History of the Early Custom Car

 

HISTORY of the EARLY CUSTOM CAR

 

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



Early Custom Cars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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



Creative Restyling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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


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Sources and Reference

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

 

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Early Custom Car Color Photos

 

EARLY CUSTOM CAR COLOR PHOTOS

 

A closer look at the Color photos taken of Custom Cars in the early developing years of the Color Photography. Pre 1950 Early Custom Car Color photos.


The Color photo¬†technique became available to¬†the public in¬†1935. At first only as color slides, and later in the early 1940’s color prints were developed.¬†Due to the relatively high costs the color photography did not really became a “standard” for regular use until the later part of the 1950’s. Still there were many professional and amateur photographers all over the world experimenting with color photography. Mostly used for family photos, and early magazine prints, but some of the early Car guys also started to experiment with color photography. We all have seen the amazing color slides taken of the 1940’s dry lake races by Don Cox. beautiful Kodak color slides capturing the colorful work of Hot Rods. However for unknown reasons not to many color photos were taken of the Custom Car scene in the 1940’s and even in the early 1950’s.

It is kind of sad that not more color photos were taken of the Custom Cars in this period. We all have heard the stories on the mile deep organic colors created by the Ayala and Barris shops. Yes we only have very few color photos showing these actual colors. After I had done an article about a series of three color photos taken in 1949 at the Edison Substaion in Inlewood Ca. we recieved several emails asking us about more color photos of the early Custom Cars. So then the idea for this article submerged. Pre 1950 color photos of Custom Cars. I have collected some of the better color photos I was able to find of Custom Cars from this period. I wish there were many more, since it really is amazing to see these car in full color taken at the time they were just finished. So every now and then some new material surfaces, and I hope that the future will bring us more color photos of the early Custom Cars.

1939 unopened Kodak Kodachrome box (images from http://retinarescue.com/)
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Color film since the 1930s

In 1935, American Eastman Kodak introduced the first modern “integral tripack” color film and called it Kodachrome, a name recycled from an earlier and completely different two-color process. Its development was led by the improbable team of Leopold Mannes and Leopold Godowsky, Jr. (nicknamed “Man” and “God”), two highly regarded classical musicians who had started tinkering with color photographic processes and ended up working with the Kodak Research Laboratories.

Kodachrome had three layers of emulsion coated on a single base, each layer recording one of the three additive primaries, red, green, and blue. In keeping with Kodak’s old “you press the button, we do the rest” slogan, the film was simply loaded into the camera, exposed in the ordinary way, then mailed to Kodak for processing. The complicated part, if the complexities of manufacturing the film are ignored, was the processing, which involved the controlled penetration of chemicals into the three layers of emulsion. Only a simplified description of the process is appropriate in a short history: as each layer was developed into a black-and-white silver image, a “dye coupler” added during that stage of development caused a cyan, magenta or yellow dye image to be created along with it. The silver images were chemically removed, leaving only the three layers of dye images in the finished film.

Initially, Kodachrome was available only as 16mm film for home movies, but in 1936 it was also introduced as 8mm home movie film and short lengths of 35mm film for still photography. In 1938, sheet film in various sizes for professional photographers was introduced, some changes were made to cure early problems with unstable colors, and a somewhat simplified processing method was instituted.

In 1936, the German Agfa followed with their own integral tripack film, Agfacolor Neu, which was generally similar to Kodachrome but had one important advantage: Agfa had found a way to incorporate the dye couplers into the emulsion layers during manufacture, allowing all three layers to be developed at the same time and greatly simplifying the processing. Most modern color films, excepting the now-discontinued Kodachrome, use the incorporated dye coupler technique, but since the 1970s nearly all have used a modification developed by Kodak rather than the original Agfa version.

1946 flyer for Kodak Kodachrome Film for full-color pictures.
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In 1941, Kodak made it possible to order prints from Kodachrome slides. The print “paper” was actually a white plastic coated with a multilayer emulsion similar to that on the film. These were the first commercially available color prints created by the chromogenic dye coupler method. In the following year, Kodacolor film was introduced. Unlike Kodachrome, it was designed to be processed into a negative image which showed not only light and dark reversed but also complementary colors. The use of such a negative for making prints on paper simplified the processing of the prints, reducing their cost.

