the schools and set up shop classes using the new plastic materials. Lucite and Plexiglass became readily available in a selection of colors, both solid as well as transparent, in sheets stock and as round on square stock. The possibilities for using the new plastics was endless. And most likely the kids in school who were using plastics and studying the manuals provided by DuPont and Röhm & Haas as study material, started to think about possible use of this new products for their Hot Rods and Custom Cars.

Lucite and Plexiglas was not hard to get, the general hardware store carried some of the materials, and if you wanted something special, like the green or red transparent sheets, you could go to the special Plastic houses, or order the¬†material¬†thru several mail order companies. Although the plastics were not really advertised in the Hot Rod and Custom Car magazines, other more generic technical publications as¬†Popular¬†Mechanics¬†had multiple ads for plastic products from the mid 1940’s and up.


CCC-custom-plastic-details-plex-instructions-01R√∂hm & Haas created several manuals for the use of their plexiglas products. These manuals come from the late 1930’s early 1940’s.
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-plex-instructions-02DuPont did the same thing for their Lucite products.
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-plex-instructions-03The manuals explained how the new products could be shaped, heated, bended, drilled, scraped, machined, sanded, buffed etc. The possibilities for the material were endless.
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Memo Ortega about the¬†plastics he used back in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s.

“Back in the ’40, ’50s we had hardware stores that some of them carried plastic sheets for a quick¬†fix replacement if you¬†broke a window in your¬†house. Those sheets were only available in clear, but we did you them sometimes. In Pomona there used to a store that that sold nothing but plastic products they sold round tubes,¬†square plastic and sheets in different thickness and colors.¬†What ever you¬†needed you¬†could buy it there. Its been a long time, and sadly¬†I¬†can’t remember the name of the store. We did visit the shop a lot and bought all the plastic stuff¬†what ever we wanted to do with it for our kustom cars.”

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CCC-custom-plastic-details-plexiglass-colorsSheet Lucite and Plexiglass was and still is available in many different colors, both solid as well as transparent. 
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-pm-ad-01 CCC-custom-plastic-details-pm46-ad-02Generic Technical publication as Popular Mechanics and Popular Science had often ads for Plastic supplied from the mid 1940’s and up. Plastic products as sheets, rods in different colors as well as special adhesives could be ordered by mail.
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-dan-post-01The early Custom Restyling publications did not mention much about the use of plastics for Custom Restyling. The Dan Post Blue Book of Custom Restyling 1949 edition was possibly the first publication to mention the use of custom shaped Plastic for interior customizing. 
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Jesse Lopez

In the later part of the 1940’s Young Customizers started to see the possibilities of using these new plastics for their Custom Car creations. One of the first to use a clear colored plastic in his Custom Car was a young Jesse Lopez who had created a stunning trend setting 1941 Ford long door coupe together with his friend Sam Barris. Jesse took the dash from his 1941 Ford had it completely chrome plated and replaced the factory plastic components with hand shaped green¬†transparent¬†lucite. Jesse also shaped the radio knob from green and clear lucite and replaced the factory plastic handles on his Appleton Spotlight with hand shaped clear green handles.

The Appleton 112’s were wired and worked, the spot handles were green Lucite to match the Lucite on the dash. (Jesse Lopez)

The use of clear colored¬†Lucite¬†or¬†Plexiglass¬†in Jesse Lopez’s ’41 Ford is known to be the first of its kind to be used. Jesse’s Ford was finished in 1948.¬†After Jesse had finished the plastic work on his car he helped out several of his friends and Kustoms of Los Angeles club members to create similar parts for their Barris created Custom cars. And the use of clear and clear colored Lucite or Plexiglass became a trend and was used on many custom cars from the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. The fact that the Barris created Custom Cars were so well published in the magazines during this period made sure the trend was spread about the US really fast.

CCC-custom-plastic-details-41-ford-dashStock 1941 Ford dash with bone color plastic on a painted dash as it came from the factory.
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-lopez-ford-01Rare photo of the Jesse Lopez 1941 Ford shows the chrome plated dash with clear green Lucite details. Notice the radio knobs on the top of the dash were done in green and clear laminated style. 
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-lopez-clone-01Jerry Daman duplicated the clear plexiglas details on Jesse Lopez’s Ford for his recreation of the ’41 Ford. This photo shows the finished part to cover the chrome plated dash. The cut holes are for the main instruments on the left, and the clock on the right. (photo courtesy of Jerry Daman)
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-lopez-clone-02The finished dash in Jerry Daman’s Jesse Lopez ’41 Ford recreation. Chrome plated dash with hand shaped clear green plexiglass details.¬†(photo courtesy of Jerry Daman)
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-lopez-clone-03Not shown in the full dash photo are the Appleton Spotlight handles. Jesse also hand shaped a set of those in clear green lucite. So Jerry did the same thing for his recreation. Using clear green plexiglass laminated together and shaped by hand. (photo courtesy of Jerry Daman)
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Jesse Lopez on using Plastics



On July 28, David E. Zivot had a nice conversation with his friend Jesse Lopez, and one of the subjects he discussed was the use of plastics on Jesse’s 1941 Ford.

By David E. Zivot.
“I had a nice conversation with Jesse yesterday, and I specifically kept him on the subject of his early artistry in plastic.
He related to me how he and Sam were doing the finishing touches on the ‚Äė41 Ford top chop, when it became apparent that they would have to use a plastic rear window.

Jesse knew of a hobby shop in Gardena on Avalon St. that had a generous supply of plastic sheet stock and other small shapes that local hobbyists would use to make jewelry, toys, and other knick knacks. While looking through the assorted clear Lucite selections he overheard a conversation between the gal that ran the shop and a gentleman that wanted to make multi-colored laminated small table legs.

