Chopped 1949 – 51 Mercury Convertibles

 

CHOPPED 49-51 MERCURY Convertibles

 

A trip in time back to the late 1940s and early 1950s when the first of the 1949 – 51 Mercury Convertibles were Customized with chopped padded tops.



The 1949-51 Mercury has made a huge mark on the Custom Car scene ever since the first model rolled out of the Factories in late 1948. The body style was so familiar to the Custom Car enthusiast, with just the perfect proportion of heavy body below the belt-line, and relatively small windows all around. These cars did not need much to make them look perfect in the eye of the Custom Car enthusiast. But to make them look absolutely perfect, a few inches taken out of the top height would do absolute magic to these cars.

Ever since custom builders started to chop tops to improve on the looks of the cars, the convertible models were among the first to get the lower top treatment. Especially in California, where the weather was mostly good all year round, the convertible cars were very popular. And Upholstery shops were specializing in adding padded tops to cars with chopped windshield. A trend that was started by the Carson top Shop where Glen Houser developed the first padded top “Carson Top”  in 1935.

Just like with most other brand and specific year cars before, the first “victims” of chopping the top on the ’49 Mercury, were the, much easier to chop, convertibles. Especially if the working folded top, were to be replaced by a removable padded top, the chop process could be realized in a matter of days. In this article we are going to take a look at the ’49-51 Mercury convertible customs that were chopped early on when these cars were still very new. We have already created an article around what could be the First Chopped Mercury Coupe here on the CCC, and now its time to concentrate on the convertibles. This is not (yet) a quest to find the timeline of the first chopped 49-51 Mercury convertibles, just a gathering of those we are familiar with, and hopefully more info will come from this article, to possibly create an more accurate time line.

1949 Mercury convertible from the original sales brochure.
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Bill Gaylord 1949 Mercury

Bill Gaylord was one of the very first to chop the top on a 1949 Mercury. This car was Bill’s personal driver. The story on Bill’s ’49 Mercury started in early 1949. Bill had a very nicely done ’42 Mercury convertible with front sheet metal from a ’47 Mercury. It was a really nice late 1940’s style custom with chopped windshield shaved handles, nosed, decked and one of Bill’s nicely flowing padded tops. Bill took his ’42 Mercury custom to a local Mercury dealer and traded it for a brand new ’49 Mercury convertible. The Mercury dealership put the ’42 in their best spot in front of the showroom and it sold very fast. Soon after that they asked if Bill could do another one for them and sell it the same way. He created another custom, with a George Cerny chopped windshield. It also was sold very fast.

In the meantime Bill was also planning the customizing on his new ’49 Mercury. At the same time George Barris came over to Bill’s shop, asking Bill if he could create a long low padded top for George’s personal ’42 Cadillac (with ’47 fenders and bumpers). Sure I can do that Bill mentioned. If you chop the windshield on my ’49 Merc, french the headlights and remove the emblems… deal! So Bill created the long and smooth padded top for George Barris his’42 Cadillac, while George was busy chopping the windshield of Bill’s new ’49 Mercury.


This photo showing the windshield already chopped by George Barris, and the top skeleton made by Bill. But the padding still had to be done. 1949 tags on the license plates.
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George also removed the hood emblems, peaked the hood and molded the grille surround to the front fenders. The trunk was shaved and the suspension was lowered. George extended the bottom of a set of ’49 Mercury accessory fender skirts and when all the work was done the car was painted a lime green color. All this was done in 1949, and most likely Bill Gaylord’s ’49 Mercury was he very first ’49 Mercury convertible that was ever chopped. After George was done with his part, Bill Gaylord reworked the door side windows with curved rear corners, and crafted the frame for the padded top.

Bill’s ’49 Mercury at an unidentified indoor car show in 1949, perhaps early 1950.
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Bill styled the top in a similar way as he was used to on the pre-1948 cars he had done so many times. Meaning the padded top sides would start right after the door jamb, created “filled” in quarter windows and a very long looking padded top. This style of top Bill did for his own Mercury is one of the very few like it. Later Padded tops created by Bill and other shops were created with rear quarter windows, to “lighten” up the rear of the padded top, as well as to add rear viability for the driver. What is also very unique on Bill Gaylord’s Mercury padded top is how it flows at the back. Because the rear quarter windows were filled in, the down arc could start almost at the back of the doors and gently falls back. Creating an almost fastback flow.

1950 Bell High yearbook ad for Gaylord Kustom Tops. The picture shows how extremely long and flowing the padded top is on this ’49 Merc is with the quarter windows “filled”. (Shared by Ross from 46-64 HighSchool Yearbooks. )
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Two different style Padded Tops

Besides the no quarter window padded top as first created by Bill Gaylord I have found that there are two styles of padded tops that were create for the 49-51 Mercury. Which is very similar to what was created for previous model cars. One style top had a rather upright rear of the top, where the rear of the top basically follows the same shape as the rear quarter window shape. These more traditional styled tops have a much longer look, where the top portion of the top is horizontal for a large part of the car before it falls down toward the catwalk. These tops have a a similar shape, or feel as a four door 49-51 Mercury metal roof. One characteristic element for these tops is that the “C-Pillar” of these tops have a rather uniform width from bottom to top.

The second style has the rear of the top flowing much more gently from around the back of the doors, or a little more toward the back with a very gently curve towards the catwalk. The shape of these padded tops feels much more lake the regular Mercury Coupe metal tops. The “C-Pillar” of these tops have a much wider section at the bottom than at the top which results from the more flowing top line.

At this point I’m not sure if any of these two styles were typical for a certain Top Shop. Like on the 41-48 Fords we know that the Carson Top Shop had special jigs created to produce the padded tops off the cars. These tops had a much more upright back of the top, than those created by Bill Gaylord for the same car where Bill created lower rear bows. But I’m not sure if the Carson Top Shop ever created jigs for the 49-51 Mercury. There is one photo taken inside the Carson Top Shop that shows an unidentified ’50 Mercury with the padded top frame constructed. Judging the frame work this top would be the second category, with the more flowing lines. It also looks that some of the padded tops, both styles have different length rear quarter windows. Some of the customs appear to have shortened quarter windows, creating wider “C-pillars”.

Carson Top ShopUnidentified 1950-51 Mercury at the Carson Top Shop with the padded top frame ready to be upholstered. By the looks of it, this will be the more flowing type of padded top.
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The More Upright tops

Unidentified 1949 Mercurys

We have no idea how many ’49 Mercury Convertibles were done with chopped padded tops, but there must have been several. Some made the magazines, but we know from experience that most of the Custom Cars created never made the magazines. We would love to find out more about these unidentified Mercury’s, who owned them, who created them? And what happened to them. The two Mercurys below are very mild customs, one has most of the stock emblems and trim and stock hubcaps, with the only major change the chopped windshield and matching padded top. The one below it is slightly more restyled with frenched headlights and shaved emblems, but it still e very conservative Custom.

Typical Street Customs for the very early 1950’s. Practical as every day cars with the benefits of the good looks of the chopped windshield and padded tops. Both cars had similar styled padded top with the stock rear quarter windows chopped in place, and the top reshaped to follow the side window contours. This resulted in a less streamlined/flowing top than the one Bill Gaylord had created on his personal Mercury. The shape of these type of padded tops looks a lot like the 4-door Mercury tops.

Unidentified 1949 Mercury was published in the Trend Book No. 101 Custom Cars from July 1951. It was a mostly stock 1949 Mercury convertible, with mildly chop windshield and padded top. The car had 1951 License plates.
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A very similar restyled mercury appeared in one of Don Montgomery books. The only difference between this one, and the one above it are the molded in headlights, modified side trim and ’51 Mercury fender skirts. This photo was taken in 1952-53.
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Johnny Hagen 1950 Mercury

Johnny’s 1950 Mercury was also a rather conservative Custom, with a mild 2.5 inch chopped top and matching padded top made by the American Top Shop in Lynwood California. The car was featured in the October 1951 issue of Hop Up Magazine with 1951 license plates.

Johnny Hagen’s Mercury was lowered just the right amount in balance with the mildly chopped windshield. The handles and emblems were shaved for a cleaner look. The American Top Shop also created a full cover behind the rear seat for topless driving.
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The Padded Top on Johnny’s Mercury was perfectly proportioned and shaped around the rear quarter windows.
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Sam Dibitonto 1949 Mercury

According a full feature on Sam Dibitonto’s 1949 Mercury in the R&C of December 1953, Sam bought a totaled ’49 Mercury  when the car was just a few month old. He started working on the car, and instead of actually chopping the windshield, he laid back the whole unit, making the side profile of the car lower, as if it was chopped. A matching padded top as added. The photo below shows the car in its early version with regular rear fenders, and ’48 Cadillac grille added. When the car was featured in the  R&C issue in 1953, Sam had added 1951 Cadillac rear fenders.

Early version of Sam’s Mercury shows the stock rear quarter panels still in place. The dog leg had already been removed from the doors though. The windshield on the Mercury was not actually reduced in height by removing a horizontal piece (chop) but rather by laying it back resulting in a lower side profile similar to a regular chopped top, but with the “benefits” of a more streamlined shape.
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1953 Version of Sam’s Mercury shows the addition of the ’51 Cadillac rear fenders. The padded tops flows very nice. The rear window flap has been removed in these photos.
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Bob Lund 1950 Mercury

Bob Lund took his 1950 Mercury convertible to the Barris Kustoms Shop in Lynwood, California. The team at Barris created a stunning, very elegant and well balanced Custom for Bob. The windshield of Bob’s Mercury was chopped, but only mildly, 2, perhaps 3 inches.  The car was taken to the Carson Top Shop who create a very nicely traditional shaped padded top for the car. It appears that the rear quarter window on Bob’s Mercury has been shortened a few inches, creating a slightly wider C-pillar. But since there is now profile picture this is hard to proof.

Bob Lund 50 MercuryBob Lund trying to leave the Barris Shop in his beautiful padded topped ’50 Mercury with ’51 rear quarters. This photo shows how upright the rear of the roof it, and how they are almost the same angle as the rear angle of the rear quarter windows. Giving the car a nice late 40’s looks and feel.
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Bob Lund 50 MercuryBob Lund’s Mercury with Carson Top Shop padded top with the side windows closed. A sight we do not often see.
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Fred Row 1951 Mercury

Fred Row’s Beautiful 1951 Mercury was created around 1953, and the long padded top was created at the Carson Top Shop.

Carson Top Shop Fred Rowe



The More Flowing tops

Al Glickman 1949 Mercury

Al and Gill Ayala created this 1948 Mercury Convertible for Al Glickman at Gil’s Auto Body Works in East Los Angeles. The Ayala Custom was featured in Hop Up magazine of May 1953. The really interesting thing about the padded top on Al’s Mercury is that the flow of the top is right in between what Bil Gaylord created on his personal ’49 Mercury, and the later versions with rear quarter panels. The top was created by Chavez and unlike most of the padded tops with rear quarter windows retaining, the outside shape of the top is not following the shape of the side windows, but rather flows like the top of a coupe, resulting in a wonderful flowing padded top.

Al Gickman 1949 Mercury with padded top was a very classic looking Ayala Custom with unique styling.
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This side profile of Al’s Mercury shows the nice flowing lines of the outside shape of the Chavez created padded top. It shows that towards the top of the “C-Pillar” the width is reducing due to the flowing shape of the top. The shape of the side window opening is dictated by the cut down stock Mercury rear quarter window frame.
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Carl Johnson chopped Mercurys

Body man Carl Johnson created several chopped 49-51 Mercury’s in the early 1950’s. A 1949 Mercury with an Eddie Martinez padded top as his own personal driver, and a 1950 convertible for Bill Verna. The ’49 Merc was done prior the ’50 he did for Bill, and there are photos from Bill’s mercury with 1951 California License plates.

Carl Johnson in his personal 1949 Mercury convertible with padded top. The stance on the car is rather high, typical for the every day used customs from the late 40’s early 1950’s.
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The 1950 Mercury of Bill Verna restyled by Carl Johanson with a padded top by Eddie Martinez. Notice the lipped front fender.
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Eddie Martinez did the padded top on Bill Verna’s 1950 Mercury. The windshield was chopped more than most others and it looks like the shape of the rear quarter window was made more flowing before the padded top was created.
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Ralph Testa 1950 Mercury

Barris Kustoms created the beautiful restyled 1950 Mercury for Ralph Testa in the early 1950’s. We are not sure when it was created but the car was published for the first time in the July 1952 issue of Hop Up Magazine. And the first confirmed date on the finished mercury is from the 1952 National Roadster Show which was held from Feb 19-24, 1952 in Oakland California. Most likely the car was restyled in late 1951.

The windshield on Ralph’s Mercury was chopped 3 inches and the padded top with beautiful flowing rear section was created by the Carson Top Shop.
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This wonderful rotogravure printed photo was the openings photo of the three pages feature article on the Ralph Testa Mercury in the July 1952 Hop Up magazine.
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1947-48 Buick Gaylord Tops

 

1947-48 BUICK GAYLORD TOPS

 

Bill Gaylord created a couple of stunning looking super long chopped padded tops for 1947-48 Buicks that completely transformed the looks of those cars. A closer look.



I was browsing thru some old photos to get some inspiration for a Digital Restyling project I was working on when I noticed the really long padded top, and especially the long rear quarters on the Buick in the opening photo from the Bill Gaylord Collection. It made me think of the Ben Mario and Don Vaughn Buick’s that were restyled at the Barris Kustom Shop, and both had similar shaped, but with panoramic rear window, Gaylord padded tops. It also reminded me of the padded top Bill Gaylord did on George Barris his personal 1942 Cadillac, which had the same huge rear compartment that he covered with full length padded top with beautiful flowing shapes.




Bill Gaylord was a true artist when it came to smooth flowing shaped padded tops, and there was a reason that the Barris Shop took many of their streamlined Customs to Gaylord, instead of the Carson Top Shop. Carson was known for their slightly more boxy padded tops, very nice, and perfect on certain type of Customs. But when it came to the mid to late 1940’s GM cars, like the ’47-48 Buick’s in this article, the Gaylord Kustom Tops shop was THE place to go to.

Stock 1947-48 Buick Convertible at the Gaylord Kustom Top Shop, possibly waiting to get the windshield chopped and a full padded top done. This photo shows the car with the stock folding top, and how the car original has a rear quarter window. Which makes the full length padded top look so special on these. The car is not the same one I think as the one below, notice the spotlight on the stock one, and non on the one chopped below. That is Bill’s personal chopped ’49 Merc behind the Buick.
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Chopped windshield, super sleek Gaylord padded top, lowered suspension and smoothed hood. All that is needed to make this Buick look super nice, and a mile long. I wonder if the owner perhaps saved up to have more work done at a later stage, as in shaved door handles, frenched headlights…
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Close up of the chopped padded Gaylord top. Perfectly shaped, with beautiful flow of the rear of the top and the just right angle of the B-Pillar.
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This is such a great photo showing Bill Gaylord’s personal ’49 Mercury with the chopped top still in progress, Ben Mario’s Barris restyled ’47 Buick with none buffed paint, or perhaps primer? with the top still at stock height, and Bill Gaylord’s personal ’41 Ford with super low padded top behind it.
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Close up of Ben Mario’s Buick from the photo above.
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Different photo, taken the same day as the one above shows the satin finish of the paint job on Ben Mario’s Buick. The guy all the way on the right looks a lot as a young George Barris.
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Ben Mario’s ’47 Buick was restyled at the Barris shop as a none chopped custom at first. The custom interior was done by Bill Gaylord. This photo of the car was taken later when the paint was completely polished, and a cover was added over the rear seat.
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Later the windshield was chopped on Ben Mario’s Buick and Bill Gaylord created a beautiful super long padded top with panoramic rear window.
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Ben Mario’s 1948 Buick photo that looks to be taken at the Hot Rod Show at the Los Angeles Armory, most likely in Jan 1950. Notice that the sign behind the car reads Barris Kustom Shop Bell. In March 1950 the Barris Shop moved to the new Lynwood Location.
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Barris and Gaylord advertised combined in Motor Trend magazine and the Ben Mario Buick was used to illustrate Bill’s Interior Skill’s and the Barris Shop’s body work and design skills. Sadly Bill Gaylord went into the military right when the magazine with this ad hit the newsstand, so there was nobody at the shop to welcome any new customers responding to the ad.
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Don Vaughn’s Barris  Restyled ’47 Buick. Notice the very round shape of the rear of the side window opening. Very different that the light colored Buick at the start of this article.
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Don Vaughn’s ’47 Buick might was very similar styled as Ben Mario’s Buick. And there are some stories around that mention the the Mario and Vaughn Buick’s are the same car. So far we have not been able to find any evidence for that, but the resemblance sure is remarkable.
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Close up of the Gaylord Panoramic rear window he added to the chopped padded top. The glass was made from shaped plexiglass.
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The flow of the top into the trunk is so nice on these Gaylord tops. They enhance all the Barris Restyled elements very well.
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This possibly is the Ben Mario or Don Vaughn Barris / Gaylord restyled 1948 Buick. The photo was taken quite a few years ago, and we do not know where it is, or who owns it. But the rumor is it is the original Barris Restyled Buick with the Gaylord created padded top frame in place. The one odd thing about the car in the photo is that it shows a door handle in place, which was shaved on both the Mario, and Vaughn Buick. Hopefully the future will bring more info on this mystery.
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Link Paola Custom Car Pioneer

 

LINK PAOLA Custom Car Pioneer

 

Link Paola Custom Car Pioneer from Glendale California created some beautiful Custom Cars in his career. lets take a closer look.


