1950 Sacramento Autorama

1950 SACRAMENTO AUTORAMA

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The Capitol City Auto Club, better known as the Thunderbolts organized a two day Auto Show in 1950. Held at a Sacramento Chevy dealer the show hosted 23 top class Customs and Hot Rods.

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Special thanks to Lawrence Fears.

The title of this article is 1950 Sacramento Autorama, which is not precisely accurate. But, many people refer to this small 1950 Auto show organized by the Capitol City Auto Club “Thunderbolts” as the first Sacramento Autorama. Hence the name of this article.

In 1950 Car Shows was still brand new. The first of these shows were held just two years earlier. The Sacramento Custom Car and Hot Rod scene was very active, a lot was going on, rod runs, street drag racing, and some of the countries leading Customizers had their shop in or around Sacramento. The Capitol City Auto Club better known as the “Thunderbolts” had a great number of high quality cars in their club. Harold “Baggy” Bagdasarian was one of the club members and president of the club. He was one of the leading forces in organizing this first Sacramento Auto Show.

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The club members just wanted to know who had the nicest car among them. What better way to find out during a Car Show. Plus they really wanted to show off their cars, and not just at the local hang out places, but at a nice indoor event. The Capitol Chevrolet Company dealership at 13th and K Streets in downtown Sacramento had the perfect space for the show the members had in mind. In total the club brought together 23 cars this first show. And among these 23 cars there were some top Customs and Rods. The cars displayed at the show represented the high quality, and creative minds of the Nor Cal car builders. Custom builders Harry Westergard, and Dick Bertolucci were well represented at the show. Of all the Customs, many had been based on convertibles and all had Hall of Oakland Padded Tops. According different sources the two day show drew between 500 and 1000 visitors.

The show was held on November 4th and 5th, 1950. Saturday from 3:00 P.M. until 10:00 PM and Sunday from 10:00 A.M. until 10:00 P.M. The admission was 60 cent. The story goes that the entrance had to be kept below a certain amount, because otherwise everything had to be done official and Federal Amusement Tax would have to be paid. This first show was not about making money, it was about having a good time for the attendees as well as the visitors.

There were two trophies awarded.  One for Best Custom Car and Leroy Semas won the Custom Class with his 1937 Chevy. Burton Davis won the Best Rod with his 1931 Ford Roadster.

Rod Dust newsletter dated November 1, 1950. This was the issue that mentions the first Sacramento Auto Show in 1950.

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Local newspaper from Friday November 3rd, 1950 announcing the Sacramento Auto Show.

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On the top right we can see Al Garcia Westergard restyled 1939 Ford,  #5 Lawrence Brocchini ’31 A-V8 roadster on Deuce rails V-Windshield, Vern Haversack 1927 Model T with track nose with #11,  #1 Burton E. Davis 1931 Ford Roadster, and on the left is #19 Harold Casarang’s ‘25 Model T. bottom right shows the #14 of Jack Odbert’s 36 Ford, behind it the engine and front of #15 Ronnie Brown’s ’32 Ford 5-window.

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Show overview

The nice thing about the Capitol Chevrolet dealer ship location is that there was a second floor, from where some nice overview photos could be taken. These overview photos show that this small show was jam-packed with the best of the best. Amazing padded topped Customs created by the countries leading Customizers. Harry Westergard and Dick Bertolucci. The photos taken at the two day show also show that the cars were actually moved around a bit during the weekend. Some cars were added, like the two ’32 Ford 5-window Hot Rod’s in the photo below. In some photos those two cars are missing.

The cars at the show were mostly local cars, but some came as far as Oakland. Hot Rod magazine devoted some space to the Sacramento Auto Show in the Januari 1951 issue. The feature included the beautiful overview photo (below) which showed the nation that Sacramento was packed with beautiful Custom Cars… just as well as Los Angeles, which was always much more represented in the early magazines.
I have been collecting photos and info on this show for many years, and all I have is included in this article. I know there is more out there, and hopefully we will be able to share more in the near future.

Overview of part of the Chevrolet Dealer Show illustrates the great number of Custom Cars invited to this show. A perfect balance.

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Same photo as above, now with numbers, perhaps somebody will be able to identify some more. We still need to know # A on the far left, # B on the top right center, and from car # C we know that that is Butler Rugard’s 1940 Mercury, but we do not have a show number. (The number – car – identification list is shown further down in the article)

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This overview photo was taken either earlier or late as the one above. The two ’32 Ford 5-windows are missing sitting behind the #14 Jack Odbert’s ’36 Ford.

