1955 Thrifty Parking Lot Show

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55 THRIFTY PARKING LOT

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

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

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

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

One photo in particular stood out to me. A picture taken at a Thrifty Drug store in May 1955 showing the Hirohata Mercury, in it later lime gold paint, Dave Bugarin’s 1951 Mercury and Bob Dofflow’s ’49 Ford. And while drooling over that photo I realized I had seen a few more photos taken at the same location, and now I was able to place them all at one May 5th, 1955 event held at the Thrifty Drug Store at the corner of Vermont Avenue and Hollywood Blvd. in Los Angeles. And, perhaps just as important. The photo caption from the Hot Rod magazine article explained why these car shows were held at the Thrifty Drug Show… and how it was possible that all these high end Custom Cars were at this and the 1954 show.

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This was taken at a show at a Thrifty drug store on May 5, 1955, at the corner of Vermont Avenue and Hollywood Blvd. From right to left we can see, Bob Hirohata’s 1951 Mercury with the new (after the Running Wild movie shoot) lime gold paint job, and door mounted mirror, Dave Bugarin’s 1951 Mercury (both by Barris), next to Dave’s Merc is Bob Dofflow’s ’49 Ford restyled by Bear Customs, and next to that we can see the top and a few other small details of what most likely is the 1948 Mercury of Cliff Rackohn (thanks Anthony White for identifying that one) Behind Bob’s Ford we can see a ’46 Chevy panel truck with roof rack, which was most likely used by Rick Rickman to make the overhead photos.

From the Hot Rod magazine article

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

In 2013, Cannon’s autobiography answered the first two questions: “Since I had some experience organizing car clubs, Wally gave me the position of [NHRA] National Club Advisor. My cousin, Art Crawford, was in marketing … and had Thrifty Drug Stores as a client of his. They were developing new shopping centers all over Southern California, and Art asked me to help promote the grand openings…. So in 1954 and ’55, I organized about a dozen car shows.” As for why at least two were thoroughly photographed on Petersen film but never made print, Chic’s insight leads us to suspect that Rick’s assignment came from NHRA president Wally Parks—not his HRM boss and editor, also named Wally Parks.

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

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

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The Dave Bugarin ’51 Mercury and Bob Dofflow’s ’49 Ford a bit more close up. It must have been an amazing sight to see these high quality, magazine featured and show award winning Customs lined up in the parking lot.

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

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

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

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Show officials checking out the Hirohata Merc.

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The Ayala/Barris Bettancourt Mercury also made an appearance.

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

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Slightly different perspective.

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Mild custom line up on the road side.

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

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Subtle touches on this early 50’s Chevy convertible.

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

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

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

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Awards

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

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

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

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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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Marvin Lee 42 Chevy

 

MARVIN LEE 42 CHEVY

 

Marvin Lee of Pasadena California Restyled his 1942 Chevy Fleetline AeroSedan when the car was brand new in 1942.



1942, the last year the major US Car Companies brought out a new car model. Production stopped around February that year, and it would not be until after WWII, in 1946 before they would start production again, and introduce new cars. Everything a Hot rod and Custom Car guy would need to turn their every day driver into a hopped up or Restyled driver was rationed, all tools, supplies and most man (and woman) were needed for war production.  This however did not stop Marvin Lee, from Pasadena to restyle his brand new 1942 Chevy Fleetline AeroSedan. The 1942 model was most likely produced in late 1941.

1942 Chevy Fleetline AeroSedan from the factory brochure.
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The car is relatively mildly restyled, with its most obvious modification the filled in rear quarter windows, and the removal of most of the car’s chrome. The end result of the car is one of the best know “ration customs” and despite the early year, we can be very fortunate that several photos of the car have survived. Many thanks to Dean Batchelor and Spencer Murray for taking those photos and hanging on to those all these years.

The side profile of Marvin’s Chevy shows the nice lines of the top after filling in the rear quarter windows. And to make it work as good as it does, the drip rails were removed, and the rear top door corner was rounded to follow the shape of the door side window.
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Marvin Lee’s 1942 Chevy was a typical Custom for the WWII period. Created with the limitations of the time. There was rubber shortage, so there were no white wall tires available, chrome plating parts was not an option either.
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The real unique details about the Marvin Lee Chevy is that the car was nearly completely de-chromed. With that it was way ahead of its time. Most Customs from the early 1940’s still had most of their chrome, with perhaps some hood and trunk pieces removed, but on Marvin’s Chevy all the side trim was removed, and even though the door handles remained on the car, they were painted body color to make them less obvious. It does look like the stance of the car was not changed much, perhaps it was lowered a little, but not much. Due to the restrictions the car had black wall tires, possibly the stock units from the factory. And it looks like it was dressed up with some early single bar flipper hubcaps.

We do not know if Marvin did all the body work on the car himself, or if a local Pasadena body shop might have done the work. David Giller mentioned Marvin had worked at Coachbuilding shops in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s as mechanic and painter. Filling in the rear quarter windows, removing the drip rails and rounding the door top corners are not easy tasks. Especially if there where no tools, or supplies available as they used to be. We have heard stories that body shops collected and melted down fishing sinkers to use for body work. Perhaps that was what was used on Marvin’s Chevy as well.

From this rear 3/4  photo we can see how smooth the body was done. The shaved trunk, removal of most of the chrome and flush factory accessory skirts make it look ultra slippery. The car ran on black wall tires, since there were no white wall tires available, or perhaps it was by choice to make the whole effect even more dramatic.
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Dean Batchelor wrote a 3 page article in the May 1953 issue of Rod & Custom magazine about Pre-War Customs, and included 2 pictures of Lee Marvin’s Chevy.
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The only photos we have been able to locate of the car are from around 1942, nobody seems to know what happened to the car after that. Due to the time the car was created, it was never featured in any of the magazine, but the images taken in 1942 were used multiple times in different publications as a sample to show how Custom Cars during WWII looked like.

If any of our readers knows anything more about Marvin Lee’s Chevy, has more photos off it, or knows what happened to it after 1942, please send us an email so that we can add it to this article.