Jesse was intrigued that you could glue different color Lucite as well as combinations of clear and colored pieces, and turn them on a wood lathe using files and sand paper.

It then occurred to him that using the wonderful color palette that was available in the fairly new technology of plastics could make an outstanding custom effect on the chromed automobile dashboards, assorted knobs, and spotlight handles.

Jesse purchased some flat stock clear for his rear window, as well as some translucent green smaller pieces, and took them back to the Barris shop.
He proceeded to cut, glue, file, and sand the Lucite into very attractive replacements for the stock pieces that came out of the ‚Äė41 Ford.
Jesse had to use the somewhat primitive buffing and grinding equipment at the Barris shop, including a two-speed body grinder sitting on the shop floor, but turned out very nice examples, and even taught some of the other guys how to do it.

This learning curve occurred at the same time that Jesse had developed the technique of using translucent red Lucite to make custom bumper guard taillight lenses. George and Sam were immediately impressed.

All the fellows wanted Jesse to fabricate their dash trim, knobs, taillight lenses, spotlight handles, etc, which he gladly did for Dick Carter‚Äôs ‚Äė41 Ford, Matranga‚Äôs ‚Äė40 Mercury, Al Andril‚Äôs and Johnny Zaro‚Äôs cars, and many others.
The one fellow that really took it to heart and ran with it was Bob Hirohata, and Jesse self-taught in the art, showed Bob the ropes.
It’s interesting that this craft, and a few others that Jesse had developed, were later taken up and marketed by Eastern Auto and Cal Custom.
The sincerest form of flattery is always imitation.‚ÄĚ

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Johnny Zaro

Johnny Zaro had two Barris restyled Custom Cars that both used clear red plastic details. Johnny first had a 1940 Mercury Coupe that was restyled by Barris with a chopped top and molded fenders, similar styled as one they did for Johnny’s good friend Al Andril. Only Al’s was blue and Johnny’s was maroon. We have never been able to find out if Al’s Mercury had a similar dash board treatment as Johhny had, and if it had, if the details were done in clear blue or not. Most likely it was since both cars were known to be near identical except for the color. Johnny had the help of Jesse Lopez when he created the clear red lucite dash inserts to replace the factory ribbed plastic units.

“I had a special panel on the dashboard, made of plastic, kind of a wine color, or dark maroon.¬†We cut the plastic, ground it down, and polished it. We had screws coming into the back side. We did the same for the radio knobs and all of that.”

Latter johnny did the same thing on his ’41 Ford convertible custom created by George Barris. The ’41 Ford is also still around today, and the plastic parts created back in the late 1940’s are still inside the car today.

CCC-custom-plastic-details-40-merc-dashStock 1940 Mercury dash is painted and has ribbed plastic inserts.
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-johnny-zaro-40-01This photo shows the clear red plastic parts of the Johnny Zaro 1940 Mercury. Kurt McCormick, the current caretaker of the car, had to recreate all the original plastic components during the restoration.
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-johnny-zaro-40-02The 1940 Mercury dash in the Zaro Merc, was chrome plated and the clear red plexiglass sheets hand shaped to fit. The radio face was also created from clear red plexiglass and so are the shifter and Appleton Spotlight handles. (the vintage Los Angles background is digitally added to the recent taken photo)
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CCC-johnny-zaro-collection-new-04Johnny also had the dash of his ’41 Ford chrome plated and together with Jesse Lopez he created the clear red lucite details for it. (late 1940’s photo from the Johnny Zaro Collection)
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-johnny-zaro-01Close up showing the “Kustom” letters in the center and the radio knobs on the top. The shifter handle and Appleton handles were also replaced with clear red Lucite pieces.
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-johnny-zaro-41-01The restored version of the car still has the original chrome plated dash with the original Jesse Lopez/Johnny Zaro created plastic insert on the dash. The radio face and knobs seams to have been removed. The Shifter knob has been replaced with a laminated (white and red) tear drop shaped unit, but the Appleton handles are still the original hand crafted parts.
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-johnny-zaro-41-02Even the “KUSTOM” letters are still mounted on the center portion of the clear red Lucite insert.
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Bob Hirohata

Next to Jesse Lopez, Bob Hirohata is also credited for his pioneering custom plastic work. Bob created a set of green and white laminated tear drop shaped dash, shifter and Appleton Spotlight knobs for his famous Hirohata Merc. The laminated knobs were¬†shown¬†in several magazine features on the Barris Kustoms created ’51 Mercury. Soon thereafter similar shaped knobs were created all over the US. The November ’53 issue of Rod & Custom magazine did a four page¬†How-To¬†article on Bob Hirohata showing how you can create the laminated dash knobs at home. Later Bob sold his idea of the laminated dash knobs to the Cal Custom company who ended up in producing them in a large scale in the later part of the 1950’s. The laminated dash knobs were a big success for the company, and similar products are still being produced and sold today. The great thing is that most of the dash knobs that Bob created for his mercury in 1952, are still around today and are still inside the completely restored Hirohata Mercury.

The Laminated dash knobs on Bob’s personal ’51 Mercury were however not the first set of knobs Bob created. We know of at least one car for which Bob created a laminated shift knob, and several other dash knobs, as well as a set of hand made taillights¬†(which we will cover in our part 2 on Custom Plastic Details)¬†for Jack Stewart’s 1941 Ford. Bob created these parts for Jack from clear and clear orange¬†Lucite¬†in 1951. And fortunately these parts have also survived and are still with the ’41 Ford today.