The expense of color film as compared to black-and-white and the difficulty of using it with indoor lighting combined to delay its widespread adoption by amateurs. In 1950, black-and-white snapshots were still the norm. By 1960, color was much more common but still tended to be reserved for travel photos and special occasions. Color film and color prints still cost several times as much as black-and-white, and taking color snapshots in deep shade or indoors required the use of flash bulbs, an inconvenience and an additional expense. By 1970, prices were coming down, film sensitivity had been improved, electronic flash units were replacing flash bulbs, and in most families color had become the norm for snapshot-taking. Black-and-white film continued to be used by some photographers who preferred it for aesthetic reasons or who wanted to take pictures by existing light in low-light conditions, which was still difficult to do with color film. They usually did their own developing and printing. By 1980, black-and-white film in the formats used by typical snapshot cameras, as well as commercial developing and printing service for it, had nearly disappeared. (source Wikipedia)

One of the many early users of Kodak Color material was Walter Wyss, who emigrated from Switzerland to the US in the late 1930’s. He took many color slides in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. But sadly for us, he did not move to sunny California until 1950. There he took some color photos of some Hot Rods and Custom Cars, but as far as we know, none before he moved out west. More about Waltery Wyss can be found in several of CCC Articles on his collections and work.
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Custom Car Color Photos

In this article I like to stay focused on pre-1950 taken color photos. The 1936 – 1949 time frame in which color film was available was an extremely interesting period in the history of Custom Cars. The time where the base for it all took shape. The more color photos we find from this period, the more we get to know how the style evolved on the years. So far the very first color photo of a Custom Car I have come across was taken in 1945, at least the license plate on the car, the Jimmy Summers 1940 Mercury is from 1945. I like to think there will be more, and hopefully older color photos of the beautiful styled cars from the early 1940’s. Hopefully one day they will surface. Lets take a look at those that I have gathered for this article.

Kevan Wright came across some very unique early photos, slides and negatives. This color slide taken in 1945 is, so far, the earliest color photo I have come across taken from a Custom Car. The car in the picture is the¬†freshly finished Jimmy Summers ’40 Mercury.
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Dick Page shared this great color photo of Jimmy Summers posing with his wife in front of his ’40 Mercury Custom taken in 1946. (The scan was made from a photo printed from a scan of the original slide.)
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Two faded color show the Jimmy Summers ’40 Mercury in its new Buick Green paint-job. The color slides were taken in 1949.
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Wally Welch’s 1941 Ford was custom restyled at the Gil Ayala body shop. Gil painted Wally’s Ford in what he called a¬†Devil Red color. Wally had a few small color photo prints in his collection. They were sadly all faded quite a bit. This small round corner print shows Wally’s Ford in its early version with stock grille sides which were later replaced with a 1942 Ford grille. This photo comes from 1947.
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This squire¬†badly faded and yellowed color photo shows the later version of Wally Welch’s ’41 Ford. This photo print was made in late 1949.
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Jim Skonzakes had several of the¬†color slides he made in the late 1940’s transferred to the Kodak Full-Color-Prints. This sample shows Jim’s 1941 Ford photographed in late 1948. Jim had the 14 x 11 inch Kodachrome Enlargement¬†prints¬†made in January 1949.
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These Kodak enlargement prints are developed onto a thin plastic sheet, and are built up of layers that create the final, very accurate, colors. This image shows an enlarged section of the ’41 Ford photo (top left corner) and shows how the layers started to peel away after 60 plus years. The inset photo shows the Kodachrome Enlargement stamp on the backside of the photo.
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Another¬†Kodachrome Enlargement print from Jim Skonzakes shows Jim’s mildly restyled ’48 Lincoln Continental. These early large color prints show very nice colors, even after more than 6 decades.
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Al Twitchell’s 1941 Plymouth Custom with full fade-away fenders was painted light blue. Al had a couple of color slides made of his car which were used to create this small size color print in the late 1940’s. The color print, from an unknown manufactory, has been faded badly over the years. More on Al’s Plymouth can be found found in THIS CCC article.¬†
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Alex Xydias owned this nicely restyled ’34 Ford Cabriolet in the mid to later part of the 1940’s. His Ford had work done by Jimmy Summers and the Valley Custom Shop, who ended up painting the car gold metallic as it is shown in this faded color photo from 1948-49.
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1936 Ford Coupe mildly restyled Custom color slide from the late 1940’s.
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Frank Kurtis completely rebodies 1941 Buick Custom Sports-Car which he painted bright red. The color print was made in the late 1940’s and has lost some of its color over the years.
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Lynn Yakel’s 1936 Ford photographed in color next to Gil Ayala’s shop in East Los Angeles. The Ford was painted a beautiful coper color.¬†
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Color photo of a 1941 Ford (or Mercury) taken in front of the Gil Ayala Auto Body Works Shop shows a beautiful bronze/coper paint-job. The color slide was taken between 1948-49.
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At the end of 1949 several Barris Customs created Custom Cars are being photographed for future Motor Trend Magazine feature articles. As far as we can tell some of the photos were shot in black and white and at least one shot of each car was done in color. More about this unique photo session can be ready in the Edison Location article here on the Custom Car Chronicle. From this photoshoot at least three color photos survived, and they give us a really fantastic look at the rich paint colors used by the Barris Customs Shop in the later part of the 1940’s.