About Marvin Lee

by David Giller

Marvin Lee was a longtime Hot Rodder and had a background in Customs too. I did some research and found he worked at the famous Bohman & Schwartz Coachbuilders (Pasadena) in 1938 as an Auto Painter, and in 1940 at D’Arcy Coachworks in nearby Alhambra as an auto mechanic. I suspect he could have done the custom work on his Chevy himself. He later also ran fast cars at the Dry Lakes and Bonneville Salt Flats. In 1949 at El Mirage dry lake he had the streamliner entry with a Class record at 153.545 mph. Marvin Lee went to Bonneville in 1950 with a new enclosed body streamliner using a Horning GMC six. One of the first full body enclosed cars at Bonneville. Also called The City of Pasadena. That car spun and flipped at 230 mph. Only minor injuries to the driver “Puffy” Puffer because the car was so well constructed. Story is that Lee gave up on streamlined cars after that. I didn’t know until recently that Marvin Lee was one of the founders of The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) along with Wally Parks.

Marvin Lee was later involved with new car dealerships in the Pasadena area. Died in Newport Beach in 1994 at 80 years of age.

Marvin Lee’s 29 Model A, which burnt complete and a color photo of the City of Pasadena in 1950. Marvin Lee is bending over the car with his red and white sweater.
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Left to right are: Bill Spalding, Wayne Horning, Marvin Lee and Tom Spalding. (from Tex Smith’s Hot Rod History Book One by Tom Medley)
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My college roommate, Dave Graham, was from the Pasadena area and in 1956 or 1957 we were over at the Pasadena City College campus on Colorado Boulevard. Adjacent was a Bob’s Big Boy Hamburger restaurant. Dave noted the used car lot next to Bob’s and said it was Marvin Lee’s lot. Lee sold customized cars, all stick shift and well known by the local young car guys. Dave said he was sometimes known by the local car guys as “Starvin Marvin”. This specialty sale lot much the same as the famous Andrews and Evans dealership in Burbank which, oddly enough, was also next door to a Bob’s Big Boy restaurant on San Fernando road. Marvin Lee’s lot was at 1650 E. Colorado, the main street through Pasadena. I have been by there many times over the years.

By my experience, these two specialty dealerships usually had a good inventory of clean later model cars, mostly Ford or Chevy, with various levels of customizing – from just a nice set of Glasspak duals, lowering and chrome Moon wheel covers (no flippers) to some cars with additional quality repaint, pin striping, custom tuck and roll interiors, often other special body work and more. Then there were the occasional full customs by Barris and other shops, maybe earlier show or magazine feature cars plus a couple of finished Hot Rods – Roadsters and Coupes. A real candy store to young guys with some saved first job money to spend. Or just a cool free car show.

Dave Graham had a custom 1950 Mercury while we were roommates and he later decided to live at home in San Marino and drive over to school. He then had a very nice slightly custom 1957 Chevy two door coupe.
I should ask him if he bought it from Marvin Lee or if Marvin ended up with the Custom Mercury.

There were several ads like the one shown in this article in the Pasadena Star News paper from 1956 though 1960. Some advertising about the lot and customizing of the cars for sale and others listing some stick shift cars for sale.
My guess is he established the “Custom Car Lot” about 1954 or so. In 1951 he was a salesman at a Pontiac dealer in Pasadena and also in 1949. By 1963 appears he was at other Pasadena new car dealerships like Cadillac, possibly as the owner or a partner. Have not found any car business information for him after about 1966 but he still lived in Pasadena.

This is an ad ran by Marvin Lee in the Pasadena Star-News Oct 25 -26 1957. Sorry it is hard to read.
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The Phantom Corsair

After doing the research on the Marvin Lee ’42 Chevy and Marvin’s personal History David Giller could not help think about the 1937-38 created Phantom Corsair for the Heinz family. And how, in a way, similar this car looked like Marvin’s Chevy. Here are some thoughts about this from David.

History of the Early Custom Car

An extraordinary special, one off, custom car of the prewar period was the “Phantom Corsair” designed by owner Rust Heinz of the Heinz Foods family. This on a Cord front drive chassis. I saw this car at Harrah’s museum many years ago and I think also on special display at the Pebble Beach Concours about 1990 or so. Spectacular car and design and unlike anything else up to that time. Lots of photos on this car on the internet or perhaps you have some file photos or even an earlier article on it. When I compare the Marvin Lee Chevy custom details to the Phantom Corsair I see real similarities, especially the closed top line and angle, the fitted skirts, lack of body chrome and impact of the black color.

Maybe just wishful coincidence. Except….

The Phantom Corsair was built by Bohman and Schwartz Coachworks in Pasadena in 1937-1938. Marvin Lee was employed at Bohman and Schwartz in 1938, listed as an “Auto Painter”  there in the Pasadena City Directory. So very possibly, or likely, he was the original painter and did metal work on the Phantom Corsair. Did it influence his 1942 Chevy Custom?

Best Regards,

David Giller




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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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De Rosa Golden Piranha

 

GOLDEN PIRANHA

 

De Rosa and Son Customs create an uniquely restyled 1966 Buick Riviera with styling cues from the 50’s and 60’s.



The first time I saw a photo of this Custom was in 1983, when Chrome & Flames magazine had one small photo in an announcement for an upcoming show article. I was a young kid back then just starting to find my way into Custom Cars. I had no idea what I was looking at, I could not figure out if this was an ’50s custom, or modern, all I knew I really liked it. I hoped the magazine would do a full feature on the car in an upcoming issue, but they never did. I had to wait several years before I was able to find out more about this car. When I bought a copy of the Hot Rod magazine Custom Cars from 1983, around 1986. In there was a two page black and white feature on the “Golden Piranha” a 1966 Buick Riviera customized by Frank DeRosa and his son.

CCC-de-rosa-golden-piranha-02-WThis is the first photo I saw of the Golden Piranha… before I knew what is was, or who built it, 1982.
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The team at De Rosa and Son Customs worked nearly two years on the project. They started with a low mileage 1966 Buick Riviera, which was sectioned 5 inches and chopped 4 inched. The top was reshaped to reassemble an typical 1950’s Padded style top for this late 1960’s car. An typical 80’s feature was the sunroof in the padded style top. The front fenders were extended and reshaped with rounded front edges. The hood was peaked with an heavy peak and V-ed at the front to match the 1951 Mercury grille. Another not so obvious restyling on this car, but it works really well. The lower grille opening was reshaped to match the front of the hood and warped under as a roll pan. No bumpers were used on the Buick. Small square headlights were set in hand shaped pods which were covered with a chrome plated wire mesh to sort of match the Mercury grille.