CCC-custom-plastic-details-jack-stewart-shiftThe beautiful hand shaped shifter knob for Jack Stewart’s 1941 Ford was created from a think piece of clear and two thinner sheets of clear orange lucite. Laminated together and hand shaped to Bob Hirohata’s own design. Thanks to Bob Drake this rare piece of Custom Car history remains still with the Jack Stewart Ford today. The current photos of the shifter knob are taken by Palle Johansen the current Jack Stewart Ford caretaker.
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-jack-stewart-dashBob Hirothata also create a few more dash knobs for Jack Stewart’s ’41 Ford. For these¬†he used only clear Lucite cut and hand shaped and polished to the desired shape.
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-hirohata-articleThe four page article on how to create Laminated Dash Knob’s by Bob Hirohata for the November 1953 issue of Rod & Custom. The article is still used today as reference for creating these laminated dash knobs.
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-hirohata-dash-knobsThe dash knobs in the Hirohata Mercury are the originals Bob Hirohata created back in 1952. The Appleton Spotlight units (not shown here) where gone and had to be replaced with new units created by Jim McNiel.
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-hirohata-trunkBob’s 1951 Mercury was completely customized and detailed, so he also created a set of laminated handles for the tools stored in the trunk of his Custom.
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-hirohata-doorBob also replaced the Mercury emblem on the door window garnish molding (see inset) with a simple beautifully shaped piece of clear green Lucite. Notice how the screws holding the parts are mounted from behind.
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Some of the Generic Technical magazines advertised with many plastic products, including mold making materials. But as far as we have been able to find not much of this was used in the golden years of Custom Restyling. The use of sheet and rod Lucite or Plexiglass remained the most populate use for Customs. There is one sample we did find that was an exception. This was the clear plastic steering wheel in the Don Vaughn Barris Kustoms restyled 1948 Buick convertible. The car was featured in the April 1953 issue of Hop Up magazine and showed the rather heavy clear plastic steering wheel. The article does not mention how the steering wheel has been created, and so far we also have not been able to get it confirmed, but possibly the steering wheel was cast from a clear resin using a home made mold. Another unique use of Custom Plastic detail. I do not recall seeing this done in other cars during the Golden Years of Customizing.


CCC-custom-plastic-details-don-vaughn-buickDon Vaughan’s 1948 Barris Buick with clear plastic steering wheel.
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-couchbuilt-steeringClear resin steering wheels can also be found in some coachbuilt cars. These samples here show clear resin wheels in a 1949 Delahaye 175S with Saoutchik bodywork on the top left, and one in a 1949 Delahaye 125M Cabriolet with Guilloré bodywork on the bottom and right. Notice that also all the dash knobs on these cars were done in the same clear plastic.
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Mass produced Plastic Custom Parts

In the early¬†part of the 1950’s several aftermarket companies started to produce some plastic parts especially for the Hot Rod and Custom Car crowd. One of the products was the Steering wheel Spinners. The steering wheel knob that allowed the driver to “safely” use only one hand to steer the car. The other hand could, depending on which side the knob was attached to the steering wheel, be used to hold the girl next to the driver, or hang cool outside the window. In the later part of the 1950’s Cal Custom started to produce the Laminated dash and shifter knobs patterned after Bob Hirohata’s original design. These dash knobs have been in production off and on ever since. And today there are still several small companies who create custom ordered dash knobs in a great variety of colors and special effect plastics. The¬†use of the¬†custom made laminated dash and shifter knobs has been very popular¬†in the last couple of years, and I have even seen a few nice samples of custom created clear plexiglass details on chrome or painted dash boards.


CCC-custom-plastic-details-steering-knobsSome Customs used a custom Steering wheel spinner allowing for better single hand steering wheel control. Several companies offered different color plastic options for this. The ad comes from and 1951 Eastern Auto Supply Co. catalog.
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-dash-knobs-oldI saved this image from an eBay auction several years ago. It is an old set, possibly Cal Custom units. Notice the screws in the side to mount the knobs to the rods. 
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-shift-knobs-1964The Car Craft January 1964 issue did a special article on Custom Knobs.
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-shift-knobsIn the 1960’s up to the 1980’s several aftermarket companies produced pearl and swirl kind of plastic shift and dash knobs that could be used for cars, boats, trucks and bikes.
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In Part 2 on the Custom Plastic Details we focus on the use of plastic on the outside of custom cars.

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Hirohata Merc Hawaiian Badge

 

HAWAIIAN BADGE

 

Since the Hirohata Mercury was restored it always had an oddly shaped and located brass badge with the name The Hawaiian on the door…¬†Lets find out the story behind the badge.


Howard Gribble¬†recently send me an email including¬†a photo of the Bob Hirohata Merc which he took at this recent¬†visit¬†(January, 2016)¬†to the new Petersen Museum. He noticed that the “Hawaiian” badge on the door, which had been part of the restored Hirohata Mercury for years, was missing. He¬†wondered when this badge was removed from the car, especially knowing this would have involved a paint touch up. Howards email¬†reminded me that I still wanted¬†to do an CCC-Article on this controversial Hawaiian Badge that was part of the restored 1951 Mercury, but as far as we could tell, it was never on the car when Bob Hirohata owned the car.

CCC-barris-hirohata-2016-petersenHoward took this photo of the Hirohata Mercury at the Petersen Museum in January 2016, no sign of the drivers door mounted Hawaiian badge.
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I took this photo of the Hirohata Mercury in 2011, and the Hawaiian badge is mounted on the drivers door, just below the vent window.
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CCC-barris-hirohata-hawaiian-badge-02The Hawaiian badge was made of a hand shaped and polished piece of sheet brass with the letters engraved and painted the sea-foam body color.
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The Hawaiian Badge was recently removed from the car, when the Mercury was cleaned, fine tuned, updated and made ready for the prestigious Mercury Gathering at the 2015 Pebble Beach Concourse D’Elegance. The car spend some quality time at Junior Conway’s House of Color Shop in Bell Gardens, Ca. for an full update. The restoration of the car was completed in 1998-99 and since then the car had traveled to many shows including all the way to Sweden. So it was time for some touch-ups etc to be in excellent condition for the Pebble Beach show. While the car was in Conway’s shop and body sections had to be touched up, it¬†was decided it was a good time to remove the Hawaiian badge as well. On a visit with Roger O’Dell to the Junior Conway shop John Denich took some photos of the Hirohata Mercury being fine tuned for the Pebble Beach event.