Link Paola‘s name often pops up as one of the Pioneer Custom Car body man ,together with names as Jimmy Summers, Roy Hagy, Carson Top Shop, Harry Westergard and a few others his name is forever linked to the early style Custom Car. But there are very few photos and stories from Link Paola’s work. There are a few photos of mid/late 1940’s Cars that we have to thank Spence Murray and Dean Batchelor for, who were there to snap a few of the cars coming from Link’s hands. But as far as I know there never was done a proper article on him in the early magazines. Spence Murray is the with out doubt the best source when it comes to Link Paola’s history. Spence worked for Link, and had at least four cars restyled by him.  1941 Ford, 1941 Chevy, 1946 Chevy and 1949 Chevy.

Link Paola worked as a body and paint man at a large Ford dealership in Montrose, which is located a little north of Glendale, California. Linked loved fine automobiles and in the later part of the 1930’s he found out about Custom Restyling. He started to do custom work on the side at the Ford dealer ship. The work included chopping convertibles for Carson tops, removing of running boars and removing chrome trim for the smoother look.


Hot Rod magazine ad from January 1949.
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One of Link Paola’s best known and perhaps most important Customs is an super stylish done 1940 Ford Convertible. Since Link was working at the Ford Dealership, he could get his hands on a brand new 1940 Ford Convertible shortly before the cars were introduced to the public in late 1939. Normally this allowed the dealers to make showroom displays, announcement adds and all kinds of publicity needed to promote the car. But to Link this meant he could create his personal dream custom from a brand new car, before most everybody had even seen the model.

After the dealership owner had signed off the car to Link he started to work on it right away, well after shop hours so that nobody could see what he was doing. When the car work was finished, he painted it dark maroon, took it to the Carson Top Shop for a tan padded top and a week later the car was all done. Just in time to display it across the street from the Ford Dealer at the day the 1940 Fords were introduced.

This is how the Link Paola second shop at 3451 N. Verdugo Road in Glendale (Montrose) looks around 2018.
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You can imagine that Link’s very slick looking Custom drew a huge crowd, and everybody wanted to have one just like it. He took away a large crowd from the dealer who had worked hard for the 1940 Ford introduction display, but of course the stock bodied cars could not stand up to the beautiful custom Link had created. The Dealer owner was not amused at all and fired Link the same day. With having drawn all the attention to him it was the right moment from Link to open up his own body shop. In the late 1930’s he opened his own Custom Shop in Montrose which was was actually across the street from the Ford Dealer he used to work. In his first small shop he created three cars for Spence Murray, as well as most likely many more that we do not have any info about at this point.

Link Paola worked from his own one stall shop for a few years and shortly after the war he relocated to a larger shop located at 3451 N. Verdugo Road in Glendale (Montrose). He named the new shop Link’s Custom Shop, and according a Jan 1949 Hot Rod magazine ad the shop specialized in Auto Painting, Welding and Body Work. In the beginning Link concentratd as much as he could on doing custom work, custom body work and paint. But to be able to get the bills paid he started to do more and more regular body work, straightening fenders, matching paint etc.

Later he found out that he could buy totaled cars from insurance companies for very little money. He then would buy new replacement panels, or find them at the local junk yard and fix up these totaled cars and sell them. It was a way of making good money in an relatively short time. It paid a lot better than doing the Custom Work he did like better, but being able to pay the bills makes up for a lot.





In 1951 Link closes his shop and buys a local Oldsmobile dealer together with his brother Pete Paola. The dealer located at Foothill Boulevard and Glenwood Ave. and is named Paola Oldsmobile. It will stay in business until the mid 1960’s. Link will not work on Custom Cars again after 1951.

Link Paola and his brother Pete bought the Williamson Oldsmobile dealership at Foothill Boulevard and Glenwood Ave in 1951. This photo was taken in late 1956, and stayed open until the mid 1960’s.
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The Link Paola Restyled Cars




Link Paola 1940 Ford

Link’s own 1940 Ford convertible was what attracted many customers to his shop. He had filled the hood, making a mild peak down the center. The deck was filled also, the front fenders were welded to, and molded into, the panels under the body (which were used to hide the frame with running boards removed). Chopped Carson top, Buick fender skirts, 1937 DeSoto bumpers and finished in maroon.

History of the Early Custom CarLink’s 1940 Ford which he restyled in late 1939 looks absolutely stunning with it chopped tan padded Carson Top, removed running boards, ’37 DeStoto bumpers and super nice smoothed and peaked hood. These photos were taken in 1941.
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This picture is the same as above, but shows a bit more of the background. I love old photos.
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Bill Faris 1938 Ford

Bill Faris of Burbank, California was a Throttle Stompers member and owned this ’38 Ford Convertible. At first, only the hood ornament was removed, then the deck smoothed, and license plate sunk in. Buick fender skirts were added, and finally the windshield and side windows were chopped for a Carson Top. At the time, around 1942, they did the car both Bill and Link were in the Air Fore and the only tools they had to use where ball-peen hammer, a piece of pipe, and a few odd pliers. Link ended up painting the car in a beautiful George Washington Blue. Later, and we have not been able to find a photo of this,  Bill and Link Paola shortened the gas filler and added a later model fender gas filler door to the rear fender.

Early version shows minor updates as single bar flipper hubcaps.
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This photo of the finished Ford was taken by Dean Batchelor in front on the Valley Custom Shop owner Neil Emory’s house in 1942.
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Bill Faris with his beautiful heavy chopped 1938 Ford in 1942.
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Dean Batchelor 1941 Pontiac

Link Paolo restyled Dean’s Pontiac with removed side trim. The trunk and hood had the wide center trim were removed, and the large center piece of the trim on the hood was replaced with a hand shaped metal piece that was welded in places and leaded smooth. Link finished the work by painting the car light blue in 1941.

Dean Batchelor’s 1941 Pontiac before he took it to Link Paola’s Montrose shop.
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The Pontiac after Link had finished it in light blue in 1941. Subtle and elegant.
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1941 Chevy convertible

Spence Murray took a few photos of an 1941 Chevy Convertible mild custom that Link worked on. The owner is unknown, but the work on the car included a reshaped front end to accept a 1942 Studebaker Champion grille which makes the Chevy look a bit wider in the front. The hood was smoothed and peaked. And most likely Link also painted the car, but we have no info on the color, nor the owners name.

1941 Chevy, dechromed, molded and fitted with a 1942 Studebaker grille and single bar flipper hubcaps.
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By the time Spence took the photos of the Chevy the grille had suffered a bit of damage, and a few of the Studebaker grille bars are bend out of shape.
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Spence Murray Customs

Spence met Link Paola in late 1941 when he worked out of his one stall shop across from the Ford dealer. He drove his incredible good looking 1940 Ford Convertible with padded Carson top and used it as rolling advertisements for his skills parking it in front of his shop.



Spence Murray 1941 Chevy

Spence Murray took his 1941 Chevy to Link Paola for a few updates when money allowed. Link smoothed the hood and trunk and lowered the suspension and added skirts. Then Spence took it to the Carson Top Shop for a stock height padded top. Spence could or would not afford the extra $50 for chopping the windshield at the time. The car changed a bit over time and in the end Link had added a low mounted custom grille into a smoothed front end. And the side trim was removed from the rear quarters and party from the doors.

Decked trunk by Link Paola.
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Side view shows basically all stock ’41 Chevy with the stock height padded top and three bar propeller aftermarket hubcaps.
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The final version of the ’41 Chevy had a beautiful speed-boat stance, black wall tires (there were no white walls at the time) smoothed front with custom grille. Not to long after this photo was taken Spence traded it to get a ’46 Chevy Fastback.




Spence Murray 1946 Chevy

The 1946 Chevrolet Fastback Spence got shortly after he had returned from the U.S. Navy. He again took it to his friend Link Paola for a Custom update which included a set of full fade away fenders he bought Jimmy Summers for $69.50. Link also added a few other mild touches to the car, and in 1949 Spence sold the ’46 to be able to buy a brand new 1949 Chevy fastback. Sadly there are no photos of the ’46 Chevy and early stages of the ’49 since the photos were destroyed due to flood damage.



Spence Murray 1949 Chevy

For the ’49 Chevy Spence wanted something a little more dramatic, a full Custom with chopped top.It was 1949 and Spence started working at Link’s body shop, doing body sanding, fixing small dents, and driving the shop and tow truck of Links Shop. By then Link was doing more and more regular body work, which was a lot less time consuming than Custom Restyling. He also went on to buy cars that had been totaled in crashed from insurance companies, fix them up with spare parts and junk yard parts and sell them again.

At the time Spence brought in his ’49 Chevy fastback to have Link work on it, Link was just working on a crashed ’49 Chevy Sedan with damaged body, but intact frame and front end. Link proposed to Spence to use his fastback body to fix the damaged car and sell it to an already lined up customer, and then find a new body he could chop for Spence in his spare time as a trade at a later moment. Spence agreed as long as he could use the shop truck as transportation until the ’49 was done.

The original version of the car with just the top chopped and non of the other modifications done in yellow, which was the original color of the Chevy, and purple on the top. Both Spence and Link did not think the darker color on the top really benefited the chopped look, so they soon started doing the rest of the body work and would end up painting the body in one color only.
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Some time later Link found a suitable Sedan body and started to work on it in his spare time. And in September 1950 he started to chop the top 3 inches with some beautiful lines, shaved the drip rails, and rounded the door corners. Link performed all the work together with a few other shop workers after hours and in the weekends to keep his promise to Spence. The car was first painted yellow, which was the Chevy’s color and a custom mixed purple top. Shortly after that the car was back in the shop for round two.


Nice low angle photo shows off the unique outside rear fender wrap around tailpipe. One of the key elements on the car that got noticed everywhere the car went. Spence used a set of aftermarket Cadillac Sombrero look-alike hubcaps.
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Spence Murray’s ’49 Chevy at the 1952 Oakland Roadster Show.
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This time the car was lowered, nosed, decked, shaved, frenched headlights, and shaved taillights. New taillights were added to the bumper, and at the front a ’49 Mercury grille shell was molded in place and an 1951 Plymouth grille was mounted inside it. The June 1952 issue of Hop Up magazine, which was actually written by Spence, states that the body was channeled over the frame as well. Plus an additional lowering job with two inch lowering blocks in the rear brought the car down to perfect height. After all the work was done Link painted the car in a metallic mustard enamel, and we added some very distinctive wrap around exhaust pipes.

Notice the smoothed rear fenders and the small taillights mounted just inside the silence plate guard on the rear bumper. The exhaust pipe follows the side trim and adds to the optical length of the car.
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The Chevy at the Indianapolis Custom Car Show.
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Spence entered the Chevy in the 3rd Annual Oakland Roadster Show in February 1952 where it took Second Place. Dean Batchelor was at the show and was very impressed with the car,  and that is how it ended up in the June 1952 issue of Hop Up Magazine. Later Spence took the car on a “Cross Country” trip all the way to Indianapolis for the Custom Auto Show as well as to attned the Indy-500 race.Photographer Ralph Poole joined Spence to take picture along the way for an upcoming Hop Up magazine article. “6000 Miles in a Custom” (Hop Up , September 1952), which was written by Spence and launched his career as automotive writer.

In this article we have collected as much information on Link Paola as we could find, which is quite a bit, but I guess still only the tip of the iceberg. Link has bean in business as Custom Body Shop for at least a decade, and must have produced a lot more cars during that period than those listed in this article. Hopefully somebody will know more about Link, and the cars he restyled from the late 1930’s till the early 1950’s. Hopefully one day we will be able to share more info, and more photos of the cars he created, and perhaps of the shop’s from where he worked. If you have any more information on Link Paola, please Email Rik so we can add it to this article for everybody to enjoy.

Thank you





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Channeled 36 Ford

 

CHANNELED 36 FORD

 

Another Mystery Custom is this channeled 36 Ford that probably was restyled by Don Clark. The car has been owned for over 30 years by Doug Hall, and it now in the 3 Dog Museum in Pennsylvania.



This is one of those cars they has been on my mind for a very long time. It clearly is an old Custom Car that was either done in the 1940’s or in the early 1950’s. It is best known from the time it was owned by Doug Hall who drove it around for over 30 years in California and showed it at Paso Robles and other well known Car Shows in the 80’s and 90’s. I have been trying to find out as much info on this one as I could, but most people I asked about the car, do recognize it, have seen it in person, but do not know anything about its history… another mystery custom.

So this is not a complete story… and hopefully with the help of the Custom Car Chronicle readers we will be able to find some more puzzle pieces in the history of this Custom ’36 Ford.

Update May 22, 2018.
With the help of Anthony White and “Stilo 1971” we have been able to add a bit more history to this car. Some parts are still a bit vague, but we are getting there.


The ’36 Ford with ’40 Ford front end how it looked in the early 1990’s.
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At the rear we can see the removal of the character-line that extended from the original belt-line, how the rear fenders were molded to the body, and the use of 1940 Ford bumpers and 38-39 Ford teardrop taillights.
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I first learned about this Custom convertible in the 1990’s, when it was owned by Custom Car enthusiast Doug Hall who owned the car for many years. He drove the car to many California Car Shows in the 1980’s and 90’s, and I had seen it in a few of the magazine features on the shows he drove the car to. To me the car had this beautiful, 1940’s look painted metallic copper orange with white padded top, white wall tires and what appear to be home made large size single bar flipper hubcaps. The car had that nice kind of rough look to it, the pure feeling that those early Customs have. With the sectioned ’40 Ford front end, the removal of the “delicate” ’36 Ford belt line, which made the body sides look more aggressive. Not much was mentioned about the car in the publication I saw it in, only that it was an older custom.

A couple of years later I came across a old photo of a the car in the Don Montgomery book Hot Rods as they were. The car’s features are so distinctive that this must be the same car in the photo provided by Dr. Bob Atol. The photo caption in the Montgomery book did sadly not mention anything about who owned it, or who had created it. Then later I came across a photo of the car in the Spring 1963 issue of Popular Customs magazine. The car has changed a little since the early 1950’s photos, but was still very recognizable. The photo in the Popular Customs magazine showed two show signs with the car, and most likely these would mention the owner at the time, and perhaps even the builder, but sadly I have not been able to read any of the the text on the signs.

The best info on the Ford Custom o far comes from the 2012 published book East vs West Showdown book done by Joseph Alig & Stephen “Spike” Kilmer. In the book it was mentioned that Dr. Robert Atol (the same person who provided the early 1950’s photo for the Don Montgomery book) knew the car very well, had driven in it many times and was good friends with the guy who build the car in the early 1950’s.

According to the book the car was built by Don Clarke a perfectionist from the Pasadena Ca. area. He created the car for his own personal use are regular car. And he later sold it when he moved on to another passion.




The Early versions

The earliest photo we have been able to find of the ’36 Ford is this one from Dr. Bob Atol, used in the Don Montgomery book “Hot Rods as they were”. It shows that the car around 1952-53, was sitting on motor cycle front tires, had no louvers in the sectioned hood, used a ’40 Oldsmobile bumper with what appear to be ’46-48 Chevy bumper-guards, a dark color painted lower hood section, which continues on the two side grilles. the car had small size spotlights mounted on the A-pillars. Sadly the photo caption did not say much of the car, or who owned it, and created it.
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About the Restyling.

The car started live as an 1936 Ford Convertible, or Cabriolet. The body was channeled over the frame, and the body top section was cut off at the belt-line. The top of the cut down doors were reshaped and rolled to become the new, much lower top of the doors. The top hinge had to be moved down a few inches. The rear quarter panel tops were reshaped and the trunk metal welded in the new lower position. The character line from the belt-line all the way to the back of the car was eliminated in the process. The complete front of the car was removed and the cowl, hood and front fenders of an 1940 Ford were crafted on. The cowl had to be sectioned to fit the new lower body.

The hood was sectioned a few inches to fit the cowl, in the process the two hood halves were welded together and a slight peak was added. The belt-line was removed from the rear of the hood so that it would flow nicely with the new body shapes of the rest of the body. The front wheel openings were raised to make sure the front wheels could still turn. All four fenders were welded to the body and molded in to create one smooth body shape. 1940 Ford running boards were adopted to fir the ’36 Ford rear fenders. According Dr Atol all the metal work was done flawless all hammer welded metal, with nearly no lead used. The photo caption in the Don Montgomery book mentioned that the car had a set in license plate back then. Either this info was incorrect, or the hole was later filled. When Doug Hall bought the car there was no set in place on the back.

The windshield of the car was chopped a few inches and a padded top was created for it. Dough Hall, who would own the car from the 1970’s always thought it was an original Carson Top, but there is no proof for that since there never was a interior tag in the interior. The oldest photo shows that Don Clarke finished the car with 1940 Oldsmobile bumpers detailed with 1946-48 Chevy bumper guards. Below the ’40 Ford headlights some parking lights were mounted, which were oddly mostly covered by the ’40 Oldsmobile bumpers, perhaps indicating an earlier version with a different bumper up front? The photo also shows that the car used narrow motor cycle tires in the front, we are not sure why this was done. The rear fenders were dressed up with teardrop shaped bubble fender skirts, and small cone shaped moon hubcaps and small size Spotlights complete the restyling. We have no idea how the interior was finished.



Owned by Doug-McNaughton

Some time in the early to mid 1950’s Doug McCaughton from Alhambra Ca. bought the ’36 Ford. We are till working on the details and exact times, and hope to fill in this part of the information soon. Doug shared some photos with Stilo 1971 that showed that car with the early parking lights below the headlights, and some new 46-48 Ford bumpers added. At that time the car was partly in primer, but the distinctive dark color on the side grille followed over the hood sides is still there.

