Bonneville via Custom

 

BONNEVILLE via CUSTOM

 

In 1953 Car Craft editor Dick Day joined Chuch DeWitt on his trip in his Barris Custom 1950 Ford convertible to the Bonneville Speed Trials. Custom Car Road-Trip, Bonneville via Custom.


Taking  a long road trip in a full Custom Car has always been something special. We know that most of the Custom Cars – up to the rise of the major car shows in the mid ’50’s – were often used for daily transport, and also for the longer trips. I have heard personal stories of Jim Skonzakes who took his ’41 Ford convertible and ’49 Buick full customs on trips all across the US and several times from Dayton Ohio to Los Angeles. Jim also drove the Jack Stewart Ford from Los Angeles to his home in Dayton. Jimmy Summers drove his full Custom 1940 Mercury all over the place together with his friend Doane Spencer in his famous 1932 Ford Roadster. We have heard about Marcia Campbell driving here ’42 Ford Coupe long distances, and many more stories that were told about these long full Custom Car road trips back in the ’40’s and ’50’s. Great stories about these guys and girls driving their dream cars, enjoying the cars in their natural habitat. Sadly only very few of these stories were  published back in the time these trips happened. The most famous road-trip story in a full Custom Car must have been the Kross Kountry trip in the Hirohata Mercury as it was published in the October ’53 issue of Rod & Custom Magazine. This published stories most likely inspired many young guy to go on similar road trips with their friends and Custom Cars.

One other published Road-trip story in a full custom that made an impact, but is often overlooked these days was in the December ’53 issue of Car Craft Magazine. Car Craft Associate Editor Dick Day documented a road trip he took with Chuck DeWitt and a friend in Chuck’s Barris Kustoms created 1950 Ford convertible from Los Angeles to the ’53 Bonneville Speed-Trials. A 1600 miles round trip documented in 6 pages, with some nice on-the-road photos of Chuck DeWitt’s beautiful Fuschia-Orchid-Metallic painted Carson topped convertible.

Chuck DeWitt’s 1950 Ford Convertible was restyled at the Barris Shop in ’52-early ’53. According the Barris Kustoms Technique book Chuck had already replaced the stock Ford engine with a hopped up Mercury unit and he had driven the car up to 118 mph before he took it to the Barris brothers for the full Custom treatment. Chopped windshield, ’53 Pontiac taillights in modified wind-splits, custom grille surround, typical Barris built grille, custom side trim using ’52 Buick and ’53 Olds component, a beautiful deep organic purple paint job and a white perfectly shaped padded top by the Carson Top Shop.



The Car Craft Article

CCC-chuck-dewitt-bonneville-car-craft-articleThe December 1953 issue of Car Craft Magazine 6 page article on the trip from Los Angeles to Bonneville in the Barris Kustom Shop built Chuck DeWitt 1950 Ford full Custom.
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Bonneville via custom

– Transcript of the December 1953 Car Craft magazine article –

By Dick Day

What happens when you take a radical customized car away from it weekly mooring at the local drive-in, and head it out onto the open highway for a sixteen-hundered mile trip? These weremy personal thoughts as I slid into the plush interior of Chuck deWitt’s beautifully restyled ’59 Ford convertible and departed for the Bonneville National Speed Trials.

As I sat wondering what experience lay in store for use, considering the car’s roadability, comfort and the reception it would receive from the neighboring states, CHuck began relating some of the car’s technical points. The body itself has undergone some very extensive alterations by the Barris Custom Shop of Lynwood, California. The top has been  chopped three and three-quarter inches and replaced with a beautiful white padded Carson type lid. Inside, the little jewel is one mass of soft airfoam, covered with black and white rolled and pleated leatherette upholstering, which at the time was providing itself most comfortable. A quick overall summery of the car could be it has the distinction of being one of the “Ten Best Customs in the Country”.


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Our first stop for gas proved to be a ritual that was to follow us throughout the entire trip. It was the question and answer routine that every radical custom owner goes through with the average gas station attendant and his assistants. It runs like this: “Where’s the gas filler spout? How come you got it positioned in the trunk? How do you get inside without door handles? What color paint do you call this? The most pointed comment of all referred to the ground clearance, which was four-and-a-half inches all the way around, “What happens when you drive over a piece of gravel?” Once back on the highway again, we checked out the added weight necessitated by the trip and figured that the already taxed suspension was supporting approximately seven hundred punds. This included the passengers, as limited amount of camera and clothing gear and thirty gallons of gasoline. A third of this weight was towards the rear of the car. Chuck has installed in the rear deck compartment a thirteen gallon auxiliary tank for just such trips as this. When combined with the stock tank’s petrol capacity, the car is able to travel an average of Five-hundred miles without stopping for gas. This for non-stop purpose works out wonderfully, but for a car that has been drastically lowered, the extra pounds of the gas added to the rear of the car, can spell the difference between a comfortable ride and one that feels as though the body was bolted to the rear axle.