Vic Grace 1941 Buick with an amazing deep blue-green metallic paint job.
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Johnny Zaro’s 1941 Ford Convertible with a deep maroon paint job.
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Dick Carter’s 1941 Ford was painted a super deep dark maroon with gold Powder added for some extra sparkle.
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Robert Genat’s book The Birth of Hot Rodding shows an large selection of amazing color slides taken by Don Cox in the late 1940’s very early 1950’s.¬†While the book obviously concentrates on Hot Rods, there are a few late 1940’s Custom Cars to be seen in the background of some of the books color photos.
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More Early Custom Car Color Photos?
We are always looking for more early color photos of Custom Cars. So if you have some in your collection, or if you know about some early color photos of Custom Cars from another collection. Please contact Rik here at the Custom Car Chronicle, so that we can add them to this article, or perhaps do new article showing more of these amazing early Custom Cars in full color.

Thank you





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Early Flipper Hubcaps

 

EARLY FLIPPER HUBCAPS

 

In the mid and late part of the 1930s the industry started to create the first Custom Car accessory parts. Lets take a closer look at an very early Flipper Disk Hubcap.



A couple of year ago I was browsing eBay searching for some Custom Hubcap photo for my Single Bar Flipper Hubcap photo archive. I came across an auction that was listed as: 1930’s? Ford Accessory? Hollywood Flipper Hubcap Original – Old School.

The hubcap that was offered looked very much like some of the ripple disk hubcaps I had seen from some very early dry lake racers, but this one had a flipper added to the center. Which was very much like the Hollywood style Single Bar Flipper Hubcaps we all know so well from the 1940’s customs. I had never seen anything like this flipper before. The small diameter smooth section of the hubcap looked a lot like the Cadillac flipper hubcaps from ’34-35, which are shown in an older article I did on the Single Bar Hubcap design. But on the Cadillac unit the smooth hubcap with flipper are separate piece, while on this eBay offering it is all one hubcaps (with the flipper as a separate part). What really intrigued me about the offering is that it mentioned that the hubcap might be a factory accessory.

The hubcap eBay listing did not come with much info:¬†Few Dings–Needs some TLC No holes! Measurements are approx. 13 7/8″ across front and back!
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The last photo shows the hubcap mounted on a sort of beauty ring, and the flipper part has been removed from the hubcap, to show how it was mounted.
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Some time after I had saved the eBay early Flipper Disc Hubcap I came across a photo of an early Customized 1937 Ford convertible sedan in the Rodder’s Journal promotion on the¬†Strother MacMinn book Hot Rods and Custom Cars and this car seemed to have the same hubcaps with the small smooth section and small flipper hubcap. Exactly the same hubcap as the one I had saved from the eBay offering. So now I know that the hubcap¬†was most likely an aftermarket or factory accessory unit, that was available. The photo caption in the RJ magazine did not mention a date, but it looks like the license plate is a California 1940 plate.