Doug owned the car for a good number of years, and at one point in the late 1950’s early 1960’s the car was damaged at the front in an accident. Doug redid the front end and ended up painting the car in a nice baby blue.

The earliest photos Doug had in his album appear to come from the first half of the 1950’s. The car is partly in primer now, the bumpers have changed to ’46-48 Ford units, but the dark paint detail on the side grille and hood sides is still the same as we can see in the photo from the Don Montgomery book.
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A bit closer on the above photo shows a ’49 Mercury in the drive way that was owned by Doug’s father. Doug had a sales receipt in his photo album for a ’49 Mercury that was dated Marc 28, 1956. That might mean that this photo was taken around 1956.
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Working on the repair of the front end of the car in July 1960. One day Doug fell asleep while driving the Ford, causing the damage.
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Apparently at this time Doug also decided to create a lift-off top for the car. Looks like he as using a coupe, or sedan top from a donor car. None of the photos we have seen so far shows the top in place. Another things we hope to get more info on soon.
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McCaughton posing with his freshly redone ’36 Ford convertible with ’40 Ford front end. Notice that there are no hood louvers. Those were added later.
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3/4 front view of the baby blue version. This is the same version as how it appeared in the Spring 1963 issue of Popular Customs show below.
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A rather bad quality photo, but it is interesting since it shows the white and light blue interior with dark blue carpets. It also shows that there is no set-in license plate at the back at this time.
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Doug McCaughton proudly showing his scrap-book with the ’36 Ford photos in 2018.
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Photo in the Spring 1963 issue of Popular Customs. By then the car had changed a bit, the bumpers were replaced with 1940 Ford units, the fender skirts had been removed, the running boards upholstered, the spotlights removed as well as the front fender mounted parking light. The car had been repainted.
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Doug Hall owner for 30 years

In the early 1970’s Doug Hall was able to buy the ’36 Ford from an collector in the Pomona Ca. area. The car looked amazing, but did not come with any info on who had owned it before the collector, or who had originally created it, and when. From what we have heard the car was in very good condition when Doug got it in the early 1970’s. But Doug thought it sat a little to high, so he lowered the suspension and did some work on the ’51 Oldsmobile engine that was in the car when he got it. Doug also added new fender skirts and Appleton Spotlights. Since the last photo from the 1963 publication the hood had been louvered, most likely to make it easier for the Olds engine to cool. At this moment we are unsure if the car was already painted bronze, but as far as we know it was. Doug would drive the car frequently and enter it at several California car shows in the 80’s and 90’s.

I have added this photo of a near stock ’36 Ford convertible to be able to compare the Custom version with.
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Side profile shows how low the car is, with the channeled body, the cut down ’36 Ford doors and rear quarter panels, the sectioned ’40 Ford hood and radiused front fenders. The windshield was chopped just the right amount for the optimal proportions with the padded top.
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It is amazing that they were able to get that ’51 Olds engine to fit the super low car.
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This is how most people remember the ’36 Ford… parked with the hood open at the 1980’s and 90’s California outdoor events.
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Doug Hall drove the car regularly, and its low profile looked stunning on the road.
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3 Dog Garage

After having owned the ’36 Ford Custom for over 30 years Doug Hall decided to let go of the car. With the help of a car broker the Custom found a new home at the 3 Dog Garage privately owned museum in Boyertown, Pennsylvania. The car has been part of their collection ever since, and is on display in the same shape as it was when Doug let it go. The car is however starting to show its age. The trunk had a dent, and the peak of the hood on the front is also dented.

This is how the Don Clarke ’36 Ford is now sitting in the 3-Dog-Garaga in Boyertown, Pennsylvania. The car is well used, I guess very much like the Custom Cars looked back in the 1940’s when these cars were the only way of transportation for most owners. (Along the way the front of the hood was dented)
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This photo shows the reshaped rear were the wrap around belt line had been completely removed from the back as well. It also shows how nicely the fenders were molded to the body. And it shows another dent.
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Interior uses a modified ’36 Ford dash with bold white pin-striping. Not sure when the race car type steering wheel was added.
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When Doug Hall bought the car it came without the teardrop skirts that were on the car originally. (but already missing in 1963) Doug added an aftermarket lipped skirt and lowered the suspension for an more dramatic look.
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A closer look to the huge diameter single bar flipper hubcaps. They appear to be handmade units, but I have no idea when they were made, or by who.
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If you have any information on the Don Clarke 1936 Ford, or perhaps some old photos from pre 1970, that would shed some more light on this mystery Custom, please Email Rik Hoving here at the Custom Car Chronicle. We would love to add any new information to the story to make it as complete as possible. Thank you.


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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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Jim Street Golden Sahara I

 

JIM STREET GOLDEN SAHARA I

 

The Amazing Golden Sahara I. The Futuristic Car designed by Jim Street that was the perfect combination between Custom and Show Car.


Special thanks to Jim Street for his stories on the car and how it was created.


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(Special note; Jim Skonzakes and Jim Street are the same person. In the early 1960’s Jim Skonzakes officially changed his name from Skonzakes to Street hoping his new last name would be easier to spell for others)
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In the late 1940’s early 1950’s there is a young guy from Dayton, Ohio, Jim Skonzakes, who dreams about living in warm, sunny and dry Los Angeles, California. He sees himself driving there in the most fantastic Custom Cars. But being needed in his parents successful Dry Cleaning business prevents him from actually making the move to the West-Coast. Instead he started building his own Custom Cars and Custom Bikes in Dayton, and when time allowed it he jumped in his Custom Car and drove the 2200 miles to California. There he spend some good quality time looking for Custom Cars, visiting the shops he has heard about, going to shows, and making new car friends.

Jim Skonzakes (Street) always said he had Customizing in his blood, he just could not help it. Everything he had needed to be Customized. So the industrial dry cleaning machines in his parents business were not save for Jim’s urge to customize either. All the machines were detail painted and parts send out to be chrome plated, for that extra special Skonzakes look and touch.
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One of his California trips in the late 1940’s, perhaps early 1950, Jim meets George Barris and starts to hang out at the Barris Kustom Shop. At one of Jim’s longer stays Jim even rented a part of the Barris shop where he could built his own custom, a 1949 Buick, with the help of some Barris employees. In the meantime Jim drives from LA to Dayton several times a year, mostly in the Custom Cars he owned at the time. On one of his LA visits he buys the Jack Stewart 1941 Ford, and a few years later when he is back in LA again he heard about George having had an accident in his personal mildly customized 1952 Lincoln. The wrecked car was in bad shape, however the cars engine and drive train appeared to be intact and was low mileage since George had not used it a lot. This would be the ideal base for a project Jim had on his mind for some time and started to discuss it with George Barris.

George Barris took this photo shortly after having the accident with his 1952 Lincoln. George was towing the Dan Landon 1949 Chevy behind the Lincoln when out of nowhere a hay truck appeared on a very foggy day. George his Lincoln was totaled, and Dan’s Chevy had some damage as well, but not too bad. Fortunately nobody was really hurt in the accident, and the totaled Lincoln would later become the base for the Golden Sahara.
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Some sketches of a very futuristic car where made and further plans discussed and Jim’s Dream Custom plans slowly took shape. In the end it was decided that the car would be built at the Barris Shop as a Barris Custom, and that Jim would be the owner and financier of this futuristic project. A project both people involved already assumed would have a big impact on the scene even before the project was started. But they never realized how popular the Golden Sahara would become, and how much impact the car would have in the history of the Custom Car. Jim also could not have assumed at that time, that the Golden Sahara would set the path for the rest of his career…. But more on that in Part II.

Plans called for a heavily restyled body with a very futuristic bubble top design, some characteristic parts from other cars, and a lot of scratch built details. Something never before seen done on a Custom Car back then. The whole idea had more the vibes of a factory design study, which was exactly what Jim loved to see in a Custom Car.

Due to the busy work schedule at his parents Dry Cleaning business Jim could only visit LA a few times during the built, and was not able to see if the work done on the project would meet his standards. Several people worked on the car during the time it was build. But Bill DeCarr (Ortega) was the one who did most of the work, and could be considered the head of project. Jim always liked Bill very much, and thinks he is a really great craftsman. But due to different aspects the work done on the Golden Sahara was nerve really up to Jim’s Standards.

Under construction photos from the work done at the Barris Shop. The project was a major undertaking, first deciding what should go, replaced with new body panel, reshaped panels and all new body work. Bill DeCarr is credited for doing most of the work on the original version of the Golden Sahara.
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Bill DeCarr lifting the top of the firewall/cowl after cutting it apart for the body sectioning.
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Customizing the 1952 Lincoln

The top of the car, the top of the rear fenders and the trunk were removed completely. When the project started there were no wrap around windshields available from production cars. But Bill DeCarr, who worked a day job at the Lincoln Mercury dealer parts department, had seen samples of these wrap around windshield and knew they would become available in the very near future. So the cowl on the Lincoln was sectioned, and would later be reshaped to accept a pre-production test windshield for a 1955 Lincoln. The Lincoln doors where sectioned and the door tops were reshaped to flow down toward the back of the car, where they curved into a custom made scoop that would later be filled with gold colored mesh. The door opening she was reshaped with more grace. Most upper parts of the body were completely rebuilt out of sheet metal, shaped over a handmade wire frame, and welded to the body to create the desired body shape.

The completely reshaped rear fenders used 1954 Kaiser Manhattan taillights. Jim had bought a lot of parts from the Kaiser-Frazier dealers that were closing down in Dayton. He always loved those parts, and figured sooner or later he would be able to use those parts on his projects. The Bumperettes at the back – which also act as exhaust outlets – were created from leftover Kaiser bumper ends. The section below the gold colored side trim on the rear fender was made as a removable section, a huge fender skirt. The panel itself was gold anodized and clear coated strips of semi gloss were added – which gave it a beautiful effect with vertical gloss and semi gloss stripes. The fender skirt panel was surrounded by hand made trim which was later gold coated. A steel spare tire cover from an unknown 1930’s car was welded to the new trunk at a near-horizontal angle, but would never actually hold a spare tire. It was added for good looks and created some extra trunk space, which was very welcome in later years when the car was further modified for the Golden Sahara II, but more on that in the next issue.

Freshly finished Golden Sahara photo taken at the Ford plant in Pico Rivera, CA where Bill DeCarr worked a day-job at the time. Jim Skonzakes can be seen behind the steering wheel, George Barris standing next to the car, with Bill DeCarr to the right of George.
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The Golden Sahara looked stunning in color with its refrigerator white painted body and gold coated parts. Not only the design of the GS must have looked totally out of this world, even the gold colored parts in an era where Chrome plating was hot must have turned heads everywhere. The “Targa Top” and rear window could be removed to create a full convertible.
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Wonderful color print of the Golden Sahara shows how the top panels could open up.
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Nice bird eye view of the Golden Sahara I. This is also one of the few rare photos I have seen so far that shows the GS with a license plate mounted at the back. This high angle give a good look at the huge plexiglass rear window that had to be created for the car.
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The front-end had been completely cut off and a new handmade nose was made with an oval shaped grille opening. This grille opening would later be fitted with a with gold plated extruded metal. The fenders were extended at the top and completely reshaped, the wheel openings were reduced downwards, compared to stock. The front of the new front fender has a large opening from top to bottom, which holds a vertically mounted gold pcolored metal mesh panel which serves as the base for the bullet-shaped bumperettes, created from part-box 1930’s headlights buckets the headlights and parking lights. The inside of the front fender top section was covered with the same gold plated metal mesh.

“The Golden Sahara was one of the most complex customs the Barris shop had produced at that point in time.”

With most of the car now roughly shaped it was time to create the top. When Jim had the car designed he wanted to have a car that could have the top on, but he also wanted to convert it easily to a full convertible.  The wrap around windshield had been arrived and installed and Bill DeCarr shaped a new panel that would be fitted as a large and wide B-pillar just behind the doors from side to side. Bill also made a thin roof panel that would fit between this B-pillar and the windshield header. On either side of this, Plexiglas was shaped to form the “Targa Style” T-top. At the rear, a local Los Angeles company, create a huge rear window from plexiglass to match the wrap around windshield. All these panels were incorporated in such a way that they could be removed to create a full convertible.



The styling on the Golden Sahara I was so far ahead of its time, and as these color photos show every body line worked together to enhance the overall look.
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While the Barris Shop had performed most of the work on the Golden Sahara, Jim Skonzakes hired John Getz to do some final detail work and get the car up to the Factory Design Car Standards he was looking for. The work done at the Barris shop was really fine, but done in the typical Custom fashion, looking good from a few feet (which was sort of the standard back then). The Car lacked a bit in details Jim thought where very important to the car. When all the body work was finished and in primer. The parts to be plated were sent out for gold color plating, which would set the car even more apart from the rest, where chrome plating was the standard. For paint Jim chose a solid refrigerator white to be the perfect color for this amazing Custom Car, the white would create a good contrast with the gold colored metal. It was George Barris who came up with the name for the car. “The Golden Sahara“. Exotic and mysterious… just as the car.

One of the very few photos that show the Ohio 1954 License plate mounted on the Golden Sahara. This photo was used in the May 1955 issue of Motor Trend magazine.
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A good look at the beautiful lines of the Golden Share with this rear 3/4 photo. The ’54 Kaiser Manhattan taillights look right at place on the car. The rear bumperettes/exhaust tips were created using Kaiser bumper ends. This low angle photo also shows that the T-Roof panel is relatively this. It had to be lightweight so it could be removed with ease.
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Photo showing the beautiful lines of the Golden Sahara. Notice how the angle of the front of the front fenders is identical to the scoop/leading edge of the rear fenders.
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A wonderful experimental interior was created by Glen Hauser of the Carson Top Shop. Glen used gold brocade cloth and white leatherette to stitch up the unique interior. The dashboard was hand built, completely upholstered, and held a TV in the center and a tape recorder in the console. There was also a telephone, radio, and a loudspeaker system installed. In the back of the car, a full bar, with mini-fridge was installed in the center and a comfortable half round bench wraps around it. The floor was covered in plush white and beige mink carpeting. All the electronic equipment was the installed and incorporated by Jim Skonzakes himself.

The Golden Sahara was a unique custom in its first form, and it won the Sweepstakes at the 1954 Motor Revue, held in the Los Angeles Pan Pacific Auditorium. And would later win many more trophies. The total cost for building the Golden Sahara I was estimated to be $25,000. – a substantial amount of money in 1954. Jim really enjoyed his new Custom Car and all the attention it got at the shows, but Jim was never completely happy with it. Jim mentioned the car was very nice from a distance, its design overwhelmed you, but when you got up close, he saw all kinds of flaws which he loved to fix at one point. When he drove the car for the first time he discovered that the frame of the car was never fixed properly after it was (slightly) bent in the George Barris accident. This made the car rather hard to drive. But since Jim had spend a small fortune on the car he decided to make it all work and showed the car all around the U.S.

Close up look of the plexiglass semi gull-wing roof panels.
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The interior of the Golden Sahara I was state of the art in 1954, this photo nicely shows the huge tape recorder in the center console. Notice that this photo shows white rubber mats on the floor, to protect the white and beige carpeting.
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1954 Motorama Debut

The big debut for the Golden Sahara was at the 1954 Petersen Motorama / Motor Revue. The Golden Sahara was a unique custom in its first form, drawing a huge crowd where ever it went. In the previous year Barris always had a huge wall side display at the Petersen Show at the Pan Pacificc Auditorium. But with the Golden Sahara they realized this car could have a huge impact on the  Barris Shop. So they went all out and The Barris crew and Jim Street created a large display with the Golden Sahara on a turntable. The car won the Sweepstakes at the show an was enjoyed by a huge crowd, of which many were especially drawn to the show to see the well announced Golden Sahara. The show was held November 5-14, 1954, more info and photos of the show can be found in this CCC-Article.


Color slide taken by Walter Wyss shows the amazing display they had created for the Golden Sahara. Both George Barris and Jim Skonzakes knew how much impact this car would have on the audience, and they also knew how to get the best publicity out of this all.
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The Golden Sahara I was a huge hit at the Motorama Show, and soon Jim received phone calls and letters from other show promoters in other States asking for the Golden Sahara to be present at their shows. During the 1954 to 1956 Car show season, Jim Street took the GS-I touring around the US to all the big and not so big shows enjoying the crowd that was always gathered around the car.

This wonderful color slide was made by Ina-Mae Overman and gives us a good look at the wonderful interior created by the Carson Top Shop. At most indoor shows the complete top was removed to show of the incredible interior.
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The Golden Sahara I was displayed at the ’54 show without the top. This way the beautiful futuristic Carson Top Shop created interior could be shown better. downside was that the audience could not be in awe over the huge bubble top rear window. Which must have been spectacular in 1954.
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The 1954 Motorama Sign

Jim and Barris had a beautifully hand lettered sign made for the debut of the Golden Sahara. Ina Mae Overman had most of the sign in one of her color photos of the car. With some sharpening and adding contrast I was able to read most of it.