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Custom Cars at the Show

The Custom Cars shows we have been able to identify were all top of the line, and are now mostly considered historical Customs. Created by Harry Westergard, Les Crane, and Dick Bertolucci. The Barris Brothers had already been moved south for a few years, so their work was not represented at this show. It is really remarkable that a great number of the Custom Car show entries are Convertibles with chopped padded tops, which were all created by C.A. Hall Auto Tops in Oakland, Ca.

Unknown number for Butler Rugard’s 1940 Mercury restyled by Harry Westergard and Les Crane. More on Butler’s ’40 Mercury can be seen in this CCC-Article.
#2 Custom 1946 Chevy Convertible Butler Rugard restyled by Harry Westergard. (Listed in the program as Bob Ghilotti)
A little more clear photo of Butler Rugard’s ’46 Chevy Convertible restyled by Harry Westergard. Harry used a set of the Jimmy Summers fade away fenders on this Custom.
#4 1948 Johnny Lehman Mercury Convertible with padded top restyled by Dick Bertolucci. Most likely the Hall padded top of Al Garcia Westergard restyled 1939 Ford is showing on the left of the photo.
Johnny Lehman’s Mercury seen from the back shows the ’49 Mercury bumpers and taillights. The top was done by Hall of Oakland. On the right we can see the ’37 Chevy Coupe from Leroy Semas. More on Johnny Lehman’s ’48 Mercury in this CCC-Article.
#4 Enlarged section of another photo shows another peak at the Johnny Lehman Mercury and behind that on the right showing a small portions of Mel Falconer’s 41 Lincoln.
#14 Jack Odbert 1936 Ford Convertible restyled by Harry Westergard with Hall Padded top. More on Jack’s Beautiful ’36 Ford in this CCC-Article.
#18 Mel Falconer /Bruce Glenn 1939 Ford Convertible restyled by Harry Westergard with a then new metal top replacing the Hall padded top that was on the car originally.
#21 Mel Falconer 1941 Lincoln with 1948 Cadillac rear fenders, 1949 Mercury bumpers. Restyled by Harry Westergard, and the car is supposed to be still around, anybody knows more about this?
#23 Leroy Semas 1937 Chevy restyled by Harry Westergard. Leroy was the winner of the big Custom Car trophy at the show. One of the two trophies awarded at the show. More on Leroy’s Harry Westergard Restyled Custom can be seen in this CCC-Article.
Interior of Leroy Semas his ’37 Chevy Coupe.

Cars in the show
According the the information we have been able to find 23 car were entered. 14 of them we have been able to identify, hopefully some of our readers can help name the others that were at this 1950 Sacramento Auto Show. From the 23 cars entered at least 8 were Customs, high end Customs. Below is a list of the cars and numbers we have been able to identify.

1 Burton E. Davis 1931 Ford Roadster
2 Butler Rugard / Bob Ghilotti 1946 Chevy Convertible
3 Dick King 1929 Roadster with tracknose
4 ?
5 Lawrence Brocchini 1931 A-V8 roadster on Deuce rails V-Windshield
6 ?
7 Herk Vigienzone 1924 Model T Roadster
8 Rico Squalia 1924 T Roadster.
9 – 13 ?
14 Jack Odbert 1936 Ford Convertible
15 Ronnie Brown 1932 Ford 5-window
16 – 17 ?
18 Mel Falconer / Bruce Glenn 1939 Ford Convertible
19 Harold Casarang 1925 Model T
20 ?
21 Mel Falconer 1941 Lincoln
22 ?
23 Leroy Semas 1937 Chevy Coupe

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The Program
The 8 page, text only First annual Auto Show program generously donated by David E/ Zivot shown below, has a list of all the people and cars that planned to be at the show. Most of the numbers in the program correspond with the numbers we have seen in the show pictures, but apparently more cars were added to the show after the Program had been printed. The Program only lists 20 cars.

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In early 2020 David Zivot donated a 1950 Thunderbolts First Annual Auto Show Program. The 8 page program has a list of the cars and people that planned to have their car displayed at the event.

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The Hot Rods at the show

The Thunderbolts Auto Club had both Custom Car as well as Hot Rod oriented members. The Sacramento erea has been big on Custom Cars from the early beginnings, but Hot Rodding was very popular as well, and the Hot Rod and Race scene grew bigger every year. The show displayed some of the best Hot Rods and Race Cars in the wide area.

#1 Burton E. Davis 1931 Ford Roadster, the winner of the big Hot Rod award at the show.

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#3 Dick King 1929 Roadster with tracknose.

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A better look at the Dick King 1929 Roadster with tracknose.

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#5 Lawrence Brocchini ’31 A-V8 roadster on Deuce rails V-Windshield.

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The actual number 5 sign from the 1950 Sacramento Thunderbolts Auto Show, used on Lawrence Brocchini’s Hot Rod.

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#5 Lawrence Brocchini’s ’31 Ford.