CCC-barris-hirohata-2015-update-03Apparently there were some fit problems on the rear window lower stainless trim. 
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CCC-barris-hirohata-2015-update-04The Hirohata Mercury was cleaned and detailed inside and out.
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CCC-barris-hirohata-2015-update-02John Denich took this photo which shows that the badge was now gone.
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CCC-barris-hirohata-2015-update-01The Hirohata Mercury at the Pebble Beach Concourse with painter Junior Conway on the left, owner Jim McNiel in the center, and Rob Radcliffe on the right.  
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The Hirohata Merc Hawaiian Badge

Lets take a step back and look at the history on this The Hawaiian badge on the Hirohata Mercury. Ever since the Mercury was restored by Jim McNiel the Hawaiian badge was part of the car. But none of the old photos I had seen on the car show this badge. At this time we are not 100% sure Bob ever named his Mercury “The Hawaiian“. Some people have referred to the car by that name, possibly even before Jim McNiel restored the car, but we do not have any proof for the name connected to Bob. We do know that Bob named his Mercury the “Mercillac” after he had installed brand new Cadillac engine for his cross country tip in 1953. And as far as we know there was never a badge or emblem with this name added on the out or inside of the car when Bob owned it. It might be possible that Bob renamed the car in the mid 1950’s when he was about to sell it, but agian there are no photos or info to proof this.


CCC-barris-hirohata-mercillacThe October 1953 issue of Rod & Custom magazine featured an article by Bob Hirohata on the cross country trip he made in his 1951 Mercury which he named “Mercillac”
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There are several photos of the Hirohata Mercury, after it was repainted by the Barris Kustom Shop in lime green, that show a side view mirror on the drivers door, mounted just below the vent window. This was on the same location as later the Hawaiian badge would be at. When I asked Jim McNiel about the Hawaiian badge and also about the side view mirror he mentioned that most likely Bob was stopped a lot by the cops, and perhaps even ticketed for having no side view mirrors. So in the end the mirror was added and screwed to the door. There are also stories that the mirror was added to the Mercury requested by the Movie company when the car was hired for the Running Wild movie. And judging all the photos of the Mercury after it was repainted, the later might actually be the real reason why there was a mirror on the Merc. After Bob Hirohata sold the car in 1955 the new owner installed a hitch and used the Mercury to pull his speed boat, for that the mirrors must have come in handy.

CCC-barris-hirohata-mamie-van-dorenMamie Van Doren poses with the Hirohata Mercury painted lime green at the Running Wild Movie set. The side view mirror can be clearly seen in this photo.
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CCC-barris-hirohata-mercillac-mazza This photo from the Barry Mazza Collection shows Bob Hirohata’s Mercury after it had been repainted Lime green (after the Running Wild Movie)¬†with some three bar flipper hubcaps. The photo was taken at an unidentified outdoor show, most likely in 1955. The most interesting about the photo is that the car has the mirror mounted, and a show card mounted on the front bumper with on the lower section Kustoms of Los Angeles, and on the top the “MERCILLAC” name. Unsure is if Bob Hirohata still owned the Mercury when this photo was taken, most likely it was.
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CCC-barris-hirohata-mirror-01Close up of the mirror which appears to have a teardrop shaped base.
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Jim¬†mentioned that is was one of the previous owners of the Hirohata Mercury, most likely¬†Dirty Doug Kinney, who removed the mirror in the late 1950’s. Most likely he did not want to fill the holes and repaint the doors,¬†¬†so he decided to create a badge that would cover the holes left from the side view mirror. He shaped the brass badge in a similar shape as the mirror base to cover up all evidence of the mirror. He then engraved the “The Hawaiian” name into the brass badge. When Jim bought the Hirohata Mercury for $500.- in late 1959, or early 1960 the Hawaiian badge was on the car.

CCC-barris-hirohata-hawaiian-missing-gold-02This photo from the Rodder’s Journal issue number 5 show that both The Hawaiian badge¬†and¬†the Barris crest are missing from the car at this point… ¬†Jim stored the originals¬†in the house, making sure they would not get lost. We can however see the holes drilled for the mirror an later the badge.
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CCC-barris-hirohata-hawaiian-missing-goldJim takes out the Hirohata Mercury for the last time before the restoration starts. 
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CCC-barris-hirohata-hawaiian-badge-01I took this photo of the badge at the 2009 Sacramento Autorama Mercury Gathering. Here I spoke with Jim about many details of the Hirohata Mercury, including the history of the Hawaiian badge.
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When Jim set out to restore the Hirohata mercury in the 1990’s he decided to take the car back to how it looked when Bob Hirohata owned the car in about 1953. But since the Hawwaiian badge had always been part of the car for as long as Jim owned it he decided the badge would be part of the restoration. The Badge has since then always been a great topic of conversation every time the car was displayed. The use of the badge was controversial to say the least. Most historic Custom Car enthusiasts, including myself always felt the badge should not have been used, and the holes should have been filled in to bring the car back to how Bob Hirohata had it in 1953.