Golden Sahara Designed and build by
Barris Custom Autos
For Mr Jim Skonzakes Dayton Ohio

This body was formed on 1954 Lincoln
Chassis from power hammered panels
taken from design sketches and patterns

• Upholstery by Carson Tops
• Bar By G & C Bar Specialist
• Solid 24 K Gold by Artistic Platers
• 300 HP Super Charged Engine
• Elec. Push Button Controlled
• Refrigerator Ice Cube Unit
• Front & Rear air conditioning
• 2-way wire recorder
• 3 mile Telephone system
• Loud Speaker Dash Unit
• Selector push type Radio

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During most of the show the passenger door was left open so that the audience was able to take a better look inside the Dream Custom. The Drivers door remained shut so the overall profile could be enjoyed as well.
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The Interior was filled with the latest gadget’s as a TV, telephone, fancy radio, speaker etc. The back had a beautiful wrap around cocktail bar seating arrangement with full bar.
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Walter Wyss captured Jim Skonzakes talking to George Barris at the ’54 Motorama Show. We have no idea who the other people are in the photo, but since they are inside the display, they must know either George or Jim.
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George and Sam Barris proudly showed Aunt Edith around at the Barris Display during the 1954 Peters Motorama Show. And the highlight was the recently finished trend setting Golden Sahara.
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The February 1955 issue of Rod & Custom magazine announced the Golden Sahara. It was all part of a marketing plan to promote the car as good as the Barris shop and Jim Skonzakes could do.
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On the cover of the 1955 Sacramento Autorama Show Program, and the May 1955 issue of Motor Trend Magazine where Jim’s Golden Sahara I was named “The $25,000 Custom Car”.
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Announcement newspaper ad for the Saramento Autorama with the Golden Sahara I as the main attraction.
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Displayed at Car Dealers

When Jim and George Barris developed the Golden Sahara it became clear that it was going to be an unique automobile. And that with the proper marketing the money invested in the project could be made back, and the Barris shop name could receive a huge boost. Show promoters saw the potential of this crowd pleasing custom and started to offer money for its display at their shows around the US. And soon Jim came up with a plan to rent out the Golden Sahara to car dealers for promotional of the dealers products. Jim provided the car, photo material and text which could be used in advertising the dealer events in local news papers and flyers to be spread around town.

The Golden Sahara-I being displayed at one of the numerous Car dealers around the US.
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The Golden Sahara I proved to be the excellent tool for drawing a huge crowd, and dealers who had rented the Golden Sahara for a weekend or week soon were flooded with extra orders. The news spread quickly and soon it became a full time job to drive the Golden Sahara to dealer locations all over the US. Jim had to hire people to make it all happen. In the end everybody was happy Barris, with getting all the exposure of the Golden Sahara being build at their shop, which has undoubtedly led to new clients, Jim Skonzakes for all the exposure of his dream Custom, and the money made by renting out the GS-I to earn back the $25,000 bill for creating it, and saving up for the next phase. And all the dealers who rented the car who all had multiple new cars sales because of it.

Jim had special note-books printed to make renting out the Golden Sahara as easy as possible.
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Car Dealers, but also other business could rent the Golden Sahara for a certain amount of time to help promote their business. The Golden Sahara was extremely successful in drawing a crowd, especially if the dealer had made flyer, or local newspaper announcements. On the left is just one of the many flyers that Jim saved, and two of the many Thank You notes from very happy car dealers, who had the Golden Sahara on display.
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Another sample of a very happy car dealer from Atlanta, Georgia, who had the Golden Sahara on display in their showroom. News like this spread around quick, and the was a huge demand to have the Golden Sahara on display to attract new customers.
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The face of a tire company
Another way of promoting the Golden Sahara was making a deal with Seiberling Tire Company. The Golden Sahara would be used in a special series of magazine ads promoting the Seiberling Sealed-Air The Tire of Tomorrow Here Today campaign. Photo shoots with the Golden Sahara were organized, even a shoot at Daytona Beach in Florida where the Golden Sahara can be seen racing at the beach with the new Seiberling tires was done. In 1956 when the car had paid for itself and more Jim decided it was time for the next phase. With all he had learned and all he had experienced with the Golden Sahara I he was confident that the plans he had in mind for the Golden Sahara II would make it en even bigger success.







One of several ads that were created for the Seiberling Tire company. For this ad the Golden Sahara was photographed racing the Daytona Beach. On the right a snapshot of the Golden Sahara at the Dayton Beach set for the Seiberling ad campaign
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The Golden Sahara I on display to promote the tire of tomorrow today for the Seiberling tire company.
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Many people absolutely adored the Golden Sahara I, and many tried to buy it from Jim, including Liberace, who according to Jim, desperately wanted to have the car in hi garage. However the GS was not for sale. This photo of Liberace in the Golden Sahara was develop in December 14, 1956. Can you imagine what the impact of the GS I was, if you compare it with the cars in the street in the background.
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Jim showing some of the details of the Golden Sahara to Liberace.
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As wild as this first version of the Golden Sahara was, it was still relatively mild, compared with the plans Jim Street had in mind for the Golden Sahara II, which he began building in 1956, and which will be in PART TWO of this article.










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Ray Vega 1938 Ford

 

RAY VEGA 1938 FORD

 

Especially because of the 1952 Hop Up Magazine cover, the Ray Vega 1938 Ford sedan Convertible is one of the best known Valley Custom Shop created Custom Cars.



The Ray Vega 1938 Ford was created in 1951-52 by the Neil Emory and Clayton Jensen at their Valley Custom Shop. The car was based on an older style car for the time, and over a period of time restyled into a wonderful Classic Custom. A full Custom that retained a lot of the sharp details and chrome details in a time that shaving and molding were the trend of the day. The perfect blend of ’38, ’40 and ’47 Ford parts show the creativity and sense of style the Valley Custom Shop became known for at its very best. A Classic Custom was born, and the beautiful full color photo on the May 1952 issue of Hop Up magazine made is one of the all time favorite and best known Valley Custom Shop created Customs. Fortunately the car has survived, and has been restored with some personal touches by Tony Handler who has owned the car since the early 1960’s.




Before the team at the Valley Custom Shop would create a masterpiece of this 1938 Ford 4-door convertible it was first restyled by Art Williams of Burbank, California. Art sold the unfinished project to another Burbank resident, Ray Vega before he moved out of Burbank. Ray had heard many good things about the Valley Custom Shop in Burbank, so he took it to this shop to see if they could finish the work on the ’38, and create his dream Custom for him.


The Ray Vega 1938 Ford on the cover of the May 1952 issue of Hop Up magazine… a work of art. Both the car and the cover design.
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Ray bought the ’38 Ford partially finished as a basically stock bodied custom in 1951. The majority of the work done to the car was performed at the Valley Custom Shop. The body of the ’38 Ford was channeled a full 5 inches over the ’38 Ford frame, allowing the body to sit nice and low, but still have all the body handling of an original car. The front fenders, hood and hood sides were removed and replaced with the front of an 1940 Ford Deluxe. Including part of the cowl. To make the ’40 Ford front fenders work with the older body, as well as with the 5 inch channel the fenders were raised 5 inches and the hood was sectioned the same amount.

Carson Top Shop Ray VegaMy personal favorite angle on the Ray Vega Ford is this rear quarter view. Everything flows so wonderfully together, and has been designed like it should have come from the factory this way. The heavier ’47 Ford bumpers suit the car very well, and despite they are mounted 5 inches higher compared to the lower body line, they still look perfectly in line with everything else.
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The hood was welded together (stock 1940 hoods are made of two separate half’s which are bolted together in the middle and the seam is hidden by a stainless strip.) to become a single unit. The center trim piece was removed and a nice subtle peak was added. The belt-line on the sides of the ’40 Ford hood did not match the cowl of the ’38 Ford, so it was completely hammered out, for a much smoother look. With the front fenders now raised up into the their new location, the lower rear section of the front fender had to be extended with 5 inches, to compensate for the fenders new height, compared to the running boards. They used a second set of front fenders to add this extra 5 inch and then they replaced the stock ’38 running boards with a set of ’40 Ford running boards to perfectly blend the ’38 and ’40 ford parts together.
The ’38 Ford rear fenders remained in the stock position. And were later outfitted with FoMoCo aftermarket teardrop fender skirts. The stock taillights were replaced with low mounted 1941 Studebaker units.

This Hop Up magazine photo shows how nice the chrome beading looks around the rear fenders, enhancing the shape of the fender, the fender skirt and the side trim. the ’41 Studebaker taillight were mounted low of the rear fenders, just above the ’47 Ford bumpers. The reshaped to fit ’49 Chevy license plate cover makes it all look like it belonged that way.
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Close up of the rear of the car with the FoMoCo teardrop skirts, just the right amount of white wall tire showing underneath it, the beautifully shaped Carson padded top. It also shows that the rear bumper is sitting higher than the lower edge of the rear fender.
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Beautiful look at the modified 1940 Ford hood. How it was sectioned to fit the higher position of the ’40 Ford front fenders, hoe it was made into one piece with the peak added to the center, which matches the windshield divider perfectly. Not the special tarp that was made to cover the rear portion of the interior.
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To make sure the lowered car could still be driven as a daily driver with only a little more effort than a regular car, the Valley Custom Shop crew decided to keep the bumper mounts in the stock position compared to the frame, which was 5 inches higher compared to the bottom of the body due to the channeling.  Doing this had 3 advantages; 1 it allowed the car to enter much steeper drive ways due to more space in front and behind the fenders. 2 It protected the body much better from other cars with regular height bumpers. 3 the car looked less low than it was, making sure the cops did not pick it out that easy to ticket it for being too low. The stock bumpers were replaced with more modern and bulbous 1947 Ford unit, including their bumper guards. At the rear a ’49 Chevy license plate surround was modified to fit the Ford bumper.

The ’38 Ford windshield was chopped 3 inches, and the side window frames were treated the same way. All exterior door handles as well as the one on the trunk were removed for the desired smooth look. On the inside the ’38 Ford dash was replaced with a ’40 Ford Dash, the steering column, which was chrome plated, and wheel from the ’40 were also used. The finished body work was primed and the team at Valley Custom Shop painted the car in a deep Ruby Maroon paint, including the dash

Ray Vega showing the car to a lady friend.
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So far this has been the only photo we have been able to find of the Ray Vega Ford exhibited at an indoor show. this photo taken by a Life magazine photographer was taken at the 5th Hot Rod Show, held in the Los Angeles National Guard Armory on April 24-27, 1952. Interesting to see is that the doors of the car were opened, to show off the beautiful leather interior.
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Ray Vega was also invited in one of the Valley Custom Shop created car gatherings. Notice that both cars in the front had similar aftermarket hubcaps… one of the Valley Custom Shop trademarks.
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Parked behind the sectioned Ron Dunn 1950 Ford Coupe.
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A closer look at the front shows the place 5 inch higher ’40 Ford front fender. The rear of the front fender was extended down 5 inches to fill the gap to the Running board. The running boards were replaced with 1940 Ford units to nicely integrate the ’38 and ’40 components. The cowl and hood sides were modified with the belt line removed for an more modern look.
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Then the car was taken to the Carson Top Shop for the white padded top, custom made to fit the 3 inch chopped windshield which gave the car a beautiful low, and elegant classic look. For when Ray wanted to drive the car with the top off, they fabricated a canvas tarp in matching material to cover and protect the rear seat. After the body had been channeled over the frame 5 inches the seat tops were now higher than the belt-line, so the base of the seat was cut down three inches to solve this problem. The door garnish moldings were chrome plated. Ray’s mother hand-tooled natural brown oak tanned Mexican leather sections to be used on the seat tops to give the car a very luxurious feel. The interior was then completely upholstered in the same natural brown leather in wide tuck & roll pattern at the L & L Upholstery shop in Glendale, Ca. A shop the Valley Custom Shop used frequently on their car. The end result was an really spectacular interior, and very different from anything else created at the time.

Finishing touches on the car were added, including wide white wall tires with after market ribbed hubcaps fitted to 16″ wheels. Those hubcaps are a Valley Custom trademark, and they were used on many of the cars coming out of this shop. In contrast to a lot of the full custom cars created at the time, Ray’s ’38 Ford did not have fully molded fenders, instead they used chrome beading to finish the fender to body gap. Another touch that made Ray’s Ford look very elegant, and Classic.

The stunning photo from the Hop Up Cover showing the hand tooled leather interior and how its color wonderfully contrasted with the Ruby Maroon paint.
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From the Hop Up magazine article comes this photo showing the beautifully created interior with the hand tooled seat tops created by Ray’s mother. It also shows the chrome plated garnish moldings, and chrome plated ’40 Ford steering column.
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Close up of the hand tooled natural brown oak tanned Mexican leather.
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L & L stitched the hand tooled leather together with the rest to create the beautiful and classic interior in Ray’s Ford.
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Ray owned the car for some time after it was finished and entered it in a few show, where it did very well. The highlight for Ray, as well as for the Valley Custom Shop concerning this ’38 Ford was it was on the cover of the May 1952 issue of Hop Up magazine in full color, and inside with a 3 page feature in beautiful sepia. Personally I feel that this May 1952 cover of Hop Up Magazine is one of the most stunning Custom Car cover ever done. I really wish that the original color slide taken by Jerry Chesebrough would surface again, and be used in a modern publication or online so that we can see the cars real color.

Ray’s Ford was pretty low, as this side view shows, but the fact that the bumpers were still in the stock position on the frame, and not dropped 5 inches to match the channeling made the car appear much higher from the front and rear. Take a good look at the beautiful shape of the Carson Top.
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This front 3/4 view shows the effect of the bumper left in stock position on the frame, but 5 inches higher compared to the body (due to the channeling). It makes the car look sectioned from this angle. The ’47 Ford bumpers look so good with the car. And the peak on the hood adds just enough sharpness to the smoothed hood.
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New owners

After some time Ray sold the car but it was kept like it was by the new owner. At some point after 1957 some sailors were driving the car in Palmdale, California and wrecked it pretty bad on the front left. It was so badly damages that the car ended up in a wrecking yard in Pearblossom (Hwy 138) near Elmo. Tony Handler found the Ray Vega ’38 Ford in the same wrecking yard in the mid 60’s. The car was mostly there, even some of the tooled leather interior was still there. The rear fenders had been modified to accept large and wider rear tires, indicating the car was used at the drags at one point.

Pat Ganahl took this photo of the Vaga Ford when Tony Handler owned it in the early 1970’s. A lot of work had already been done on the car, but it would taken to around 2014 before the car was completed.
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In 1970 the car still had the cut out rear fenders, and was even running the tall slick rear tires. The bumpers are missing, and the license plate was mounted on the trunk.
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The damage that was done to the front left side of the car in the later part of the 1950’s was completely fixed by the time John Williamson took this photo in 1970.
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Restored

Tony Handler worked on the car at his shop over the years, planning to do a full restoration. And make some personal updates at the same time. From the beginning he planned on doing the car in all black. In the late 1970’s Tony had the car back on the road, in primer, still with the cut out rear fenders, no rear bumper and a set of nerf bar bumpers on the front, wire wheel and black wall tires. It would take Tony several more decades to get the car all completed, and in 2014 he took it to the Grand National Roadster Show when it was nearly completed. The Padded top was still missing, but the next year he would return, and now the car was all completed.

Tony had updated the car with a few personal touches, or perhaps we should say backdated. The tan hand tooled interior was to far gone to be restored, so he had to replace it. At one point he decided that the car would become all black, so the interior was also redone in black. And so was the padded top, once white, now completely redone in black giving the car a completely different look. Tony also added a set in license plate in the trunk, replaced the ’40 Ford headlights with thinner ’39 Ford bezels. And  replaced the ’47 Ford bumpers with thinner ’40 Lincoln units. The completely restored body was painted a super deep high gloss black.

It appears to me that Tony had backdated the car, because that is what I feel with the version Tony has created with this car. Almost like an earlier version of the car created in the early 1940’s, with the thinner Lincoln bumpers, and the set in license plate. It almost looks like the car, the way it looks now, is a pre Ray Vega version… a version that never excited.

I was extremely excited when Jeff Neppl send me some photos from the 2014 GNRS set up day showing the almost finished Ray Vega  1938 Ford at the show. I had heard the car would be at the show, painted black, and it looked superb. Although I still had hoped a little bit that the car would have been restored back to how we all know it best, from the 1952 Hop Up Magazine cover. Still it is amazing the car survived and has been restored and reworked, perhaps to an earlier version of the Ray Vega Ford.
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New for this version of the car are the set in license plate in the trunk, the modified 1940 Lincoln bumpers, the flush fender skirts, ’39 Ford headlight bezels, all black paint and new interior.
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The 1940 Ford steering wheel was replaced with an ’39 Ford Banjo steering wheel with matching black painted column. The new all black interior does have a nice vintage feel.
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Later the padded top was finished and added to the car. The padded top was, just as the rest of the car done all in black.
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The next year GNRS the all black padded top was finished and the car was now completed.
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Tony added flush skirts to the new version of the ray Vega Ford.
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New black interior and black headliner in the padded top.
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Original show card for the Ray Vega ’38 Ford.
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The John Williamson Stories

John Williamson has been a huge fan of the Ray Vega 1938 Ford since 1954 when he was around 12 years old. He has been trying to acquire the original car for many years, and when this failed he decided to build a semi clone of it, which is currently underway. Lets take a look at a few stories John shared with us about the Ray Vega Ford.

“When I was 12 or 13 two guys brought the car to my Verdugo Hills High School in Tujunga California. It was in perfect shape like the color shot on the May 1952 Hop Up cover. The guys were older Seniors sitting real low and both had Rayban sun glasses on; Mike Burgman and Mike Fitsgerold, for me it was the COOLEST THING I ever saw! Those guys that car at that time when cars were the most important thing to kids it was around 1954. Mike Burgman and some others would cruise the school parking lot in it, which is where I got hooked on it. The School was Verdugo Hills High School (VHHS) in Tujunga Ca. It was pretty notorious, some kids in the OWLS Car Club once stole the Hirohata Merc from the Oasadena car lot and took it to school. They got caught and the car was returned to the car lot owner where the current owner bought it. The guy who took it was Merrell Morland an OWL.”