The wheel opening at the front was reshaped and flared, at the back the team hand made a flush fitting skirt to fit the reshaped rear wheel opening. A working air duct to cool the rear brakes was installed in front of the rear wheel opening. At the rear the fenders were extended in a similar way as what was done on the front. The trunk lid was extended and a spare tire cover was created using an old motorcycle fender molded into the trunk. New openings for the taillights were created and filled with left over 1950 Mercury grille sections. The lower pan was rolled under just as was done on the front. The suspension was modified and a set of full hydraulics was installed. This allowed Frank De Rosa to cruise the car low over the pavement and drive at regular height on the freeway.

CCC-de-rosa-golden-piranha-01-WThis photo of the Buick in primer was taken of the shop wall of Franks shop. Not the best quality, but all we could find from the early stages.
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CCC-de-rosa-golden-piranha-03-W1983 Petersens Custom Cars series created by Hot Rod magazine.
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With all the body work complete the car was ready for paint. Frank choose an unique candy apple lime gold for the color. He crushed glass to add sparkle to an under-base and followed with many coats of special mixed candy lime gold. According to Frank there is no silver or gold under-base as most of these type of paint jobs required. But how he did it is still a secret. Frank used the original 1966 Buick side trim as inspiration for the graphics on the side of the car. This was done in a slightly lighter shade of gold and outlines in red and orange striping.

To finish of this 1950’s /1960’s styling combinations the team added white wall tires and restyled a set of four bar hubcaps. Frank enjoyed the car for a couple of years and sold it in the mid 1980’s to Bob Bowen.

CCC-de-rosa-golden-piranha-07-WIn the December 1982 issue of Classic and Custom magazine the Golden Piranha was featured with another De Rosa custom, “The Shark” The two cars were featured in full color on two pages. The photo above and four below come from this article.
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CCC-de-rosa-golden-piranha-11-WA good view at the custom spare tire cover made from a motorcycle fender. Nice to see the taillights glow behind the 1950 Mercury grille teeth.
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CCC-de-rosa-golden-piranha-12-WThe working scoop at the leading edge of the flared rear wheel opening.
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CCC-de-rosa-golden-piranha-08-WThe interior was upholstered in gold colored velour and button-tufted with white buttons and outlined in white beading.
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CCC-de-rosa-golden-piranha-06-WThis great photo was taken by Paul Kelly from Australia. He visited and 1990’s Paso Robles event to find himself amazed by the Golden Piranha.
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CCC-de-rosa-golden-piranha-13-WThe Buick is still around, and in relatively good shape. It used to be part of the Blackie Gejeian collection in Fresno where this photo was taken.
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2018 Update

In the spring of 2018 the Golden Piranha find its way back to the DeRosa Family. Together with Frank’s 1951 Mercury four door Custom the Golden Piranha was delivered at the De Rosa Body Shop in Pittsburg, Ca. For the first time in decades Frank DeRosa was able to see his most favorite Custom Creations in person again.

Frank De Rosa in the center, with son Frank JR and daughter Regina next to him with the Golden Piranha and the ’51 Merc at the DeRosa Body Shop April, 2018.
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Fresh out of the Blackie Gejeian warehouse, ready to be cleaned and detailed.
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FOR SALE In June 2018 the DeRosa family decided that both the ’51 Mercury and the Golden Piranha needed to find a new home, so that the cars could be displayed at car shows and events again, and enjoyed by Custom Car enthusiast. If you are seriously interested in owning this DeRosa Custom Car Icon, a Historic Custom Car, then please Contact the DeRosa family at: 925-439-5115.
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Resources and more info

  • Chrome & Flames, European magazine 1982
  • Classic & Custom, magazine December 1982
  • Hot Rod magazine, Petersens Custom Cars series, 1983
  • Custom Car Photo Archive, De Rosa Customs
  • FOR SALE  Contact the DeRosa family at: 925-439-5115.


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Cliff Rackohn 1948 Mercury

 

RACKOHN 1948 Mercury

 

One of the more elegnat Customs to roll from the Barris Kustom Shop in during its hay days was the 1948 Mercury Restyled for Cliff Rackohn.



Before we start about this beautiful Barris Restyled Mercury I want to mention a few things about the name and the year of the car. In the Barris Kustom Techniques of the 1950’s Volume 2, the name of the owner of this Mercury is spelled Cliff Rockohn and the year of the Mercury is marked at 1947. In the April 1951 issue of Motor Trend Magazine, as well as the Trend book Custom Cars #101, there is a different spelling of the name Cliff Rackohn, in both the small article as well as in the For Sale ad, and the car is labeled as an 1948 model. I will keep the 1951 Motor Trend spelling of the name, as well as the year for the car to be the most accurate.

’48 Mercury Coupe restyled by the Barris brothers for owner Cliff Rackohn from South Los Angeles. This Mercury is one of the late 40’s, perhaps early 1950’s restyled cars at the Barris Shop that had its fair share of publicity, and one that survived on the Custom Car scene longer then most others created during the same period. Yet, the Mercury is not often mentioned in the more recent Custom Car publications.





So far I have not been able to find a date on when Cliff’s Mercury was first created. The first time it was published was in the Motor Trend issue from April in 1951. Meaning that the car had to be finished around two month prior, February ’51. Around this period the Barris Shop was extremely prolific and a lot of cars were created at the shop. Some were very well documents, others, like Cliff’s ’48, was not. A few elements, like all the molded body panels, the bumper guard taillight and most of all the not rounded top corners of the trunk and rear fenders indicate that the car might have been mostly built around 1948-49. After that it was more common to round off sharp corners.