Fortunately Jim McNiel decided that when it was time to fix up the Hirohata Mercury for the prestigious Pebble Beach Concourse 1949-1951 Mercury Kustom event, it was time to bring the car back to how Bob Hirohata drove it cross country and entered it in many car shows. The Hirohata Mercury has always been one of my most favorite Custom Cars, and seeing the restored car in person sure was a Custom Car highlight for me, but the¬†Hawaiian badge¬†always bugged me a little…¬†like a smudge you want to clean¬†off. With the badge removed we have Custom Car perfection.

CCC-barris-hirohata-pebble-beachJim McNiel drives the car up to the podium at the 2015 Pebble beach Concourse to receive his best Custom Award…. without the Hawaiian badge on the door!¬†
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Hirohata Merc Mystery Antenna

 

HIROHATA MERC MYSTERY ANTENNA

 

For a short time in 1953 Bob Hirohata had a set of futuristic antennas on his famous Barris Kustoms built 1951 Mercury. Ever wondered where those came from?

 
In the Barris Kustom Techniques of the 50’s book Volume 1, first published in 1996, there is a photo on page 94 showing the Hirohata Mercury photographed at a park with a set of strange looking, futuristic double, or triple antenna’s. This was the first time I had seen these antenna’s on any photo of the hirohata Mercury. The antenna’s were pretty small in this picture, but I was already wondering what they where. Then a year or so later in the Barris Kustom Techniques of the 50’s book Volume 3 there is a close up photo of the rear of the Hirohata Mercury with a model in the open trunk on the “frontispiece”. In this photo we can¬†get a really good look at those strange looking antenna’s. Ever since I saw this photo I have been trying to find out if perhaps¬†Bob Hirohata got creative with some green colored plexiglas¬†sheets and created these antenna’s himself, or if they were some sort of aftermarket product.
 
CCC-hirohata-merc-radar-antenna-05This is the photo that appeared in the Barris Kustom Techniques of the 50’s book Volume 3 showing the odd antennas really well.¬†The license plate, mostly¬†covered by the Kustoms of Los Angeles card shows that this must have been around 1953.
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CCC-hirohata-merc-radar-antenna-06If you look hard you can see these antenna’s also in this photo. This photo was taken at the same time and same location as the trunk with model photo shown above. Bob had these antenna’s on the car at the time he had replaced the Sombrero hubcaps with the 1953 Cadillac units.
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I always thought these antenna’s did not really fitted the Hirohata merc very well, at least not in the time period they were on the car, which was somewhere around 1953. These Antenna’s might have looked really great on cars like the Modern Grecian, the El Capitola, or a lot of other wild customs from the late 1950’s early 1960’s. But on the very smooth early 1950’s styled Hirohata mercury, they always looked out of place. Fortunately Bob Hirohata might have thought the same things and they were on the car only for a short period. Later the holes for the antenna on the rear fender were even closed up completely. And the rear fenders are now completely smooth, with no sign of any antenna at all.

In June 2015 good friend Ulf “Wolf” Christiansson send me a link for an ebay auctions. Wolf is always on the hunt for interesting Custom Car artifacts,¬†memorabilia, books, magazines and parts. And this time he was browsing the products from an seller¬†who had some parts Wolf liked, when he came across this¬†
NOS vtg Jetsons-type RADAR disc antenna booster/intensifier product for sale. Wolf recognized the odd shaped product and emailed me that we now finally know where these Hirohata Mercury antenna’s come from. Another Custom Car “mystery” solved!
 
CCC-hirohata-merc-radar-antenna-04Enlarged section of the above photo gives us a good look at the 5-disc antennas and the batwing shaped bracket.
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CCC-hirohata-merc-radar-antenna-02This photo from the Mad Fabricators Barris Photo DVD shows the antenna’s from another angle.
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This is what we know about the Radar Antenna from the ebay auction.

It is called¬†the¬†‘RADAR¬†Areal¬†Intensifier‘, and according to the hype on the sales card it does do virtually everything to improve your radio reception. The Antenna is produced by¬†C.B. Crawford & Co in Cleveland, Ohio.¬†The ebay seller bought¬†these antenna’s at¬†from an¬†Hershey vendor in 1992. They came in two types and in several different colors. We assume Bob most likely used the green version on his 1951 mercury to match the interior dash knobs he created in white and green laminated plastic. The two types were one with 5 pastic discs, which turned out to be rare, and one with 7 disks which apparently were produced in some larger quantities. Bob used the rare 5 disk type on his Merc.

 
CCC-hirohata-merc-radar-antenna-07This is some kind of display card showing the 7 disk type “Radar Aerial Intensifier” color options. The early 1950’s newspaper wrapped parts on the top and right are the way the ebay seller found them as parts of this display set. It is probably how¬†these were send out to the stores so they could display them on the counter.
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CCC-hirohata-merc-radar-antenna-12This is the same 5 disc “Radar Aerial Intensifier” unit that Bob Hirohata used on his Hirohata Merc. Bob did possibly remove the bracket and created a “batwing’ styled unit to fit around the main antenna on his Merc. It could also be possible that the units on the Hirohata merc, with the batwing like brackets, are a different type from the same company.
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CCC-hirohata-merc-radar-antenna-09Close up of the larger 7 disc units.
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Jan-Brag-Aero-Glo-Antenna-01After seeing the CCC-Article on these antenna’s Jan Brag send us this photo of the one he has found. And this one comes even closer to the one on Bob’s mercury. It looks like there were more companies creating these Futuristic antenna’s in a similar style.
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CCC-hirohata-merc-radar-antenna-lastI took this photo of the Hirohata Mercury in 2011. the car now has no antenna at all on the rear fenders.
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CCC-hirohata-merc-radar-antenna-14In 2011¬†Wolf asked Jim McNeil¬†about the Antenna’s on the early version of the car. Jim mentioned that the holes for the antenna were welded shut at one point.¬†Wolf¬†took his camera, held it inside the trunk, inside the rear fenders and took a bunch of photos hoping to see the welded antenna hole. And he sure managed to capture it. I have lightened the section in the photo¬†a bit to show the welds¬†even better.
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Hirohata Merc – The Trunk

 

HIROHATA MERC – THE TRUNK

 

The Hirohata Mercury was restyled inside and out, many elements on this car, including the fully detailed trunk, started new trends in customizing.