“After that the car sat in Mike Bergmans front lawn for a long time maybe a couple of months and it was near the school on the street I had to walk to get to school so I’d stop and hang on the fence and look at it almost every morning dreaming of how cool it’d be to own it drive it and get in the back seat with my girl and make out. I didn’t even have a girl yet I was so young, it was just something to dream about. About 1956 or 57 I was with a friend Tom Hutton and we went out to his Dads house in Reseda to visit and the car was sitting there under a tree out in the weather being stored. Toms dad was a policeman in Hollywood and we were going to see him to ask him to help us get out of a scrape we were in so I wasn’t so focused on the car but I knew that was it.”

“20 Years later I went to the first or second Throttlers Picnic at Val Halla Park in Burbank and there was the car running and driving but looking bad. I tried to buy it but Tony was not interested in selling it, he told me that he bought it for $7 from a junk yard in Palmdale California. Later I was talking to someone who was a friend of Tony’s and that guy gave me Tony’s phone no. and I’d call and try to buy it every couple of years.”

“Years later in the 80’s I worked with Clay Jensen one of the two Valley Custom Shop guys who built the car originally and he was so nice to share all his pictures with me in a 3 ring binder he had. The Hop Up black and white photos were in there along with all the others of cars he and Neil Emory built.”

The first time in many years John saw the Ray Vega Ford again was in 1970 at the Throttlers Picnic at Val Halla Park in Burbank. The car looked pretty rough, but most of it was still there.
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“I got into 36 and 37 Cords and bought a truck load of Cord stuff from two old retired ladies in Pasadena. Several engines, transmissions, front drives, fenders and a hood for $400. It took me 2 or 3 trips in my 50 Chevy Pickup to bring all the stuff home. I had bought a burned Cord and a second Cord with no running gear and was working to put those cars together when I found a nice Cord for a steal price and bought it so I had a good Cord Custom Beverly that I was driving and I decided to advertise my extra Cord stuff in the Recycler news paper. Tony called me to ask about the Cord stuff because he was fixing one up for his girlfriend Margot. When they got to my house I recognized him and tried to trade him all my Cords for the tub and again he said no, he was going to keep it. That was very dumb of me but I was just nuts for the tub.”

“About 2010 I went to see Ray Vega at one of his restaurants we made an appointment to see him and my friend Tony Velloza and I went and took Ray a copy of Pat Ganhal’s The American Custom Car book, so he could see how important his car was. Ray was a very big guy in Nevada politics and was real nice to visit that day. He told us that his ’38 tub was the only Custom car or Hot rod he ever owned and that his Mom who had a restaurant a on Olvera St in L.A. had hand carved the seat backs and bottoms in a traditional pattern that was used on Mexican purses. They are still being sold there as traditional Mexican purses today.”

“I got an estimate from a lady who does that leather carving now and she told me to do 2 seat tops it would be $1500, that was about 10 years ago. The next time I saw the car Tony had finished it. I had been telling Tony that I was working on a new tub that would be like his Original Ray Vega car but he had more resources and by now he has finished Ray’s car…. I’m still working on mine and am happy to be able to drive it after about 5 years of working to build it from parts and pieces. I have the Ruby Maroon Paint to paint it with.”

John Williamson’s 1939 Ford based project that will be a tribute to the Ray Vega 1938 Ford.
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Special thanks to John Williamson and Gary Emory.


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History of the Early Custom Car

 

HISTORY of the EARLY CUSTOM CAR

 

For as long as there have been automobiles they have been modified for personal taste. This evolved in the 1930s to a style we now know as Customizing. Part One the History of the Early Custom Car. The 1930s



Early Custom Cars

An article about the early history of the Custom Car is something I wanted to do for a long time. I’m a huge fan of the early Custom Cars, and love to read, see and hear about the early days, how it all evolved into the golden years of Customizing of the later part of the 1940’s up to the mid 1950’s. This history of the Custom Car is not an exact science, there is no clear mark in history that marks the beginning, no real first car that can be marked as the start. In fact there are even very few photos from this early era, making it very hard to visualize. There were no car related magazine to write about the scene, and latest trends. And especially this latest made this era so interesting. Because there were no written rules the early Custom Cars are very diverse, and very creative until the style was set for the Custom Car as we know it.

I personally feel that it all really started when the factory cars were designed with more rounded fenders, from around 1928 and up. The lines on these cars were more suited for the restyling we consider Customizing. I like to call all 1948 and older created Custom Cars Early Style Custom Cars. Main motivation for this cut off date is that in 1948 the first Hot Rod and Custom Car shows were held, plus Hot Rod Magazine and Motor Trend magazine started year. Magazines that would spread the word and especially photos of Custom Cars around the state, and changing the scene for ever.

This article will be long, at least two long parts, and more likely even more. In it I will highlight some of the key players that have been crucial in the early years of the history of the Custom Car. Pioneer Custom Restylers are George DuVall, Frank Kurtis, Jimmy Summers, Don Lee, Harry Westergard, Les Crane, Link Paola, but also coachbuilders as Dutch Darrin, Bohman & Schwartz, and upholstery specialist Glen Hauser who is responsible for the Carson Padded Top all have had a huge impact on the history of the Custom Car. This first part will cover the history up to the end of the 1930’s.

A beautiful sample of a late 1930’s created Custom restyled in a way very typical for the era. Sharp styling and much smooth and streamlined than how it came from the factory. This beautiful 1937 convertible shows a  chopped windshield, lowered convertible top, smooth hood sides, removed running boards with frame covers added, large rock shields on the rear fenders and low mounted headlights. Wide white wall tires and ripple disk single bar flipper hubcaps.
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We have no written or photographic proof of when the first, what we now consider, custom car was created. In general we can say that as long as there have been cars, there have been people who wanted to personalize, customize these vehicles. Early on specialist body shops, most likely with a heritage in the horse carriage bodies, started to specialize in the creation of hand crafted bodies for chassis from the major car builders, and especially the more exclusive brand cars were becoming more popular to be chosen by these special carossaria companies.

Bodies designed by in house designers, who would create bodies tailor-made for each individual client. Often inspired more or less by cars build by European designers. We can say that these cars were the first Custom Cars. However when we think about Custom Cars, we think about cars that have left the factories as completed cars, and which then have the body, sometimes the frame, and interior modified to; A fit the clients specific needs, B improve over the factory stock appearance, or C appear more luxurious, or classic than the stock vehicle it was based on.

1933 Cadillac Aerodynamic V16 CoupĂ© was displayed in the GM pavilion at the 1933-34 “Century of Progress” Chicago Worlds Fair. The prototype shows many elements that would later become popular Custom Restyling touches. Details as small windows with low top, hints to  a inset license plate in the trunk. Ribbed bumpers, single bar flipper hubcap, teardrop shaped fenders.
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What is a Custom is of course always an individual opinion, there are certain rules, but even those rules can vary from one person to another. What we call Custom Car has to do with a certain look, a feel, and most of the times it needs certain body modifications, as in updated grilles, chopped windshield or top, to create. More streamlined, or longer and lower look. Smoothed body elements, as hood sides, hoods, running boards, fenders. New hand made elements as grilles, bumpers, lower convertible or padded tops. One of kind hubcaps, white wall tires, modified, lowered position of the headlight and or taillights. Lowered suspension. Very often these cars created early on, might appear more closer to original design studies made for the production models, then how the eventual approved production model looked like. I have heard stories that a some of the early car designers drove customized production models they had developed them-self. Customized to come closer to the dream images they had in mind before the production department changed these designs so they could be mass produced.

These early stages of the history of the Custom Car took largely place in California. All the elements were just right for this to happen. The year round good weather made the use of convertible car, which were used for most of the early Customs a natural choice. The Hollywood movie Branch made sure there was enough money, and enough people looking for individuality, even with their automobiles. The year round good weather made sure the roads were in better shape than in most other States, give spending money on your car much more sense. But with most of the automobile industry based in Detroit this area of the US as well as others, had a large car scene, and early stages of Customizing took place there as well but the scene was by far not as wide spread and large as it was in California. In the early 1930’s Edsel Ford had the in-house designer E.T. “Bob” Gregorie design a few Custom Roadsters after Edsel had been inspired by coachbuilt cars on his Europe trip.

 

The Custom Car movement as we know it really started in the early 1930’s but at least a decade before that the movement was set in motion. In the late 1910’s the rich and famous demanded more elusive cars than the cars available from Detroit. They found their way to several of the Los Angles local Custom Coachwork companies. Who could create more streamlined and luxurious bodies that would set them apart from everything else on the roads. It would help give them even more status than they already had.

One person in particular that had a lot to do with the car styling in the 1920’s was Harley Earl who started working in his fathers Los Angels based carriage works in 1918. Later this company evolved into Earl Automobile Works. Harley became chief designer of the huge company that was capable of creating anything from Roman chariots, sturdy airplane fuselages, and custom automobile bodies. Harley Earl understood how important good clientele was for the business so he spend after hours and weekends at many of the Hollywood parties making friends in the movie and music world. Some of who would become future clients and commissioned Harley Earl with designing automobiles to fit their desires.

Earl Automobile Works on the left and Don Lee’s Cadillac LaSalle on the right. Two locations that had an great impact on the style of Custom created Cars in the 1920’s and 30’s.
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Don Lee owned a large Cadillac Dealer and Body Works building on San Francisco’s Van Ness Avenue and besides that he owned another 45 dealerships, including the famous Hillcrest Cadillac, in Beverly Hills. He later bought the Earls’ family company, and renaming it Don Lee Coach & Body Works. Harley Earls now worked for Don Lee, and with Lee’s fast network the shop produced around 250 custom bodies per year during 1920s. Many of these went to the famous movie actors and singers of the time. Working with Harley Earl in this company was a young Frank Kurtis who learned the trick of the trade here. Around 1927 Harley Earl left for Detroit to work for GM here he would influence the styling with his Californian Custom Car styling sense. Frank Kurtis moved on and started his own body shop where he would create early Customized Cars as well as the race cars that would make his famous in the race car world in later years.

A few of the special cars Harley Earl designed in the 1920’s. This type of Custom created cars would eventually lead into the creation of the first Custom Cars as we know them.
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Gordon Buehrig Model A Ford

On September 27, 1930, Gordon Buehrig (automobile designer responsible for the Auburn and Cord designs) got his 1930 Ford Model A Cabriolet at the Ford Motor Co.’s Indianapolis factory branch. The car was Equipped with 8-ply General white sidewalls, with dual side-mount spares, a rumble seat and auxiliary trunk rack, Buehrig’s Briggs-bodied Model A (model 68B) would have cost $645, not including the optional Ford accessories ($70) and six 19” x 5” General tires ($30).

The very next day Augie Duesenberg’s men commenced its reconstruction at the Duesenberg Bros. race car shop. Buehrig had a lot of changes in store for the car and had already created a full-sized body draft. He radically re-designed the car’s coachwork – chopping the top by 3”, extending the hood by 4” and fitting it with a convertible Victoria top. Buehrig’s blind-quarter top preceded the ones constructed by Dietrich, Waterhouse and Rollston by several years.
The workmen removed the body and convertible top and discarded the rear-half, forom the ‘B’ pillar back. The cowl’s integral dash/firewall and toeboard were carefully cut out, and re-attached 4.5” forward of their original position in front of the ‘A’ pillar. A new extended hood was also constructed that fit over the 4.5” metal addition to the cowl assembly.

Next step was to build the framework for the rear of the body per the full-sized body drafts, put it together and install the carefully-sized hand-hammered aluminum panels. Buehrig retained the folding ‘B’ pillar which was shortened at the bottom by 3” – this allowed the original linkage and windshield header to be used. From the ‘B’ pillar back, an all-new bows and folding top linkage had to be constructed from the templates included on Buehrig’s body drafts. The headroom lost by chopping the top was regained by dropping the floor and footwells several inches below their stock location, which provided a most comfortable driving and seating position. The rear seat was similarly lowered by notching the bottom of the seat so that it cleared the driveline.

Gordon Buehrig’s 1930 Model A Custom created in 1930.
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Once the reconstruction of the coachwork was completed the Model A moved across the street to Duesenberg’s paint shop where the body painted by Duesenberg’s finest in 3 different shades of DuPont lacquer: the body (including dash and steering wheel) in Light Capucine; the fenders and belt molding in Dark Capucine; and the wheels and pinstripes, Flame Capucine.
Buehrig designed a special set of seat cushions for the car based on the same Marshall Knockland design typically used on the Model J.

All of the work at Duesenberg was done after hours with Harold T. Ames permission and Buehrig paid the workers out of his own pocket. Completed on December 21, 1930 the car, which he christened ‘Baby’ attracted attention wherever it went, Buehrig recalling: “The first day I drove it down town to go to lunch I parked it in front of the L.S. Ayres Company. After lunch, when I returned, there was a crowd around the car extending into the street to the streetcar tracks. A policeman was trying to clear away the crowd. He was happy to see me arrive and solve his dilemma.”





Aftermarket
Another important player in the later part of these early years is the starting aftermarket companies the Los Angeles based Eastern Auto started by Joseph Kraus in 1919 was the most popular. The company started to develop parts for the model T Fords, Parts to help people keep their cars running through the rough depression years. Around the mid to late 1930’s, when business improved and demand for individuality increased the company started to produce specialize products for customizing production cars. Trim pieces to decorate the fenders and running boards, special grille moldings, solid hood sides for the Model to ’36 Fords, fender skirts, and later more and more hop up parts were developed and marketed, specifically aimed towards customizing cars. Different styles of ripple disk hubcaps, inspired by the Cadillac knock off hubcaps were also among the first items they developed especially for the Custom Car enthusiast.

Beautifully restyled 1937 Chevy Convertible with padded top, solid hood sides, removed running boards, narrow grille, spotlights, and teardrop skirts parked in front of the Eastern Auto Supply Co. store for this promotional photo.
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Frank Kurtis

Frank Kurtis born in Crested Butte, Colorado, January 25, 1908. He developed his love for cars in his fathers blacksmith shop in Pueblo, Colorado. The shop was doing both horse and buggy repairs as well as the new automobiles. In 1922 the Kurtis family moved to Los Angles were Frank found a job with Don Lee Cadillac. In the early 1930’s Frank started his love of designing and building race cars in the 4 car garage behind his home in Los Angeles. He built several Custom Cars and race cars throughout the 1930’s. His Custom Cars as well as the grille design work on the race cars was trend setting. Frank Kurtis worked on several of the famous So Calif Plating Co delivery trucks, creating some of the unique parts on the car. Later on in his life Frank concentrated mostly on race car orientated cars.

Frank Kurtis around 1950.
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In 1933 Frank rented a section in the Paramount Auto Top Shop where he created some of his early customs including this 1931 Ford roadster with chopped raked windshield and custom grille and the 1929 Oldsmobile sedan with custom grille. The humble beginnings of Custom Restyling.


[divider]A few more samples of Frank Kurtis created early Customized automobiles. Top left, 1929 Model A Ford Roadster with modified Hudson fenders, stretched wheel base, Woodlite headlights, chopped windshield and the characteristic Frank Kurtis grille, Mottom left, 1931 Model A with Kurtis grille and modified fenders. Top Right,  beautiful speedster based on LaSalle parts with raked windshield and of course the typical Kurtis styled grille. and below right the same Model A as in the photo above, now with the top up and another model A with stretched wheelbase longer hood and huge Cadillac headlights.
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Frank Kurtis also did the work on the Atlas Chrome Special race car, with a wonderful restyled chrome plated front end. As well as the work on the Atlas Chromium Plating Service 1931 Dodge Panel tow-truck with modified front with 1933 Ford grille and reshaped fenders around 1933.
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Another Atlas Chrome Plating truck was restyled by Frank Kurtis based on an 1929 Ford to witch a set of 1934 Ford fenders, hood and grille was added. The truck featured a home made cast V-windshield and hand shaped top. Frank also created uniquely styled bumpers obviously influenced by the coachbuild creations from the early 1930’s.
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George DuVall designed this So-California Plating Co. truck based on an ’31 model A cabin back in 1933. New skirted fenders were added, and a beautiful chrome plated grille designed and incorporated with the modified hood. Cast slightly v-shaped windshield and modified v-ed bumper. Notice that the windshield on this truck is more upright than the one below.
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So-California-Plating-Co. Truck Restyled by George DuVall and Frank Kurtis, based on an 1932 Ford pick features custom made grille, v-windshield, skirted fenders, custom bumper and many other custom made components. Stunning looking truck back in around 1934 when it was created.
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1935 Ford So-California Plating Co truck

This is the one car that set the standard, that had a huge impact on many car builder and car enthusiast. It is perhaps the most important car in the Custom Car history. The car was commissioned by Leonard K. DeBell, owner of the So California Plating Co. in Los Angles. The company already had owned several restyled pick up trucks that were used to haul to be plated and freshly plated parts from all over Los Angles. The previous cars were designed by George DuVall who started working for DeBell in 1933, and created together with Frank Kurtis.

DeBell had bought a brand new 1935 Ford phaeton which he planned to rebuild into a classy delivery truck. Completely restyled just as the previous cars, but the design George DuVall had come up for this one was so completely different from the previous truck. The design sketches George had made looked absolutely stunning, with very streamlined Art-Deco shapes incorporated into the truck, including a very large padded style top mounted on a heavily angled back v-windshield. To be able to make the truck practical with the new top on it the frame had to be lengthened 12 inches to assure freshly chromed bumpers could be stalled behind the front seat cargo section.