CCC-chuck-dewitt-bonneville-trip-03Chuck De Witt’s Ford at one of the stops during the trip.
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We negotiated about every type of road surface conceivable, except possibly one of a muddy nature (thanks, but no thanks). The car responded differently with each one. On a smooth surface the car’s response to bottoming was nil, but herex as larger amount of rocking and pitching from side to side was encountered at speeds in excess of fifty miles per hour. This action could be suppressed considerably, in Chuck’s case, by installing a sway bar at the rear of the car to counteract the radical side sway ad spring twisting action. On a tar-strip road the car averaged out a ride nearly equal to that of any standard production model.

A twisty mountainous road, for approximately thirty-five miles, was under construction and proved one of the most interesting roadability tests of the entire trip. The surface was of a granite gravel substance, just about ready to receive its asphalt top coating. To add a little incentive to the whole bit, a highway construction truck pulled in behind us at the summit. To stay in front of him we had to average a good fifty-five miles an hour or otherwise we’d be forced to eat dust from his rear wheels. Rocks being trown back could easily have damaged the paint on the front of the car. Strangely as it may seem, this was the smoothest ride of the whole trip, but jst a bit clamorous. Small rocks and gravel were bounding off the underneath side of the car like bullets. When we reached the floor of the canyon and the pavement once more, we stopped to examine the lower edge of the body for damages. No dents were visible, but Chuck now owned to of the most beautiful sandblasted rear fender skirts that I had ever seen. The gravel had obliterated all paint from the lower leading edge of each fender skirt.

At this point of the trip we should have realized that all had done too well, for from her on the highway was simulated obstacle course for the custom’s suspension. The ride that we had been enjoying without any aches and pains for the last four or five hundred miles went sour. The road pattern went something like this: sharp turns with wrong cambers, straight stretches had tapers from the middle of the road down to the shoulder that made us think we were running on the outside of an amusement park motordrome. Then to test Chuck’s driving skill without the price of a nickel, every fifteen or twenty feet a small knoll or slight pocket would appear for either the left of the right side of the car to go skimming over or dive into. By placing one hand up against the headliner, the left leg around the steering column and stuffing the right foot into the heater I could retain my position without too much hassle. We didn’t mind this too much because we knew it could have been worse. I could have lost the freedoms of my right arm which would have been cut off our supply of cigarettes and matches!

At Bonneville the car attracted almost as much attention as the famous 256 mph Kenz streamliner. It also gave many out of state spectators their first opportunity to see a radically customized car in the flesh.

The return trip home was repetitious of the first eight hundered miles, except for a slipping fan belt that necessitated repairs shade tree style. From this point it was only a matter of hours ’til we were rolling into Los Angeles and the cross-country trip in one of America’s outstanding restyled custom cars was coming to an end. The big question was “did the custom fail for roadability?”

This writer interpretation could be summarized possibly like this: the roadability and comfort depended largely on the condition of the road and at what speed we were traveling. This particular cars’s handling qualities were below average because drastic sacrifices were made on the front and rear suspension units to lower it to the desired level. At the same time comfort was destined to suffer from the fact that the car bottomed easier. Lately there have been some revised devices for lowering a car to a maximum degree without sacrificing handling qualities, and bottoming troubles have proved practically nil. In the near future Car Craft will feature these stories in a step-by-step version of ho they were performed.

The question, “did the car meet with any reception”? is fairly east to answer. I ‘ve never until now, found anything that would attract the attention of a die-hard gambler at a hot die table, nor anything to sway the one arm bandit friend to pear away from a triple plum, but DeWitt’s Ford had ’em falling out the doors from one end of Nevada to the other.