[dropcap]O[/dropcap]ver the years I came across more and more photos taken at¬†early 1950’s car¬†shows that show custom cars with their hoods and trunk open. Especially photos taken at outdoor shows in the early 1950’s show custom cars with the open door, hood and trunks. Later in the 1950’s and early 1960’s making points at cars shows was really important and the more details you showed to the judges and public the more points you got. So in those later years, everything was opened to show all the details and gain points for more trophies, even wheels were removed to show undercarriage details. It appears that in the early 1950’s shows the owners would show the cars both closed and opened from time to time at a show. This allowed he public to see both all the details inside as well as the wonderful shapes of the outside of the cars.


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Custom Cars in the 1940’s usually had mostly stock engines, some had some speed parts, but mostly that was done for more power, and not so much for the looks. The trunks were sometimes upholstered, but not really to be shown, just to be practical. Later in the early 1950’s things changed. And more time was spend to detail more and more sections of the cars. In the early 1950’s¬†some, and actually quite a few cars had chromed and detailed engines, and the¬†owners loved to¬†show their car with the hood open. Even more cars with fully upholstered high-end interiors liked to show of the cars with the doors open, and showed cards if the upholstery shop to advertise their work¬†(perhaps for a discount on their own upholstery).¬†If you had a really detailed car with a fully upholstered trunk you also wanted to show off that work and opened the trunk at the shows.



CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-20One of the first photos of the Hirohata Merc I noticed with the trunk open was this one taken at the Custom Car and Hot Rods show held at the Thrifty’s drug store parking lot in Los Angeles May 15, 1954.
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One of the Icon Custom Cars from the early 1950’s that can be seen at shows with the trunk open was Bob Hirohata’s 1951 Mercury by Barris. Bob had a fully detailed trunk (as well as chromed engine) and loved to show-off all the detail work that went into his car. Cars like the Hirohata Mercury with so many details added to the interior, engine and trunks kind of started the later award points craziness. But before the mid 1950’s everything was still “normal” and the awards at the car shows still went to the best looking custom cars, and not to the one that had the most modifications, or the most chrome plated parts. Lets take a look at what Bob had to show in the¬†well detailed trunk of the Hirohata Mercury.



CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-02This photo of the Hirohata Merc trunk appeared in the November ’53 issue of Honk Magazine. It showed a fully detailed and upholstered trunk. Matching spare tire with Cadillac Sombrero mounted. The gas filler was relocated in the trunk, but detailed and the carpet was neatly finished around the base of it.¬†
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CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-11I took this photo of the completely restored Hirohata Mercury at the 2009 Sacramento Autorama Mercury Gathering. Jim McNiel did an amazing job restoring the trunk to early 1950’s specs. Eddie Martinez was responsible for recreating the Bill Gaylord upholstered trunk.
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CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-05Bob Hirohata on his famous Kross Kountry in a Kustom trip to the Indianapolis 500 and Custom Car show in 1953. Bob is filling the Merc with gas and it looks like Bob and his co driver did store some stuff in the trunk, but it was filled all the way. Possibly more stuff for the long trip was stored on the passenger seat to try and get the weight  distributed as much forward as possible.
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CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-08Famous model in the trunk photo taken by George Barris. It appears the model is holding an drive-in speaker that can also be seen sitting on the upholstered section in the 1953 Honk Magazine photo. Bob Hirohata wrote a letter in 1956 to Rodding and Re-styling magazine about the car. In his letter he explains that the speakers in his trunk have 50 foot long wires, for picnics (thank you Frank for this info). This photo also shows the Space-Age Antennas Bob Hirohata added to the car. Only very few photos show these. There is one other photo taken at the same location showing that the car is using 1953 Cadillac hubcaps now. The spare tire in the trunk still has the early Sombrero mounted. And the Oil and Gas cans are painted in the sea-foam body color.
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CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-18Taken at an unknown outdoor show, shows the Hirohata Mercury in color again with the hood and trunk open.
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CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-04Another photo of the Hirohata Mercury taken at an outdoor show at the Hollywood park race track in Inglewood showing the car with open hood and trunk. The car has 1953 Cadillac hubcaps now.
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CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-19Photo from the Rodder’s Journal shows the trunk pre-restoration. The photo shows it had a hard live and was not always taken car of as it should have. But most of the upholstery is still there and could be perfectly replicated by Eddie Martinez.
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CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-06This photo taken by Pat Ganahl shows all the original parts re-installed before the restoration started. The oil and gas cans are now located on the right side. This photo also shows that the cans have been re-painted dark green at one point. (Rod & Custom December 1989)
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CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-07During the restoration Jim Mc Niel used the trunk to store parts in… just like it was done in the old days. (Pat Ganahl photo)
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CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-12Another looks at the restored trunk with wonderful period looking word by Eddie Martinez who has been doing this kind of work since the 1950’s. These photos also show the one thing that was not molded on the body because the Barris crew ran out of time to get the car finished for the Motorama show… the rear splash pan.
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CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-22Bob Hirohata Checking the fule¬†filler that was relocated in the trunk. He is holding one of the special tools he created with the green and white laminated plastic handle. If you look hard you can see a small portion of the space age antenna next to Bob’s shoulder.
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CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-15The drivers side had a set of tools and the relocated fuel filler. 
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CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-13Close up of the special tools with Bob Hirohata made laminated handles. 
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CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-14Close up of the gas filler. Nicely detailed and chrome plated. The carpet was neatly finished with white piping. Also notice the simple rounded bottom edge of the trunk opening. A typical way to round corners in the 1950’s.
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CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-16The trunk handle and emblem was shaved and the lock modified to open electronically. This photo also shows that the whole underneath of the trunk is now painted body color It appears in the 1950’s photos that the inlay sections are either painted a dark color or have been upholstered with dark material.¬†
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CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-17A close up of the remote controlled opener. The hand made bracket and not used holes are all left the way it was done back in the 1950’s.
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CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-09The top photo shows the restored cans, with the original paint on it. It is not sure when these were painted, but most likely after 1955 when the car was repainted as well. The cans are now dark green with white lettering, while in the 1953 photo (below) they are most likely sea foam green (the lighter body color of the original version). with dark letters. The early version also look to have hand painted Barris Crests, while the later version have Barris Crest decals. Interesting is the carpet used on the top, as well as the base, which seams to have been reversed in the restoration. Both the cans and the base are the original items.
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CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-10Close up show the Barris crest decals and hand painted letters in white on the dark green painted cans.
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Cross Country in a Kustom