The one car that, in my eyes, was the real start of the Custom Car movement as we know it. The So-California Plating Co. 1935 Ford designed by George DuVall and created by DuVall, Kurtis Chad Schultz, George Thomas Top Shop and Jimmy Summers. Oh and this one also has a set of Woodlite headlamps… hidden behind the front fenders, just showing the small opening.
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George and his friend Frank Kurtis did most of the work on the car. And possibly Jimmy Summers, an other Custom Car pioneer, also worked on the car. The team incorporated more pleasantly looking ’36 Ford fenders, lengthened the frame, the body, created the V-Windshield, the first one of the famous DuVall windshields, the unique chrome plated grille and all other work needed to create this Iconic Custom Car. The beautiful padded top to fit the longer body and v-windshield was created by the George Thomas Top Shop in Hollywood.

The long low padded top with curved openings and angled windshield combined with the long horizontal chrome lined of the custom chromed plated grille created an unique look that has inspired many Custom Car builder ever since it was created. There have been more very nicely restyled cars before this one, but on this 1935 Ford designed by George DuVall is all came together, and made sense. A new style of car was born. The Custom Car.


This is a really fantastic photo taken around 1936-37. It shows the ’32 Ford based So California Plating truck parked next to the ’35 Ford based one, next to an early 20’s car. It shows how much streamlined the ’35 Ford based car is, and how much impact this car must have had when it was driving around Los Angles, where the roads were filled with 20’s and early 30’s boxy cars. My guess is that many young car enthusiast car guy got very inspired by this DuVall/Kurtis created Custom Car.
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George DuVall

George H. DuVall  was born on August 19, 1913 and passed away on February 12, 1999. George was inspired by automobiles from a very young age, and when he grew older his dream was to be an automobile designer just like his idol Harley Earl. After graduation from Hollywood High School he enrolled at UCLA to study mechanical engineering, taking a part-time job as a delivery truck driver with the Southern California Plating Co. (located at 4444 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, Calif. – later 3434 San Fernando Rd., Los Angeles) to help with his expenses. In 1933 he dropped out of college to start work for Southern California Plating full time. George DuVall was hired to design and develop new chrome plated aftermarket parts for the company, and as part of this he had already designed and build several company pick up trucks.

George DuVall personalized his own daily drivers, one example being the Cragar-powered 1929 Model A roadster pictured below which impressed Leanoard DeBell a lot.  The car was constructed based on George his design’s by Don Leomazzi’s Service Auto Body Works, 1676 N. Western Ave., Los Angeles, Calif., a small body and paint shop that did excellent work.

George DuVall’s personal driver in the mid 1930’s was this heavily restyled 1929 Model A Ford. According the Flying V’s article by  Dean Batchelor in R&C magazine the car was restyled by the Don Leomazzi’s Service Auto Body using George’s designs. Beautiful restyled skirted fenders, solid hood sides, ’32 Plymouth grille, Woodlite headlights and DuVall created the hubcaps, bumpers and unique V-windshield himself.
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DuVall’s boss, Leonard K. DeBell, liked the custom touches George incorporated into his own cars and gave him an opportunity to do some creative design work at the company. A large part of So. California Plating’s business was constructing and plating midget race-car grills and accessories. To advertise the business, DeBell Custom Restyled his delivery vehicles, outfitting them with whitewall tires, wheel discs, V-windshields and custom chrome grills and bumpers all designed by George DuVall. His front-end treatment on So. California Plating’s 1931 Ford pickup has been credited with inspiring the grille found on the 1933-34 (Hudson) Terraplane.

Two people that played a huge roll in the early history of the Custom Car are Plating Shop owner Leonard DeBell (on the left) and George DuVall. George worked many years for DeBell creating unique one off items like the grille he is holding, complete cars, but also mass produced aftermarket parts like the Hollywood hubcap and frame covers for cars with removed running boards.
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Some of the early 1930’s car designs George DuVall created when he was around 18 years old. These early designs already show some of the Custom Car styling ideas George would later incorporate into his own personal cars as well as the So Calif Plating trucks.
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Designs from around 1935 show several ideas for the ’35 Ford based SoCali Plating truck, and well as a very stylish boat tail shaped speedster. All designs that we have seen being incorporated in Custom Cars in later years.
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Influenced by the designs of Harley Earl, George began creating custom bumpers and grilles (for 1930s Fords) he already had been working on a few of the company truck but the real deal came when and in late 1935 he was put in charge of customizing the Plating Co.’s new delivery vehicle, a 1935 Ford Phaeton with 1936 Ford front end added. The car featured an 12 inch extended wheelbase filled-in rear doors and a flat rear floor which was accessed by a lift-up rear hatch constructed.

A all new Custom grill for the delivery car was constructed out of flat brass stock by DuVall’s friend, Frank Kurtis. George designed and mastered the first of the famous 5-piece cast bronze ‘DuVall windshield’, originally this car, the windshield was later made available for the public as well. George developed many aftermarket Custom and Hop up items, some marketed by the SoCal Plating company, others produced and offered for sale by other companies. Including the products he designed for the aftermarket were the famous ribbed single bar flipper hubcaps (Hollywood hubcaps)

DuVall also created the logo for the Hollywood Wheel Disc Shop, 116 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, a firm that manufactured aftermarket Cadillac Sombrero knock-offs known as Hollywood Wheel Discs, which were memorable for their spinning ‘S’ logo. He also designed the famous the Eddie Meyer logo.

Beautiful Custom bodied V-windshield roadster designed in the later parts of the 1930’s.
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Movie Cars

In the 1930’s there were several cars designed especially for to be used in a movie. Special Custom built cars, that had to help sell more movie tickets. Exclusive Sporty looking luxury cars, sometimes with complete hand made bodies. These specially built cars had a huge audience, not only where they visible in the movies., they most of the time were also used in promoting the movie, and were often featured in the news paper’s reporting about the movie or in a number of magazines.

Emile Diedt created this unique car for the movie Mr Cinderella that came out in 1936. Unique pontoon  shaped fenders that would become very popular on factory cars, as well as on custom cars in the years that would follow. Notice the unique pattern on the white wall tires, and the ribbed hubcaps with small smooth center caps.
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Couachbuilders Bohman & Schwartz used a 1936 Buick Roadmaster chassis with a complete custom made body to create the streamlined car used in the 1937 movie Topper. After filming the Buick was for sale and was bought by the Gilmore Oil Co. who used the car for promotional purposes for many years.
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The late 1920’s and early to mid 1930’s Auburn boat-tail speedsters (Gordon Buehrig) have had an impact in the looks of the Custom Car for sure as well.
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Jensen from the UK used the ’36 Ford as a base for their beautiful 4-seater custom roaster. These two were imported to the US by Percy T. Morgan to try and market them to the Californian people. The inset photo shows movie actor Clark Gable posing with one of the Jensen Fords, a car he never owned, but it was used for promoting the car as movie actor style car for some time. The long low nose, and curved fenders gave the car a very much Custom Look in 1937.
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Phantom Corsair

The Bohman & Schwartz created Phantom Corsair was designed and ordered by Rust Heinz in 1936. The car was finished in 1937, and the streamlined super low appearance for sure has had a huge impact in the history of the Custom Car. Photos and stories of the car have been published ever since it was first created. And its image must have been seen by many car enthusiast during the 1930’s and 40’s when the Custom Car style – as we know it – was developed. The Phantom Corsair was low, long looking evil with its super small windows, and had a super smooth all molded body with a minimal amount of chrome. Seeing the Phantom Corsair on the road surrounded by mostly boxy vehicles in the later part of the 1930’s must have been quite an experience.

What is really interesting on the Phantom Corsair is that the car had a few styling features designed in 1936 and created in 1937, that would become very popular features in Car Customizing, but not for almost a decade later. The Phantom Corsair had no conventional door handles to open its doors, but rather small push buttons on the outside (behind the door b-pillars) and on the dashboard to electronically open the doors. This feature later become a very popular Custom feature. The other new feature that the Phantom Corsair had that would become traditional in Custom Restyling was the one-piece smooth molded in look.


Perhaps the first Restyled car that was “Custom Car low” was the Phantom Corsair designed by Rust Heinz in 1936 and created by Bohman & Schwartz on the chassis of the front wheel drive 1936 Cord. The body, interior and everything else was custom made by B&S. The headlights were inspired by the popular Woodlight  units, but were actually hand made especially for the Phantom Corsair.
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Bohman & Schwartz also created this 1937 Lincoln Zephyr Custom for Marquise Hachisuka, a talented mechanical engineer, who designed the car himself. The car featured longer fade-away style front fenders, solid removable rear fenders, removed running boards, filled in rear quarter windows, smooth hood sides and heavily modified front. The headlights were recessed into the front fenders. On the edge of Coachbuilding and Custom Restyling.
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Woodlite headlights

I have noticed that quite a few of the very early Custom Restyled cars used the distinctive Woodlite headlamps. This streamlined polished aluminum headlight gave any car a more modern, futuristic upscale feel. Not everybody appreciates the look of these lights, but especially back in the 1930’s and early 1940’s these lights were very popular on Coachbuild as well as Custom Restyled cars. The woodlite headlamps were originally designed by William G. Woods in the late 1920’s (patent was applied for in 1926).

Unique Custom Restyled Roadster with metal lift off hard-top and Woodlite headlights was photographed in San Fransisco in the early 1940’s but the unidentified car was beautifully restyled in the 1930’s.
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A few more samples of early Custom Restyled cars from the 1930’s using the Woodlite headlights.
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The Carson Top Shop

Besides several pioneer Car builders being responsible or the early start of Custom Restyling, there is one other influence that has plaid a huge part in the style and development of the Custom Car. The California Padded top. Also named French Tops, or perhaps the most accurate name. The Carson Padded Top (or short Carson Top).


Carson Top ShopThis photo of the Vermont Los Angles shop where Amos Carson started to work using the front section of the Vermont Auto Works shop was taken in the mid 1930’s. The window reads that Tops (convertible) are $10.-. The French tops advertised on the left window were more, but we do not know how much more. The shop window also shows that the shop already did seat covers as well at this time. (lower left corner of the window)
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In 1930 Glen Houser started to work for Amos Carson in his Car Top Shop  Glen had a soft spot for customizing and started to add custom touches to the model T and A’s that would be at the shop. Special convertible tops and other details, Glen Houser became a very important asset to the shop. And in 1935 he unknowingly gave himself a icon status when he designed and developed the first smooth non-folding, padded top. He named it the French top, since it was styled after the looks of some of the metal padded topped cars from French created coachbuild cars. According the stories the first car for which Glen designed this padded top was a 1930 Model A roadster.

Since then the shop has been creating hundreds of these tops. In the early days, a lot of the to be customized car were based on convertibles and roadsters. They were relatively easy to chop to create the desired low profile. And the best way to do it was with a super smooth padded top from the Carson Top Shop.


History of the Early Custom CarThe narrowed stock grille on this early 1936 Ford makes the car look taller. The smooth hood sides, chopped windshield and matching padded top, single bar flipper hubcaps, skirts, rather high stance, and door handles left in place. All very characteristic for the early Custom created when the car was as good as new.
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Typical look of an early style Custom Convertible with chopped padded top. this 1936 Ford had its windshield chopped a few inches, and a matching white covered padded top added. The hood sides are aftermarket smooth units, the stock grille was narrowed, and new grille side panels added. The ride height was practically stock back then and the rear wheels are the factory stock units without the ripple disc single bar hubcaps used on the front. The door handles are left in place.
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Clean and crisp
Characteristic for the early Style Custom Cars is their crisp, almost factory stock look. In early Custom Restyling the molded in look created by welding body components together to create a single piece looking body had not been invented, or at least was not popular yet. Fenders could have been modified in shape, so were hood sides and grille surrounds, but they rarely were welded to the body. They were left as separate parts, and sometimes even painted a different body color, just as you could order on factory stock models, for a more individual feel. This crisp feel required good craftsmanship, ill fitting panels could not be made look better by hiding the uneven panels with lead feathered out into the next panel. The fact that most early Customs retained their door handles and most of the trim helped with this crisp look.



Creative Restyling

With the Frank Kurtis and George DuVall restyled 1935 Ford based So Cali Plating truck in 1936, the style for the what we now consider Early Custom Style has been set… more or less. The heavily restyled truck traveled the streets of Los Angles on a daily base, and could be seen at the race car tracks around town during the weekends and evenings. Leaving an ever lasting impact on many young car enthusiast. During this time, the late 1930’s and up into the mid 1940’s, there were no magazines that covered this type of vehicle. The people where where inspired by these new Custom Car’s could not stare at magazine photos of their favorite cars like people could do starting around 1948.

The result was that the car created in this early stages of the Custom Car history were very creative. The style had been set, with the chopped windshield, and padded top, and overall streamlined looks of the So Cal Plating truck and some other cars created during the same period. The car builders and car owners at the time were very creative and innovative in incorporating this style into their own Custom creations.

1937 Ford sedan turned into a chopped three window coupe with a swoopy padded top. With the running boards removed, the car took on a completely new, much more sportive, perhaps European look. Creative restyling very distinctive to the early years of Custom Restyling.
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The US was slowly recovering from the recession and people started to spend some more money on cars. Second had cars were relatively cheap and where perfect to be used in restyling. Hourly rates were still very low, making it possible for a car owner to have the local show spend a lot of hours on the cars. Where the first Custom Restyled cars were mostly based on convertibles and roadsters, which were much easier to chop, builder now started to experiment with chopping the top of coupes and even sedan’s. It resulted in a wide range of uniquely restyled cars, perhaps not always the most graceful, but incredibly inspiring and unique for sure. These early years of Custom Restyling are to me the most interesting years of the history of the Custom Cars. Especially because a lot of the cars were so fresh in incorporating the Custom Style.

Very interesting early Custom from the Found Film Society archive. This photo was taken at Southern Speedway in 1938. Model A Ford with more modern, perhaps hand shaped more rounded fenders with skirts both front and rear, removed running boards frame cover, fender mounted molded in headlights. The whole nose section looks to be custom made with most likely a hand made grille, perhaps inspired by the International truck grilles of that era. 1932 Ford bumpers, and a split boat style hand made windshield. The name on the door mentioned that the car was created by “Ran’s Auto Works.” So far I have not been able to find out anything else created by this shop, anybody knows more?
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The majority of the early Customs can be considered mild customs. Street Customs is what they were named in later years. Restyled with a fresh look, to make the every day car look more appealing, more luxurious. Without the “benefits” of published magazines and catalogs of after market parts.  On some of these early Customs it was clear that the creativity played a huge part, everything could be made back then, if you had the time, and a few extra dollars to spend on it.

This ’37 Ford Coupe was turned into a pull pick up for the midget race track. During the process the car was also restyled with extended headlights, smooth hood sides, and ear;y aftermarket hood trim.
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Custom Restyled 1936 Ford 5-window photographed in 1938. The car featured removed running boards, modified fenders, frame cover, teardrop skirts, long teardrop chrome plated headlights, ripple disc and small smooth moon hubcaps on wise white wall tires. High stance and an single pin-stripe highlighting the cars’ belt-line.
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Pinstriping
In the mid to late 1950’s pinstriping your Custom Car was the latest rage. Nearly every Custom had some kind, but most of the time a lot, of pin-striping going on. Wild bold pinstriping with curly effects not necessarily enhancing the looks of the car, or at least not enhancing the carefully designed body work.In the earlier decades of the Automobile pinstriping was also used a lot on the cars, it was a style inherent from the horse carriage era.  Here the pinstriping was added to add class to the hand made bodies. The pinstriping used on the early automobiles was plain and simple, enhancing the body character lines, around the edge of the fenders, the belt-line and around the wheel spokes. I have found several samples of the early style Custom Cars that used this early style pinstriping as well. Most people feel that pinstriping on Custom Cars was an mid 1950’s invention, but in fact it was used in the 1930’s as well.

The pinstriping was used very sparingly, perhaps just on the belt-line, to give the car an optical longer feel. It was not about the pinstriping artist like it was in the 1950’s, where the artist could show off how good he was laying down straight, curved and free style striping, it was uses to enhance the body lines, perhaps in a same matter as later side trim would be added to cars.

Set in license plates
Another important Custom style  developed during these early years is the rear set-in or inset license plate. This is where a rectangular hole, slightly smaller than a license plate, was cut out in the rear of the body, usually in the trunk, or the panel below it. The corners and edges were nicely rounded and a license plate was attached from inside the car, usually there was a piece of glass set between the license plate and the body. More on the Set in license plates with many sample photos can be found in the set in license plate CCC article.


