Bob Aguilera 53 Mercury

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Plain, simple, tastefully done. That would be the best description of my favorite 1953 Mercury restyle. The Bob Aguilera 1953 Mercury.

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The Art of Restraint-
Aguilera’s 1953 Mercury

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Plain, simple, tastefully done. That would be the best description of my favorite 1953 Mercury restyle. Plain and simple not in the sense of uninteresting, unattractive, or common… No, it is in the sense of free from distraction or complication, neither pretentious nor affected. In other words, tasteful.

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Rod & Custom December 1954 issue showed Bob Aquilera’s 1953 Mercury as part of the Reader’s Car of the Month on a two-page spread.

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This ’53 Mercury Monterey two-door hardtop appeared as a two-page spread featured as “Reader’s Car of the Month” in the December 1954 issue of Rod & Custom. The owner is listed as Bob Aguilera of San Bernardino, California. I have little information on Bob. I do believe he was a member of a fairly well known San Bernardino custom car club that featured more than a few 1952-54 Mercurys.

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1953 Mercury Brochure.

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The restyling work was performed by Dick Richardson of the same name custom shop located at Arrowhead Av and Mill St, also in San Bernardino. Although I’ve been told by a few custom guys in the S.B. area that were there, that the shop was actually owned by a guy named Al Andratti, who was the custom body man, Richardson being the very talented paint man.

The bill of particulars includes complete smoothing of hood, deck and doors, doors and trunk are of course solenoid operated. Hood scoop dechromed and altered so that it appeared to actually flow air (contrary to the R&C article, it did not). The same treatment was given to the rear fender scoops. Of course the Mercury was lowered a practical amount, 6 inches all around, with just a tiny bit more at the rear for that just right profile.

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The R&C piece sums it up beautifully, “Good taste in automotive design cannot be purchased so therefore it is priceless”.

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The ’53 grille (in my opinion the best of the ’52-’54 models) was left as is with just the small trim bars being eschewed. The hubcaps are stock. Rear bumper guards shaved. Dual exhaust with twin chrome tips exit just under the bottom edge of the bumper, although in one rear shot in the R&C feature the pipes have been artistically lengthened. Stock headlight rings sealed and blended.

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This photo, and the other three-quarter view of the front, were both taken in July 1954. These two photos were offered on Ebay a couple years ago. I think there were others in the same auction, showing club members and additional cars.

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Aftermarket flared skirts reworked and fitted to conform and blend into lower part of fender scoop area, as well as the rocker panel from the trailing edge of the stainless rocker trim. To finish this area off, three chrome windsplits are incorporated into the intake of the scoops, with small matching body color peaks formed just aft of the openings, very subtle.

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Close up shows the subtle and very well designed work that was done on the rear quarter scoops, the shortened stainless teeth, small added spears blending into the teeth, and extended down, lipped and reshaped flush fender skirts.

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And finally the wonderful use and application of the 1954 Packard Clipper model taillights. Here they are used with the stock Clipper housing, and are very nicely fitted and conform beautifully to the slightly extended fender line and curved trailing edge as it falls into the bumper. The open horizontal chrome edge of the Packard housings are again, subtly blended into small spears or fillets that finish off the taillight to fender transition with grace.

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1954 Packard Clipper taillights with stock housings are beautifully blended into the reshaped Mercury rear fenders. The small body colored spear at the leading edge of the taillights is similarly shaped as what was done on the quarter panel scoop teeth.

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Side profile from the R&C article shows the beautiful stance, slightly lower in the rear.

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This may have been one of the earliest examples of the utilization of the ’54 Clipper taillights. When this Mercury was restyled that taillight was only about five months old. Others could have used it first, but I think perhaps this was the earliest use on the 1952-54 Mercury. And in my view the most attractive element of the restyling.

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The article does not mention the interior, nor is there any indication of the paint color…I would assume seafoam or mint green, or a warm shade of cream. Both with a medium green metallic top of course, or even a powder blue or bluish grey with matching medium blue metallic top?

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The two photos of the Bob Aguilera Mercury that were offered on ebay are now part of the Zeke Carrillo Collection.

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I am not aware of any other features or articles on this mild but well executed Mercury. Any further info or car club affiliations concerning Bob Aguilera or his car would be much appreciated. Please leave a comment if you know more.

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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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(this article is sponsored by)

ccc-sponsor-ad-customs-by-flash-w

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Gerald Fassett Photo Collection

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Special Thanks to Gerald Fassett, David E. Zivot and Michelle M. Yiatras

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Gerald Fassett, an avid Custom Car enthusiast from Sacramento, California was very active in the local car scene from 1942 til the mid 1950’s. He owned two custom cars, of which one was restyled by Harry Westergard and Dick Bertolucci, both local Sacramento Custom Car builders. During this time Gerald took and collected photos of the Sacramento Custom Cars. The sad part is that Gerald mentioned the fact that a good many of the photos that he personally took, as well as some others that he had gathered during that period were lost or misplaced during a move he made many years ago.

But those photos that have survived from this collection are of extreme importance for the Custom Car History. Color photos and early versions of well known Custom Cars give us a look back in time we might have heard and read about. But because of this collection we can now also see.

The Gerald Fassett photo collection is now part of the David E. Zivot Collection and is shared together with stories told by Mr. Fassett to David E. Zivot with the Custom Car Chronicle.

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Part of the Gerald Fassett Collection. Such an historic document.

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Gerald Fassett 1934 Ford

Gerald’s first Custom Car was a 1934 Ford 5-window coupe. The car had the running boards removed, which was the big trend in the early to mid 1940’s. The fenders front and rear were modified where the running boards used to be mounted for a nice finished look. The frame was hidden with a special made cover. Modified tear drop skirts were added to the rear fenders and the suspension dropped a little. The hood sides were replaced with smooth units and the car was painted light green. Not visible in the photo shown below are an inset license plate in the trunk, filled cowl, and the dressed up flathead engine. This is the car Gerald drove when George Barris visited Sacramento in his 1941 Buick inlate 1947.

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What a great picture of Gerald’s 1934 Ford 5-window Coupe parked in the drive way of his home on Marysville Blvd, in Sacramento around 1947.

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Zoomed in on the car to be able to see some more details on the car.

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Don Clifford’s 1936 Ford 5-W Coupe mild Custom photographed in the early/mid 1940’s.

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Gerald Fassett 1947 Chevy Convertible

Gerald’s second Custom Car was a 1947 Chevy Convertible which was restyled by Harry Westergard. Gerald had seen an ad for the Jimmy Summers “Fender Extensions” kit in the 1948 Hot Rod magazine, and really liked the look on those. That along with a chopped padded top would create his dream custom. Harry Westergard mail-ordered a set of the Jimmy Summers fade away fenders. The fade away fenders were fine tuned by Harry and bolted to the doors and rear quarters. and aftermarket stainless steel rock shield was cut down so they would fit the rear fender and clear the fade away sections.

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1948 magazine ad for the Jimmy Summers Fender Extension.

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Westergard chopped the windshield frame, nosed and decked the car and added primer to all the fresh body work. Then Gerald drove it to have the padded topped made by Chavez interior and Top shop. The interior was done by a fellow named Marion Cottle right there in Sacramento. Marion Cottle did a lot of the restyled cars in the local Sacramento area.

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Beautiful higher point of view shows the Summers fade away fenders in primer. The photo was taken at Harry Westergard’s property. At the back of this photo Gerald write the padded top was done by Chavez.

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Gerald’s Chevy in front of Westergard’s shop on Watt Avenue. Notice the rather high stance, the single bar flipper hubcaps and the door handles still in place.

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In 1949 Gerald takes his Chevy to Dick Bertolucci who shaved the door handles, molded in the headlights, and did a final clean up of the whole body, before painting the car with a brilliant maroon lacquer paint job. Dick also removed the fog lights from the earlier version, and added brand new ’49 Chevy license plate frames to the ’47 bumpers. The Chevy was equipped with dual carbs, split exhaust manifold and custom mufflers, which he swapped with the owner of an green mild customized 1941 Chevy. Gerald also added a white Ford Crestline steering wheel to make the interior look absolutely perfect.

The color photo of Gerald’s Chevy, taken in 1949, was taken at 5671 Stockton Blvd. in Sacramento. The Mid-Century style building was created for a home improvement/lumber company. The classy style reminded Gerald of some of the buildings George Barris used as backdrop for the photos he had seen taken by George. He really liked how the buildings complemented the cars, and wanted to try the same thing. Mission succeed!

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Mid 1950’s color photo of Gerald Fassett’s 1947 Chevy beautifully painted by Dick Bertolucci. The car now has been lowered, the headlights frenched, the door handles removed, spotlight added and new ’55 Buick hubcaps added. What a beautiful Custom.

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The 1941 Chevy Gerald traded engines with.

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The back side of the photo of the 1940 Chevy.

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Harold Ohanesian 1940 Mercury

Harold “Buddy” Ohanesian was from Sacramento and had his 1940 Mercury Convertible 4-door Sedan restyled around 1946-47 by Harry Westergard and Les Crane. The windshield on the Merc was chopped, rear fenders molded to the body, the hood smoothed and reshaped together with the grille opening and front fenders to make place for the 1946 Chevy grille.

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Photo taken around 1947 shows the car all complete, but still in primer. Notice that the 1940 Mercury taillights were mounted horizontal, and how the rear of the car had been reshaped with rounded corners on the shortened trunk.

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At the front a splash pan was added for the Chevy grille to sit on. The door handles and side trim were removed and body smoothed. At the back of the car some work had to be done to get the right look Harold was after. On the stock ’40 Mercury sedan convertibles the trunk area is rather tall and upright, sticking out over the top of the door line on the sides. To make that work with the padded top that was planned for the car the trunk was sectioned, and the top of the body line “flattened” out at the back creating a much nicer body shape. The trunk was also shaved and a set in license plate behind glass created.

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Photographed at the same locations around 1948 the car was now painted and already looked stunning.

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The stock bumpers were replaced with ’37 DeSoto units, teardrop skirts were added, the suspension was lowered, Appleton Spotlights were mounted and single bar flipper hubcaps added. We do not know which of the two builders did what on the car. The long padded top was created by the C.A. Hall Top Shop in Oakland, an 80+ mile drive from Sacramento. Harold drove the car around with all the body work done in primer before the car in this version was painted. At this moment we are not sure who painted the car in this early padded topped version. As far as we know the color was also maroon on this version.

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Zoomed in to see all the details.

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Later, around 1949 Harold wanted a new more updated look for his Mercury and took it to a young Dick Bertolucci who had just opened his body shop. Together they came up with several updating ideas including creating a lift off metal top for the car. They set out to a local junk yard to look for suitable tops to use. Since none of the tops they were able to find had the right shape they were looking for they took home the top of an 1946 Chrysler, which was a good start, but the back section did not work, so they found an 1941 Buick Fastback which gave up the back portion of the top. They also found an 1946 Oldsmobile rear window that would be a perfect fit for the new top.

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Wonderful rear quarter view color photo shows how tight the fit of metal lift off top is with an even gap all around. The early Bertolucci version of the car has small motor cycle taillights added to the ’46 Chevy bumpers.

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A lot of work went into combining all parts to work together. The windshield posts had to be adapted to make the metal top curve around the corners and have the right feel and dimensions on the sides. The rear of the top needed to flow perfect with the trunk section. All the work was done with nearly no lead, only in sections around the back of the top and towards the side window profile some lead was used, simply because the reinforcement metal did not allow for hammer welding. (The fact that the metal top fits as perfect today as it did back in 1949, shows the great craftsmanship of the young Dick Bertolucci back in 1949.)

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Ultra rare Color photo from around 1950-51 shows the stock chrome plated headlights on the car. It is truly amazing to see the original color on this car for the first time.

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Dick also added a molded in splash pan to the rear to fit the new ’46 Chevy bumpers, and the pan at the front was reshaped and fine tuned. The Mercury taillights were removed from the rear fenders, and small motor cycle taillights mounted on the bumper. Dick Bertolucci painted the car in wonderful maroon mixed from a Chevy color toned darker and gold powder (Venus Martin No. 9) added to it. The early version which can be seen in the two color photos from the Gerald Fassett Collection shows that the car still had the original chrome headlights. Later Dick would first paint those headlights body color, and then some time later mold them to the fenders. At that time he also changed the taillights with 1948 Ford taillights on custom made pods molded into the rear fenders. One of the most fantastic Custom Cars ever created and thanks to Gerald Fassett and David E. Zivot we can now see the car in its original 1951 color as well as pre metal top version. Such an amazing asset for the Custom Car History.

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Close up of the Mercury shows this stunning custom in all its glory.

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Bud Welch 1938 Chevy Convertible

Gerald has two photos of Bud Welch’s 1938 Chevy convertible in his collection. The car was one of the few known Customs that was restyled by Sacramento customizer Les Crane. Les Crane’s name has appeared many times in association with cars restyled by Harry Westergard. Like the Ohanesian Merc and the Budler Rugard 1940 Mercury, where Les Crane performed some of the work. But not too many cars are credited to just Les Crane.

Bud Welch’s 1938 Chevy was done completely at Les’ shop (as far as we have been able to find out) with the exception of the padded top which had been done by the Hall Top Shop in Oakland. Les chopped the windshield, filled the stock grille opening, and created a custom oval grille opening which was filled with what looks like a custom tubular horizontal bar grille. The headlights were sunk halfway into the molded in front fenders.

Bud Welch’s 1938 Chevy Convertible restyled by Les Crane on the Sacramento streets around 1948.

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The hood sides were filled in, or perhaps replaced with aftermarket smooth units. The body was cleaned up and with smoothed hood and deck lid and a set in license plate in the trunk. The rear fenders were smoothed, and a gas filler door added to the passenger rear fender, and 1940 Chevy taillights mounted low on the fenders, just above the ’37 DeSoto bumpers. The car had wide white walls and ripple disk hubcaps. Les Crane painted the car metallic green.

Gerald also had a photo of the car from a little later, possibly late 40’s, perhaps the early 1950’s. By then the car had changed a little. The ripple disk hubcaps were replaced by Sombrero hubcaps. The fender skirts were removed and a set of Spotlights had been added. (Although the photo Gerald took shows the car with the spotlights removed, but the holes still in the A-pillar)

Bud’s ’38 Chevy seen here with a big dent in the passenger side front fender, with the hood sides and the skirts removed and with Sombrero hubcaps. Perhaps the photo was taken at a local drag race, hence the removal of the extra parts.

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Leroy Semas 1938 Chevy

Gerald had one very nice clear picture of another Harry Westergard Masterpiece. The Leroy Semas 1938 Chevy Coupe. The photo Gerald took is very interesting because the stance of the car is a lot higher than any other photo I have seen on the car. Perhaps the suspension was altered for the race event, it does give the car a completely different look.

Leroy Semas’ 1938 Chevy restyled by Harry Westergard photographed at a local drag strip the CHP set up for them near Woodland. Check out the CCC article on Leroy’s Chevy for a full write up on this stunning Westergard Custom. (Also notice the cars in the background.)

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Do you have any historic Custom Car related photos you would like to share with the world. Photo’s that shed more light on the history of a certain Custom Car, or Custom Builder. Or just photos that have a special place in your heart, that come with a story, and you like to share that story. Then contact us here at the Custom Car Chronicle. We would love to share the historic photos for you, and make an impact on the history of the Custom Car as we know it. Email Rik at the Custom Car Chronicle.

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The Original Kustoms of America

 

ORIGINAL KUSTOMS of AMERICA

 

1954 the Custom Car business was booming Nation wide. Time for George Barris to take the Custom Car Club to a new level. Kustoms Of America was founded, and would attract members from all over the US. The Original Kustoms of America.


by David E. Zivot

    George Barris, ever mindful of the monetary possibilities inherent in mass marketing, decided in late 1953 to take the Barris Kustoms mystique nationwide. And, if all went as planned, a worldwide association to spread the word, was certainly not out of the question. The term, “Kustoms”, was now going to be applied to a much wider audience than the mostly informal one loosely organized around a small group of pals that had coalesced in the mid 1940’s as “Kustoms Los Angeles”. Now, a formal organization, that would have an executive director, Ben D. Martin, and of course a president, George Barris would be created. With formal dues, newsletters, and the pride of exclusive identification; membership cards, decals, plaques, and club jackets = national bragging rights and standing. It should not be assumed that this new undertaking had a direct lineage or connection from the 1947-53 era “Kustoms Los Angeles” club, as there really wasn’t. The officially Barris sanctioned club would be known as “Kustoms of America”.