Cliff was a member of the Kustom’s Los Angeles. This frontal photo shows the beautiful peak on the hood extending all the way down to the grille and how extremely well and elegant the ’48 Cadillac grille looked on this Mercury.
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The overall lines, the perfect speed-boat stance and wonderful long hood make this ’48 Mercury one very elegant Customs.
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The Barris shop created many ’41-48 Ford based Customs, but relatively few same year Mercury based Customs. And that while, as Cliff’s car clearly illustrates, the three inch longer front end of the Mercury’s lend themselves to the perfect tail-dragging Custom. the long nose does not only give the impression of having a more powerful motor, but the proportions, especially with a heavy chop, really benefit from the longer front end. How much the top was chopped is hard to tell, like usual the early publications were often far from accurate with their tech info. And numbers were often exaggerated to make the cars looks even more special.

According the Barris Technique book Cliff’s Mercury was chopped 4 inches in the front and 8 inches in the rear. MotorSport magazine and Trend Books Custom Cars #101  mention 6″ and 8″ and Car Craft magazine a full 8 inches. The chop is pretty heavy on the car, but 6 inch removed from the front might seem to be a little to much. But the difference from to more in the back does sound more accurate than the 4 inches difference from the Barris Book.

The chop on Cliff’s is beautifully proportioned, and reminds me a lot about he chop Sam Barris would later perform on Jerry Quesnel’s ’49 Mercury. With its distinctive forward rake on the B- Pillars and super smooth C-Pillars. Clearly an experiment by the Barris brothers who usually kept the B-pillars straight on their chops. The shape of the door frame and roof shape on Cliff’s Mercury remind me of some of the super smooth and flowing padded tops coming out of the Bill Gaylord shop. But just as on the Quesnell Merc, the rear quarter window front corners seem to have some trouble finding the right direction when looked at from certain angles. But I have to say that the forward pillars sure help with the speed-boat look, and make it look going fast, standing still.

Notice the mud-flap below the front fender.
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In 1951 Cliff entered his ’48 Mercury at the Montebello tent show. Together with Jack Stewart’s ’41 Ford, Jesse Lopez. 41 Ford, Nick Matranga 1940 Mercury, Snooky Janish 1941 Ford, Gil Ayala 1942 Ford and a fee more not in this photo the car formed the Custom Section at this unique show.
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Typical for the late 1940\s early 1950’s the Barris Brothers removed the running boards, and the door skin was extended down. The rear quarter panels was treated the same way. All four fenders were welded to the body, and the seam smoothed with lead for that desirable one piece look. The very busy stock Mercury grille was removed and the body panels reshaped for a much cleaner front. A more elegant and more expensive looking ’48 Cadillac grille was chosen to fit the new smoother front ,and it turned out to be the perfect look for the Mercury. The lower section of the front, which is separate on the 46-48 Mercury’s was molded to the new front end along with the splash pan. The front of the hood was extended down into the new section above the Cadillac grille and the Mercury peak on top of the hood was reshaped at the front to end in a point just above the Cadillac grille, making it look like the peak flows into the center vertical grille bar. This all leads to one of the best custom front-end designs created by the Barris Shop.

There was a small feature on the Mercury in the April 1951 issue of Motor Trend Magazine, showing two photos, including one with Cliff posing with the car.
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A closer look at the Motor Trend 1951 photos. A well dressed Cliff posing with his fantastic looking ’48 Mercury.
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And taken at the same location this nice higher point of view 3/4 look at the Mercury. Very nice angle photo showing the car in all its beauty.
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The headlight rings were molded into the front fenders for a smooth look and the headlights very slightly recessed. The door handles and all emblems were shaved and the side trim shortened on the hood, which was a typical Barris Trademark. At the back the splash-pan was molded to the body, just as on the front, and the taillights plus fender trim was shaved and all holes filled. The bumpers remained the stock units front and rear. But at the rear the Barris crew modified the bumper guards to accept some hand made laminated Lucite taillights. The finishing touch was a set of long 1941 FoMoCo fender skirts, a set of Appleton Spotlights, Cadillac Sombrero hubcaps on wide wall tires (6.00:16 ).

The information from the interior comes from the Motorsports magazine. The front seat was pirated from an 1942 Chevy, allowing to be seated 3 inches lower than stock, which was very welcome with the much lower top. The interior was upholstered in tan cowhide pleated and rolled. The headliner was done in grey imported English wool, and the floormat was made of deeply-piled green rug, which matched the lacquer dash trim. Which makes me wonder if the original color of the Mercury was perhaps green when Cliff Rackohn original owned it?

The car was offered for sale in the same April 1951 issue of Motor Trend magazine. The $6000 invested in the car to built is was a lot of money back then. Notice the spelling of the name Cliff Rackohn. Perhaps Cliff had signed up to go to the War in korea… like so many other guys in the Kustoms Los Angeles Club. Hopefully one day we will know.
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New owner in 1952

In the January 1952 issue of Motorsport magazine There was a two page + feature on the Mercury. According the article the car was then owned by Dave Clickman of Southern California. According the article the the car was chopped 6″ in the front and 8″ in the rear with new sheet metal added from the top of the trunk to the bottom of the rear window, creating a smooth transition. The frame was z-ed in the back and the front was dropped with a 2.5 inch dropped front end. The article also mentioned that the hood was chopped 5 inches, which would technically be a section job, but that is clearly not the car on this Mercury. And that all body panels are molded together and leaded to form one smooth body. It also mentioned that the skirts used once belonged to a ’48 Buick, another false “fact” since the skirts are ’41 Ford Mercury units.

The article mentioned that the car was painted 25 coats of Arctic Blue lacquer by Gram Brothers of West Los Angeles. The engine was rebuild by Ray Brown, a famous Hot Rodder. The Cylinders were bored to 3 5-16″ and a 1950 Mercury crankshaft of 4″ stroke was employed. The 275 Cubic Inch engine utilizes Jahns 3=ring racing pistons with high domes.  It had Edelbrock heads two carb intake with two 48 Stromberg carburetors.