 

CROSS COUNTRY IN A KUSTOM

 

In May 1953 Bob Hirohata drives his Mercillac from California to Indianapolis. An epic Cross Country trip in an award winning custom, that still fascinates people today.



Custom Cars in the 1940’s and 1950’s were built as daily users. Unlike most show cars today, these early Customs were actually driven to the shows they attended. Even if that show happened to be on the other side of the country.

I had heard about Bob Hirohata’s epic road trip for quite some time. But it would take me a few years before I finally found a copy of the October 1953 issue of Rod & Custom that was reasonably priced, including shipping to the Netherlands. And when it finally arrived in my mailbox 15 or so years ago, I read the story over and over again. I looked at the small photos in the article. Trying to visually how it must have been for the viewers back then, to see a car like the Hirohata Mercury hover by, in your home town, far, far away from California. And how it must have been for Bob and his friend driving a car that low, and with the quality of the mostly two lane roads back then. What an adventure!

I’m so happy that the team at Rod & Customs realized this trip was something special, and they needed to spend as many pages to is as possible. I still hope that Rod & Custom would do a re-run of this article, and goes back into the archives, to see if there possibly are more photos taken by Bob from that trip, that were not used in the article. How nice would that be! But even if they only have the photo already used in the 1953 article, then it still will be so good to see them, larger, and with modern day printing techniques… or perhaps even as an online article. R&C editors… hope you are reading this!

CCC-hirohata-kross-kountry-01-WBob Hirohata protecting the quarter panel scoops and fender skirts with multiple layers of masking tape before the trip started.
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CCC-hirohata-kross-kountry-11-WA brand new Cadillac engine was installed days before the trip begun.
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The story in Rod & Custom was written down by the R&C editor (there was no name listed for this) as how it was told by Bob Hirohata. Every time I read the article I feel like I’m on the passenger seat with Bob, so both Bob did a great job telling the story and the editor did a great job putting it down on paper to get the right feeling.

Bob mentions in the R&C article that the ¬†article “6000 miles in a Custom in the¬†September 1952 issue of Hop Up magazine, has alway inspired him a lot. And ever since he read that article he wanted to do a similar trip. Bob and his navy buddy Azzie Nishi had talked going to the Indianapolis 500 one day. And when the 1953 race was coming up, and it turned out this could be combined with the 1953 Indianapolis Custom Auto show, Bob decided it was his time to go on the cross country trip.


The amazing thing about this cross country trip is that Bob’s Mercury was an award winning custom. by the time Bob went on his trip the car had won many awards, was featured on the cover of Hop Up magazine (March 1953) and Motor Trend magazine (March 1953) and featured in the even more popular Hot Rod magazine (also in March 1953). But all that did not prevent Bob from going on this trip, of which he knew from reading ¬†Spence Murray’s story in the 1952 Hop Up magazine, that it would be full of rough roads and long empty roads.


CCC-hirohata-kross-kountry-14-WThe October issue of Rod & Custom magazine devoted ¬†6 and a quart page to Bob’s travel story. A lot of pages for a single story, especially in those days. The article also mentioned Bob had nick-named his Mercury the “Mercillac”.
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My guess is that the trip of the Hirohata Mercury, or the Mercillac as Bob called it in his article, must have put huge smiles on peoples face. Quite a few car enthusiast who saw the car on its trip must have recognized it from the Hop Up and Hot Rod magazine features. An most likely the Hirohata Mercury was a car they dreamt about, but knew they would never ever see in person. And now this ultimate custom drove thru town… hovering only inches above the pavement. A car with such wonderful lines and bright color contrasting with everything else on the road then.


I’m not sure if this R&C article inspired other people to do similar trips, but my guess is yes it did. Even 60 plus years later I get the urge to go on this same road trip. Cross Country in a Kustom. In 2011 I had the pleasure of being the passenger in the Hirohata Mercury when Jim McNiel asked me if I cared for a short drive in the parking lot of the NHRA Museum in Pomona (see CCC-Article on this experience). This short ride along was already epic for me… So the cross country trip Bob and Azzie taking several days and sleeping in the car, must have been pure heaven.