Club Plaque – Very rare original “KOA” plaque with 99% of paint finish intact. Unusual example cast in steel. May be prototype or master. All other examples I have examined are aluminum.
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The club had two basic purposes or goals. One was to promote the sport of tasteful automobile restyling and customization. This was summarized in the first roll out of the new club’s membership drive advertisements in early 1954, “The club’s goal is a sound program with aims and purposes to publicize the sport in its true light of fellowship, craftsmanship, and ingenuity.” The second purpose, and clearly a main driver for George, was the opportunity to promote the shop and its services, make a percentage on dues, membership and promotional materials, and especially a sizeable piece of the action on sales of speed parts, chrome accessories, and services provided by other related businesses, such as Gaylord upholstery, Belond Exhaust, etc. The first “KOA” ads, some of which were full page, appeared in Hot Rod, Motor Trend, Rod & Custom, Motor Life, and Car Craft.

The first Kustoms of America announcement in the magazine was in te April 1954 issue of Rod & Custom magazine. A full page add was created with the Barris name very well displayed.
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The Discount Katalog was first mentioned in the full page ad ran in the November, 1954 issue of Rod & Custom magazine.
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The KOA also ran a series of smaller ad, here is a sample from the July 1956 issue of Rod & Custom magazine.
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What would a prospective custom enthusiast get after sending in his membership form and two bucks (I should say his or her, as the club was open to women as well, and “no car necessary”)? Mailed directly to you would be an introductory letter on formal “KOA” stationery signed by George himself, a beautiful windshield decal, a membership card with your name and member number, and sometimes an Ansen’s speed equipment decal. In subsequent mailings you would receive the special discount catalog and monthly newsletter KOA Klub News. The club newsletter, which made its debut in early 1955, was then changed to a bi-monthly newsletter renamed Club News sometime in mid-1956. Members were encouraged to send in photos of their cars and report on their activities. In the first edition of the newsletter in 1955, Milton Curtis was listed as editor and William Stecyk as associate editor.

Once you singed up to be a KOA member, you would receive an envelope in the mail including an introduction letter, a personal Member Card (Charter Member Card in the photo above) and the Kustoms of America decal. (Ronnie Dragoo’s “KOA” Letter and envelope– Courtesy Bill Layman.)
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The KOA introduction letter from George Barris.
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    A note on the membership cards and decals: When first launched a charter membership timeline was offered to those who joined up prior to the cutoff date of August 1, 1954. Those who took advantage of this would receive the special charter member card in light pink, as well as the charter member decal, which also had “Barris Sanctioned” at the top of the crest. Those who joined after this date were supposed to receive the standard card in white, and the standard windshield decal with the “KOA” acronym on the crest. When each year’s dues were received, a new card would be issued with 2nd year, 3rd year, etc, printed, then later ink stamped, so as to indicate the member’s seniority. In actual practice, the Aug 1 ’54 date was largely ignored, as there are numerous examples of charter memberships well into 1956.

Plain Kustoms of America Charter Member Card.
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The white Kustoms of America Active Member Card.
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Windshield Decals– The Charter Member  version on the left and the regular non-charter member window decal on the right. These window decals as well as club jackets, patches, plaques, pins, etc, were all manufactured by “Sylized Emblem Company” in Los Angeles.
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This is how a used Kustoms of America Charter Member card looks like. Robert H. Dzemske was member since 1955. Notice the “Second Year” on the ’56 year card.
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Don Coulter Barris Restyled Oldsmobile was photographed in 1955 with a dark red painted Kustoms of America Plaque on the front bumper. The plaque was painted maroon. (Ina Mae Overman Collection)
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The “Special Discount Catalog”, which was printed January 1955, consisted of a special edition of the standard Ansen’s speed parts catalog, featuring a “Barris Kustoms of America” front and rear cover. There were eighty-eight pages of the usual hot rod and speed parts offerings. Added to the middle of the catalog between pages forty-four and forty-five are fourteen additional pages alphabetically arranged from A thru P. All the items in this special “KOA” section, including all the other Ansen’s stuff were supposed to be offered at 10% and greater discounts. In actuality the discounts only applied to very select items. (Interesting note is that the KOA catalog, at least the version we had access to, had both the top and bottom of the pages cut too short, cutting off parts of the text and photos. This indicates that the ANSEN Speed Equipment catalog might already have been printed and cut and later the KOA material, based on the Ansen catalog size was added to it. To make it all look like one catalog the three sides of the catalog had to be cut once more, hence the cut off text and images on some of the pages)

Cover and back cover of the Kustoms of America Special Discount Catalog.
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Inside pages showed all the options for KOA Members and some background about the Barris Kustoms Shop.
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Besides several pages of “regular” Custom Car products that was offered to the members with a 10% discount, there were also a few pages devoted to the Kustoms Of America Club. Including these pages for shirts and jackets, and trophies, and special KOA plaques.
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The general list of things that could be purchased were common but still desirable fare; custom grille bars, connie kits, skirts, electric door and trunk kits, spotlights, push button window lifts, hubcaps, club jackets (in the official maroon and white colors of “KOA”), a couple of blank order forms, approved plaques, lapel pins, special trophies, Gaylord “Kustom Karpets”, and so much more. The last page in the special “KOA” section had a selection of glossy 5 x 7 or 8 x 10 photo prints, featuring twenty of the more well-known Barris shop subjects.

Page with the photo print options and where you could order Gaylord Upholstery material. Barris and Gaylord have been advertising together since 1949.
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The Kustoms of America Jacket from the Catalog (Photoshopped image)
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Original 1954 Kustoms of America Award. from the James Washburn Collection.
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Now, having joined and received the membership package and attendant privileges, what activities would club management promote and recommend to its members? According to the few club newsletters that I have access to, the general focus was on the latest Barris automotive restylings, new accessory offerings, some simple and cursory customizing techniques, and interesting mentions of foreign membership from exotic places, such as Hawaii, Cuba, Argentina, the Panama Canal Zone, and Scotland. Photographs of member’s cars, projects, ideas, activities, and shows were popular. There were ambitious plans to award trophies every year for the best custom automobile in each state, concluding with a nationwide competition for the official “KOA” national champion.

The Kustoms of America Club Newsletter is very rare, the one on the left is the first issue Vol 1 – No 1. This comes from a photo taken at the special Barris Kustoms Exhibit at the NHRA museum in 2007 Only part of the newsletter was visible at the time. Originally the newsletter was named KOA Klub News with a “K”, but later it was renamed KOA Club News with a “C”.
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I spoke with a few fellows that were original members. These are some of their remembrances. This is all I could find as these guys are getting scarce.

  • Bart Bartoni – California charter member. “Well, I joined up in 1954. One of the first ones. Put the neat decal on the windshield of my car. Pretty proud of that. There were no meetings or activities that I remember. Just the Pride of being a member.”
  • Milt Goodman – Nevada active member. “I think it was late ’55-early ’56 when I became a member. Got all of the paraphernalia, decals, “KOA” plaque, club jacket. I had a semi-custom ’53 Mercury. Two other fellows from my class at Las Vegas High School joined up as well. We had one official club meeting. Two of us got girlfriends, and that was the end of the meetings. The Barris name was great status.
  • Junior & Herb Conway – California charter members. “My brother Herb and I heard about the club early in 1955. Didn’t fill in a membership blank. We went down personally to the Barris shop and gave the two dollars for the first year directly to George. There was no actual office or clubhouse where meetings took place. I think there was someone hired at another address to handle the mail and business. I’m pretty sure George sold the rights to the club after a few years.”



My research on the origins, activities, and ultimate purpose of “Kustoms of America” requires and warrants further investigation. There remains precious little information and documentation regarding this club. Who really ran or administered this organization is open to question. The club envelope return address is the 11054 Atlantic Ave Los Angeles location. Hershel Conway tells me there was no office or desk that took care of club business. The letters were perhaps sent over to the first “KOA” address of 5880 Hollywood Blvd, or the later (as of November 1954) 5864 Hollywood Blvd. And who was Ben D. Martin, listed as executive director, who disappears by March of 1956? It also appears that the membership figures were inflated. The number of actual dues paying members is not known.

A few samples of Custom Cars with the KOA decal on the windshield. (Decal on the right is from a Barris 1940 Mercury, photo by Rod Powell, now in the collection of Luke James Horton)
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Anne DeValle was a member of the Kustoms of America Club, and she had one of the Kustoms of America plaques on her Barris Kustoms created 1942 Ford. (Anne’s Ford was previously owned by Marcia Campbell.)
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There is also the question as to how long the club was in existence. The latest year on a membership card I have encountered is 1959. The couple of newsletters that I have examined have dates between 1955-58. Former members have told me that the newsletter just stopped arriving in the mail… no explanation. I must also mention that there have been a couple modern attempts to revive or reclaim the original “KOA” identity and traditional reputation. They are “Kustom Kemps of America” (KKOA) estab 1980, and the modern “Kustoms of America” estab early 1980’s. Both of which are fine clubs, but according to my research have no direct lineage or connection with the original “KOA”. One curious aspect of the promotional material of the modern “KOA” is the claim of being descended from the original “KOA” starting in 1949. That date is nebulous, as the original “KOA” was established in 1954. The earlier “Kustoms LA” origins can be traced to 1947.

I would encourage and appreciate any further information or input concerning the original “KOA”, please email Rik here at the Custom Car Chronicle with any info you have concerning the Original KOA Club. All cynicism aside, I must conclude that ultimately George Barris was sincere in his efforts and motivations with regards to the club and its purposes. As quoted in the Big Book of Barris, George said that he wanted to, “Bring together anyone interested in custom cars, have power of association, gather like minds together for shows and events, a place to communicate news on activities in the customizing world, and generally focus attention to the achievements and contributions customizing has made to automotive design and engineering.” Indeed a worthy sentiment.







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Carson Style 36 Ford

CARSON STYLE 36 FORD

David E Zivot wanted a California Top 1936 Ford Roadster Custom. Restyled in line with how the cars were built shortly after WWII. He was able to create this stunning example of the Carson Style Custom.


© by Michelle M. Yiatras
Timechanic ™
(Original article from June 2011)


Carson Style

Like Clark Gable might have felt before the War started (joyfully married, with an Oscar) and after it ended (drinking with reckless abandon), when a fellow parked his stock roadster to enlist in the Good Fight, he returned with a heightened perspective. Although he may have made the ultimate sacrifices (a limb, a spouse, a brother or uncle), he didn’t sacrifice style. These designs were stirring deep inside and reverberated in many post-War customs that matriculated from the college of WW2. Upright men and women returned to shepherd a more dignified era.

Eddie Martinez at his workbench in the summer of 2011.
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Eddie Martinez is a funny old guy, and he was a funny young guy. When he was six and his Mama told him to put the scrap boot on the beans, he thought she meant in the pot instead of in the coal stove for fuel. So that night they had “frijoles a la zapata”. When you see him today (June 2011) in his mid-70’s shuffling like Tim Conway and sore arms wrapped in gauze like the Mummy, a lot of it is for dramatic effect. He wants you to feel a little sorry for him because he knows he’s a little annoying. Eddie (Darryl Starbird’s National Rod & Custom Car HoF) has been multi-awarded for his quick draw with the sewing machine. Eddie was always the go to when you wanted upholstery or a correct Carson style top.

Eddie’s business card from back in the early 1950’s.
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He furnished a myriad range including from his first ’40 Ford (Car Craft front page & Long Beach Best Upholstery) in the mid-50’s, Barris’ ’29 Ford Model A roadster “Emperor”, Ed Roth’sOutlaw” & “Beatnik Bandit”, Larry Watson’s ’57 Cadillac Eldorado, Stone-Woods-Cook ’41 Willys Gasser, Dan Houck’s ’46 Ford convertible, to the Duncan Emmons Merc. So when the day arrived for Eddie to pass the torch over to custom and hot rod upholsterer, David Martinez (no relation), of Martinez Industries, there was definitely some fireworks. Eddie shuffled one way across David’s shop and out the door muttering, “I guess I’ll just go kill myself,” from the side of his mouth, and then shuffled back through with, “I forgot something.

David Martinez at his Martines Industries shop.
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Martinez Industries was at the time the ’36 Ford was built, located in Gardena, CA. (now located in Palm Springs, CA.) David Martinez, supplanted from Indiana, is mid-30’s and yet has the sensibilities of a post-WW2 timer. Usually he’s at his bench or in the car’s trenches applying his reet pleats to the tune of Artie Shaw, Jack Benny, or Dragnet, echoing Philco radio shows, not Eminem. He’s clad in vintage coveralls and has an earnest eye and handshake. It’s no wonder that he and David Zivot would become fast friends.

John & Virginia Wolf  at El Mirage dry lakes in 1949.
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David Zivot acquired the stock 1936 Ford roadster from AHRF Pioneer, John Wolf of Sherman Oaks, CA. David & I visited John and Virginia several times at their original So-Cal home, surrounded by magnolia trees and hummingbirds, they’ve lived in since they first got married in 1950. They are vigorous and feisty in their late-70’s and regularly attend V8 Club treks. They still look as youthful as they did at the dry lakes when they began courting in 1948. John got the car from Ray Brown (another AHRF Pioneer). Together they built the ’46 Mercury V8 flathead displacing a 3 3/8” bore and 4” stroke, J & E forged pistons, Winfield SU-1A cam, block letter Edelbrock heads, Super-Dual intake, a pair of Chandler-Groves mixers, ’39 trans with Lincoln Zephyr gear set, terminating in a ’40 Ford rear end with 3:54 cogs.
All of which Zivot freshened up mechanically and made reliable as a daily driver.

Ray Brown and Bud M. (photo courtesy AHRF).
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Before any miles could be racked up, the car was invited to be part of the GNRS 2011 special display “Customs Then and Now”, as representative of an immediate pre-War/post-War California custom. Although the car was stock when David Zivot acquired it, the goal was always an authentic as possible, chopped, black lacquered, tear drop skirted, rolled and pleated, solid hood sided, Carson top padded, boulevard runner.

Restoration work, turning the Stock ’36 Ford Roadster into an 1940’s Custom Car.
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Zivot always admired what was once known as a “California Top”, “Which has its genesis in the 1920’s, when middle to upper income owners wanted a smooth, unbroken, contour on their flashy roadsters and cabriolets. This look necessitated that the top be a non-folding, removable as a unit affair, that set the look of these so equipped cars apart from others on the street. The popularity of this style of top reached its apogee in the immediate pre-War period, interrupted by the Second World War, and continued to be popular into the early 50’s. Some of the more renown and accomplished makers of these tops were Hall, Gaylord, Switzer-Fraizer, and of course Carson-Hauser. After diligent research, Eddie Martinez was one of the only craftsmen left who could make the top accurately, with the proper materials and profile.

Building the padded top frame with the just right shape for the ’36 Ford.
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Building the headliner first so that it can be easily worked on before the outside covering is added. The the frame gets covered with straps that will hold the padding.
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With all the straps added the padding is applied and shaped. 
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Padding is followed by the outside canvas beautifully stitched.
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Nearly finished car in dark gray primer, black wall tires with Single Bar Flipper Hubcaps and the finished padded top. Just like how they looked back in the early-mid 1940’s.
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After the body was painted super gloss black David Martinez created the two tone interior with nice wide and rounded 40’s style Rolled & pleated.
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This may well probably be Eddie’s last Carson top, and elderly illnesses interfered with him finishing this top he initiated. So David Martinez, proprietor of the metal fabrication and custom upholstery shop, was enlisted. He was the driving force in completing this Carson style top in a reasonable time, and it wouldn’t have happened if not for his intervention and assistance. You’ll recognize his work on Bugs’ ’35 Ford coupe “Ruby Deluxe”, Ralph Whitworth’s ’16 Ford Model T bucket “Trojan”, Piero De Luca’s ’31 Ford Model A coupe “Live Wire”, Von Franco’s ’22 Ford Model T roadster “Lightening Bug”, and Kurt McCormick’s ’41 Cadillac convertible “Westergard Custom”, among others. The venerable Kennedy Brothers of Pomona, CA, did the preliminary suspension work to bring the car closer to earth, filled the deck and door handles, and chopped the windshield down to a manageable height. The black lacquer job was the finale work of Zivot and Alan Brunson.