January 1952 issue of Motorsport magazine. Scans provided by Jamie Barter.
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Beautiful rear 3/4 view from a higher point of view shows how gorgeous this Mercury was. From this angle the top works the best. The sharp top corners of the trunk might indicate that the majority of the work was already done on the car around 1948-49.
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The interior was done by Bill Gaylord in a tan colored leather, green carpets.
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This photo shows that by the time Dave Glickman owned the car the rear has been raised a few inches.
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This photo shows the bumper guard mounted taillights a bit better.
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When Dave Cickman owned the car the car ran 3T 609 1951 California plates.
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Dave drove the Ray Brown rebuilt flathead engine to a best time of 87.70. Not bad for a heavy leadsled.
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Third owner

In the August 1955 issue of Car Craft Magazine the Mercury was featured again. This time the car was even more on a forward rake, and the fender skirts have been removed. The owner by then was listed as John Logg of Hollywood, and the Mercury described as a 1947 year model. By now the car was dark maroon, and there is some color movie footage of the car at the 1957 Coachman Car Club high-Shool car show. After this we have not been able to find info on the car. Where it went, or what ever happened to it. If you know more, please let us know.

The Mercury was owned by John Logg when it was featured in the August 1955 issue of Car Craft Magazine. By then the rear had been raised, and the fender skirts removed for a completely new look.
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John Logg was a member of the “Streaking Deacons” and used their club tag on the front bumper.
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Screen shot of a color 8mm movie made at the Coachman Car Club Motorcade Car show in 1957. The footage was filmed by Bob Stephenson who was Coachman Club member, and it is so far the only color images we have of the car. By then it was painted a dark maroon.
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This was a slowly moving from left to right shot so thee screen shot was rather blurry. But still very interesting to see that the car was shown with its hood up, showing off the Ray Brown Flathead engine.
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So far this has been the last photo I have been able to find on the Rackohn Mercury. The car looks still very much like the original version, only it has a different stance, and by now the Sombrero hubcaps have been replaced by some more modern hubcaps 9possibly Olds Fiesta hubcapa. This photo was used in the Trend Book #143 Restyle your car published in 1957.
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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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Golden Sahara Hubcaps

 

GOLDEN SAHARA HUBCAPS

 

Jim Street’s Golden Sahara had several sets of unequally styled hubcaps. From stylish on the first version, to space age filled with electronics on the final version.


Golden Sahara I

In our series of articles on Jim Street‘s (Skonzakes) Golden Sahara I and II we want to highlight the Custom Hubcaps created for the Golden Sahara over the years. When Jim, his friend who made the actually sketch for it and George Barris designed the Golden Sahara around 1954 they knew they were doing something special. The car was a wonderful combination between traditional Custom Car and a Factory Futuristic design study. Every aspect on the original version of the Golden Sahara was well thought out, clever use of exciting car part use, in a traditional Customizing way, and creation of many hand made off of sections. The Hubcaps, which are often a focus point on a Custom, had to be something special as well.

Golden Sahara I hubcaps

On the original version of the Golden Sahara Jim picked a then brand new design Aftermarket hubcap that was sold by the Chicago based Lyon Inc. The hubcap was beautiful cone shaped, wit small fins all around the protruding cone shape, very much like a fine pressed lady dress. The top of the cone was flattened and decorated with a crest, several different crest options were available. But Jim was not interested in the crest, since he had plans to ad a large bullet to the center, to match the bullets used on the front of the car. The whole hubcaps was rather simple, but had the just right feeling for the car, the combination of the small fins and the large bullet made it look very futuristic, matching the rest of the car perfectly. The whole unit was cold color plated.

Shortly after the Golden Sahara was finished with Jim Skonzakes behind the steering wheel, George Barris standing next to the car, with Bill DeCarr to the right of George. Bill DeCarr was responsible some of the work on the Golden Sahara. The picture was taken at the Ford plant in Pico Rivera, CA where Bill worked a day-job at the time.
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Gold color plated details made the Golden Sahara a truly unique Custom Car, especially for the time it was created. The large bullets used on the Lyon hubcaps stick outside the body creating a unique, never before sight.
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Ina Mae Overman took some beautiful color slides during the mid 1950’s. She took two nice slides of the Golden Sahara at the 1954 Petersen Motorrama Show held in the Pan Pacific Auditorium in November 1954. Thanks to her photos we can see that the gold colored hubcaps were mounted on Firestone brand white wall tires on the first version of the Golden Sahara.
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In several of the promotional photos, created around 1960, that was made to show of the glowing Good-Year Tires one of the tires was shown with the same hubcap Jim had used on the Golden Sahara back in 1954.
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The Lyon hubcap similar to the one Jim Skonzakes and the Barris team started with for the early version Golden Sahara Hubcaps.
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This photo shows that several center crest options were available, but were of no use for Jim, since he would cover them with a large bullet.
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The Lyon hubcap with an added Bullet very similar to what Jim and the Barris Team created in 1954.
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Golden Sahara II

In 1957 Jim decided to do a complete makeover on the Golden Sahara and create the Golden Sahara II. Major body reconstruction, new hand made windows, new double fins on the rear, and scooped completely restyled front fenders and many other refinements on the design. And the most important part the addition of many state of the art, specially developed for the Golden Sahara, electronic gadgets. Totally unique in the world new features that would shock the car loving enthusiast for many years to come. The work on the Golden Sahara II was done at the Delphos Machine & Tool Ahop in Dayton, Ohio with a team put together by Jim of special craftsman including Joe Rote, responsible for the electronics, Bud West for the paint and Henry Meyer, the engineer behind many of the new developed techniques. Some of the body work, including the double finned rear fenders was done by metal master Bob Metz in Indiana.


Golden Sahara II First version hubcaps

When the Golden Sahara II was first finished the car had the original hubcaps that were created back in 1954. Based on the Lyon hubcap with the large diameter bullet added. But some changed were made to the hubcaps to fit with the theme of the car. The end of the bullets have been removed and nicely finished. Inside the bullets special sonic units had been installed with small antennas sticking out. These sonic units send out a signal when the car came to close to the curb. And electronic curb feeler. The early version of the Golden Sahara II rode on regular white wall tires.

The early version of the Golden Sahara II used the same Lyon based hubcaps with the addition of the sonic curb feelers in the bullet ends.
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Close up of the early version hubcaps on the Golden Sahara II photographed around 1960s at the Larry Watson Artesia Blvd. shop showing the antenna for the electronic curb feelers.
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Sometimes later Jim created some unique new white wall tires with chrome plated pins and a stainless steel center on the thread of the tire. The hubcaps stayed the same.
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Close up shows the pins and the stainless band a little better. We will get back to this in an later article.
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Golden Sahara II Second version hubcaps

For the last and ultimate version of the Golden Sahara Jim added some very special “glass” Good-Year tires to the Golden Sahara II and created some very intricate finned hubcaps with translucent hubs. The unique thing about the tires which were made from translucent synthetic rubber that was toned using special dies allowed light to pass through. Jim and Henry Meyer developed a unique wheel with small light bulbs that would make the tires look like they were glowing. You can read more on the Glowing tires on the Golden Sahara in this CCC-Article.