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CCC-chuck-dewitt-bonneville-trip-02They made it to the Bonneville Salt Flats for the 1953 Speed Trials.
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CCC-chuck-dewitt-bonneville-trip-barris-spreadThe Barris Kustom technique book shared this really great photo of Chuck driving the Ford in Las Vegas watched by a young kid on the side walk. Who knows seeing Chuck’s deep purple custom might have changed this kid forever…
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CCC-chuck-dewitt-bonneville-trip-06Dick Day and Chuck made many photos of the Ford during the road-trip, some of them were used in Dick Day’s published article. This side view shows the low stance of the car and the beautiful shape of the Carson Top Shop created padded top.
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CCC-chuck-dewitt-bonneville-via-custom-color-rhkFrom my own personal collection comes this rather faded and discolored photo taken at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1953. The deep purple paint must have looked absolutely stunning on the white salt.
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CCC-chuck-dewitt-bonneville-via-custom-color02-rhkRear quarter view shows some of the people at the event taking special notice of Chuck’s Custom Ford. Notice the location of the antenna on the rear splash pan.
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CCC-chuck-dewitt-bonneville-via-custom-color-trjThis is one of the best color photos of the Chuck DeWitt’s Ford that we know about. It was also taken at the ’53 Speed Trial event at Bonneville. It shows that the car sure made an impact with several photographers.
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Chuck’s Ford next to the Barris Kustom Auto bodies Chat Herbert “Beast” lakester.
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CCC-chuck-dewitt-bonneville-trip-07Several more glamour photos were also taken to accompany the road-trip photos in the article. Some made it to the final cut, others not. This low angle front view gives us a great look at the well designed front end on Chuck’s Ford with the molded in round tube grille opening and unique Barris grille. Notice the Southern California letters in the windshield, a typical trend in the 1940’s and early 1950’s when the car owners proudly listed the school they were at, or went to. 
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CCC-chuck-dewitt-bonneville-trip-05Barris created the stunning looking rear of Chuck’s Ford using 1953 Pontiac taillights set into extended and reshaped wind-spilts. Both front and rear bumpers are 1951 Ford an use Kaiser overriders. The rear units were modified with exhaust tips in the bullets.
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I wish there were many more articles published like this Bonneville trip and the one of the Hirohata Mercury Cross Country trip to Indianapolis. Road trips in the 1940’s and early 1950’s with Custom Cars. Road trips with many snapshots taken during the trip. Snapshots from people admiring the cars along the trip, snapshots taken from the car capturing the experience these guys had back then. And of course the stories about the trip itself. If you have ever been on a long road trip in a Custom Car, or know about some of the old guys who took trips like this back in the 40’s or 50’s. Please let us know. We would love to hear them, and share them here on the Custom Car Chronicle in our Road-Trip section.

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Resources and more info

  • Car Craft, Magazine December 1953
  • Barris Kustoms Techniques of the 50’s, Book volume 2, 1996

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Dry lake Greetings

 

DRY LAKE GREETINGS

 

Some time ago I came across this really neat snapshot on ebay. Two cars with a plane parked on the Salt Flats in 1949.

 
When I was browsing ebay for some old photos, like I do from time to time, I came across this really nice looking snapshot. Two cars and a plane sitting on a dry lake. I noticed that the two cars were mildly customized, or perhaps a better term in this case would be dressed up. It was a nice photo… giving a very nice feel of the late 1940’s. I saved the ad and went on browsing. Then I came across a photo of this girl standing next to a 1941 Chevy with single bar flipper hubcaps. I immediately recognized it from the snapshot with the 1946-48 Mercury and the plane.  So I looked at the seller and what else he had to offer.

 

CCC-49-bonneville-greetings-01This is the one photo I bought from the collection. I just love everything about this one, it is such a nice photo. A couple of mild custom and plane parked on the salt and the owners getting ready to watch the the cars at full speed.
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There were 21 photos that looked to be taken at the same time, by the same people, coming from the same collection. I saved the ebay photos and did not really think about it for a couple of days. Until I was looking for something on my computer and came across the photo with the two cars and the plane again. I just could not stop looking at it. I had seen some photos in the Wally Welch Photo Album where Wally was flying an small airplane similar to the one in this photo. Wally Welch was very much into Custom Cars, but also in Hot Rods, and I knew he could fly, so With this photo I could imagine how people like Wally Welch, with a passion for cars and the ability to fly a plane would go out, rent a plane and fly it out to Bonneville to watch the cars race the salt lake. This photo, and the others offered on ebay have nothing to do with Wally Welch, at least not as far as I know, but it just inspired me enough to make an offer on the one photo. I was the only one who bid on it, and ten days later I received it in my mailbox. Its a really nice snapshot.
 
CCC-49-bonneville-greetings-02Cropped section of the photo shows the dressed up 1946-48 Mercury coupe with Californian plates and the 1941 Chevy that has been dropped in the back a bit with single bar flipper hubcaps. Nothing really special, just every day drivers from some car loving guys.
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I then started to look a little better at the other photo I had downloaded to my computer, the once I did not bid on. I have no idea if they sold, or not. All I have from them are the digital photos that were used for the ebay ads. There was no information about the photos when they were listed on ebay… but to me it looks like perhaps two guys and a girl friend made a trip out to Bonneville to see the Hot Rod’s race at the lakes. I cannot make out from which state the 1941 Chevy come. There is no state indication on the license plate. One other photo in the series shows a 1949 License plate, so most likely this trip was made in 1949. And possibly the guys and girl had been dreaming about this trip for some time, hence all the snapshots that were taken during the trip.