Rick Lefeldt ’36 Ford Roadster from 1946.
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David Zivot is unrelenting, “The Rick Lefeldt ’36 Ford Roadster built in 1946 in Modesto, CA, was a strong influence on the ’41-46 War Years style I was after. As Don Montgomery referred to it in Authentic Hot Rods, ‘This was a very desirable car.’ To build a traditional style car and stay true to the tradition is a distinction difficult to obtain and not always accomplished. The distinction is between proper customization and over customization. There are sins and omissions that are allowable and can be overlooked. However, base coat/clear coat paint is a cardinal sin, and the particular color one chooses to paint their car ought to mirror the photographic evidence of the period. No amount of Hail Mary’s can absolve these. Yet, I didn’t nail it 100%. This car was built to a standard rather than an ideal.
Driving this car, or any type of vintage vehicle, in a modern town like Las Vegas (or Los Angeles), represents something that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s like trying to resuscitate the Rat Pack. “Especially one composed with American historical veracity,” Zivot is wistful, “The audience doesn’t get the references.






GNRS 2011 Customs Then & Now

The 62nd annual Grand National Roadster Show (aka the Oakland Roadster Show), January 28-30 at the Fairplex in Pomona, CA, Building #9, featured 75 of the most significant historical custom cars in an exclusive indoor display, “Customs: Then & Now”, as the theme for this year. Rik Hoving was one of the organizers of this part of the event, contributing his tremendous graphic design and photojournalist skills to the array. Rounding up in attendance the likes of master builders George Barris, Jack Stewart, Dean Jeffries, Blackie G, Jesse Lopez, Hershel Conway, Gene Winfield, Greg Sharp, among others, including himself, to light up the room. The cars were dazzling jewels in the constellation of customs, the Frank Kurtis Tommmy Lee 37 Ford Speedster, Harry Westergard 32 Ford Roadster, Bob Hirohata 51 Merc, Kurt McCormick 41 Buick Roadmaster, Glenn Johnson 37 Ford Roadster, Mox Miller 58 Chevy Impala, Larry Watson 58 Ford T-Bird, Mark Morton 54 Merc, so many the room was sparkling.



Overview photo of Building N0. 9 at the 2011 GNRS Customs Then & Now exhibit.
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Organizing administrator, Axle Idzardi, invited David Zivot to display his 1936 Ford roadster with the custom Carson top to represent an accurate pre-War/post-War early custom of the WW2 influenced era. Besides diligently photographing all the exhibited cars for publication reviews and archives of the Show, Rik spent weeks in advance of the Show designing and constructing the brilliant and radiant graphic signage that graced the stages. The first thing one noticed was the two large banners that were in the front of Building # Nine. Those were huge photos, with the Show logo on them. He also created 24 ceiling hanging banners, 36” X 60”. All 24 were double-sided, specially selected by Rik to complement on one side an original Business Card, and on the other side one of the cars in the room. On Sunday afternoon the banners were auctioned as collectibles and the proceeds went to charity.


These Show events don’t manifest with a magic wand. We’re always grateful and astonished at the magnum opus as a result of marvelous effort in this case by Axle Idzardi and Rik Hoving. We trust they keep their cars in the race.

The ’36 Ford banners.
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David Martinez posing withe the ’36 Ford at the GNRS 2011.
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At the GNRS Customs Then & Now in 2011.
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Side view shows the really wonderful shape of the Eddie Martinez designed padded top. 
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TECH SPEC

Original Owner: David & Louis Zivot (car has been sold to new owner)
Occupation: Historian
Location: Las Vegas, NV
Designer: David Zivot
Engine Builder: David Z
Year: 1936
Make: Ford Roadster
Color: Tuxedo Black
Paint Type: Lacquer
Painter: Jeff Savage & Alan Brunson
Engine: 1947 284 cid Mercury, br 3 3/8” x str 4”; J & E forged pistons; Winfield SU-1A cam
Trans: 1939 Ford with Lincoln Zephyr gears
Exhaust: Cast iron Fenton with dual Porter mufflers
Intake/Carb: Original Edelbrock Super-Dual with 94 type carbs
Ignition: Modified Ford crab type
Rear End: 1940 Ford banjo 3:54 final drive
Suspension: Stock Ford transverse leaf
Brakes: 1940 Ford juice
Wheels: Original 1940 Ford steelies
Tires: 600 x 16 Firestone
Seats: 1936 Ford Coupe
Upholstery: Rolled & pleated Carson style; designed by David Z; laid out & executed by David Martinez Industries
Dashboard: Stock chromed
Steering Column: Stock column with 1937 Ford box
Gauges: Stock
Headlights: Stock
Taillights: Stock
Horn: Original Garvin air horns
Steering Wheel: 1936 Ford banjo
Body: 1940 Buick skirts; 1940 Olds bumpers; 1940’s Eastern Auto Accessory solid hood sides; Original 1940’s accessory bull nose; knobs all original 1930-40’s Bakelite

Michelle created this Carson Top Shop based car show sign for the 1936 Ford.
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1936 Ford Roadster Early Style Custom

© by David E. Zivot
Timechanic ™



The ‘36 Ford roadster was never a plentiful commodity. Very seldom seen today, they were uncommonly encountered even during the 1940’s and 50’s. When featured in car oriented publications during those decades, the terms “rare”, “scarce”, and “not often found” were applied. Talking with fellows who are old enough to know (80+), ’36 Ford roadsters were coveted and well used whether hopped-up, warmed over, or customized. They say “well used” because rolling stock being hard to come by during the War years, and a couple years after, they drove the hell out of ‘em. Especially since they were light, easy to maintain, and thrifty. But most of all they were girl-grabbers. Stylish and sporty, and when lowered, smoothed, and customized, even more so.

Notice that the car’s stance is rather “high”, just as they were back in the 1940’s.
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I’d had a ’36 rag top in my past, but it was largely junk. My desire to have a really solid and straight one was complicated by the unfortunate fact that most of what you will find in the world today are not too far removed from the earlier one I had. I was close to giving up the chase when I was informed that a real hot rod guy by the name of Johnny Wolf might sell his. Now John Wolf is no ordinary early Ford V8 guy, and his roadster was no ordinary early V8. John has a long history of dry lakes, street, and Bonneville hi-speed runs. His hand at building flatheads that pour on the coals is equally legendary. So this roadster of his looks River Rouge stock on the outside. Under the hood is one of John’s Mercury flathead motors circa 1946, built by him and Ray Brown. Yes, that Ray Brown. The car was owned by Ray before selling it to John. Considering this remarkable pedigree, and that the car had this very hot flathead, I made the deal.

The round shape of the padded top flows nice with the shape of the trunk of the Ford.
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The 1940’s Eastern Auto Accessory solid hood sides make the car look so smooth.
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Now stock high-hat height Fords are not my way. So it was time for lowering all around, chopped windshield, solid hood sides, tear drop skirts, bullnose, streamline bumpers. A shave here and a shave there, and of course black nitro lacquer. The only other thing to do was the ultimate Los Angeles golden era touch. A Carson padded top. I mean Carson, because I wouldn’t have one that wasn’t as accurate and as clinically exact to the product that Glen Hauser was turning out from 1938-46. I wanted the type and profile seen just before WW2 and was in vogue until about 1947. It would only make sense to have a complementary 1940’s Carson style interior as well, right?

David Zivot studied countless old photos to capture the right mid 1940’s Carson Top Shop interior look. David Martinez was able to make it look a perfect as possible.
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This is a real Ford roadster that is set up the way they were done in California during the period 1940-47. From the City of Los Angeles proper, east to Pasadena, south to San Diego, heading west to Santa Monica, or north to Santa Barbara, this was the most desirable custom ride of the time, and represents the high end of that restyling. This particular approach is the most traditional, and yet timeless in its taste and appeal. ’36 Ford roadsters were few and far between even during the 40’s and 50’s, and were much sought after. Finding one of this caliber is even more improbable when considering the former ownership.

The two owners prior to me, Ray Brown and Johnny Wolf, both of whom are extremely well known and respected original California hot rodders, engine-chassis builders, racers, and inductees to the American Hot Rod Foundation. Ray Brown owned and drove this roadster regularly, then sold it to John Wolf, who also drove and maintained it impeccably. The built Mercury flathead motor and drive train are a result of their efforts. Anyone who knows these guys or does the research will attest to their skills at engine building and putting together old Ford roadsters. Ray Brown’s ’32 Ford roadster currently resides at the Peterson Museum (they paid $135,000 for it in 1999, valued at $350,000 today).

Michelle posing with the Ford.
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Other legendary talent had a hand in this car. Eddie Martinez built his final authentic Carson style padded top for this roadster, accurate in every detail and line. He had the expert assistance and quality workmanship of David Martinez, also a Carson top and upholstery specialist. David Martinez Industries was responsible for the exact replication of a 1940’s Carson or Gaylord interior, down to the proper carpet and contrasting binding. Plus a spot-on set of side curtains. As for the subject of California tops, they were also a very fashionable (and practical) addition to touring cars, phaetons, roadsters, and runabouts, in the U.S. during approximately the same period. It’s interesting that a motorist could acquire one through expensive coach maker and dealer sources, as well as do-it-yourself kits that the owner could assemble and install himself. I have seen evidence of these on all makes from Packard to Model T. Some appearing to be a facsimile of a folding top, while others look like later Carson style so-called padded top. Because of their construction, very few have survived for historical inspection. However they can readily be seen in the background scenes of silent films shot in sunny Southern California, featuring Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, and others.

David Martinez was also responsible for the spot-on set of side curtains for the chopped Ford.
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1940 Oldsmobile bumpers, Firestone 600 x 16 white wall tires, Hollywood flipper disc hubcaps with beauty rings on black painted ’40 Ford wheels.
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The short list of period approved modifications done, with attention to period essentials, and were considered must haves in the 40’s: lowered (pre-War) stance, chopped windshield and posts, removable padded top with headliner complementing upholstery, solid hood sides, bull nose grill, ’40 Olds bumpers, centered plate mount, smoothed deck and doors, ’40 Ford 16” rims with Firestone wide whites, Hollywood flipper disc hubcaps, ’40 Buick teardrop fender skirts, teardrop accessory sealed beam headlights. Hand rubbed black lacquer of course. Interior modifications and upgrades of the era include: ’36 Ford three-window coupe seat and seat frame (backrest lifts up for access to trunk area), chromed dash, banjo steering wheel. The two-tone rolled and pleated upholstery is done in the correct fashion of individually hand stuffed pleats and rolls with correct form and contour. Chassis, engine, and driveline highlights: ’40 Ford steering, original Ed “Axle” Stewart dago’ed (dropped) axle, tube aircraft type shocks front and rear, ’41 Ford dropped spindles and hydraulic brakes, ’40 rear end with 3:54 gears, ’39 Ford heavy duty 3 speed trans with early 26 tooth Zephyr gears. ’46 Mercury V8 flathead engine as built by Ray Brown and John Wolf to their usual specs: 284 cid, 3 3/8 bore, 4” stroke, J & E forged pistons, Winfield SU-1A cam, NOS early original block letter Edelbrock heads and early NOS Edelbrock super-dual intake manifold with a pair of NOS Holley 2110 carburetors. Ignition 59A 12127 crab style distributor. Original Fenton cast iron headers flowing into 22” Smitty’s. NOS original ’36 Ford radiator. The grill is perfect. Car runs very fast and strong, handles and drives well. This car was a low miles Ford, and retains all its original sheet metal and components that it was delivered with.


This roadster, was chosen from a very select number nationwide to participate in a limited gathering of famous, influential, or otherwise iconic customs, in a separate Building #9 at the 2011 Grand National Roadster Show at the Fairplex in Pomona. This exhibit known as “Customs Then & Now”, organized by Axel Idzardi, Rik Hoving, Jeff Neppl and Luke Karosi, displayed these representative historic customs from the early 1940’s up to the 60’s.


I was able to get the result I wanted. Thanks to Jason & Joe Kennedy (chop & lowering), Eddie Martinez, David Martinez (top & interior), Alan & Carl Brunson (paint), Michelley, & lots of design and wrench work by myself. Bart Bartoni’s 1946 photograph of Rick Lefeldt’s epoch ’36 was a spectre of inspiration.







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Edison Photo Location

 

EDISON Photo Location

 

In the late 1940’s a series of Color and black and white photos were taken at an Edison Plant or something like that. Unique Color photos of early Customs at an unique location.



In the mid to late 1940’s color photography was being used more and more. Color slides were shot by both professional photographers as well as the better equipped amateur photographer. We have all seen amazing Kodak Color photos from the 1940’s from every day scenes to special events. But for some reason color photos taken from Hot Rods and especially Custom Cars during this period up to even the early 1950’s are very rare. Most photos taken specifically of the Custom Cars during this period were taken in black and white. So those color photos that were made back then are some real fine treasures, they show us our favorite Custom Cars in their rich and deep custom paint jobs.

In 1997 George Barris produced the fourth book in the series of Barris Kustom Technique of the 1950’s. And in that fantastic book there were some early color photos. Two of which were taken at the same location in the later part of the 1940’s. The Location used for these two color photos has been used for a few other Custom Car photo-shoot backdrop as well. I recognized them from photos of the Barris restyled Dick Carter and Jesse Lopez 1941 Fords from late 40’s and early 50’s Motor Trend magazine publications. Some time ago David E.Zivot shared a story with us about the Dick Carter ’41 Ford, and included in the material he had received from Dick Carter himself was a beautiful Color photo of his car at this very same location.

Upon close inspection of all three color photos taken at this location I came to the conclusion that the three photos must have been taken most likely at the very same day. Most likely in a combined photo-shoot, perhaps organized by George Barris, on behalf of Motor Trend magazine. The shrubbery behind the cars is in all three color photos identical, and so are the flower in the plant in the foreground. Most likely the photos of the Jesse Lopez ’41 Ford which were used in the September 49 issue of Motor Trend magazine at the same location were also taken at this same photo-shoot. And possibly there were also color photos taken of the Jesse Lopez Ford at this time. The way the photos of the Lopez Ford are cropped makes it hard to tell if the flowers are the same as in the color photo of the other three cars. But at least all the other elements in these photos seem to match.



Vic Grace 1941 Buick Special

1941 Buick Special Club Coupe owned by Vic Grace had body work done by several shops, including the Barris Shop. The padded top was most likely created by Gaylord since it had a more swooping line than most padded top created by the Carson Top Shop. George Barris applied the deep blue-green metallic paint on the car.



Vic’s Buick was shown with three cut out photos on a full page in the Custom Cars Trend Book No 101 from 1951. As far as we can see in the reflections these photos must have been taken at the same location os the color photo of Vic’s Buick. And most likely at the same day as the other photos were taken.
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Johnny Zaro 1941 Ford

Created by George Barris for original owner John Vara. Before the car was finished Johnny Zaro traded his Barris Restyled ’40 Mercury Coupe plus some extra cash for the car. George Barris finished it in 1948. This color slide is the only photo we know of this car taken at this location. George Barris painted the car in a mile deep maroon.






Dick Carter 1941 Ford

The Dick Carter’s 41 Ford photos taken at this location were – as far as we know – only used in the Trend Book Custom Cars #101 booklet. This was published in 1951. The rear 3/4 photo of the Carter Ford shows that the California 1947 plates have a 1949 tag on them. Barris painted Dick’s Ford in a deep organic opalescent metallic maroon lacquer. From the three color photos we have, taken at this location, the Dick Carter Ford is the only one that we have multiple angle photos from the same shoot. The others are black and white photos. From the Johnny Zaro we have not seen any other photos from this photo shoot, and from the Vic Grace Buick the only other photos we have are three more which are set free from the background, so we do not know for sure if the other photos come from the same location. More than licely they do, since the reflections on the car are similar to what we can see in the Jesse Lopez Ford photos.