This beautifully restyled 1938 Lincoln most likely sports a chopped padded top created by C.A. Hall from Oakland in Northern California. Perfect styling and proportions was done by an unknown body shop, and included the chopped windshield, removal of the running boards, reshaping of the fenders front and rear, custom plated rock shield protecting the rear fenders, custom grille (not visible in this photo), ripple disc hubcaps with small diameter single bar flippers and a lower than stock stance. The photo was taken in the late 1930’s.
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This beautiful 1937 Ford Convertible Sedan was restyled in the late 1930’s and photographed in 1940. The car was owned by a Pasadena Ford dealer’s son. Chopped windshield, white padded top, ’37 DeSoto bumpers, removed running boards, custom side trim smoothed hood. The style was really set by now.
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1938 Ford sedan convertible with chopped windshield and black padded top. Removed running boards, rock shield and teardrop skirts, smooth hood sides and customized grille. The photo was taken in early 1940.
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Late 1930’s photo showing an unidentified Custom with 1938 Ford front end with restyled grille. Possibly the car was created form a coupe or a sedan, judging the shape of the chopped windshield. Interesting is the V12 sign on the smooth hood sides, as well as the dual spotlights mounted on the A-pillars. The ’36 Ford 4-door sedan in the background sports a very popular aftermarket Pines grille, which gave the ’36 Ford a Cord like appearance.
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One of my personal all time favorite Custom Cars is this chopped ’36 Ford 5-window Coupe restyled in the late 1930’s. Not much is known about the car, most likely the owner was from Santa Monica, and some say the narrowed and reshaped ’36 Ford grille and custom side grilles might have been the work of George DuVall. Possibly the ribbed running board cover, the rock shield on the rear fenders and the single bar flipper hubcaps were all parts created by George DuVall and offered from the SoCal Plating Company.
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Jimmy Summers

One of the earliest body shops that specialized in Custom work as we know it was Jimmy Summers Custom Automobile. Jimmy started working out of his small shop located in Los Angeles on 7919 Melrose Avenue across the street from Fairfax High School in the 1930’s. he was Restyling cars, doing simple work as removing badges, replacing bumpers and grilles mostly with more expensive car parts, but he also did more elaborate restyling including chopped tops, set in plated and around 1940 his fist famous fade-away fenders. Clients coming into the Summers shop with low end cars mostly Fords, and after Summer was finished with their cars/ they would drive home a one of a kind fare more exclusive looking automobile. one that would turn heads. Jimmy Summers was known for his excellent quality work, and above all Jimmy had the eye when it came to style and proportions.

Jimmy Summers around 1946.
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Jimmy Summers, George DuVall and Frank Kurtis were the names connected to the Custom Car building scene in the 1930’s. These were the shop owners that you wanted to take your car if it needed to be special, exclusive and unique. It is no wonder that these three pioneers worked on several projects together, or in phases. It was especially Jimmy Summers, who was this tall skinny well dressed gentleman, who was popular and well known as the guy to go to for your chopped top or other unique modification. According an article in the May 1947 issue of the Popular Mechanics May it was mentioned that Jimmy hand-tailored about one car per week for customers. At that rate there must have been a lot of Jimmy Summers created cars around in California during the 30’s and 40’s. To bad they were not documents as well as they should have.

We have not been able to find any photos of Custom Cars that Jimmy Summers created during the period we concentrate at in this article, the 1930’s. But according to some he did work on the 1935 So-Calif Plating Co. truck, and possibly the 1936 Ford Coupe with full fade away fenders that was created for Summers Shop employee Bob Fairman, was started in the late 1930′. More on Bob’s 1936 Ford can be seen in this Custom Car Chronicle article on the car. If you have any photos, or know more about other Custom Cars Jimmy Summers worked on in the 1930’s, please let us know. We would like to add that to this article.

Jimmy Summers shop in the mid 1940’s.
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Link Paola

We do not have much information on Link Paola in the 1930’s but we do know that he ran a shop named Link’s Custom Shop which was located on 3451 No. Verdugo Road Glendale 8, California. According an early magazine ad he was specializing in Auto Painting, Welding, Body Work and General Automotive work. Link created the beautiful 1940 Ford Convertible Custom in late 1939. The all new 1940 Ford was introduced in early October 1939 and Link bought the first convertible at the local dealer at the end of September, before the official release date, and went to work on it right away.

The windshield was chopped, and a padded top added. The two part hood made solid and the center strip removed and center peaked. The running boards were removed and a new cover to hide the frame constructed. Bumpers were replaced with ribbed 1937 DeSoto Units (the ribs on the bumpers matched the ribs on the Ford Side trim perfectly) and the stock hubcaps were replaced with aftermarket ripple disk single bar flipper hubcaps. The car was lowered a little, but not as far as we see in the 1940’s. An aftermarket teardrop fender skirt was added and then Link parked the freshly made super slick looking Custom 1940 Ford right across the Ford dealer. making many new Ford Customer rather want to have a car like Link’s instead of the factory Stock 1940 Ford.

These two photos of Link’s stunning 1940 Ford were taken in 1941, when the Custom was already one year old.
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Roy Hagy
Roy Hagy is another pioneer Custom Car builder from the Los Angeles area. It is known that Roy already restyled cars in the 1930, together with Jimmy Summers they were the only two shops in town that were really known about doing the what we now know as Custom Car work. They smoothed body lines of lower end factory cars, chopped top and reworked and replaced grilles. We have not been able to find any of Roy’s Custom Car work done in the 1930’s, the earliest car he worked on is the Earl Bruce 1940 Ford Coupe which was reworked both by Summers and Hagy and hit the road in early 1940.



Sacramento
Even though Los Angeles was known as the hot-bed for Hot Rodding and Customizing in the early days, some other Californian cities also had an important role in the scene. In Sacramento there was Les Crane and Harry Westergard both starting to build Custom vehicles in the later part of the 1930’s Sadly we have not been able to locate any photos of their work from the 1930’s. But the stories of these two already doing their Custom Car magic work during this period are there. Les Crane and Harry Westergard both worked on the Butler Rugard’s 1940 Mercury which was started in 1940, and shows that the Custom Car basics were already down by then, so that shows that they must have already had a few years experience.

From the 1946 published Edgar Almquist Speed and Mileage Manual.
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We know Customizing was done outside California in the early years as well, but locating photos from the other states is even harder than finding them from California. This one was used in an early Motor Trend article. Originally restyled back in 1938 in Nassau, New York, and later updated with an more powerful ’46 Mercury engine.
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This is the end of Part one of the History of the Custom Car. We hope you have enjoyed it. If there is anything you can add to this part , perhaps feel that something important is missing. Or perhaps want to supply input for the next part of this story, then please email Rik Hoving here at the Custom Car Chronicle. if you want to see more samples of Early Style Custom Cars, then use the Early Custom Cars Menu here on the Custom Car Chronicle. This will bring you to a series of articles we already have devoted to the early style Custom Cars.


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Sources and Reference

  • The Old Motor, website
  • Coachbuilt, website
  • The American Custom Car, book by Pat Ganahl
  • Frank Kurtis Article, R&C magazine October 1968
  • Flying V’s, R&C article
  • Motor Life, magazine May 1955
  • Hemmings, website
  • So Cal Speed Shop, book
  • Dean Batchelor, photographer/author
  • Revs Digital Library, Stanford University online photo archive

 

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Ed Sloan 1953 Plymouth

ED SLOAN 1953 PLYMOUTH

Ed Sloan had his 1953 Plymouth Hard-Top Restyled at and unknown body shop. Later after it was reworked with a chopped top at the Barris Kustom Shop, it became a famous Magazine Cover Custom.



Although most people will recognize Ed Sloan‘s beautiful 1953 Plymouth as this unique Barris Restyled Custom, the car was actually mostly restyled by an unknown shop, before the Barris Shop did the final work on the car, and made it famous. The story reminds me a bit on the words Jack Stewart once told me about his 1941 Ford Custom. This car was mostly created at the Ayala shop, but Jack mentioned that George Barris’s fine tune work made the car look fantastic and famous. The same certainly is the case with Ed’s Plymouth as well. Even though a majority of the work was done before the car went to the Barris Shop, everything the Barris shop did, including the chopped top, was the icing on the cake. The details that were needed to make the car look great. Plus, lets not forget, when you brought your car to the Barris Shop, you ended up with a fantastic unique looking Custom, but George Barris also opened the doors to the magazine publishers for you.

Around 1954 Ed Sloan took his near new ’53 Plymouth hard-top to an unknown body shop for some custom restyling. A couple of years ago Mickey Lehman set out to create a clone of Ed’s Plymouth and talked to Ed about the Barris Custom. Ed mentioned that the car was actually mostly restyled by this other shop, of which he could not remember the name anymore, before he took it the the Barris Shop. According an four page feature in the July 1955 issue of Rod & Custom magazine Ed took the car to the Barris Shop as a stock Plymouth, but in fact the car already had been heavily restyled by another unknown shop before it was delivered to the Barris Shop. The other shop had performed all the work as you can see it in the primer photos including the grille. And Ed drove it around for a while as this more milder version, before taking it to the Barris Shop for the final work, including the chopped top.

Stock ’53 Plymouth from the Plymouth brochure similar to the one Ed Sloan took to the Barris Shop.
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The Barris Shop mostly restyled cars based on FoMoCo or GM models which they knew how to tackle, so this ’53 Plymouth must have been a real challenge for them, but they knew they could do it. The suspension on the car had already been modified by the other shop and to get the car lower to the ground the rear was dropped 6 inches, which required the frame to be c-notched for axle clearance, and the front was dropped 3.5 inch resulting in a nice speed boat stance. The stock flathead 6 cylinder engine was left alone. Ed’s Plymouth was for cruising and looking good, not going fast.

Great snapshot shows Ed’s Plymouth in an early road worthy stage with a number of the restyling work already done by the other shop which name Ed cannot remember anymore.
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Custom Restyling

The front of Ed’s Plymouth was heavily modified. The lower front fender sections, which are separate units from the wind-split down on these cars, were molded to the rest of the front fenders. The Grille bar was removed from this section and the parking light hole was filled in, and the ends towards the grille opening was reshaped and molded  into the top of the grille opening surround. The lower grille bar was moved down and molded top the span that had been molded to the front fenders to form a solid smooth unit. All magazine article on Ed’s Plymouth mention that the grille was made up from Ford components and that the horizontal bar was created from two ’53 Ford grille bars. To me it always looked like the main grille bar was just the cut down Plymouth bar which was moved down an few inches. It even has the stock Plymouth center strip still on it. The top bar from the grille was made from the top sections of a ’49 Ford grille bar, with the half circle cut off end the ends welded together. The early photos of the car with the stock height top shows that the main grille bar was left smooth at first. Later when the car was further restyled Barris added 4 ’53 Ford pick up grille teeth to the bar. In the early version of the car the horizontal floating bar was painted lime mist, later it was chrome plated.

The stock headlights were removed and replaced with 1951 Mercury units which were molded to the fenders, these light have a factory stock french of a little less than half an inch, which looked perfect on Ed’s Plymouth. The hood was shaved of all the trim and the factory peak was extended where the badges were remove which gave the car a smooth slick look. The rest of the emblems and handles were now also removed and all holes filled.The early un-chopped version of the car shows that the rear quarter panels had been modified at the front with working scoops added to the lower quarters. It looks like three Mercury spears were added to the front of the quarter panel on this version. Aftermarket lipped fender skirts were used to cover the rear wheel opening. We are not sure if the taillights on this version had already been modified to the Lincoln units.


Enlarged section of the early snapshot gives us a good look of the work already done at this stage. Everything but the chop, the side trim and the final reshaping of the rear quarter scoop seam to have been done already at this point. Notice that the car still had the stainless windshield trim in this photo, after the chop the trim was left off.
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The early primer photos show that the front fender on Ed’s car had already been modified with the guards removed and the bolts welded to the bumper with the heads cut off and the whole unit smoothed before send out for new chrome. The new smooth bumper looked really great on the car. According the February 1958 Car Craft article on Ed’s Plymouth the rear bumper was replaced with an ’54 unit, but I’m not sure about that, as far as I know the ’53 and ’54 units are the same. However the rear bumper was modified, not only where the bolt welded to the bumper with the heads removed for that super smooth look. Also the recess for the license plate was removed and filled in for a smooth look.

The rear fenders were modified with the rear section cut off to accept a set of 1952 Lincoln taillights. A new opening in which the Lincoln light could fit was created with round rod and sheet metal. The new Lincoln lights look amazingly well on the Plymouth rear fenders. The rear splash pan was, just as the one on the front welded to the body and nicely molded in for that desired smooth one piece look. The lower section of the rear quarter panels, below the body wind-split was modified at the front. The front section was cut off to create an working scoop and some shaped metal was added to make the front edge nicely rounded. The early version shows the use of three Mercury teeth, but for the final Barris version the teeth were removed.




Further restyled at the Barris Shop

The Barris crew chopped the top on Ed’s Plymouth. The ’55 R&C article mentioned the top came down 3 inches in the front and 5 inches in the rear. Later the ’58 Car Craft magazine article mentioned the car was chopped 4 and 6 inches. But by examining the photos I think that the R&C article is more accurate, and perhaps the actual chop might have been slightly less than what was mentioned there. After the chop the rear glass could not be made to fit, so a new rear window was made from plexiglass. Not an easy task back in 1954. The rear window on these cars is rather large, and the plexiglass had to be heated to make it fit the shape of the window channel.


Ed’s beautiful finished Plymouth photographed by George Barris at his favorite location “The House” just a few blocks from the Barris Atlantic Blvd. Shop.
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Low angle view at “The House” photo location. The unique Plymouth wind-split body lines really work well on this Custom.
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The Barris Shop also added the 1953 Chevy rear fender trim was flipped from side to side, and slightly reshaped to create the unique trim on the door and rear quarter panel of Ed’s Plymouth. The side trim was located in such a way that it ended just inside the top and bottom of the rear quarter scoop. The aftermarket skirt used in the earlier version looked perfect, so they stayed. Barris also rounded the lower rear corners of the doors and molded in the rocker seams for a smoother look.

The Carson Top Shop was responsible for the upholstery in Ed’s Custom, and they also did a full job on the trunk.
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This photo taken at the Barris Atlantic Blvd shop shows how nice the Carson Top Shop interior looked. the Button Tufted dark green velvet or mohair panels looked very luxurious. Notice hos the front bench side panels had been chrome plated.
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A little closer for a better look at the dash and Carson Top Shop interior.
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The headliner in dark green mohair and tuck&roll panels.
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The wide piping on the outside of the tuck &  roll panels on the headliner were done with special fabric for that wonderful Art-Deco luxurious feel.
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With all the body work done the car was painted at the Barris Shop in a dark green metallic paint on the main body, and lime mist metallic on the top and inside the side trim panel. The lower grille bar was also painted the same lime mist. The car already was outfitted with a set of Appleton Spotlights in the earlier version and the car already rode on wide white wall tires. For this version of the car the Barris Shop modified the Plymouth hubcap centers and added a set of spun brass bullets which were brass plated for the perfect finish.

Close up of the molded front section of the car with the frenched ’51 Mercury headlights and the added bullets to the hubcaps.
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Rear 3/4 angle of Ed’s Plymouth looks so great with the nice lines of the chopped top, and the ’52 Lincoln taillights look like thy belong on the Plymouth. The smoothed rear bumper has Barris exhaust tips added in the lower corner.
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Close up of the rear window that was made from plexiglass. One of the things I would have liked to see on Ed’s Plymouth was some stainless trim around the rear window and windshield. I think that would have made the car look even more classic.
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When it came time for the interior Ed took it the Carson Top Shop who created the perfect classic looking interior for the Plymouth. The material used was Dark green mohair that was button tufted with lime colored buttons and piping and accented with sections of lime green tuck & roll Naugahyde sections. The carpet as dark green offset with lime piping and lime green colored diamond pattern floor mats. The headliner was done in dark green mohair with two lengthwise rows of lime green pleated sections. The Carson Top shop added piping to the headliner with a wonderful pattern in it, for an even more luxurious feel.

From the Ed Sloan personal collection comes this page of a photo album with 1955 photo’s.
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Ed placed the cover on the front bench to keep the seat clean when not at shows.
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The Barris shop finished the job with the installation of the Barris crest, not in the usual front quarter panel location, but mounted on the C-pillar in the dark green section, just below the drip rail. After the door handles had been shaved the Barris team had installed solenoids and electronic door poppers to open the doors. The Barris team installed some small glove box key operated buttons into the new side trim on the doors. This way Ed would need a key to activated the solenoids to open the doors from the outside On the inside a set of push buttons was mounted on the dash to open the doors.  Ed’s Plymouth was named the “Pioneering Plymouth” in the July 1955 issue of Rod & Custom magazine.

With the Barris Shop working on your car you do not only get the finest Custom around, but also much better access to the publications. George Barris got Ed’s Plymouth into several magazine, including in color on the cover of the July 1955 issue of Rod &Custom Magazine and with four pages inside.
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From the R&C cover.
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The color photos of the R&C magazine are not the best reproduction quality, but they are very interesting showing details we had not seen in other photos.
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Detail photos from the R&C article taken by George Barris show the work done on the Lincoln taillights and the ’51 Mercury headlight. Work done by the unknown body shop before the car went to the Barris Shop.
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I have always felt that the grille created for Ed’s Plymouth looked a bit odd, with the top bar, created from the ’49 Ford grille components, not matching the shape of the opening to well. The work was done by the unknown shop. The Barris Shop added the ’53 Ford pu grille teeth to make the odd grille look a bit better. Possibly Ed insisted on using the grille that he already had spend money on.
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Close up of the grille. Notice the lower grille bar that was molded into the front of the car and splash-pan.
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Owner Ed Sloan sitting in his Plymouth and George Barris standing at the Compton Drive In for the R&C photo-shoot.
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Zoomed in, shows the chrome front bench seat cover. I wonder what magazine ed is reading!
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Side view of Ed’s Plymouth. Beautiful lines are accented with the unique ’53 Chevy based side trim and two tone color combination. The extension of the rear fender with the ’52 Lincoln taillights works so well on this car. This side view also shows the caster wheels added just below the rear bumper.
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Ed and George talking details.
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Close up of the reshaped rear quarters with the added working scoop, and how the ’53 Chevy side trim ends inside the scoop opening. The lipped aftermarket skirts work well with the Plymouth wind-split character lines on the front and rear quarters.
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Just as the car is totally unique, so it the location for the famous Barris Crest. On the C-pillar.
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Ed showing the key operated push button the Barris Shop installed in the ’53 Chevy side trim on the doors.
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The later Version

Ed drove the car fore several years, and later, around 1958 decided to update it with a chrome plated grille bar, added bumper guards, and new three bar with bullet and painted center hubcaps. Ed also added new longer “cruiser skirts” type fender skirts, and, as was the trend, a lot of pin-striping. After having started a family with kids the Plymouth turned out to be not so practical anymore. So in 1961 Ed decided it was time to sell the car. Ed sold it to a man named Del-Rio from East LA. According to Ed, the new owner did not take very good car of the car and it started to look really bad the last time Ed saw it. A year later Del-Rio was shot and killed. After that the car pretty much disappears. Bruce Heather remembers seeing the car in Seattle, this was in the early 1960’s and he saw the car late at nigh. He remembers that at the time he saw it, which was the only time he saw it, the plexiglass rear window was missing. Does anybody else from the Seattle area remembers seeing the car in the early 1960’s?