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#15 Ronnie Brown’s ’32 Ford channeled 5-window coupe showing off its kilmont brakes. On the left is Johnny Lehman #4 ’48 Mercury and on the right we see the Buick trim on the skirts of Jack Odbert’s  #14 1936 Ford Convertible

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#15 Ronnie Brown posing with his channeled ’32 Ford 5-window Coupe.

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#19 Harold Casarang Oakland Roadster club member took his ‘25 Model T to the Sacramento Auto Show.
January 1951 Hot Rod Magazine article on the show.

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Sources and more information

  • Garage Magazine
  • Classic & Custom Magazine
  • Don Montgomery books

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Customs at Milnes Richfield Station

 

NORM MILNES RICHFIELD Station

 

In the mid 1940’s The Thunderbolts Car Club of Sacramento used the Norm Milnes Richfield Station as their hangout. Some historical important Custom Cars were photographed at this location.



The birth of Custom Restyling took place in California, in Southern California to be more precise. Exact dates for when this happened, or even what city this took place have never been documented. And we will most likely never be able to pin-point down, other than it happened in Southern California, possibly even at different locations at similar moments around Los Angeles. The form of Custom Restyling, as we discuss it here on the Custom Car Chronicle, started in the early 1930’s and developed over the years. It also migrated soon after that, first mostly in California, the Bay Area around San Fransisco as well as around Sacramento soon became hot beds of Custom restyling, later followed by other States as well.





Sacramento, Northern California was particular important for the Custom Restyling as we know it. Metal genius and early Customizer Harry Westergard was from Sacramento, Duck Bertolucci and also Sam and George Barris lived there. Les Crane, another early Custom Restyler was from that area so there must have been something good in the Sacramento area water.

After WWII, in late 1945, several Sacramento area Hot Rodders and Custom Car guys including Harry Westergard, Norm Milne and Butler Rugard formed a new car club The Capotol Auto Club, nicke named Thunderbolts. They held meetings at Harry Westergards place, and later the Richfield Gas Station of member Norm Milne (and his brother) would be the clubs headquarters, and hangout. The gas Station was located at Broadway and 25th in Sacramento, not to far from where Harry Westergard then worked from. Norm Milne personal Custom was a 1938 Ford Convertible Sedan Custom that was restyled by Harry Westergard in the early 1940’s. Norm was one of the very few guys who had a camera, and took some pictures of the club-members cars from time to time. Without his photo nearly none of this important part of the Custom History might never have been documented, at least not photographic.

Norm Milne 1938 Ford on the right and Gene Garrett’s 1940 Ford on the left at the Richfield Gas Station that was owned by Norm Milne and his brother.
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Norm Milne 1938 Ford

Norm Milne’s 1936 Ford was a very early Custom, started in 1940, when Norm drove it to Los Angeles to have a chopped Carson Top installed. The Carson top Shop handled it all, including the chop of the windshield and the cutting and refitting of all side windows. Most likely the metal work was done by the Jarret Metal Works next door to the Carson Top Shop.

Some time after returning to Sacramento Norm had his friend Harry Westergard do the rest of the restyling. Harry reshaped the front of the hood and grille surround to make the 1940 La Salle grille fit the Ford. The Hood-sides louvres were filled and the sides are now completely smooth. The hood ornament shaved and the stock headlights rings were replaced with chrome plated aftermarket sealed beam headlights. At the back Harry set in the license plate behind glass, a very popular technique at the time. The car was lowered and a set of teardrop fender skirts added. The door handles remained on the car, and so where the running boards. Harry installed a set of bumpers, possibly from a Graham with custom bumper guards to make the Ford looks a bit more robust. The only two photos we know that exist of the car show it with the front sheet metal still in primer.

Norm Milne’s 1938 Ford Sedan Convertible with the front body work done by Harry Westergard still in primer. Parked in front of his Richfield station. This photo, as well as most others in this article was taken in 1947. Notice how the front bumper had three bumper guards? That is Gene Garrett’s ’40 Ford in the background on the left. Both cars had black wall tires.
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Cropped section of the leading photo shows Norm’s Ford parked inside the gas station. It is a very small photo, but as far as we know there are only two photos of this Harry Westergard Custom ever published.
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Gene Garrett 1940 Ford

We know Gene Garrett best of the ’36 Ford Convertible Custom Harry Westergard did for him around 1942-43. But Gene owned at least one more Custom later on. In 1947 he drove a 1940 Ford Convertible with chopped padded top. According the stories Gene, did just as his friend Norm, drive his car to Los Angeles where he took it the Carson Top Shop to have then chop the windshield and add the white padded top. We only have very limited photo material of this car, but as far as we can see in the photos the running boards were removed, the hood was shaved, made one piece and smoothed. The side trim was removed and at the back the trunk was shaved and a set in license plate was added to the lower end of the trunk. De Soto Bumpers were installed and the car had black wall tires in 1947.