All three color photos shows the same identical group of red flowers. These three color photos must all have been taken at the same day.
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Jesse Lopez 41 Ford

The Jesse Lopez Ford was was created by Jesse and Sam Barris and was finished in 1948. At first jesse used Single Bar Flipper hubcaps on the car, and later replaced them with Cadillac Sombrero units. The car had the single bar flippers still mounted when the Edison Location photos were made. According to the ’49 Motor Trend magazine article the photos were taken by Pat la Narz. So far this photographers name has not rang any bells for the people we have asked about him. We would of course love to get in contact with Pat, if he is still with us today, or his family to see if any of his old photos and slides might still be in the family archives. It might also be possible that the photographer was actually Russ Lenarz who was good friends with George Barris.

The Jesse Lopez ’41 Ford photos taken at the Edison Location were used in the September 1949 issue of Motor Trend magazine. Because of this we know that the photos must have been taken around July 1949 at the latest. (Magazine’s back then always need around one and a half to two month time for production)
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The shrubbery next to the white wall of the building is identical in the Jesse Lopez Ford photo (on the left) and the Dick Carter Ford photo (on the right). Making it very plausible that both photo sets were taken at the same day, or at least very close together.
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Photos from the early 1950s

As for the location itself. Dick Carter remembered the location had something to do with the Edison Plant, but he could not remember where it was. We have found one more set of custom car photos that were taken at the same locatio, at a later date. The car being photographed at the same location was the Valley Custom shop created Byron Walton Ford Coupe.The wall, and the very decorative doors which were the main ataction for this photo shoot, were still in place then.


This photo is particular interesting since it shows the complete set of door and that there is another section of natural brick wall next to it on the left side.
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The Location

Thanks to Richard Bartrop and Rob Radcliffe we now know that the location of the photo shoot is 3395 West Manchester Blvd. in Inglewood, CA. And that the building/gate is still there, but the characteristic gate with the circles is gone now. Thanks for helping find this location.


The 3395 West Manchester Blvd. in Inglewood, CA photo location in 1959.
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The sign that was added to the wall after the first photo shoot was done in 1949.
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The location as it looks in 2017. (Google Maps image)
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The big question now is, where are the color photos of the Jesse Lopez Ford taken at this late 1940’s photo-shoot. Are they still in the Motor Trend archives? We know that Jesse Lopez does not have them. How fantastic would it be if one, or more of these color photos of the Lopez Ford would surface?

Any information about this 1949 photoshoot, or perhaps the missing Jesse Lopez color slide(s) taken during this photo-shoot would be more than welcome. Please contact Rik Hoving at the Custom Car Chronicle, if you have anymore info about this location, or the missing color photos from this photo-shoot. Thank you.



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Dick Carter’s Essential ’41 Ford Convertible

 

DICK CARTER 41 FORD

 

Dick Carter padded topped Ford, the very quintessence of the 1946-48 Restyled 1941 Ford Convertibles.



By David E. Zivot

1941 Ford ragtops have been a consistent favorite of mine…If restyled in the manner that became popular in Southern California immediately after the end of hostilities in the summer of 1945. Although there were a few nice examples from late 1940 into early 1942 when these cars were purchased new off the dealer’s lot. However it was from 1946-48 that some of the best examples of this model Ford custom were built. Some of the finest coming out of the Barris shop. And in my opinion Richard “Dick” Carter’s being the very quintessence of that style.

Richard Carter attended Bell High School with Jesse Lopez, played football, ran track, chased girls, and like Jesse, had a passion for cars that were cool and fast. He was sixteen when he got his first real car; a ’36 Ford three-window coupe, customized and gowed-up, of course. After graduating with his pal Jesse, and seeing him build his ’41 Ford coupe with the Barris boys, he wanted a ’41 Ford also. But his just had to be a convertible. They were much in favor at the time.

It is interesting and not widely known how many of the early custom guys liked them, and owned the template re-styled Super Deluxe ’41 Ford convertible, before their more famous cars. A few notable ones being: Wally Welch, Bill Gaylord, and Joe Graffio, who all built similar examples. It appears that the popularity of the nicely done, chopped, but otherwise conservative, custom 1941 Ford convertible had run its course by late 1950.

CCC-barris-dick-carter-41-ford-article-1951The only magazine publicity Dick Carter’s 1941 Ford ever got was in the July 1951 published first Custom Car Annual, Trend books No. 101. I asked Richard about Chavez providing the padded top (as mentioned in this booklet), he insisted most ardently it was Gaylord, and notice it has the Gaylord flow. He also was amused at the “channeling” mentioned in the article, that never occurred.
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Richard’s car was completed in early 1949, and along with Jesse, George, Nick, Snooky, and all the other caballeros of “Kustoms Los Angeles” participated in all the outings, car shows, and impromptu get-togethers and drive-in burger joint activities. The only period publication I know of that featured Dick’s custom was a small article in Trend Book No. 101 Custom Cars, from July 1951. What is it in particular about Carter’s ’41 that makes it stand out? Well, all the wonderful to be expected custom tricks are present. Tasteful well-proportioned chop, flowing and tight Gaylord padded top, standard issue Barris lowered stance, foreshortened hood side stainless, filled center grill panel, dual 112 spots, ’46 bumpers, and the deep organic opalescent metallic maroon lacquer finish.

Additional early Barris shop touches, mainly the result of Dick Carter’s and Jesse Lopez’ labor and craftsmanship included; handmade Lucite bumper guard taillights, tubular license plate light (subsequently copied and offered by Eastern Auto, and later Cal Custom), chromed dash panel, and translucent red Lucite appliques. Shaved doors, hood, deck, front and rear molded gravel pans, small flipper bar hubcaps, skirts, echo cans, fender mount antenna, are for all intents and purposes standard fare. The fact that this ’41 retains its stock headlight rings is unusual, but is one of the things I like about it.


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CCC-barris-dick-carter-41-ford-golf-01Two never published shots of the Carter ’41 taken at the Municipal golf course.
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In summation, what makes Richard Carter’s ’41 Ford custom stand out is that it shouldn’t. Most ’41 Ford convertible customs were built conforming to most, if not the complete menu of items previously outlined. However, there is something about the way these templated and expected elements come together on this particular car that perfectly represents the encyclopedia entry or art school definition of “Early Custom ’41 Ford Convertible”.
Richard Carter passed away August 2015. I spoke with him on occasion and found him to be an informative and cordial gentleman. He remembered his times in “Kustoms Los Angeles”, George, Jesse, the Barris shop, and his custom car compadres, with exceeding nostalgia.

CCC-barris-dick-carter-41-ford-edison-01Dick Carter’s ’41 Ford at the Edison Plant. A slightly different angle than what was used in the Motor Trend booklet. The photo shows the great proportions of the car and beautiful flow of the Gaylord padded top.
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CCC-barris-dick-carter-41-ford-edison-01bEnlarged section shows an “KUSTOMS LOS ANGELES plaque on the concrete planter!
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CCC-barris-dick-carter-41-ford-edison-02The rear 3/4 photo is identical to the one used in the Motor Trend booklet.
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CCC-barris-dick-carter-41-ford-edison-02bEnlarged section shows that the rear bumper. license plate and taillight set-up is near identical to that on the Jesse Lopez ’41 Ford.
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CCC-barris-dick-carter-41-ford-color-02The pride of my custom ’41 Ford photo collection, a never before seen color photo taken at the Los Angeles area Edison Plant, where other well known early Barris customs were photographed. A lot of them in Kodachrome. I’ve heard of and seen published, as well as hints of, other important cars shot in color on this spot… Where are Matranga’s Mercury, Lopez’ Ford… One day perhaps?
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All photos are from the David E. Zivot personal collection courtesy Marlene Carter & Family.





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That Illustrious Sanguine 1940 Merc

 

© by Michelle M. Yiatras Timechanic ™
(Nick Matranga – That Illustrious Sanguine ’40 Merc! – original written February, 2014)


David E. Zivot and Michelle M. Yiatras are on a quest to create a truly accurate re-representation of the Nick Matranga Barris-built 1940 Mercury. Important part of this quest is a series of interviews Michelle did with Nick and many of his friends, about the Merc and many other historical details. Michelle turned this historic information into this wonderful story.

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Part one

Due to the length of this article from Michelle, we have split it up in three parts. Be sure to click “NEXT PART” at the end of this article to see the rest.

It was during one of their deep discussions over the phone about the ’40 Mercury, and the twilight of the Lost City, that David (E. Zivot) broached his intention. “Say, Nick…What would you think if I applied a serious approach to recreating your Mercury…I mean with your advice, insight, and critical judgment from beginning to end? I think I can do better than some other copies of your car. With your approval and assistance, and with your blessing. I’ve studied the car and am familiar with the proper techniques, colors, and materials that were used at the time.” After a pause, “Yeah…I’d be in on that. That would be bitchin’!” Nick replied. He perceived that David was genuinely capable of exacting justice. Going by David’s track record with the original Joe Nitti roadster discovery and restoration, as well as other projects, Nick knew he was at least cognizant and competent. David has the perspective and appreciation for the era of the American custom car that emerged from Southern California, from the immediate pre-War to post-War period, through about 1953.

Unlike other attempts that missed the target, the color was not candy apple, matte burgundy, nor freckle face strawberry, as in other interpretations. The George Barris/Nick Matranga paint job, mixed at M & H Paint in L.A., was lead based nitrocellulose lacquer alchemical blend of middle note ’41 Buick maroons called #º«@! & #¤¿« $@#%^ (what was later to become known as Barris Maroon), like a veritable gem, with deep black base note lowlights and >>>>> top note highlights. Resulting in a dusky etheric glow. A swift mercurial spectre destined for legend, haunting Nick himself, “Someday I’d like to build an exact duplicate of it…” Nick advanced on his eighties with a half-checked to-do list of life’s obligations. This particular tall order was required to wait.


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David Zivot, with his detective’s discernment, sat holding the last known remaining parts of the demolished prototype, the pair of 1948 Appleton Model 112 spotlights. Purchased from a guy named Pete in San Pedro who stripped them from the wreck in a junkyard in late 1952. The rest of the wreck was promptly scrapped and crushed. The few other salvaged parts were unwittingly sold off. The spotlights were all that were left.



CCC-matranga-oakland-51-03-wNick’s 1940 Mercury at the 1951 National Roadster Show in Oakland California. George Barris took the car to the show, while Nick had left for Korea.
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The otherworldly photo of Nick aside his Merc in the Barris stance catches the breath. An icon frequently leaves the hands of the originator and belongs to the ages. This car was shown in Oakland, CA at the National Roadster Show in Feb 1951 without Nick, and sold in Sept-Oct 1951 without Nick, because he was in Korea. Did he feel detached from it, or still connected to it, while in Korea? What plans was he making for it when he returned?

CCC-To-David-Nick-MatrangaNick Matranga signed photo for David.
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Nick aimed to keep the car. He told David that he was going to put an OHV Cadillac engine in it, probably by the Yeakel Brothers. He also mentioned he was fatalistic about making it back, so he instructed his mother to get ahold of George, that he would know what to do. George Barris, who escorted it to the Oakland and mysterious Montebello big tent (Rodder’s Journal #49) shows, made the sale arrangements. A ready line of enthusiasts had the long green $2500, the cost of a new fully loaded car. Nick had about $1800 invested, so he profited $700, and his, “Mom could sure use it.” It is presumed that a nineteen-year-old named Stanley Hannenberg of Artesia, CA, purchased it, and within several months of owning it, in Jun 1952, smashed out of control in the rain, shearing and splitting off Edison Co power poles and mailboxes, on the corner of 168th St. and Pioneer Blvd.


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The photo in the Jun 1952 Hot Rod Magazine (below) at the first annual Pasadena Auto Show and Reliability Run, showing the driver’s side open door interior view, with admiring kids looking in, could be the last known photo, taken Mar 30. Hannenberg was possibly a member of one of the attending Long Beach car clubs, and possibly knew Danny Lares, who bought the Jesse Lopez ’41 Ford custom.


CCC-1940-mercury-hot-rod-52-magazineThis photo was taken at the first annual Pasadena Auto Show and Reliability Run and featured in the June 1952 Hot Rod Magazine. 
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Nick deployed for boot camp in Feb 1951, later that year the car was sold, and he returned from Korea in Jan 1953. Born Nicholas Joseph Matranga, April 21, 1930 in Los Angeles, CA, died March 27, 2010, in Torrance, CA.

CCC-Nick-Off-to-the-Army-1951Nick off to the Army in 1951.
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CCC-Nick-In-the-Army-1951Nick (center back row) in the army in 1951.
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CCC-Nick-In-the-Army-DischargeNick’s Honorable Discharge from the Army.
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A few months before his abrupt respiratory sickness and passing, I asked Nick, “Did you choose the maroon-ish (’41 Buick #¤¿« $@#%^) color? Did you participate in the idea to blend the black and >>>>> with it? Did you prefer any other colors over the maroon?” He confided, “I picked it all. It was the color I wanted. Everybody’s car was maroon, but I wanted the color, as well as the custom, to be outstanding. We started adding black lacquer to it. We’d shoot panels and let them dry and look in the sunlight. Then it was too dark. We were thinking about the >>>>> dust anyway. The >>>>> dust looked so you wouldn’t even notice it in the evening, just dark blackish maroon. In the sunlight you would see it wasn’t black, it was opalescent,” “Like a ruby star?” “Yeah!” It was properly finished suiting.

He continued, “It was originally going to be black, but there were a lot of black cars out there. Then I saw a customized Buick in the ’41 #¤¿« $@#%^, and I thought it was so pretty. But I wanted to hop that color up. Nobody’s hit it yet but me. I have to salute George Barris for his patience with me. We shot so many panels and let them dry and looked at them in the sun. In them days it was pure lacquer. We’d shoot the car and color sand it. And let it dry for a month. And color sand it again for the final rub out. A lot of guys got impatient and let it dry only a week. I wanted to be sure that it sweated and breathed before its final color sand and rub out. So that the thinners in the paint wouldn’t shrink. George was a great painter, and he was careful not to put it on too wet. We would always use wet sandpaper. I was never a dry sandpaper man. If it went on too wet and run, we had to let it set a little and then use the wet sandpaper, super fine grade. It’s good when the paint goes on wet, but you have to control it. You don’t want it over sprayed. You want the paint to lay flat, without waves. So it is color sanded flat.”


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I further queried, “Did you save any part yourself from the car before you left for Korea?” He confirmed, “That car was completely not saved. We modified everything we were doing with parts available. Everything had to have a line with me, from where we mounted the taillights to the top chop. I was a fanatic. Johnny Zaro got me started on the ’40 Merc. The ’40 Ford standard coupe has a similar front end and grill look that the ’40 Merc had. I would have done my ’40 Ford. Then I decided it was a one seat coupe that wouldn’t look good chopped, so I found a ’40 Merc. Just happened to be driving by a used car lot when I spotted a cherry low miles grey-green coupe.


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The factory Merc had two seats, driver front and passenger back, called a club coupe. It had more length that was better to chop, that would look like not just a hot rod at Bonneville, but a custom that was just there with the look. Started out the butt ugliest Merc, and I knew it had potential to conform to the most beautiful lines, once drawn and cut. Everyone who chopped the ’40 Merc kept the post, and it looked like crap. ‘That post is gone!’ I said, to make the car flow longer. We wanted the side door windows to channel with the top line. I wanted the curve of the window frames to align with the top, in a matched flow. From the hood to the doors to the trunk, the line just flowed from the nose to the tail, it just keeps going.” “Like wind through the wings of the Mercury quicksilver insignia?” “Yeah, that’s what I’m trying to say! That’s why I moved the bumper guard mounted tail lights, the line from the trunk goes right to it.


CCC-Circa-1952-courtesy-Danny-LaresThis photo shows how nice the shape of the top and the window frames flowed on the car.
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The engine was custom built by Phil Weiand, installed with Weiand heads and intake, who I was good friends with, and I hung out at his shop. He gave me a good deal on the motor. Gaylord did the interior. The carpet was dark maroon, the upholstery was dark maroon and ivory DuPont Fabrilite. I insisted that anyone, including my girlfriend, remove their shoes before entering my car. My shoes were always impeccable. Once a girlfriend spilled a Coca-Cola on the carpet and giggled. Next day I got over her.”