Illuminated gold colored “glass” Good-Year tires and the illuminated turn signals in the hub.
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The hubcaps on this last version of the Golden Sahara II were totally unique and beautifully hand made by Bob Metz at his El Rancho body shop in Shelbyville, Indiana and Henry Meyer at the Delphos Machine & Tool Shop. Each fin blade was hand cut and assembled on a special machined hub. The total width of the finned section was wider than the actual wheel, covering part of the tire, making it look like the Golden Sahara used a much larger wheel size. As mentioned the wheels were modified with light bulp’s that illuminated the translucent tires. The center of the hubcap was machined from Lucite and frost finished. At the end a new sonic curb feeler was added and inside the translucent center hub another  light bulb was added, this could be used as turn signal. With the gold illuminated tires and white turn signals in the hub the look must have been totally out of space at the time… well actually it still is.

The special Good-Year “glass” tires looked very special when they were lite at night, but during the day they looked a little odd, like somebody had painted regular tired with gold pearl. Still the whole combination worked, and no mater where Jim showed the Golden Sahara II, the unique tires and hubcaps were a huge success.
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Close up of the lite Good-Year tires, the finned hubcaps and the frosted Lucite center hub acting as turn-signal.
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More closer to have a good look at the hand made fins on the hubcap, and the sonic curb feelers. Jim told me that with the hand made blades and everything needed to make it all work these hubcaps were very heavy. The hubcaps were made by Bob Metz and Henry Meyer.
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Illuminated at night, with long shutter time moving tires.
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Close up during the day showing the turbine like look of the special designed and hand made hubcaps and machined Lucite center hub. The photo also shows that the “glass” tires have a much different look than any other tire.
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Turn signals inside the hub.
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Illustration done for a sign to promote the special illuminating Good-Year Tires. The illustration was obviously based on one of the color photos shown above.
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When the Golden Sahara II was uncovered on March 13th, 2018 the finned center section of the hubcaps had been taken off before the photos were taken. The “glass” tired had disintegrate and some new tires had to been put on the car, before it could be moved. And since the fins on the hubcap were larger than the wheel and to prevent damage, they were carefully removed.

Because the finned center section had been removed we can now have an unique look at what is under the finned section. Everything all hand made and machined by Delphos Machine & Tool Shop employees instructed by Jim Skonzakes and Henry Meyer.
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When the Golden Sahara was revealed to the public on May 14, 2018 at the Mecum Auction in Indianapolis the Bob Metz created finned hubcaps were mounted on the car again.
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Golden Sahara II Pearl Paint

 

GOLDEN SAHARA II PEARL PAINT

 

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



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

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

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

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





Pearl Necklace

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

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





The Mearl Corporation

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

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



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

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

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

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About Russ George
By Russ George Jr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

GILS AUTO BUTCHERS

 

One of the most recognizable original Custom Car Club was, and is the Auto Butchers of East Los Angeles. Original founded by Gil Ayala in the later part of the 1940s.


In the mid 1940’s into the early 1950’s there were a couple of Custom Car clubs in the US that left a mark more than any other car clubs from that era. They left a mark, were recognized then, and still are today, because the members and their cars made it into the magazine, were winners of big awards at the first couple of Annual Car Shows, or perhaps. Because these cars survived, and are shown today with the car show plaques proudly displayed.

Two of these clubs were formed by the then leading Custom Car Shops, The Barris Kustom Shop, and Gil Ayala’s Auto Body Works. George Barris started Kustoms Los Angeles (original Kustoms Sacramento) for guys who had their cars restyled at the Barris Shop. The Kustoms Los Angeles club eventually grew out into the Kustoms Of America Car Club which we covered in this CCC-Article. Gil Ayala formed his Car Club, Gil’s Auto Butchers for the car owners that had their cars restyled by the Ayala shop. This article is about the early years of the Gil’s Auto Butchers Car Club. Today, 2018, the Auto Butchers ELA Car Club is still an active club.





Over the years I have been collecting all the info I could find about the Gil’s Auto Butchers, Auto Butchers and Auto Butchers E. LA car club. These are the three names this club went by, for as far as I have been able to find out. Info it rather rare, I talked to Jack Stewart, who was a member for a while, and a few other people who were there in the early 1950’s, but nobody could tell me much about the club. They all mentioned the brass cleaver plaque and how they proudly polished it for every weekend, and the “monster” shirts and jackets the owners used to wear.


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Bob Selva mentioned this about the Auto Butchers.

“They were from all around East Los Angeles & Montebello, Whittier, Ca. They used to hang out at a Drive in called the Hula Hut in Whittier Ca. A guy named “Booter”, who was later shot to death, was the one who drew the picture for the Auto Butchers plaque and the Butcher moster picture. They would also all hang at Gil’s Body shop. I don’t know how in the HELL the Ayala’s ever got any work done lol.”

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Gil Ayala Auto Butchers Autobutchers Gil's Auto Body WorksSo far this is the only photo I have come across of an Auto Butchers Jacket. And by the looks of it it was hand painted. If you look careful you can read that is says Gil’s Auto Butchers, and it has an simplified or early version of the monster head that would be used later. The photo is from the John Mackey Collection. According to John the guy in the photo is Auto Butchers member Bernie Mackey wearing the Gil’s Auto Butchers jacket. The photo was taken in the mid to late 1940’s, but no exact date is known.
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Gil Ayala Auto Butchers Autobutchers Gil's Auto Body WorksClose up showing the Gil’s Auto Butchers letters on Bernie Mackey jacket.
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Gil Ayala Auto Butchers Autobutchers Gil's Auto Body WorksThe photo from the John Mackey Collection shows this model A lake Roadster with a huge hand painted Auto Butchers with monster head painted on the trunk. Sadly we do not have any details on the owner.
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From George Barris’s Kustoms Los Angeles club we know the made many trips to special places, car shows, but also weekends and vacations away from the city, or to Balboa Beach for Easter. But so far I have not been able to find out anything like this for the Auto Butchers club members. From what I have heard is that they did travel to shows together, and as Bob Selva mentioned they hung out at the Hula Hut Drive in.