Parked at the Richfield Gas Station looking good with is nicely shaped chopped padded top. I wonder which convertible or roadster sedan car is parked behind Gene’s Ford. It does not show up in any of the other photos taken at the Gas Station.
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The rear end of Gene’s 40 Ford shows in the photo of Norm Milne. This enlarged section shows the ’37 DeStoto bumpers as well as the set in plate in the trunk. It also gives us a good look at the odd three bumper guards on Norm’s ’38 Ford. I have no idea why that was done, and why it had two different units placed close on the passenger side, and only one on the drivers side? 
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Since photos of the Gene Gerrett 1940 Ford are so rare I have also included this snapshot of Gene racing the dray lakes. (Photo comes from the Don Montomery books Leroy Semas Collection)
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Mel Falconer 1939 Ford

We are fortunate that we have several Harry Westergard created Custom Cars still among us. At least 6 of them are still around, some completely restored, others in the process of it, or at least in good hands. One of them is the Mel Falconer’s 1939 Ford , that was later owned by Bruce Glenn when it became more popular in the 1950’s. There is one photo of the Westergard Restyled ’39 Ford taken at the Richfield Gas Station in 1947 that shows the car with its original chopped padded top. Later Harry would create a lift off metal top based on a ’38 Ford top which is still with the car today.

Originally restyled in the early 1940’s to what we see in the photo here, wonderful metal work on the nose of the car to be able to use the 1940 Packard grille that was chopped to get the right height. The headlights were replaced by painted ’40 Ford units, the bumpers replaced by ’37 DeSoto units and at the back Harry had set in the license plate behind glass, and later he would mold in the trunk completely. Mel’s ’39 Ford Custom is the only Custom in this series of photos, taken around 1947, that has white wall tires installed. Around 1947 the tires manufacturers were starting to produce white wall tires again. Its production had been stopped completely during WWII when the rubber was needed for the war. During the previous years only black wall tires were available, and during the war those were rationed as well.

Mel Falkoner’s Harry Westergard ’39 Ford looked stunning at the Richfield Gas Station. To bad the hubcaps was missing when this photo was taken.
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When I zoomed in on the back of the car I noticed a damaged teardrop shape skirt on Mel’s 39 Ford, and peaking just behind it is Gene Garrett’s ’40 Ford.
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George Barris 1941 Buick

Around 1947 George Barris was starting to establish a name as Custom Car builder in Los Angeles. He had moved from Sacramento to Los Angeles in 1943, and he still had many of his car-friends back in Sacramento. When he had finished his personal 1941 Buick Custom with full fade-away fenders he was very eager to show his Nor-Cal friends how far he has gotten as a Custom Car builder. He drove his Buick from LA to Sacramento to meet up with his friends at Norm’s Richfield Gas Station. We are not sure if George was able to show his personal Custom Buick to his master Harry Westergard during this trip. There are some photos of George with his Buick and some of his friends, but Harry Westergard is not in any of those photos.

George also used his Buick for long distance drives. This photo was taken in front of the Elmer Howard’s Body – Fender & Top Shop in Sacramento. The building on the right is Norm Milne’s Richfield station.
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This photo of George his Buick was taken facing away from the Richfield Station, to the right, just outside this photo is Elmer Howard’s Body Shop.
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After George had finished his new Custom he wanted to show it to his old Sacramento friends. Left to right Willis Schraeder, Jack Odberg, George Barris, Buddy Ohanesian, Bruce Glenn, Norm Milne and Mel Falconer. The friends were pretty impressed with George’s new Custom ride. The photo was taken in late 1947.
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Another one of the friends, this time a little closer. Jack Odberg kneeling, George Barris standing, Buddy Ohanesian kneeling, Bruce Glenn standing, Norm Milne and Mel Falconer both kneeling.
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Norm Milne in the center with his trusty camera, which he always had with him according the stories. On the left of the photo is Butler Rugard and on the right the master himself. Harry Westergard.
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Location of Norm Milne’s Richfield Gas Station at the corner of 25th and Broadway in Sacramento, California.
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Harry Westergard is always credited for creating the typical Westergard style Custom in the 1940’s. Basically a ’36 Ford-ish Roadster with a speed boat stance, chopped windshield white padded top smooth hood sides, De Soto Bumpers and a 1940 LaSalle grille. This image might not have been based on an actual car Harry Westergard has actually created, but more likely on an painting by Artist Robert Williams. Norm Milne‘s 1938 Ford is, as far as we know the only Custom Harry Westergard created that actually used the LaSalle Grille, as can be seen in this article. Harry more frequently used the Packard Clipper grilles.

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