CCC-nikc-matranga-carson-interiorInterior in Nick’s 1940 Mercury created by Bill Gaylord’s Top Shop.
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Jesse Lopez of Bell-Riverside-Downey, CA, on Nick

“Nick lived in a different part of town than I did. He was from the West, Fremont. Him, Rackemann, Ortega. And I was from the Southeast side, Bell, Huntington Park. Don Rackemann was a good driver at Bonneville. We were 20 miles apart. All the So Cal guys were different than the rest of the country, we dressed different, talked different, different cars. East L.A., Gil and Al Ayala’s shop. So Cal was a big area with no freeways, all surface streets.

Nick was so fun to pal around with. I fixed him up with a longtime girlfriend, Lil, from the East side. I had girls from all over. Nick was steady. She was my girlfriend, Joyce’s, friend. Pretty and blonde lady. They hit it off real good. Later he married his wife for life, and we didn’t see him much after that. He was a family man. After the War (Korea), me and Nick and Zaro weren’t together any more. Nick went his way with his wife, and years later he bought a truck shop. Early on he didn’t like to get his hands dirty. Zaro got married too.


CCC-johnny-Zaro-41-ford-marriedJohnny Zaro just got married with Fay. The photo was taken shortly before leaving the scene in Johnny’s 1941 Ford.
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CCC-Nick-Connie-JosephineA young Nick, his sister Connie and his mother Josephine.
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Nick had a happy personality. His mom, Josephine, made us Italian food at their restaurant, on Florence on the West side. (Nick was proud of his lifelong 26” waist. He was able to stay trim even though his family had a restaurant, and his favorite food was Italian.) We filled up on homemade ravioli, salads with real imported olive oil, fresh bread. Mama Matranga’s long johns saved my life in Korea, and she always hugged me and took the place of my mother when she passed in 1957, at 49, from a botched operation. When I met Nick and we went to his mother’s Italian restaurant, it was the first Italian food I ever had. There was only one Mexican restauraunt and only a couple Italian then. Nick’s mother was so very good. She sent me care packages with food and long johns. The Army really strung us out and wouldn’t give us enough food and clothes. I’da froze to death if it wasn’t for her. No one else did that for me.”

CCC_Jack-Stewart-KUSTOMS_PlaqueThis is Jack Stewart’s original Kustom’s L.A. Plaque.
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Discussing the ‘Kustom’s L.A.’ club plaque. “Mine was rusty maroon molded out of aluminum pot metal. An original one. The letters protruded, not made out of tin. The background recessed and the letters were more rounded, not squared. The frame edge had about a ¼” lip all around. The letters and frame edge were polished out, so they shined and stood out. Members were not given number stamps in order of joining up. #3 was Nick’s. The large ‘S’ at the end of ‘LoS Angeles’ had no particular meaning.

Nick had a ’53 Monterey, it was the complete body change, not like the ’55. It was factory black. He got that Merc and met his lady and got married. We didn’t hear from him for a while after 1956. Custom cars only lasted maybe 10 years. Then people got new cars, and they didn’t do anything with them. Johnny Zaro traded his Merc for that ugly bathtub car with the fadeaways, that ’41 Ford. There was a lot of work done to that car but it was ugly, different strokes.


CCC-johnny-zaro-barris-41-ford-02Early version of Johnny Zaro’s 1941 Ford build by the Barris Custom Shop.
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Recently Johnny didn’t show up at our Hemet, CA, CoCo’s get together. Twenty-two of us old Kustom’s guys. Pete Werrlein checked in with him, and Johnny said he couldn’t make it, heart problems with old age. Johnny’s always been hyperactive and nervous. I’d make fun of him for constantly eatin’ his fingernails to the quick. He had his peculiarities. He talked in riddles mostly. We’d be talking about something and he’d come up with something off the wall. He was driving his ’40 Merc from 77th St and Compton Av, just got it done, and ran into a parked car on Nadeau St. Just completely done and painted leaving Barris’ going home. For years Oren Breeland thought it was me that ran into that car. Johnny was a bad driver. He sat on the curb crying when they went to pick him up. Coming down from the Crestline San Bernardino Mountains on a crowded summer holiday with live music and dancing, he was excited because he met this girl up there, and was on his way to visit his mom. Through the rolling hills of the grape vineyards was a severe curve at 90-100 mph, and he wedged the car between two trees, and dented both sides and the top. Everything got dented because the car was sandwiched between the two trees and buckled on top. He took it to two guys in San Bernadino to work on it. George was mad and wouldn’t fix a total car wreck. So these two guys fixed it pretty good. At Barris’ we would only work on cherry cars. When I saw it I thought that son of a bitch was good. Johnny wrecked the car a couple times at least. He was so hyper he wrecked the car.


CCC-johnny-zaro-barris-41-ford-03A later version of Johnny’s 1941 Ford with a new grille and painted a new light color.
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A fat little fellow named Tony brought his ’41 Ford convertible over, and George talked him into channeling it. I told them then they’d have trouble to drop the hood and goddamn it looked like a pancake on fenders. I told them the hood would be too flat, and it was. I thought that car was an abortion. It was built for Little Tony, not Zaro. The metal work was bad, and the fade aways. A lot of waves, not so straight. Little Tony wanted it Barris Maroon, and I think it showed a lot of mistakes. It looked rough. So they changed it to off-cream to cover it up and not see the imperfections and ripples. It was never meant for Johnny, and he had nothing to do with its creation. What made him want to trade is that his car had been pounded out a few times from wrecking it. Johnny and I thought differently, and he thought Little Tony’s car looked nice. It had a floating grill, something to fill the gap. They traded cars and a little money about 1949. Johnny was real happy to have it.


CCC-zaro-andril-40-merc-old-photosAl Andril’s blue Barris-built 1940 Mercury and Johnny Zaro’s maroon version next to it.
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Johnny and Al Andril were neighbors and best friends for many years. Now Al lives by Marge and Bill in Downey, CA, and they meet up when they take walks. I like it there. I had a lot of girlfriends in Downey, and my ex-wife. Practically all my relatives and friends in Bell moved to Downey. Sister Rose has a big house there too. We all used to go to ‘Harvey’s Broiler’ (Harvey and Minnie Ortner, partners in the ‘Clock Broilers’ of L.A., founded ‘Harvey’s Broiler’ in 1958, the Downey drive-in restaurant and coffee shop, on the corner of Firestone Blvd and Old River School Rd, that became a Southern California car cruise ritual draw and later was renamed ‘Johnie’s Broiler’ in 1968.) I used to pull in with my new ’58 Bird in ‘Kandy Lak’. One of the first to roll out of King Ford in Huntington Park. Black with black interior, I drove it straight to Lynwood, and dropped the bumpers, and also the chrome gingerbread, and sanded it to paint it. I lowered the front to rake. No one ever saw a new ’58 Bird, let alone a Kustom Kandy one. My formula of candy lacquer. Joe Bailon coined ‘Candy Apple Red’ at the 1952 Oakland Show with a ’41 Chevy. His was not as bright for me. I made it just right. My secret formula. It just freaked people out. After George’s wife, Shirley, saw my Bird I sold to Rackemann for his wife, Jo, she had to have one too, her ’59 Bird in ‘Kandy Lak’.

CCC-HarveysHarvey’s Broiler’ Ca. 1958.
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Nick wasn’t into racing and mechanics like me and Rackemann were. He was more into looking good with his good personality. Johnny Zaro was a real handsome rascal. Nick could make a believer out of you with his talk. Johnny did his stint on his own ’40 Merc, whatever George told him to do. George designed and made the plaques first for his cars. Later he started and made the club. We decided to have meetings. Now he can barely remember the shop on 77th and Compton. When I ran the ‘Kustom’s’ plaque it meant something, there was only about fifteen of us. We didn’t run ‘Kustom’s’ plaques on stock cars like Nick’s Monterey or my Cadillac, even though they were nice.

CCC-Nick-Late-1950sNick Matranga in the late 1950’s.
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The clubs didn’t exist after we got back from the Korean War, no meetings because there was no more real custom cars. George might have given some plaques away, but they didn’t run ‘Kustom’s’. Formed the club when George had the plaques made for us guys who had the cars, from 1948 to the early 50’s.
Don Henchman, Bob Ruble, Richard Carter, Johnny Zaro, Al Andril, Oren Breeland, Bill Ortega, Paul Janich, Shorty Brown, Harold Larson, Carl Abajian, Jack Stewart, Vard Martin, Les Callahan, Nick, Sam, George, and myself. They voted me in as President.

We’d meet and go to Balboa, Crestline, or the Big Bear Mountains. We weren’t kids anymore, we were young men with responsibilities. We’d just plan get-togethers. No official club. Dick Fowler was a squirrel, just weird, he never fit into our clique, he belonged to Fox Florence gang. Not a nice-looking car. (The Dick Fowler ’38 Ford coupe was a very early Sam and George Barris effort, about 1946-47, when they first came down from San Francisco/Sacramento.) I knew him pretty good, he hung out at the Barris shop even before I got there because he lived by the shop. It wasn’t a real custom, not a nice chop, just changed the Packard grill, and kept it kinda black.

CCC-barris-dick-fowler-38-ford-01Dick Fowler’s 1938 Ford Coupe.
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In Bell Gardens, we raced from the corner of Eastern Av and Slauson Av, in front of the Dodge and Lincoln-Mercury dealerships, down Slauson ¼ mile, to Garfield Av, or further on to the ½ mile at Anaheim-Telegraph Rd. We’d go through the Russian cemetery to get away from the heat, and get a good view of who was winning. Bill always talks about him and Margie in the back seat of my car, when he was watching it while I was away…”


Continue reading about Nick Matranga in the NEXT PART


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That Illustrious Sanguine 1940 Merc 2

 

© by Michelle M. Yiatras Timechanic ™
(Nick Matranga – That Illustrious Sanguine ’40 Merc! – original written February, 2014)

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Part two

Due to the length of this article from Michelle, we have split it up in three parts. Be sure to click “NEXT PART” at the end of this article to see the full article.
 

David Zivot on Nick and his Merc

So…Why another Matranga Merc? “It isn’t just another one. We don’t need just another one. That automobile was an amalgamation of the thought processes of Nick Matranga, Sam Barris, and George Barris. Nick related to me, while inspired by the J. Zaro and A. Andril Mercury’s, he wanted something more advanced and stylish that would set his ’40 Mercury coupe apart from more common customs he saw around L.A. There were other ’40 Merc coupes running around then and none met Nick’s sense of style. As a high school kid in 1948 L.A. he was influenced by pillarless hardtops like the ’49 Buick Roadmaster Riviera, the ’49 Cad Coupe de Ville, and the ’49 Olds Holiday. I saw enough Matranga-style attempts in mags and at shows, and I was a bit disappointed in the lack of commitment in trying to achieve an accurate rendition. Not that accuracy was necessarily the goal of some of these builders. But Nick was clearly chagrined that no one quite ‘got it right’.

 
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Nick and I discussed the inexhaustible popularity and emulation that his senior year project provided custom car guys through the years. He actually had plans to replicate his most memorable car himself. Nick was very polite to other builders, and often autographed their visors and dashboards, but was let down by the missing verisimilitude of most that he viewed. Then I presented him that with his help and advisement I’d take a shot at it. I took extraordinary efforts and pains to assure it would be as accurate and true to nature as humanly possible. He took an immediate interest because he observed my authenticity for historical and technical concerns.

He’d say, ‘How the hell did you know that? I haven’t thought about that in 50 years!’ Nick was a consummate gentleman, well-mannered and well-informed. If I asked a question and he didn’t know the answer on the spot, a week later I’d get handwritten letters in his perfect penmanship, ‘Now I remember how I did that…’ We talked about more than his iconic car; we talked about J.C. Fremont High School, his neighborhood, the drive-ins, hanging out at George’s and Sam’s place. How it was the best being a teenager in L.A. in the 1940’s. And all the really neat cars you’d see driving around every day, very well done customs and hot rods, and not as well done but sincere efforts. It was fun and the weather permitted. He told me they’d go downtown and see Gary Cooper or Clark Gable coming out of Eastern Auto or Musso & Frank Grill or a men’s clothing store. Also he mentioned some of his relatives in charge of L.A.-based back-east interests, like restaurants and bars. They’d pick up the check for him and his friends so he could act like a big shot.
 

CCC-Nick-High-School-Senior-Autoshop-L-Fremont-48Nick at the High School Senior Autoshop L Fremont ’48.
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CCC-Nick-High-School-Senior-Football-Letterman-Fremont-48Nick High School Senior Football Letterman Fremont ’48 Back Row 2nd fr L from Nick’s 1948 Fremont High School senior yearbook, gifted to David & Michelle.
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I’m a proponent of a high degree of exactitude in representing an automotive artifact. The original car existed a brief couple of years. It’s important to have a representation that would exemplify Nick, as well as Sam and George, and the time period. Nick said if you were a good-looking guy and had a keen car you had no trouble for Fri and Sat night dates, and you could just be driving down the street and girls would jump in your car. As a teen you have a lot less cares and concentrate on the important things like cars, hamburgers, and skirts. Nick said if he hadn’t gone to Korea, he woulda really had a good time in his car, but the time he did have was too short.”
 

George’s Greek aesthetics of color and form were amazing and unfailing,
especially early on.”

 
Technical regards… “He’d seen other Barris lacquer jobs, including George’s own car, that had the deep majestic maroon that George would conjure up by using toners and custom blends that he would supervise at the paint store. George’s Greek aesthetics of color and form were amazing and unfailing, especially early on. Nick thought that patrician maroon stood out and glowed on the street, particularly at night under the street lights. Nick knew what he wanted in his mind, Sam knew what he wanted in his mind, and when they started cutting the roof they arrived at, ‘That’s it!’ Both Sam and Nick agreed that the flow of the roof, at the sail panels, a product of CA metal shaping, the raised windshield header area, and other refinements, and the most important omission of cumbersome B pillars, were much more advanced and pleasing developments than what was done on the Zaro or Andril cars. Nick was adamant about these things. Phil Weiand built and modified Nick’s ’46 Mercury block, with full Weiand racing equipment, and Winfield cam, and took special care in its assembly and cosmetic appearance. Nick wanted it sound with plenty of pep for street reliability.”
 
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Examining the ‘Kustom’s L.A.’ club plaque. “Hmmm…Color photographs of a ‘Kustom’s L.A.’ plaque, that’s neat. And also serves to confirm that they were most likely royal purple, as the contrast between the California black plate and the deteriorating Ektachrome or Kodachrome photographic print would tend to distort the true color. The photo of the aluminum plaque on Jim Skonzakes’ ’49 Buick is clearly purple. Refer to the back of the photo, July 22, 1952, #12, dated.
 
CCC-barris-kustoms-plaque-01Color photo from Jul 22, 1952 of Jim Skonzakes his 1949 Buick shows what looks like an aluminum Kustom’s plaque with a purple painted base.
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CCC-barris-kustoms-plaque-02Color photo from Oct 4, 1951 shows a brass Kustom’s Plaqueon on the Jack Stewart 1941 Ford with what appears to be a black painted base.
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The original plaque that I am in possession of, which was gifted to me from Nick Matranga a few years ago, has a numeral ‘3’ stamped into the back. It measures X” W x X” H x X” thick. The recast that Kurt McCormick makes measures X” x X” and varies in thickness between X” and X”. All early originals, let’s say the first twelve to fifteen, were cast art bronze, and had the telltale large ‘S’ at the end of ‘LoS’. Jesse Lopez was the first President of ‘Kustom’s L.A.’, and was instrumental in its formation in 1948. The plaque that Nick gave me is his original off the ’40. He got an additional plaque when he came back stateside in 1953, when the Korean War ended. He purchased a brand new ’53 Mercury Monterey two-door hard top, on which he attached the plaque. He could not remember who gave it to him, but I have an idea that all the original members were given a number as to when they joined up or when the club was formed. Just a theory.
 