The later version had different or perhaps further modified hubcaps. The hubcaps now have painted centers, and the bullets have three spinner blades added. Also new are the bumper guards front and rear and an overload of gold or yellow pin-striping.
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This photo of the later version shows that better that the bottom grille bar, which was painted lime green first, is now chrome plated. It appears that the new cruiser type fender skirts also have a scoop at the front.
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Very fuzzy photo showing the pin-striping on the front fender above the headlight of Ed’s Plymouth.
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The Compton Drive in was such an amazing photo location, George Barris used it a lot, and every car looked amazing with the entrance of the drive in as backdrop.
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Rear quarter view of the last version shows the new cruiser skirts the best. It also shows new pin-striping over the taillight and on the trunk. Notice the passenger side of the car had curb feelers installed.
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Special thanks to Mickey Lehman and Barry Mazza.




(This article is made possible by)

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1937 Ford Customs

 

1937 FORD CUSTOMS

 

The 1937 Ford, along with the 1938 models were often considered the Ugly Ducklings from the FoMoCo. Yet they still were Customized, and with great success.



The 1937 Fords were introduced on November 6, 1936. Responsible for the designs was not Ford stylist Bob Gregorie, who was busy working on the new Lincoln Zephyr’s but rather the Briggs Manufacturing Company staff. This team worked under the leadership of John Tjaarda. the Briggs crew included Alex Tremulis, Bob Koto, and Phil Wright, all car stylists of considerable stature. Yet they team designed a series of models for the 1937 year that a lot of people consider (together with the ’38 Fords) as the most ugly Fords ever created.

One of the reasons the car was not very much loved for its looks might have been caused by a proportional issue. Henry Ford, personally ordered that the car’s overall length needed to be reduced from 182.75 inches to 179.5. Which might not sound like a lot, but can be seen as the same difference from a Ford to more classy looking Mercury. The shortening from its early concepts was enough to make most of the models look a bit stubby, and not as elegant as the original designs proposals had looked like.

The 1937 Ford came in a large selection of models, and they all looked great.
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Despite the fact that the ’37 Ford was considered not to be very attractive, the cars were still being custom restyled. Mildly restyled, with dress up accessories, or a bit more elaborate with chopped windshields and padded tops on the convertible models. The narrow and pointy grilles and molded in headlights of the ’37 Ford gave the car an sort of instant Custom Looks. So much that these cars did not really need a whole lot to already look more attractive. Lowering the suspension and chopping the windshields perhaps brought back the proportions the original designers had been looking for.

I have been collecting photos of Custom Restyled 1937 Fords for many years. This “Ugly Duckling” has a special place in my heart. In those years collecting photos I have found out that most of the Custom Restyled ’37 Ford were mild Customs, and unlike other year Fords, most were not treated with the full Custom treatments. There are a few exceptions, like the Glen Johnson Coupe, but in general the ’37 Fords were moderately restyled, just because that fits these cars so well. Most were Custom Restyled in the 1940’s and unlike other year Fords very few were treated as Custom Cars in the 1950’s.

In the research for this article I have also come across a lot of photos of old ’37 Fords as race cars back in the 1940’s, a lot of the ’37 Ford ended up being wrecked in races. Probably more so than any other year Fords.



1937 Ford Convertible Customs

Judging the amount of photos of Custom Restyled ’37 Ford’s I have come across I would say that the ’37 Ford Convertibles is the body style that was mostly restyled. Which makes sense since most of the Custom restyling on these cars was done back in the 1940’s, and at the time it was relatively easy and cheap to have your convertible chopped and an padded top build at the same top shop. At least it was much easier and cheaper than a Coupe of sedan. The convertibles were very popular in California, due to the year round great weather. If you moderately lowered the ’37 Ford convertible, added white wall tires, skirts in the back and a low chopped Padded Top with sloping profile I think the end result came close or even better enhanced the original design ideas from the team at FoMoCo.

Earl Bruce standing proud with his beautifully restyled ’37 Ford Convertible. ’41 Ford bumpers, chopped padded top, solid hood sides, early style single bar flipper hubcaps, skirts, wide whites, and a matching suit.
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Snapshot taken during WWII shows two lovely ladies posing with a chopped dark padded topped convertible with single bar ripple disk hubcaps, DeSoto Bumpers, Skirts, Spotlight(s) and chrome plated aftermarket sealed beam headlights.
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Very similar ’37 Convertible as above, with the same Custom Restyling, except this time the car was outfitted with a light colored padded top.
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Halliday family customized 1937 Ford convertible with mildly chopped windshield, padded top, wide white wall tires, single bar flipper hubcaps, single Appleton Spotlights  and 1937 DeSoto bumpers and exteneded headlights.
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This photo was taken in 1940 and shows a chopped ’37 Convertible with smooth hood sides, skirts, dual Appleton Spotlights, lowered suspension and custom hubcaps on wide white wall tires.
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Late 1930’s or early 1940’s photo by Dean Batchelor.
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Edward “Eddie” Littlefield was 23 years old when he owned this chopped, padded topped Ford in 1940. The photo was taken in Bend, Oregon where Edward lived. Ed had purchased the car from Ray Brothers Ford in the Fernando Valley, California at the corner of Van Nuys and Chandler Boulevards. Some accessories that came with the deal included the radio antenna, the OEM Ford spot light that cost $15.75 installed, Fog lights, a Silver finish Radiator shield to keep the heat in in the cool Oregon weather at $1.25, rear fender shields (we call them skirts) at $8.50 a pair, installed, a rear trunk rack at $7.50 and aftermarket wheel discs. Sadly the car was did not live long as a Custom. Eddie and his bud were making one of their L.A. to Bend trips and Ed got tired so his buddy slid behind the wheel while Ed was getting some shut-eye. The unthinkable happened and the driver fell asleep while the car left the road and destroyed itself. Luckily they both escaped alive. (from the www.ahrf.com)
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Dave Riddle shared some photos of his grandfather’s ’37 Chopped padded topped ’37 Ford convertible with smooth hood sides.
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Dave grandfather posing with his Custom Restyled ’37 Ford with 1940 Oldsmobile bumpers.
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Ford called this long topped Convertible the Club Cabriolet. Although most customs are based on the shorter top Convertible Cabriolet, these long topped car look really great with a chopped padded top, as this early 1940’s sample shows.
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1937 Ford mixed with an early Auburn Speedster for the ultimate Boat-Tail Custom.
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Around 1937 France Coachbuilder Howard ‘Dutch’ Darrin moved to Los Angeles and the first car he created in Los Angeles was this beautiful ’37 Ford Roadster base on a Model 78 Deluxe.
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The Sedan convertibles and Phaeton models of the ’37 Ford were also seen a lot as mild and a little wilder Custom Cars. The cars were much more roomy than the ‘convertibles, so they were ideal if you drove around with friends, or even if you had a family. Just like with the regular convertible the chopped windshield and padded top option was the number one choice, judging the vintage photos. If restyled well, with the right proportions, as in lowered suspension, chopped windshield and padded top with nice round rear quarter corners these four door convertible sedans had a certain classic high end look, which was very desirable in the late 30’s early 1940’s. up to the mid 1940’s.

Unidentified ’37 Ford sedan convertible with chopped windshield, removed running boards with modified front fenders, custom made frame filler panel, stainless steel rock shields on the rear fenders, smooth hood-sides, wide whites and ripple disk hubcaps. Most likely a matching padded top was left home before going to the dry lakes where this photo was taken. Interestingly it looks like the car had a single pin-stripe at the beltline, something not commonly seen on early Customs.
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Steve Box took these two photos of a nicely done ’37 Ford Convertible Sedan in California in the late 1940’s. The car did not have a chopped windshield, but was outfitted with a non folding Padded top. It also had teardrop fender skirts (that were slightly to small to cover the ’37 wheel openings., smooth hood sides, ’37 DeSoto bumpers, Appleton Spotlights, smooth hood sides, lowered stance and sealed beam headlights. The taillights appear to be low mounted ’38-39 Ford teardrop units, or perhaps he just mounted complete ’38 Ford rear fenders.
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Very Classic and beautiful Custom Restyled 1937 Ford Phaeton most likely done in the late 1930’s, perhaps early 1940’s. It features a slightly lower stance, chopped windshield, with padded top, custom side trim, possibly from a ’38 Ford. small diameter single bar flipper hubcaps, fender skirts and white wall tires.
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’37 Ford Convertible Sedan owned by a Pasadena Ford dealer’s son photographed in 1940. At first I thought it might have been a later version of the photo above, but the shape of the padded top and the location of the side trim is different. This is a very nice ’37 Ford Custom though. with the chopped padded top, DeSoto bumpers, added  side trim, smooth hood sides and removal of the running boards.
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This ’37 Ford, photographed with 1940 California plates is the same car as the photo above. But this time it has a narrowed stock grille with the sides filled in. Interesting to see the new belt line side trim has been extended compared to the photo above to cover the grille side panels.
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1937 Sedan Convertible with chopped windshield, removed running boards with an Hollywood accessory kit to cover the holes and gaps left by the running boards.
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I came across this photo online many years ago. It was mentioned it was an ’40 Custom with chopped Carson top. Have not seen it since. I hope it got fixed, and hopefully the big and little tires were replaced with regular size tires for a more Custom feel how it most likely looked in the 1940’s.
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1937 Ford Coupes

Unlike the convertible ’37 Fords, most restyled ’37 Coupes remained un-chopped and were restyled only mildly, there are of course a few exceptions to this. I’m not sure why this was, perhaps most owners mildly restyled their ’37 Ford Coupes just to make them less “ugly”. And then obviously would not go all the way.  Previous year Fords were more often chopped and further customized, same goes with later years. I think it really is a shame not more ’37 Ford Coupes went with the full Custom treatment. With a proper chop I think these ’37 Ford could have looks very nice as full custom. Both in the 1940’s as well as in the 1950’s, then perhaps with more restyling going than the decade before.

1937 Ford Coupe transformed to pick up truck for the race track. The fenders were modified with new headlights at the front and extensions at the rear to match the longer bed. Smooth hood sides and and early Cal Custom ’37 Ford accessory hood trim piece. The car was originally Customized in 1938.
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Mildly dressed up ’37 Ford Club Coupe. The club coupe had longer sedan doors and therefor longer cabin and shorter trunk. This one looks nice with the white wall tires and early small diameter single bar flipper hubcaps.
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Regular ’37 Ford Coupe with lowered suspension with a bit more taken out of the rear. My guess is that it normally has a set of fender skirts installed to hide the stock rear hubcaps. On the front is has Custom hubcaps and solid hood sides.
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Regular Coupe with the running boards removed and an Hollywood Aftermarket kit to fill the holes.
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From the Dan Post Blue Book of Custom Restyling comes this unfinished chopped Coupe with the running board removed and the grille cut down till the bottom of the hood sides. The hood sided have been welded to the hood and the top portion, above the grille was filled in with new sheet metal, giving the hood an almost ’39 Ford look. The California License plate is from ’48-’50.
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This photo is from up in the mid 1950’s and showds an restyled, or perhaps better said dressed up ’37 Ford Coupe. Extended headlights with eyebrow rings, ’49 Plymouth bumpers, Running board trim made from ’56 Ford side trim material, custom side trim and a two, or perhaps three tone paint job.
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Glen Johnson 1937 Ford Coupe

One of the wilder Custom Cars based on the ’37 Ford was Glen Johnson’s ’37 Ford Coupe. Glenn was inspired to built the car when his friend Carl Gratz had bought a custom 1936 Ford 5-window coupe that used to belong to Tommy Jamiesson and Bob Campbell, with body work by Howard Fall. Glenn wanted to built something similar and used a 1937 Ford coupe as a base.

Glenn started to work on his car around 1947. He chopped the top 4 inches front and a little more in the back to give it a better flow. The panel between the trunk and rood was stretched to compensate for the now shorter top, and the A-pillars were leaned back a little. The running boards were removed and the body channeled over the frame until the bottom of the body sat level with the bottom of the frame. The front and rear fenders were raised and re positioned to compensate for the body drop and molded to the main body. New hood sides were fabricated to fill the now much smaller openings. Pieces of the original panels were combined with new shaped panels to form a single unit filling in the original top portion of the grille. This unit was later welded to the cowl. At the front Glenn heavily modified a 1947 Cadillac grille to fit the new lines of the car. The stock headlights were replaced with 1940 Ford units and a 1941 Cadillac front bumper was installed. At the rear a split bumper of a 1946 DeSoto was installed 46-48 Ford taillights were mounted on the splash pan just below the DeSoto rear bumper.

When the car was almost finished it caught fire and he lost most of the interior, and perhaps even more important all the lead worked. Glenn moved to Glendale and redid the car while he lived there. Glenn worked on the car from 1947 till 1951 using only primitive tools in his own garage and backyard and eventually finished it in ruby maroon. The car was in several magazines including the Restyle your car booklet from 1952, and the most important on the cover and with a long feature story in Hot Rod magazine of April 1952.

Early stages of the Glenn Johnson ’37 Ford Coupe.
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Glenn Johnson’s ’37 Ford coupe on the left sitting next to the car that inspired Glenn to start his. Glenn’s friend Carl Gratz had bought this early reatyled 1936 Ford 5-window coupe that used to belong to Tommy Jamieson and Bob Campbell. By now Glenn had mostly finished his coupe, which was in primer and awaiting final assembly.
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When Glenn was finished with his Coupe around 1951, the car did not look much like the ’37 Ford he started with anymore. The raised fenders, Cadillac grille, bumper and ’40 Ford headlights had completely transformed the cars looks.
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The car is now completely restored and part of the Joe Bortz Collection.
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Hank Heimbach owns this chopped ’37 Ford Coupe with filled grille surround and Packard Clipper grille, removed running boards and DeSoto bumpers. All the work on it was done the old fashion way Hank mentioned, so it more than likely started out as a Custom in the 1940’s. Sadly there are no old photos to proof it.
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1937 Ford Sedans

From all the 1937 Ford models (with the Woodies left out) the two and four door sedan models are the least often Custom Restyled. I have come across only a handful of snapshots showing the sedan’s Custom Restyled. Even less than cars from previous and later years.


The photo was taken in the later part of the 1930’s and the ’37 Ford sedan was already fully customized. Chopped and turned long roof coupe, smooth hood sides, removed running boards etc. More on this Mystery Custom car be found HERE.
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Late 1940’s photographed mildly restyled (dressed Up) ’37 Ford 4-door sedan with Appleton Spotlight(s), accessory bumper guards and single bar flipper hubcaps. Notice the square mirrors, very popular item for some time.
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A little fuzzy, but I could not resist to share this late 40’s color photo of this mildly restyled ’37 Ford sedan in this article. Wide whites, single bar flipper hubcaps, 48 Ford bumpers, smooth hood-sides, small spotlights, chrome plated sealed beam headlights and a nice dark red paint job. Love the owners outfit as well.
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Carl Kasprzyk used a ’37 Ford Sedan as the base for his Custom Restyled Show Car in the early 1960’s. The car was recently “found”.




Present day created Custom 1937 Fords

The 1937 Ford has gained a bit more popularity of the last few decades, but more as Hot Rod and Street Rod than as Custom Car. When I researched this article and did a google search for ’37 Ford or ’37 Ford Custom, it was chocking to see how few actual Custom Cars showed up in the search. And most that show up are based on modern fiberglass based cars, which have nothing to do with the Custom Cars we talk about here on the Custom Car Chronicle. Fortunately there are a few exceptions. Rick Dore used a ’37 Ford Coupe for a car he build for James Hetfield, and there are a few others that are currently in the works with an more traditional Custom feel. So hopefully more will follow. I think that these ‘s37 Ford Ugly Ducklings” can look very good as a nice period perfect 40’s Custom.

Rick Dore used a ’37 Ford Coupe as  base for his “The Crimson Ghost” Custom version created for James Hetfield. This one has a lot of body work going on including chopped hard-topped roof, reshaped fenders and molded in coke bottle shaped running boards, custom grille and head and taillights.
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I spotted this ’37 Convertible parked outside at the 2013 GNRS. Lowered, chopped windshield with chopped folding top, skirts, white walls with single bar hubcaps, custom side trim and rock shield on the rear fenders. Very much Custom styling, but the missing hood sides and louvred hood give it a somewhat Hot Rodded look.
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This one is actually a Photoshopped image. The car is a nice mildly customized ’37 Ford with wide walls and Sombrero hubcaps, skirts and the right stance, but I digitally added the chopped windshield and top, just to show how nice these cars can look.
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A few more Custom Restyled ’37 Ford snapshots, showing that even though the ’37 might not have been as popular as its predecessor, the ’36 Ford, it was still used as a Custom Base, both mild and wild.
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