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CCC-hirohata-kross-kountry-02-WThis is the only photo we have been able to find of the Hirohata Mercury at the Indianapolis Custom car show in 1953. Hopefully more like this will show up in the future.
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CCC-hirohata-kross-kountry-17-WBob Hirohata behind the steering wheel of his “Mercillac”. A name he gave the car in the 1953 article after the Cadillac engine was installed. But nobody really knows the car by that name. Everybody calls the car the “Hirohata Merc” (photo from the March 1953 Hot Rod feature)
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1955 damage to the Hirohata Merc

 

HIROHATA MERC SIDESWIPED

 

In October 1955, not to long after Robert Waldsmith had bought the Hirohata Mercury, the car was sideswiped, and the entire left side was severely damaged.



Like most car people, I always feel sad when I see this photo of the wrecked Hirohata Mercury. It’s hard to believe that something like this happened to such a wonderful custom car. But it does show that these custom car icons were part of everyday traffic back then. More than often they were used for daily transport. When looking at this photo, one has to have a lot of respect for the body man, who was able to fix the car like nothing had ever happened to it.

Today, when you look at the Hirohata Mercury, and tell people the entire left side was once severely damaged, nearly nobody would take you seriously. Nothing from this tragedy can be seen on the car anymore. This 1955 photo however, makes you wonder how the people at the Barris shop must have felt when they saw the damage on the car. Only three years previously, the Barris team worked so hard to create one of the most stunning custom cars in a very short time. And now one side was wiped out.

The story

Most people had never heard about this wreck with the Hirohata Mercury until a photo of the damaged Hirohata Mercury appeared in the Rodder’s Journal #8 article on the Hirohata mercury. And the story about it was almost not told at all if it had not been for Tim Cunha bumping into a¬†Robert Waldsmith at an Salinas, Ca. hospital. Robert Waldsmith¬†was the administrator at this¬†hospital and Tim¬†was the regional manager for a contracting company¬†for Rehabilitation Services in hospitals etc.¬†When Tim and Robert were talking in the hospital office¬†Robert¬†started telling Tim¬†about this¬†Custom Mercillac he once had. He said it was in the Running Wild movie with Mamie van Doren.

Tim¬†told him to prove it……….. Well he did, the next day he brough a box of photos. Also the bill for the repair of the Merc from Sam’s Auto Body Works¬†after he got it side swiped. ¬†Sadly non of this material was copied or scanned at the time. But Tim Cunha did call Pat Ganahl who later got in touch with Robbert Waldsmith and was able to get one photo of the car showing the damage and one of the Hirohata mercury towing a boat from Robert.¬†These photos ended up in the Rodder’s Journal article, and we really have to thank Tim Cunha for getting in touch with Robert, and passing on the information so that this sad part of the story is part of the history of the Hirohata merc and not lost for ever.

CCC-Hirohata-Damage-01-WTim remembered that the photo Robert showed of the damage was just a very small snapshot.
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The photo above was taken in front of the Barris Kustom shop in October 1955, the car was then owned by Robert Waldsmith. Robert had bought the car, shortly before or after it was used in the movie ‘Running Wild’. Bob Hirohata had been advertising the car for sale for some time. When George Barris made the arrangements to have the car in the movie he was asked to repaint the car so it would show up better in the black and white movie. The Mercury was repainted lime green metallic, and dark green below the Buick trim, and that is how it was when the accident happened.

After the movie shoot, Robert put his new custom in several shows, but he also used his new car a lot as daily transportation.¬†In October 1955, he was hit by a car that left his lane, and crossed the center line on Riverside Drive in Burbanks. The two cars got in contact, and most of the drivers side was pretty beaten up, as can be seen in this photo. Robert wanted Barris to fix the damage for him, but in the end, they asked too much money to do the work. He brought the car over to Sam Gates Sam’s Auto Body Works in Pasadena. Sam was known for his fine work on the R&C Dream Truck. Sam did the repair work on the drivers side, and ended up repainting the car in bright gold with a dark gold under the Buick side trim.

In the photo of the Mercury from the movie as well as the accident we can see the car has a door mounted side view mirror. This mirror was not on the car when Bob Hirohata owned the car, nor when he advertised the car (See photo). The mirror was most likely put on by Robert, to allow him to tow his boat. But it could also be possible that the mirror was added to help the actors in the movie Running Wild to improve viability in the chopped car.

When Jim McNiel bought the car the side view mirror was removed by a previous owner (most likely Dirty Doug Kinney). He never filled the mirror mounting holes left in the door, and created a brass plate with a new name for the car. A brass crest with the name “The Hawaiian” has been covering the former rear view mirror holes. This Hawaiian crest is still on the car today. When I saw the Hirohata Mercury for the first time in 2009 I could not detect any signs of this body damage on the completely restored car what so ever. Sam Gates did a fantastic job repairing this Milestone Custom in the mid 1950’s.

CCC-Sam-Gates-Auto-Body-Works-WSam Gates working on the top of the R&C Dream Truck which he chopped. On the left his business ad he ran in Rod & Custom Magazine.
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CCC-Hirohata-MT-May-55-FSADOne of the magazine ad’s Bob Hirohata ran to try and sell his 1951 Mercury custom. This photo in the ad shows the car has already been repainted for the movie. It also ran 1953 Cadillac hubcaps then, but there was no side view mirror.
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CCC-Hirohata-Mamie-Van-Doren-WActress Mamie Van Doren posing with the Hirothata mercury during the time the movie Running Wild was shot. Note that the side view mirror has been added at this time. Also note that the car was now running ’48-’50 Cadillac Sombrero hubcaps again, similar to when the car was first build in 1952.
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CCC-The-Hawaiian-crest-WThe Hawaiian crest that was created in the early 1960’s hides the mounting holes of the side view mirror. This photo was taken in 2011.
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Sources and more info;

  • The Rodder’s Journal¬†magazine #8 (Pat Ganahl)
  • Motor Trend magazine, May 1955

 

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