CCC-michelle-nick-matanga-plaque-01Nick’s Original Kustom’s L.A. Plaque; this was Nick’s original that was emblazoned on the ’40 Merc, also ran on the ’53 Mercury Monterey, gifted to David.
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As to the aluminum one at the NHRA museum, I wouldn’t discount it out of hand. I know a fellow in Los Angeles who’s had an aluminum version of this plaque since 1952. George Barris had an affinity for Greek nobility and the trappings of royalty, that’s why he favored purple and the royal coat of arms that he fabricated for the affected Barris crest. It’s a Greek thing. In the realm of small details, notice the pair of ‘Kustom’s L.A.’ club plaques that have been removed from Nick’s car and probably Johnny Zaro’s that are stacked together in Nick’s booth at the 1951 Oakland Show. They are leaned up against the wood divider in front of Nick’s car right by the hacksaw that’s lying on the ground. One of these days one of us will spot an ethereal image of Mother Mary in the ripples of a lacquer paint job.”
 
CCC-barris-kustoms-plaque-03Two Kustom’s plaques are up against the divider wall with Nick’s Mercury on the left. (the full photo can be seen in part one)
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Tony Pisano of the Pisano Brothers, on Nick

Joe and Carmen Pisano, Tony and Frank’s oldest brothers, were family tight with Nick, like Nick was another brother. Tony Pisano, of the Pisano Brothers, who built the Pisano/Ogden ’41 Buick chopped custom with an original Gaylord Carson top, was a drag racer. He owns ‘Worco Powder Coatings’ on Cherry Industrial Circle, in Long Beach, CA. “I was in the scroungy war, when we were all into putting together the cars in different combinations. I was drafted into the Army. Nick was pals with my brother, Carmen. They met at the drive-ins and shops. Carmen hopped up some of his engines. Nick’s dad had a night club, ‘The Mint Tulip’, on Florence near Normandy. The memories are sad because it hurts to remember. Nick had a hot-headed sense of humor. He could be critical. Nick was a good-looking guy, he had all sorts of broads. Nick was a fun guy, he could walk by a woman and say, ‘Wow, what a great ass!’, and they would say, ‘Thanks for the compliment.’ He was likeable and could get away with it.”
 
 
 

Frank Pisano of the Pisano Brothers, on Nick

Born in 1939, and native to L.A., owns ‘Venolia Pistons and Rods’ on Cherry Industrial Circle, in L.B., CA. “Nick came over to Tony’s ‘Worco Powder Coatings’ every Saturday to have his ’37 Chevy powder coated. We all hung out and ate at ‘Curley’s Cafe’ for hamburgers. When I first started driving my funny car ’67 Camaro at Lion’s Drags in 1968, Nick made sure I was seat belted tight in before I got to the starting line. He’d close the door and pat me on my head. He had the side windows made right specially for me out of plastic. He hung out with my older brothers, Joe, Carmen, Tony, Sammy, and me the brat. He’d always go to the races with us to make sure everything was OK. Nick was that type of guy, loving. More than a friend. We were there for each other and helped in each other’s businesses. Carmen supervised setting up the car racks at Nick’s transmission shop. Tony painted and powder coated for Nick. If we needed a transmission done he took care of it. When you’re Italian you trade. We didn’t exchange money.
 

Nick in his days was a good-looking guy, always well dressed. And he didn’t like to get dirty

 
I first met Nick about 10 years old. My brothers brought him over to the shop, on 52nd and Western in L.A., ‘Bigelo & Pisano’. Carmen was the smart one, our leader. Joe was the car salesman. Tony was the painter. Sammy was a general contractor. I was the mechanic helper. I helped with the race cars. Nick in his days was a good-looking guy, always well dressed. And he didn’t like to get dirty. You look at him and he would talk to you, and he was very nice looking and very nice person, and you wondered if he was a gigolo. When I got to know more of him I learned he was a very true and honest man. If he didn’t like you he’d let you know about it. If he did like you he’d give his heart to you.
 
CCC-Nick-James-Mahaffey-R-1947Nick in the middle and good friend James Mahaffey on the right in 1947.
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CCC_James-Mahaffey-at-Catalina-Island-1947-Fremont-High-48James Mahaffey at Catalina Island 1947 & Fremont High Senior Grad ‘48”; Jim Mahaffey got killed making a pass and upset in his ’32 coupe at Russetta sanctioned El Mirage dry lakes in 1947 at 17 years old, erased but not to be forgotten on the speed record chalkboards; from Nick’s personal collection, including an insert from Nick’s 1948 Fremont High School senior yearbook, gifted to David & Michelle.
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They all allowed me to hang out with them. They’d say, See you at the drive-in, ‘Scrivener’s’ in Inglewood. We’d have coffee and hook up to race. We’d park in the back and talk about our cars, motors, and chops. I started driving at 13, not supposed to without a license. ’53 Studebaker trucks with Cad motors. After Korea in the ‘Screwdrivers’ club of Culver City, with my brother, Joe, and Don Rackemann and Nick. I rode with my brothers while street racing between Culver City and Inglewood. On 190th in Inglewood was a root beer drive-in that we met at to race. As fast as you could go, and whoever was way ahead would shut off because the other guys couldn’t catch him. There was no measured stretch. We had so many cars that we moved around and changed around, ’32 roadsters, Model A coupes, and Chevy coupes, 32’s-33’s-34’s, and later ’55 and ’57 Chevy’s. Before Korea we mostly worked at our race shop. It was a gathering and BS place. We always had black cars. Nick said it was important to keep it clean and polished.

He always hugged me and said I was doing the right thing by keeping ‘Venolia Pistons’ going when Joe died. Joe died in my arms at the races from a heart blockage. I took care of my mother and father when they were sick, like Nick took care of his wife and son. We always stuck together. We all had our shops on the same street on the Cherry Industrial Circle in L.B., and that was our later hang out.”
 
CCC-Russell-Lenarz-High-School-Senior-Fremont-'48Russell Lenarz High School Senior Fremont ’48”; the elusive hot rod racing photog in composite from Nick’s 1948 Fremont High School senior yearbook, gifted to David & Michelle. Russell Lenarz took the ‘Jesse & ’41 Ford 1949 Turf Club’ photo, and so many others.
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Herschel ‘Junior’ Conway, ‘Junior’s House of Color’, of Florence Av, Bell Gardens, CA, on Nick

“I was the youngest kid working at Barris’. I met Jesse in 1955. Jesse came around a lot more than Nick did. Nick already got rid of his Merc and was back from Korea by the time I met him. Even the 1960’s had passed by the time I really got to know him, even though in the early 60’s he talked to me about painting a ’57 Chevy Nomad black. I was wary, I had plenty of business, and knew he was very particular. I knew Jesse and Hirohata well. Nick and I didn’t hook up until the 1970’s. He took the Nomad to Barris’ to have Tubs paint it. And he wasn’t happy that the job wasn’t detailed enough for him. He called to tell me about it. I passed. Then he sold the Nomad, and later in the 1970’s went to build a ’32 Ford coupe.
 


CCC-Nicks-57-Chevy-Nomad-Barris-Paint-bNick’s Barris shop painted 1957 Chevy Nomad.
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He had Barris’ doing body work, his guy Dick Dean. One day he called me up to inspect some parts and redo some body work. Next I was doing all the rest of the bodywork on it. I was doing high end sports car work (Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Rolls), and he liked how I finished, fit, and detailed cars. We’re in the process of bringing it to paint. It cost a lot, so he had Boyd Coddington paint his ’32 in the early 1980’s.
 
CCC-cover-street-rodder-nikcs-32-fordNick’s black 1932 Ford coupe, painted by Hot Rods by Boyds made it onto the cover of the April 1984 issue of Street Rodder magazine.
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I’d go visit him and have him do transmission work and he’d visit me. He’d say, ‘You are the best painter, at everything you do, your detail finish work, you’re just too expensive.’ I had too much work to do, and Nick always wanted a deal. To do the custom work today to my level is very expensive. I can’t give a guy that kind of work and keep it affordable. A lot of guys are running into that. In the early days, I didn’t plan it. I made the car and we all traded out. That is the only way those cars got done. Jesse and Nick both worked two, three jobs to afford their cars, materials alone.

Today’s kids read a magazine or see a TV show and think it’s easy. I was a young boy that came from Kentucky in 1952, and I too read the mags and wondered how they afforded to do this. I questioned how Jesse and Nick had the money to spend. When I got here I realized it was a lot of bargaining and horse trading to get it done. I had Sam black out my bumpers so the bolts didn’t show through, and he leaded the hood so it didn’t have chrome molding anymore. It took him two full nights. It took me two weeks of painting his house trim to work off that trade. George wanted to include my car in a car show with others. He needed it finished so he took money out of my paycheck to pay for the labor a whole year after George and I finished my car, my senior year of high school, 1956-57. Had it not been for people like George and Sam Barris, at any shop, if not for being able to work on your car in the facilities that they had, and shared with you, the expense would not have been possible. I was very young, younger than the rest. Seventeen when that car was finished and in shows, thanks to them. I worked for Barris until 1961. By 1960 Jesse and I did ‘House of Color’, until I took it entirely over in 1961, ‘Junior’s House of Color’.” Junior’s ’50 Ford business coupe custom, painted ‘Sam Bronze’, went away by 1970, and was accurately rebuilt by Jerry Daman of Dallas, TX, who is also rebuilding the Jesse Lopez ’41 Ford club coupe custom.
 
 
 

Don Rackemann of San Pedro, CA, on Nick

Lifelong best friend of Nick’s. Ran Saugus Dragstrip. Lou Baney and Lou Senter owned Saugus, Don ran as manager and starter 1951-55. Owned ‘Don’s Speed Shop’ 1950-52, with partner Lou Baney, running at lakes and building hot engines. Changed to ‘Lou Baney Automotive’ when he sold him his share. From 1952-55 went on as ‘Ansen Automotive’ representing after-market hot rod parts to speed shops. Now owns ‘Fuel Savers Group’ MPG3 fuel enhancer. “I knew Nick since junior high. We went to different junior highs, and then later went to John C. Fremont High School. We were both small guys in the 10th grade, 15 years old, maybe 100 lbs, 5’2”. But we thought we were cool. We got in an argument and a fist fight in the quad. We were hitting each other and not doing any damage because of our small size. The other kids looking on were stunned. We weren’t even aware until the coach pulled us apart and told us we were making a spectacle of ourselves. We stayed friends. At 16 on California nights all year round us hot rodders went to the drive-ins: ‘The Wich Stand’ on Slauson by W. LA and Inglewood; ‘Scrivener’s’ on Manchester Blvd in Inglewood; ‘DeMay’s’ on Slauson in Culver City. We’d cross paths. Then for a year we didn’t.
 
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In the meantime I built a ’32 three-window coupe in stock brown-black, sitting on the corner of Hoover, and the car next to me is the primered Merc, and it’s Nick smiling at me. ‘Nick! What are doing on that lead barge?’ At that time Jesse was building his car at Barris’, I was a hot rodder, not a customizer, and I had to show him how the cookie crumbles. I revved the engine to let him know I had the horsepower. He scrunched his head and declined because he had a stock engine in it still. So I hit the throttle and went on down the road, 60-80-100 mph, in 1949. Nick’s car took a lot longer to complete than my coupe. I put my car in the hot rod show at the L.A. Armory 2nd show 1951. I took first place in the competition coupe class they put me in. A man came into the show on Saturday with his son. They went gaga and wanted to buy it. I hesitated because I just finished the paint and upholstery. Next day on Sunday he came back and offered me $100, so I took it and sold it at the show. A Merc bore, stock stroke, Offenhauser heads and manifold, three Strom 97 carbs, stock ignition, Iskenderian ground cams. Stock good street machine. Only engine I ran in it. It taught me a big lesson.
 
CCC-Don-Rackemann-32-FordDon Rackemann’s 1932 Ford Coupe at an early 1950’s Motorama show. The photo was taken by Walter Wyss and is part of the Jimmy Barter Collection (Thank you for sharing it with us Jimmy).
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CCC-Nick-Pals-in-25-T-Track-Roadster-1947Nick (rear L) & Pals in ’25 T Track Roadster 1947.
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Some guys had exotic stroker engines. My car ran so strong. It had Lincoln gears in the transmission, a longer 25 tooth cluster gear, 4:11’s rear end, 6.00 x 16 on the front. Without planning it, that combination with the compression, and the cam, and the carburetion, ran really fast with the gear ratios. I sold that car and opened up a first shop with that money, ‘Don’s Automotive’, located kitty corner from ‘Scrivener’s’ on Slauson and Western in S.W. L.A., 1951. I built engines for my friends who wanted to go fast. The first drag race at Santa Ana, 1950, before the Armory show, I raced that ’32 coupe, rolling start quarter mile, and won first place coupe and sedan class. Beat Joe Reath in the semifinals, and Dean Moon in the finals.
 

CCC-Clark-Gable-1949-Jaguar-XK120-Roadster-'Gable-Grey'Clark Gable & his 1949 Jaguar XK120 Roadster ‘Gable Grey.
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I still had the ’32 coupe and my wife was still pregnant. We were driving out to Malibu. I just finished the engine and it was all clean and chromed, putting some miles on it. Winding along the 101, on our way back through Encino, I glanced to the left and going opposite I noticed the new green Jaguar go by, and realized it was Clark Gable. I whipped a U-turn and caught up with him at a signal. He glanced over at my engine and raised his eyebrows. I revved my engine a couple times. So he smiled. He reached over to put his in low gear and then the signal changed. He jumped on it. My car with those gears I could run 70 mph in low gear. I just stayed right beside. He bangs his shift into second and I still stayed right beside him. He smacked it into third gear, I jumped on the throttle, put mine into second, and smoked his ass. I had to shut it off for the next signal. Then he pulled up next to me at the signal, and smiled and said, ‘Pretty fast, son, pretty fast.’ I was twenty years old. Sue, my first wife, just giggled. Nick and I were the same age, born the same year.

After the ’32 three-window was sold and I opened my shop, 1951, Nick went into the Army. When he came home, the first thing he did was call me and said, ‘I hear you have a really, really hot coupe!’ I said, ‘I’ll pick you up at 7 o’clock!’ He looks it over and says, ‘Aw, this is bitchin’.’ We went to ‘DeMay’s’ drive-in. There were a couple guys and cars we didn’t know. He says, ‘Is there anything here you can’t beat?’ I said, ‘No.’ So he says ‘How about that guy that just pulled in?’ A ’32 roadster. Nick walks over to him and says, ‘You wanna try it?’ ‘Yeah sure,’ thought his roadster could beat my coupe. We went to Lincoln Blvd, behind L.A. International Airport. The runways were so long and Lincoln stretched diagonally across that back of the airport. Nick said, ‘Where do you want me to get out?’ to drop him off while I ran the race. I said I can’t because the floorboards that were angled had screw down bolts. Mine fit real tight so I didn’t put the screw in, and I put carpet over them. So I would have someone sit next to me and put their feet down on them and hold them when the car went over 100-110 mph. So he had to ride the race with me a lot to hold the floor boards down, at least three times a week going street racing. He already sold the Merc.

From the late 1940’s-50’s, to the early 1960’s, Nick’s dad, Nick Sr, had a family Italian restaurant named ‘Nick’s’, on Florence Av in L.A. I ate dinner, mostaccioli and spaghetti, many times. We’d end up there before racing. Later in 1958, after I got Nick to quit laying bricks and come be the vice-president of my company, ‘National Bonded Cars’, the first company to ever put out a mechanical failure warranty on used cars. Jack Hershey also worked for me in sales. Nick’s first wife, Gayleen, and my wife of 60+ years, Jo, were friends. Nick’s brother-in-law Larry, and my wife’s brother Jon, were also real good friends. They figured out a system to make money in Las Vegas. They showed it to us, and we acted like it was nothing. Jack Hershey, who was our pal, got me and Nick to practice this dice rolling system on the living room floor, and it worked! We said, ‘Let’s go to Vegas,’ and the three of us went. Jack writing the pad, I’m working the money, and Nick’s watching the action. The first weekend we went we each put up $150 in the pot for the bankroll. At the end of the weekend we came home with $3600 each. We stayed at the Sahara Hotel because Louis Prima and Keely Smith were headlining. We really thought we were hot stuff, big time gamblers. We drove a white 1957 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. Next week we flew and did the same. It started out ahead, and then it turned and we lost everything. We called our wives to wire another $450. We lost again. They’re mad, we’re mad. On the plane home we’re not even talking to each other. I had just purchased, as the owner, the company ‘National Bonded Cars’. So we got home Sunday night. On Thursday I got my first commission check $2000+. We took that check and got back on the plane to Vegas. Hershey had the paperwork from the other runs, I put up the money. This time we won $36,000 ($12,000 apiece). This time we had a bankroll that kept us going to win. Our system worked.