There are plenty of photos of famous and not so famous cars that had the Auto Butchers plaque mounted on the front bumper, or hanging from the rear bumper. These photos showed that these owners were proud members of the Auto Butchers club and liked to show that their cars were created by the Ayala’s.


Close up of the Auto Butcher Monster face painted on the pillar at Gil’s Auto Body Works Shop at 4074 Olympic Boulevard in East Los Angeles. A guy named “Booter”  did the design on the Auto Butchers plaque, and also the designed and painted of the Butcher Monster head on the wall.
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A better look at how the Auto Butcher Monster head was situated on the shop wall.
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I have studied all the photos I have been able to find and from that I think that Gil Ayala started a club which he named Gil’s Auto Butchers. This was toward the end of the 1940’s. A guy named “Booter” created the design for the butcher cleaver with the Auto Butchers ELA text on it. These plaques were unequally shaped and were very recognizable. Gil also decided to have them cast in brass, or bronze. The cold color would nicely contrast with the chrome on the car and the deep colors he love to paint his creations with.

At this time “Booter” also created a logo of a guys head, the Butcher, monster style. This became part of the club logo, and can be seen used on possibly the first “Monster Shirts” as well on leather jackets, and also on the trunk of at least one lake Roadster. This Monster head was also painted on the outside of one of the buildings at Gil’s Work Shop. Gil’s Shop served as club headquarters.

The Auto Butchers plaque came in several versions with the text Butchers, Auto Butchers, Auto Butchers ELA, and Auto Butchers E.LA Why there are so many versions of this plaque remains a mystery so far. You would say that once a pattern for a plaque is created, that is what will be used for each new club members. But not so with the Auto Butchers ELA club.



Gil’s Auto Butchers Shirts.

In the late 1940’s, 1950’s belonging to a car club was a big thing. These car clubs had been around for a few year, and they played a big part in the growth of the Custom Car and Hot Rod scene. This was basically the era before the car magazines, and getting information about style and technique was still hard to get. Relying on your club members for this was very important, the club members each had their own skills and helped out each other with projects. Together they went on trips, to car shows, and the weekend dance to pick up girls. The club plaque was one way to identify you and your car as a club member, other ways were special embroidered club jacket and T-Shirts.

The car club T-Shirts in the early days, late 40’s and very early 1950’s are rare, or at least they do not appear much on the old photos. But in the late 1940’s early 1950’s Gil Ayala set out to create some shirt for the Gil’s Auto Butchers Club. This would certainly set apart his club from all the others, since the club shirts he created did not just have the club name on it, like on most club plaques, it also had a very wild illustration on the Auto Butcher Monster Head. These might be the very first Monster or “weirdo” Shirts in the automotive field ever done.

Photo taken around 1950-51 shows that by then they also had Gil’s Auto Butchers Monster shirts created. Looks like the image was used both on the front and rear of the shirt. Al Ayala is seen working on the cowl vent of his brothers 1940 Mercury.
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Another photo taken at the dry lakes with Gil’s 1940 Mercury and an unidentified guy with the Gil’s Auto Butchers T-Shirt.
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Close up of the shirt. show that the Gil’s and Auto letters are very thin, and a bit hard to read. It looks like there are a butchers cleaver and a torch in a cross below the monster head. I have only see these shirts done in white with black, or a very dark color print.
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Gil Ayala Auto Butchers Autobutchers Gil's Auto Body WorksThis photo of Gil’s 1940  Mercury with full fade away fenders was taken around 1951. Possibly the car was then already owned by Richard J. Stickley, the distinctive cleaver plaque was mounted on the front bumper. These are very few photos of Gil’s ’40 Mercury showing an Auto Butchers plaque.
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Gil Ayala Auto Butchers Autobutchers Gil's Auto Body WorksClose up shows that the letters of the “Butchers” part of the plaque look to be different from anything else we have seen. Looks like it is done in all capital letter. However, perhaps its just the lighting or reproduction quality.
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Wally Welch had the Ayala’s restyled his 1941 Ford Convertible twice. This photo from 1950 shows the car in the last version. Wally was a Auto Butchers member, and had the brass plaque mounted on the rear fender below the license plate.
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Close up of the 1950 photo shows that this version of the Auto Butchers ELA plaque had three holes, or indents in the handle part of the cleaver, as well as a large hole  on the top let corner.
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This photo taken around 1951 shows the Wally Welch Ford with a new plaque mounted below the bumper.
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A closer look at the 1951 Wally Welch Ford photo shows that the new, most likely polished brass plaque only has the word “Butchers” on it. The Auto and ELA are not on it.
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The Ayala’s restyled Don Holland’s 1941 Ford in a similar way as they did Wally Welch his car. Don’s Ford used ’49 Plymouth bumper and the Auto Butchers ELA plaque was hanging from that.
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Gil Ayala Auto Butchers Autobutchers Gil's Auto Body WorksAl Carcia’s 1948 Ford Convertible was partly restyled at the Ayalas and Al mounted the Auto Butchers ELA plaque on the 1949 Plymouth front bumper.
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Wally Welch’s next full custom was an 1950 Mercury. Responsible for the beautiful restyling were the Ayala’s. Gil Ayala painted the car lime gold, and it can be seen here at the 1951 Petersen Motorama show. It looks like the Auto butchers plaque was added just for the show, and tied down using some cord, or wire.
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Wally and the Ayala’s were awarded with the Best Customs Award at the 1951 Motorama show for the stunning 1950 Mercury. For the occasion Gil Ayala had put on a suit and can be seen in this picture with his well known big smile, proudly showing the ’50 Mercury his shop had created. The winning award was held by an unidentified Auto Butchers member wearing an Auto Butchers jacket.
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Gil Ayala Auto Butchers Autobutchers Gil's Auto Body WorksJohnny Rosier had his 1953 Mercury restyled at the Ayala’s and was a member of the Auto Butchers.
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Not the best photo quality, but I wanted to include these here anyway. It shows that to become an Auto Butchers member you did not had to have a full Hot rod or Customs. This 1939 Pontiac with some minor custom work done to it, has the Auto Butchers ELA plaque hanging from the rear bumper. From the Jon Mackey Collection.
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Memo Ortega Memories

“I remember that when I owned Gil’s 1942-46 Ford, the Auto Butchers plaque was under the front seat. When I redid and had it all nice and finished the car I took the Auto Butchers tag and hung it from the rear bumper. It was my tribute to my friend Gil Ayala. After a while somebody ripped it off when I had parked the car somewhere.  I found the chains hanging with nothing attached when I returned to the Ford. Haha I thought that was something to mention, somebody wanted it more than i did i guess.”