CCC-Member Jimmy Barter corrected me on this writing. He let me know that there where a lot more than 21 photos in this collection. And that the trip was not made to Bonneville alone. He was able to buy 60 photos from this collection and he was able to recognize a few other locations as well. The airplane photo and the Woman next to the ’40 Chev plus the coupe speed runs and the 2 roadsters (sepia coloured) are from El Mirage. The photo of the trophy presentation is from Saugus drag strip. Thank you Jimmy for the extra info.
 
CCC-49-bonneville-greetings-03Another photo shows the girl friend with the 1941 Chevy. If somebody recognizes the license plate, please let me know. Typical snapshot with the horizon on an angle, vertical photos when a horizontal would have been a better choice… but still I love the idea of the photo taken to show the friends at home the Chevy and the girl made it out to Bonneville.
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CCC-49-bonneville-greetings-04Slight speedboat stance with single bar flipper hubcaps… and a tough looking girl…
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The one photo I was able to buy started this story. To me it gives a very good image of how it was back in the 1940’s. The rest of the photos from the ebay auctions made up the rest of the story in my head. It made me wonder how it must have been to make a special trip like that back then. These snapshots might have been part of a personal collection for many decades. Inside a photo-album, the one from the 1949 Bonneville trip. An album that perhaps was taken out from time to time, to re-live that wonderful trip again. Perhaps the album was found in an estate sale in recent years and each photo sold off individually… greeting new stories with the new owners.
 
CCC-49-bonneville-greetings-05The road to the lakes… a whole lot of “nothing”.
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CCC-49-bonneville-greetings-09Another proof to show back home that they made it to the Salt Flats.
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CCC-49-bonneville-greetings-10Possibly the owner of the 1941 Chevy and his girlfriend close the the Salt Flats.
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CCC-49-bonneville-greetings-11The two guys brushing their teeth… 
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CCC-49-bonneville-greetings-06Distant speeding Hot Rod on the salt.
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CCC-49-bonneville-greetings-07’36 Ford at full speed… a little closer to the track.
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CCC-49-bonneville-greetings-08Full speed Hot Rod…
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CCC-49-bonneville-greetings-12They also hung out in the pits, looking at the cars, taking some snapshots and watching the award ceremony.
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CCC-49-bonneville-greetings-13A few more snapshots from the pits era with the Pierson Bros cars in one of the photos.
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Experiments in Speed

SPEED IT UP WITH A BIKE

It is Speed Week in Bonneville. It’s not just drivers of cars and motorcycles, who are obsessed with speed. They share their passion with cyclists like Tom Donhou from England, and Fred Rompelberg from The Netherlands

Tom Donhou got inspired by the speed records on the salt flats. He designed and built his own bicycle. Not because he wanted to race at Bonneville, but because he wanted to see and feel for himself, how fast a bike could actually go. This beautifully made short documentary shows his hard work and the precision with which he works.

Tom Donhou builds his own bikes. No flashy work from low-wage countries, but hard work in a barn in picturesque Norwich. His land speed record bike is not a piece of soulless carbon. It is a a work of art and love, welded with hand-made precision. He made an authentic bicycle, just to see how fast it could go. Donhou’s short documentary tells how it feels to be in the slipstream of a car.

The video shows the love for the bike, and depicts Donhou’s exquisite craftsmanship. Donhou has no salt flats, dragster, rich sponsor or a specially developed bike. He just wanted to see how fast he could cycle on his road bike. And that is over 80 mph (128 km/h), behind his old Ford Zephyr, and later about 102 mph. (160 km/h) on the roller.

The world record, almost 269 km/h on the Bonneville salt flats, is still in the hands of former professional bike-rider Fred Rompelberg (who is from the South of the Netherlands, where the landscape is never flat).

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Found Treasures

SNAPSHOTS FROM MY PERSONAL COLLECTION

For this first article for the Custom Car Chronicle I wanted to show some nice snapshots from my own personal collection.

From time to time some individual snaps shots show up for sale, and sometimes larger collections or even whole photo albums are offered. Most of the times this material is found when the old guy who took the photos passed away, or perhaps had to move to an elderly home. And lost of stuff gets sold on yard and estate sales if we are lucky. Other collections are not so lucky and might end up in the garbage. I think we all have heard some of those hours stories.

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In any event the photos I will be showing here have had better luck, found their new home at a real enthusiast and even better the photos now get to be shared world wide with all who love to watch them.

Some of the cars in the photos I show are identified, and we know a lot about them. But others remain unanimous so far. So we do encourage you, the viewer to help us identify the cars in the photo. If you know more about them, or recognize cars in the background, please sign in and leave a comment on the article. When new information comes available the older articles on the CC Chronicle will be updated.

Now lets see some nice photos taken at the lakes…

Harold Johanson Howard Cams streamliner 1954

Peterson-Sinclair Dodge roadster

 

1952 Vic Hubbard Merc-Crosley

 

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