 
CCC-Bonneville-1955-bThe ’29 roadster on a ’32 frame was painted Iris Blue, and striped and flamed by Von Dutch.
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At 1955 Bonneville, the ‘Iris’ light blue color, it was very subtle and really stood out with the Von Dutch red, yellow, and orange flames. Lou Baney was service manager over all three Yeakel Brothers; Cadillac, Olds, and Chrysler-Plymouth. We were sponsored by Yeakel Cad. That year of 1955 the ‘Iris Blue’ Cadillac was their prime chip color. I had all the embroidered shirts and painted vehicles in that color. Nick put up the money for the second engine that we built and won the records, that was Nick’s engine. Us hot dogs (Nick Arias Jr, Lou Baney, Teddy Evosavich, Bill Likes, Nick Matranga, Danny O’Brien, Don & Rich Rackemann, Don’s wife Jo) had Nick Arias’ Jimmy in the car the first couple days. Nick M.’s stroker in the car for the last three days that we went the fast 189 mph in 1955. We came in second. Art Chrisman’s roadster with a Chrysler, beat us that weekend by 3 mph, he got first place.”
 
CCC-Nick-Yeakel-Crew-Autographed-Aug-2001-rc-magNick & Yeakel Crew Autographed Aug 2001 Rod & Custom. As personally autographed from Nick & the guys to Dennis Loehr, gifted to David & Michelle.
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Inspecting a blurry ghost I titled ‘Drag Races 1956’ from Nick’s personal photo collection, Don comments, “Fran Hernandez was a drag race icon. At the beginning was three or four people that made the dual and three and four carb manifolds for the Ford flathead. The most popular was Edelbrock (my first was a two carb), and the first I ever saw was Eddie Meyer. Just after the War, Fran H. and Fred Offenhauser (nephew of Offy Indy engines) made a deal for Fran’s designs of a set of heads and manifolds. Fran was the machinist, and was promised 25%. Fran got the idea that the Offenhauser name carried weight. He was young and without paperwork, it wasn’t called a ‘Fran’, it was called an ‘Offenhauser’. Fran’s designs were very popular and sales were great. A few years later Fred told Fran he wasn’t getting his 25%. When Vic Edelbrock heard Fran was leaving Offy, he offered and hired him on the spot. When Fran came over to Edelbrock in 1949, the cemented guys, Bobby Meeks and Don Towle, got a little bent out of shape. Because when Fran came in he was a made dude, because he was so smart, and the lead guy in lakes and drag racing. Fran became the main man at Edelbrock. It worked out well.
 
CCC-Drag-Races-1956LF. –Bill Likes getting it fired up, LB. –Fran Hernandez legendary hot rod racer and mechanic bending over engine compartment, C. –Don Rackemann driver putting on helmet, RF. –Lou Baney, RB. -Ted Evosavich; from Nick’s personal collection, gifted to David & Michelle.
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That’s Danny O’Brien’s ’29 roadster on a ’32 frame with a ’55 Olds Hydra. Fran built the Hydra-Matic we put in that car at the drag strip. Fran did the hydramatic modifications before B & M did, Fran was one of the first, way before. I quit driving the car because it ran very well on gas or alcohol, but when we ran nitro I couldn’t control the transmission, it didn’t have enough stall speed. Even though we had the record at seven drag strips, we never lost. Fran was working on solving that. Fran was liked by everyone. Very abrupt and so bright, everyone wanted him to tell them what to do. He knew everything. An extra good guy that everyone loved.”
 
CCC-Nick-Rich-Don-RackemannL.-R. –Rich Rackemann, Don Rackemann, Nick Matranga; as taken by Dennis Loehr in Nick’s office at Advanced Transmission.
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Rich Rackemann of San Pedro, CA, on Nick

Don’s younger brother, a partner and executive of automotive marketing, advertising, and promotions, for ‘Beaumont Design Group’. “I was a tag along. My brother and Nick were eight years older and brought me with them. I started hanging out when I was 12-13. Started going to drag racing, Bonneville, the lakes, all that. Nick grew up a little more affluent than the rest. His folks owned the Italian restaurant. Some of the guys went in the kitchen to eat. Nick always had nice equipment, all his stuff was very detailed. The way he dressed, carried himself, his hair, his cars, that was very important. He goes and buys a ’40 Merc, the club coupe. His Mother said it was the ugliest car she had ever seen! He told her, ‘Ma, I have a vision. Then it will be the most beautiful car you ever seen!’ And he worked on the Merc and when it was done she agreed with him, ‘Nick, it IS the most beautiful car I have ever seen!’ He’d say, ‘Richie, it’s all in the top, the way the top chop was cut and fitted. The other guys always get that wrong, and the bumper guards in the back placed wrong. Heck, they even get the color wrong.’ He said he was enjoying himself working on the last car because the guy’s (David) head is in the right direction. Junior Conway and I went to Lynwood High School together, same grade Class of 1957. In 1955-56, Nick was building a ’41 Ford pickup at Bob Grossie’s garage on 48th St, L.A., a very nice truck with a very hot Cadillac motor. Just finished it. I told him I had a date and needed a nice set of wheels to go out in. I had the date, and also had a street drag race set up. He said, ‘Sure, come and get it.’ When I got the truck his parting words to me, ‘Richie, don’t break it!’ I told him I’d bring it back sometime Saturday at Grossie’s. Which I did, on the back of a tow truck. His only comment was, ‘Did you win?’ And I said ‘Yes, three times.’

In 1981-82, before he started the black ’32 Ford coupe, he had a line on getting the car. I had built a chopped ’32 Tudor sedan, and I finished the car and was really proud of it, and wanted to take it over to show him. He had been very busy building his business, ‘Crown Transmission’ (before ‘Advanced Transmission’) on Redondo Beach Blvd in Gardena, CA. When I took the car to him, he was very impressed, and very jazzed about getting and building another car. And just after that, the gentleman who had the ’32 coupe passed away, and the wife called Nick and asked if he still wanted the car. He immediately went and got it and started to build it. My ’32 gave him the press to get his, and make it so nice.

In 1955 we went to Bonneville. He had built a Cad motor. We put it in a ’29 hi-boy roadster on ’32 rails. Lou Baney, Don Rackemann, Danny O’Brien, owned and rebuilt the car in 1954. We were gonna run it in three different classes. We had two Cad motors, one owned by Nick, one by Lou Baney. The other built and owned by Nick Arias Jr was a GMC 302 ci 6-cylinder motor. That car won ‘Best Appearing Car and Crew’ at Bonneville, Aug 1955. Hot Rod Magazine published a great pic of the car and crew. The paint, the dress, all the support vehicles (Don Rackemann’s F-100 pickup, Lou Baney’s Cadillac, + the Baney-Rackemann-O’Brien roadster, was considered a rock-around-the-clock lakes, salt, strip, and street quadruple threat!) matched. Theme color ‘Iris’ (light blue iris) with Von Dutch flames and custom pinstriping and painting was Don Rackemann’s idea. Our uniform was white narrow legged pegger pants, special short-sleeved bowling shirts made ‘Iris’ color with the sponsors names (Yeakel Bros Cadillac). Nick always treated me with respect and as an older brother. I was part of their group event though I was younger. Frank Pisano and I were younger, we were the tag alongs.”


 

CCC-Bonneville-1955-c-at-CA-ShowLined-up at a California Hot Rod show.
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Continue reading about Nick Matranga in the NEXT PART
 
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Go back to part ONE
 
 
 
 
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That Illustrious Sanguine 1940 Merc 3

 

© by Michelle M. Yiatras Timechanic ™
(Nick Matranga – That Illustrious Sanguine ’40 Merc! – original written February, 2014)

 

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Part three

Due to the length of this article from Michelle, we have split it up in three parts. Be sure to see part one and two which are linked at the end of this article.
 
 

Karpo Murkijanian, ‘Deuce Week’ Chairman of the Petersen Museum, CA, on Nick

“Nick and I were friends for 27 years. We met in 1983 when his ’32 three-window was getting painted at Jarmo Pulkinen’s shop next door to Terry Hegmen’s shop, where my ’32 three-window was getting chopped, in Stanton, CA. Their shops were around the corner from Boyd Coddington’s shop. These guys did a lot of work for Boyd at the time. In my spare time I’d meander over to Jarmo’s and we’d all go to lunch together.” Karpo growing up in Montebello next to Whittier and East LA, was surrounded by hot rodder and low rider car culture in the 1960’s-70’s. “We hit it off right away. He was naturally drawn to my Armenian nature. He was my father’s age, and he taught me about customs as my mentor. He was like a father I never had. He always encouraged and pushed me.” In business and life he was very motivating, not just with cars.
 

CCC-nick-matranga-32-ford-1984Nick Matranga and his 1932 Ford three window coupe.
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He spent time with me at his shop and on the phone.” Karpo was like the son Nick couldn’t have because his own son was handicapped with MS.
“Nick just sold his ’40 Ford in 1949. He was driving down the street. He saw the Merc on a used car lot. He stopped and checked it out, 8000 miles on it. He bought it then and there. He brought it home, and his mom came outside and said in her Italian accent, ‘Nicky, that’s the ugliest car I ever saw in my life!’ When it was all finished, his mother and father said it was the prettiest car they ever saw in their life!

He told me a story about the Korean War. He left the car in the garage. He got a letter from his mom saying George Barris inquired to sell the car. He and some fellows were in a fox hole getting bombarded. He was literally shaking recounting the story 25 years later. They were getting hit left and right, and the next thing he knew, he was the only one left alive. And so he saw all his friends die, and he realized he wasn’t coming home. He loved his mother and wanted her to have the money. So he wrote her back and said, ‘Sell the car!’ So when he got back home, the first thing he did was go to Barris’ to buy the car back. Then he found out it got totaled. He was very disappointed, but realized it was time to move on.
 He told me early on, ‘You’re never gonna make big money working for someone else, or by yourself. You’ll make money having other good people working for you, and treat them well. Because of the volume. One man can’t do it all. With a crew you can work in volume. Treat people and your workers with respect, and kindly, because they’ve been through it. Listen to the successful older guys, and listen well. They know a lot and you’ll get way ahead by paying attention to them.’
 

CCC-Horse-Races-Family-Shauna-AnthonyHorse Races Family Shauna & Anthony.
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In 1986 at the Los Angeles Race Track, Nick had several Sulky thoroughbred harnessed race horses with painted and pinstriped buggies. He loved to talk about and show his race horses, he had box seating. He would recommend what horse to bet on and we were winning. Once I wanted to bet on one of his horses and he said, ‘No, no, no, bet on this other one…’ Another time I wanted to bet on one of his horses and again he said, ‘No, no, no, bet on this other one…’ Then I realized he personally knew all the horses racing, and their owners, and he could evaluate who would likely win a race. He would be sure to tell me when to bet on one of his horses. If I listened to him I always won.
 When Shauna, his wife, died from MS, he did change. He didn’t want to go out as much. He sold his ’32 three-window that Jarmo painted and Boyd worked on. He hadn’t even put on a couple hundred miles. The medical bills ran up and he needed quick money to pay it, and sold it in 1989. As it was on the cover of Street Rodder magazine April 1984. And then later in 2006 I’m on Ebay looking at ’32 Fords. I scroll down and see this black three-window. I recognized it immediately. A performance car dealer, Brian Burnett, from Los Gatos up north, was selling it, and in the description didn’t even know what it was. He could tell it was a high quality build. I called to let Nick know and he shat. So I called Brian and informed him that it was Nick and Boyd built. He remembered Nick and me from Boyd’s. Whoever buys it, we asked that it be displayed at the Petersen’s ‘Deuce Week’ 75th Anniversary of the Deuce, of 380 Fords. A super nice Canadian, Mike Seelbinder, bought it, and obliged.
 

CCC-Nicks-Office-1966Nick in his office 1966.
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I was co-chairing and organizing the event, and when Mike and his wife showed up I directed them to park it in the exclusive ‘Cover Car Row’ for the weekend. The black lacquer still looked brand new. It was the first show in twenty years that Nick attended any event, and the last time. The big day Saturday was hectic. Nick tapped me on the shoulder. I was surprised to see him because he rarely turned out for a car show. He loved that car. We went over to see it, and it looked so good. He wanted to meet the new owners. Nick and Don Rackemann walked around and found out that the new owners were at the hospital because they got hit by a car, walking from their hotel on Wilshire Blvd, Friday night. They were seriously hurt. Nick was winded, so he didn’t stay long. And that was the last Nick ever saw it. We sent them copies of Nick’s pictures of the car and a ‘Deuce Week’ poster. They still have the car and are in good shape. Nick really didn’t build another car until the ’37 Chevy coupe he started in 2005. He got to drive it a bit before he died, just needed final interior.
 

CCC-Nick-37-Chevrolet-Coupe-aNick Matranga with his 1937 Chevy.
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CCC-Nick-37-Chevrolet-Coupe-cNick’s Chevy at Nick’s Advanded Transmission Shop in in Torrance, Ca.
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Another major thing Nick taught me, is that when you’re building a car that has a lot of custom trick stuff done to it, put it in primer, and then drive it to get the bugs out of it. Then blow it apart and paint and chrome. That’s how he did the Merc. He drove it out to the Santa Monica beach one day. When he pulled in and parked the car, people gathered around. He went to eat. When he got back, there was a swarm of people around the car, and he couldn’t even get to it. When Hirohata’s was getting chopped at Barris’, he asked Nick if he could use his side windows to copy the design. Nick said, ‘Yeah!’ George Barris wanted him to use the LaSalle grill and Nick refused, so he used the stock ’40 grill.”
 
David says one beautiful thing about the stock ’40 Merc is the stock grill.
 
“The first ten years I knew him, in the 1980’s, traditional customs were not popular. It was all about hot rods for me, growing up in the 1960’s-70’s. Nick had a really bitchin’ three-window. I didn’t even know he had a Merc until the 1990’s, when I started coming around the transmission shop, and I saw all the Merc and Bonneville pictures on the wall, I had no idea. Now that was bitchin’, and he told me the stories. I didn’t even know he was a Bonneville competitor. I really looked up to him. The last time I talked to him he said he loved me, right as we were hanging up. I was shocked because it was the first time he spoke like that. He usually spoke no holds barred, but it was, ‘MF this or MF that.’ A week later he was in the hospital and couldn’t talk. Nick was blunt and to the point.
Either he liked you or didn’t like you. Very opinionated. Once I didn’t call him for a bit, and I called and said, ‘Eh?’, and Nick said, ‘Where the f–k have you been! Who are you banging?’ I said, ‘A Sicilian!’
 

CCC-to-nick-from-george-barris-bTo Nick From George Barris.
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CCC-to-nick-from-george-barris-aBatmobile promo-photo to Nick From George Barris.
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Frank Baney, Lou Baney’s son, of Inglewood and Huntington Beach, CA, on Nick

A finish carpenter by trade, a race dragster restorer by hobby, owns the ‘Yeakel Plymouth Special’ ’64 top fueled dragster, fellow ‘Screwdrivers’. Father, Lou Baney, General Manager of the ‘Yeakel Plymouth Center’, S. California car dealership, sponsored the top fuel dragster. “In 1963 I was 8. My father, Nick, Joe Pisano, Nick Arias, Don Rackemann, and all their families went on a big vacation weekend on the Colorado River at River Shore Resorts at the CA/AZ border, in the town of Earp, CA. They all had boats. Don was the ringleader. Everyone was waterskiing, and I had never skied before. So I was left sitting in a cabana on the beach. Nick had a broken hand because he hit a wall, and he was stuck on the beach with me. So he sat with me and talked to me a couple hours about how I could do it, ‘It’s so much fun. I know you can do it. I’ve seen you ride your bike and skateboard. You’ll pop right up.’ He went and wrapped his hand in a plastic bag and silver taped it up. He said, ‘Sit in my lap, and I’ll hold your knees with the skis sticking up from the water.’ He hooked us to the boat and said to them, ‘Hit it!’ The ski rope tightened and pulled us up, and Nick stood me up and let me go, and off I went skiing. After that first run I wasn’t afraid anymore, and from then on you couldn’t get me out of the water. I’ve taught both my kids and their friends how to water ski in the same way and in the same place. We’ll teach my grandkids that way too.