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Hot Rods

The Ayala’s were best known for there work on Custom Cars, being it full blown Custom Restyling, or just more simple stuff, like lowering, shaving, ore even just a new paint job. But they also did a fair share of work on Hot Rods. And the owners of these Ayala created Hot Rods could also become a member of the Auto Butchers. We have found two samples, and heard there were more, but so far have not been able to find any photos to share here.

Gil Ayala Auto Butchers Autobutchers Gil's Auto Body WorksEddie Dye’s beautiful Roadster was restyled at the Ayala’s with beautiful body work and styling. The track style nose, hood and belly pan had been created by Whitey Clayton, but the rest is all Ayala’s, including a beautiful maroon/purple paint job. Eddie Dye was a Auto Butchers ELA club member and proudly mounted the brass plaque on the rear, just below the trunk centered between the Pontiac taillights. The car was beautifully restored in 2017-18.
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A polished original brass Auto Butchers ELA plaque is mounted back on the restored Eddie Dye Roadster that was finished just in time to be entered at the 2018 GNRS in Pomona.
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Gil Ayala Auto Butchers Autobutchers Gil's Auto Body WorksThis nicely chopped ’32 Ford Coupe appeared in the early 1950’s “Cool Hot Rod” movie and had an Auto Butchers ELA plaque on the rear spreader bar. The plaque looks to be silver colored, most likely polished aluminum with red detail paint. This coupe, which was probably chopped by the Ayala’s, was recently found and will be restored to how it appeared in this picture. (thanks to Jamie Barter)
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Hula Hut Hang out

The members of the Auto Butchers hung out a lot at Gil’s Auto Body Works on 4074 Olympic Boulevard in East Los Angeles, gathering at night and on Saturdays. Perhaps doing some maintenance on their cars and get it ready for a car show in the weekend. But they also hung out a lot at the Hula Hut Drive in on 9314 E. Whittier Blvd. This was a place very popular among other Hot Rodder’s and Custom Cars guys as well. I remember Jesse Lopez tell us about this place, and how he hung out there with his friends as well. The Hula Hut was around 7 miles from Gil’s shop.


The Whittier, Ca. Hula Hut Drive-In was the favorite hangout place for the Auto Butchers members. The Auto Butchers members would meet here at the Drive-In, or at Gil’s shop and then drive the 7 miles to the Hula Hut to hang out.
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Hula Hut menu and matches.
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Gil Ayala Auto Butchers Autobutchers Gil's Auto Body Works

Auto Butcher Cleaver Plaque


Gil Ayala Auto Butchers Autobutchers Gil's Auto Body WorksAs far as I know this is on original unpolished Auto Butchers ELA bronze/brass plaque.
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These are the variations I have been able to find of the Club plaques.  A) Cleaver with Auto Butchers ELA text and three holes in the handle, this one was used on the Wally Welch 1951 Ford in 1950.  B) cleaver with just Butchers on it, this one was used by Wally Welch on his 1941 Ford in 1951.  C) Not sure if this one actually says Auto Butchers, but it was used on Gil’s 1940 Mercury around 1950. If it says Butchers, then it looks like all the letter were caps.  D) Brass cleaver with Auto Butchers ELA with the ELA in a serif typeface, there are cross marks on the handle.  E) similar as D, only detail painted.  F) Auto Butchers E. LA with a dot between the “E” and “LA” (in a serif typeface) and a smooth handle cast in brass.  G) same as F, only cast in aluminum.   H) Auto Butchers ELA with the ELA in a sanse font, cast in aluminum, and detail painted. A, B, C are original items photographed in the 1950’s, the others might be old or new casting.
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Auto Butchers Members

  • Al Ayala
  • Bernie Mackey Ford Model A
  • Eddie Dye Model A Track Nose Roadster
  • Unknow 1932 Ford Chopped Coupe
  • Unknown 1939 Pontiac
  • Gil Ayala 1940 Mercury
  • Don Holland 1941 Ford Convertible
  • Wally Welch 1941 Ford
  • Jack Stewart 1941 Ford
  • Gil Ayala 1942 Ford, GMC Shop Truck
  • Hank Griffith 1942 Ford Coupe
  • Al Garcia 1948 Ford
  • Wally Welch 1949 Mercury
  • Johnny Rosier 1953 Mercury
  • Gil Ayala 1955 Ford Thunderbird

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The Auto Butchers ELA club is still around today, and people still put the brass, highly polished Auto Butchers ELA cleaver tag on their car. They still wear their embroidered club jackets and new Weirdo shirt and cruise together to local car shows. The Auto Butchers plaque are together with the Kustom Los Angles highly sought after items. But since there were so many variations of the Auto Butchers plaques in the early years, it is very hard to find out what is an original and what is a newly cast unit.

There are still a lot of mystery’s around the early years of the Auto Butchers ELA Car Club. Basically there is very little we know about it. Simply because it was never documented well. Nobody thought, back then, that this would one day become historical important information. Nobody most likely thought about saving those original club shirts, or jackets. I hope that this article on the Custom Car Chronicle about the history of the Auto Butchers ELA will bring back some memories. And hopefully some more stories, or photos, or other information will come from it. If you know more about the early years of the Auto Butchers ELA Car Club, or know of any other cars.owners that belonged to this club, please email Rik here at the Custom Car Chronicle. We would love to share your stories, or info to make this as complete as we can.

Special thanks to Memo Ortega, Jack Stewart and Bob Selva.







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