He along with the other guys were big heroes and racers. He was always so down to earth and nice to bother with me and talk and listen to me. When I was 17 and broke a transmission in my truck, I took it to him at ‘Advanced Transmission’. Just a kid and he told them to take care of me. Then we went for a ride in his black ’57 Nomad fully restored and customized. When we got around the block he asked me if I wanted to drive it. When I got behind the wheel he directed me to a big open street and then he said, ‘Hammer it!’, and it took off, a big block 396 Chevy engine. That was the fastest I ever went, it wasn’t how fast we went, it was how quick we got there. The first time I ever got pushed back into the seat. I thought mine (’61 Chevy pickup with a small block 327 Chevy), and my buddies cars were badassed hot rods. It was a real racer’s car with all the expensive good stuff in it that I wanted. Here’s a grown up that can have anything he wants and he took time with me to drive in his car. I looked up to him and he was a kid at heart.
 

CCC-Nicks-57-Chevy-Nomad-Barris-Paint-aNick with his 1957 Chevy Nomad that was painted at the Barris Shop.
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Nick knew my dad before my dad knew me. My relationship with Nick was in the moment of the 1960’s. In the 1970’s he told me to stay away from horses, both as a hobby or betting, because it’s just a place to throw money, you’ll go broke. Although he loved them. He would walk me around his shop and go over his latest cars with me. He treated me like I was somebody even though I was a kid with big eyes and my tongue hanging out. As far as he was concerned business stopped when I came in and we talked about race cars. I collect dragsters, boats, motorcycles, pretty much anything with a motor in it.”
 
 
 

Nick Arias, “Nick Arias Jr Racing” piston and engine shop, of Normandie Av, Gardena, CA, on Nick

“Later on I got to be better friends. The Yeakel Brothers sponsored us at Bonneville 1955. Don drove it. And Danny O’Brien. I built the 6 cylinder GMC engine, I ran it in the B class. We ran pretty good. Horning 12 port head. Alcohol-nitro 50-50 blend. Hilborn fuel injection. ’29 Model A on ’32 frame. All painted powder blue. Three cars, the ’55 Cad 4-door sedan for the crew; Danny’s F-100 Ford pickup; and the roadster, Cad engine A by Nick M., and GMC engine B by Nick A. Lou Baney ran the whole crew. Nick was a good guy and worked hard. He had a job as a bricklayer mason before he got into his transmission shop. We were part of the crew. We all got along. We all pitched in. We ran the Yeakel car that won. I used to stop by and say hello at his transmission shop while he was working on the ’32.”
 
CCC-Bonneville-1955-aBonneville 1955. Don Rackemann’s F-100 pickup, Lou Baney’s 1955 Cadillac, and the Danny O’Brien, Rackemann, and Baney highboy. All cars  were painted the same Iris Blue, then striped and flamed by Von Dutch. From left to right. Nick Arias Jr, Bill Likes, Danny O’Brien, Don Rackemann, Jo Rackemann, Rich Rackemann, Nick Matranga, Lou Baney, Ted Evosavich; famous shot by Hot Rod magazine, from Nick’s personal collection.
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Dennis Loehr, financial advisor, of Torrance, CA, on Nick

“I knew Nick well the last eight years of his life. Nick has not changed one iota since his youth. A feisty tailed dart, more energy than he knew what to do with, a dynamo. A guy came into his office at ‘Advanced Transmission’ in Torrance, a foot taller than Nick’s 5’5”, said something smart alecky that inflamed Nick, and Nick knocked him down and out with one punch. He was very strong for his size. He was a very proud and private Sicilian. If he didn’t like you, that was it. His arms were severely burned in Korea, and he was a very patriotic guy.” 
Dennis composed the video for Nick’s (& his lovely sister, Connie’s) obituary.
 
 
 

David Zivot, of Las Vegas, NV, on Nick’s ’40 Merc

“I can tell you that using photographs to scale anything from can be a tricky business. Case in point, the famous Marcia Campbell photograph of the almost dead on side view of Nick’s car in front of John C. Fremont High School. When I started my project, I produced a 1:1 scale blowup on a vinyl banner from a fellow’s computer that had the hard drive space to process a life size (apprx 14’ x 5’) hi res digital file of this. I lined up the door and the stainless trim, for a horizontal starting point, matching it with an actual piece of stainless off my ’40 Merc. I also used the known diameter of the Cadillac sombrero hubcaps for both horizontal and vertical measurements as well. Proceeding to chop the top from this blowup or any templates made from it, were not to the degree of accuracy that I was after. I threw away all templates, blowups, etc., and used my own eye. In fact, using any of the photographs for precise measurements is asking for trouble, because of the distortion factors involved. The metal man that finished the chop had something the others didn’t…an eye!

In the final analysis, the compound curves that are demonstrated on those wonderful creations, especially after they are chopped, are best replicated by getting as close as you can in the ballpark with measurements, but finalizing it with your eye from every angle possible, from multiple distances, and knowing the documented data of the car. There are many little tricks and details on how I think I finally captured this chop on Nick’s car that I’ll relate to you at a later moment.

 
CCC-matranga-merc-colororized-01Marcia Campbell photo of Nick’s Mercury in front of John C. Fremont High School.
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CCC_Matranga-Merc-by-Marcia-Campbell-early-1951-aTwo photos of Nick’s 1940 Mercury at the Hall of Justice on California Avenue in South Gate, Ca. more on this photo shoot can be seen in the Line-Up Photo Shoot article. These were gifted to David & Michelle by Jesse Lopez from his personal collection of never before seen originals of Nick’s car taken by Marcia Campbell, bearing her stamp on the back.
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I’ve experienced in the past that sometimes the most unreliable sources can be the original owner/builder because memories fade with age. Not so in this case with Nick, he was acute.
Some observations on early paint jobs, including Barris Maroon. My initial plans were to find a meticulous match to what was known as Barris Maroon circa 1946-52, that was based on ‘41 Buick #º«@! $@#%^. My researches indicated through discussions with George Barris, Junior Conway, Nick Matranga, Jesse Lopez, and Dick Bertolucci, boiled down to this. You can only get so close, and barring finding an untouched never been in the sun 60 yr old example of an original Barris paint job would have told me only, that particular paint job only looked like that. In other words, Barris Maroon could vary from car to car, depending on amount of >>>>> powder used, what time of the morning George Barris sprayed it, and who was bugging him that day. Plainly put, numerous variables. So to get as reasonably close as possible, I personally mixed ’41 Buick #º«@! & #¤¿« $@#%^, using toners only, with no <<<<< powder added, put in differing amounts of fine >>>>> powder (in this case a 65 yr old can of Crescent brand), dipped each shade in a light bulb, sent them off to Nick, and said, ‘Nick, when I hit it on the nail, tell me.’ Five or six light bulbs later he said, ‘You got it, kid!’ All of this is to illustrate that you have to use as close as possible the available materials at the time, talk to the original owner if he is still alive, and in the final analysis, go with your gut and understanding. You also have to satisfy yourself. The most important thing is not the quality of the paint job and the accuracy of the color, but does it look ‘1949-50’ or not?!
 
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Guys that have original color photos to extrapolate from are lucky…No base coat-clear coat, just plain old fashioned lacquer. One pint tin can Crescent >>>>> powder, late 1940’s, from John Carambia’s collection of NOS. ’41 Buick #º«@! $@#%^ modern acrylic lacquer. An original can of nitrocellulose was too deteriorated so had to use modern. All the constituent parts had separated and the solvents and binders smelled funny like stagnant turpentine. George Barris confirmed my suspicion that it was #º«@! $@#%^, rather than just the very close #¤¿« $@#%^. I tested a can of #¤¿« $@#%^ and it was too brown. The #º«@! $@#%^ was very rich with some purple like blue blood. When you buy the #º«@! $@#%^ it commonly comes mixed with <<<<>>>> powder. Trial and error determined the degree of >>>>> highlights just enough so it glowed in the sun like 24 carat, not copper, bronze, nor Roman. In those days, M & H mixed the Rinshed-Mason base and George added the >>>>>. I got a dealer of authentic vintage lacquers to mix my base and I added the >>>>> touch. Nick verified the result.
 
CCC-marcia-campbell-29A-08Marcia Campbell with the Model A Pick-Up built with the help of the Barris shop.
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I knew of Nick since I was a youngster from his outstanding custom cars. When I finally got to meet him later on he offered encouragement and advice, and a friendship developed that not only encompassed our mutual interests, also in seeing the world as it really is as well as how it really was. His reminiscences brought the days of the early hot rod and custom era to life, and perhaps more importantly what it was like to be young when it was good to be young in Los Angeles, USA.”

Nick was a paisan whose family matriculated from a neighboring village in Palermo, Sicily. His mother knew all the families and their folklores. So he knew by your family name what calibre of people you were. When I told him my family name from Detroit, he said, ‘They are good guys but formidable guys, don’t mess with one.’ Nick was very steadfast and straight forward. He was Proud to Serve both his family and his country in their times of need.

Godspeed, my good fellow, on uplifted wings. He was a hot number in a hot custom – That Illustrious Sanguine ’40 Merc!
 
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Nick & Custom US Postage Stamps, made for Nick by David as a surprise gift.
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Jesse Lopez of Bell-Riverside-Downey, CA, on Johnny Zaro, Fritz Voigt, and Gary Wise

“I just got back from Fritz Voigt’s 90th birthday party at Fritz’ house in Downey, CA, on Saturday, March 22, 2014. Quite a few of the old guys I hadn’t seen in a while, and his family and kids, all of Fritz’ buddies. I went with Pete Werrlein and my nephew, JohnBeanieAcosta. We all went and looked at Beanie’s chop of my car, and I critiqued the rear window cut, like I critiqued Jerry’s. My club coupe was ugly like a turtle before it was chopped, but it had the slope to make the right cut. Isky was at the party with his unlit cigar and English racer cap, he has a pretty sharp smart memory. We liked to wear those butcher caps, white cotton. They’d get dirty from messin’ with cars, so at night we wore a clean one, but they’d get grease anyway. I had half a dozen myself. Mickey Thompson’s ex-old lady, Dixie, was there. Fritz ran around with her for quite a few years after her and Mickey broke up. She still looks good and takes care of herself.
 Fritz looked pretty good even though he’s in a wheelchair to get around. His wife is a nice lady and helps him get around. His memory’s good.

We sat and bullshitted about street racing. He tells the story when he was testing the dragster on gas right on Slauson Av in Maywood by Fritz’ shop, west over the L.A. bridge. On the other side was wide open at Bell Gardens by the Ford/Mercury plant. We all took turns. Finally a cop came along and wanted to know who was doing the driving so he could write them up. I said, ‘Give it to me, I’m going in the Army!’ It was a couple weeks before boot camp in 1950. So he wrote me up. Bill Ortega and a bunch of guys got jobs at that big new Ford/Mercury plant. I even thought about it.
 An hour after Pete, Beanie, and I went home, Pete got a call at his house from Johnny’s son that he passed away that day, peacefully. He had heart and nerves health problems the past few years, that’s why he wasn’t hangin’ around much. Johnny’s son was trying to reach me, but I wasn’t home yet. They’ll let us know the details. I called Al Andril and some others and let them know. Al and Johnny were neighbors growing up in Maywood and built cars after they were in the Navy together.
 Craig Wise was at Fritz’ party. Craig’s older brother, Gary was a good friend of mine. He was a nice guy, worked for Hampton’s in Downey, they built blower setups for engines in their small speed shop. Building manifolds to set the 471 hemi blowers on, Chrysler, Ford. Gary was a machinist.

Fritz wasn’t the easiest guy to get to be friends with. He was one of a kind. He was my mentor. I first loved drag racing before customs. That’s why my custom hauled ass. Fritz advised me and built the 3/8 strokers I ran on my car. I’d hurry out of his shop and tore them old flatheads apart and put them back together again in one day. Fritz always made sure we kids were doing it right, my 15-16 to his 20-21, those five years made a difference. Walter was his two years older brother, was walking without a cane at the party lookin’ good, he was even taller 6’3” than Fritz’ 6’. They were good sized Germans. Art the younger brother and I were in the same grade and ran around in high school, he died young in his 50’s from cancer. He wasn’t into cars like Fritz, Walt, and me. That’s how I got to be more friends with Fritz and Walt. Us Germans and Mexicans got along. In Catholic grammar school I learned formal English and math from the nuns, so my siblings and I were the smart ones by the time I went to public school. They’d kid me that my handwriting was like a woman’s it was so neat and beautiful.

Fritz said he didn’t wear shoes until eighth grade in Cudahy, CA, at Bell High School, we were all so poor after the Depression, War, and all.
 My friend, RogelioRoy’, recommends and is driving me over to a new kind of therapeutic hospital at Mexicali, Baja, for a couple weeks, to get a full checkup and get off the meds for PTSD. I’m so healthy that I don’t need the anti- anxiety/depression drugs the VA put me on. At the old Veterans Hospital, all they know you by is your last four and serial numbers. This new treatment hospital gives advanced and personal attention. Other folks that went there were greatly improved. PTSD is a big issue for soldiers. The great American Army forgets about the soldiers when it’s done with them.”
By the way, Jesse’s keeping his ranch land in Riverside County, even though he sold most all of the roosters, because he needs the breadth of country fresh air and landscape to get away. The city life of Downey is too dense for him full time.
 
CCC-johnny-zaro-41-ford-walter-wyssJohnny Zaro ’41 Ford 1951 Oakland or L.A. Roadster Show Walter Wyss Collection Custom Car Chronicle. Possibly John Manok (who worked for George with his brother Ralph at the Lynwood shop) polishing the hood, George Barris polishing the bumper guard, Jack Stewart leaning on the driver’s front fender, possibly Gene Simmons (who hung around the shop as George’s Hollywood buddy and first brought over Jesse’s gal, Flo, on his motorcycle) on the far left. Zaro’s car when it was Barris Maroon, had more metal work on it than any other car in the shop, the darker and iridescent colors showing the imperfections.
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Craig Wise of Downey, CA, on Gary Wise, and Fritz Voigt

“Early in Gary’s career as a machinist he worked for Stricker Engineering in Maywood, CA, a few doors west of Fritz Voigt’s Shop. Gary made precision aircraft parts for the government. Rich Stricker owned and drove the ol’ SoCal Coupe for a few years with a front mount blower on a Caddy motor. When I was 15-16 years old I to work in that machine shop as a clean-up boy, sweeping the floor & cleaning the machines. When I was finished with my cleaning duties, I would go to the back room where the ‘34 coupe was stored, I would pull the old WWII canvas drop cloth off the coupe then get in and make like I was racing at ElMo and B-ville! I even talked to Rich about selling it to me. He told me he could not do that; said if anything bad ever happened to me in the coupe it would be very hard for him to deal with.
 Gary worked for 25 years with the Stricker’s, then he moved on to Don Hampton’s shop ‘Hampton Blowers’ in Downey. Gary & Don knew each other from Bell High School. Don started drag racing back in the 1950’s while he was still in high school. Don started from the bottom and raced his way up to the top. If I remember right, he was top eliminator at the 1965 Winter Nationals in Pomona driving his beautiful front engine blown Chrysler dragster. Don had a very successful career with his blower business, he’s still in the shop 6 days a week. He was elected into the Dragster Racing Hall of Fame a couple years ago.”

 

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Go back to part One, part TWO
 
 
 

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