The photo from the Strother MacMinn Collection is not dated, but it looks like the California plate comes from 1940 with larger rounded corners. And that the chrome license plate surround is an older type fitted to the pre 1940 more square cornered plates. The nice chrome plated hubcaps look really good with the multiple ripples and small spinners. It gives the car a very classic look.
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Enlarged section of the photo gives us a good look at the hubcap with the small flipper.
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In early 2016 I came across another photo, a really good quality one of the Tommy Lee Speedster that shows the exact same hubcaps on this car. The photo is part of the Revs Institute and scanned at high res, which allows us to have a really good look at the hubcap. This photo also shows the license plate of this car which is a California 1938 plate. So we now know that the hubcaps are at least from 1938, or perhaps older.

The Tommy Lee Speedster¬†was created by Frank Kurtis in 1937, and the car was designed by George Du Vall. After I found this Revs photo I searched in my online collection and found more photo of the Lee Roadster with these hubcaps. For some reason I had¬†never really noticed them… perhaps especially since the restored car has a set of ¬†more regular Single Bar Flipper Hubcaps mounted.


Beautiful night time photo taken by Ted Wilson at the Gilmore Stadium in 1938.
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The hubcaps were used on the car without beauty-rings which would become very popular in the next couple of years.
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And the one on the rear wheels showing a little bit more of the side of the flipper.


Another photo of the Tommy Lee Speedster with the hubcaps at one of the dry lake races, year unknown.
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George Du Vall

Now I knew that these unique hubcaps were also used on the Tommy Lee Speedster I did a little more research, and remembered a really nice design sketch that George Du Vall. Ron Kellogg had shared this image online some time ago and I had saved it with the rest of my Tommy Lee material. When I looked at it I was shocked to see that the design sketch included the exact design for these ripple disk flipper hubcaps. So could it be that George Du Vall had designed these hubcaps, perhaps especially for the Tommy Lee Roadster, or perhaps he had already designed them for another project and they had been in production already? George Du Vall has been credited with the design for several custom hubcaps including the more common ripple disk flipper hubcap, and the Swirl Hubcap.


The beautiful side view Sketch George DuVall created for Tommy Lee and Frank Kurtis in 1937 shows the design for the early ripple disk flipper hubcaps.
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I have not been able to find any proof that the hubcap in this article¬†is an George Du Vall design and product, but it does look very plausible. Especially with the exact design on the Tommy Lee Speedster sketch, and the knowledge that Du Valle designed more hubcaps in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Most likely George sold his design and the production drawing to several aftermarket companies who started to produce these hubcaps. In preparation of this article I tried to find as many samples of these hubcaps as I could. But they are very rare. Most likely not to many where produced before the more common larger size 2 or 3 ripple disk single bar flipper hubcaps took over the market.


An old article on George Du Vall shows that George Du Vall was also the designer of these hubcaps, which have a larger moon section and flipper. ¬†It looks like this is the hubcap that is also used on the ’38 Lincoln at the end of this article.
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This unusual 1937 Ford ex Sedan Custom also appears to have a set of similar styled hubcaps, but it looks like these are used without the flipper. We know that the later version of the Ripple Disk hubcap was also available without the flipper, so perhaps this was the case with this early unit as well.
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Most likely this photo was taken¬†around 39 (square corner CA plates with World Fair text on the top). The ’36 Ford 5-window coupe has its running boards removed, fender ends reshaped, a set of beautiful torpedo shaped chrome headlights and a set of what looks like a none flipper version of this hubcap. Also interesting in this photo is the pin-striping along the belt-line, one of the earliest, if not the earliest I have seen on a Custom.
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And another set of the hubcaps with-out the flipper on this 1939 Ford Coupe. Unsure about which state this car comes, I cannot read the plate. Also notice the double sided white wall tires.
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1934 Ford chopped Cope from the AHRF shows a similar, non flipper ripple disc hubcap. Notice that the ’34 was nicely Custom Restyled with matching ripple ’37 DeSoto bumpers and a set in license plate.
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From the Howard Gribble collection comes this ’37 Ford that appears to have the same hubcaps as well. Perhaps these are an in-between version of the original hubcap in this article, and the more common wider hubcap that was “mass” produced.
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A Single Bar flipper box label I came across online many years ago. Not sure if this is a box for the hubcap in this article, or a later version with a larger moon section. I have not seen many of these boxes. “Streamlined” Doll-Up Wheel Discs.
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This beautiful restyled 1938 Lincoln was built before WWII and uses also a smaller size Flipper disc hubcap. But this one is clearly an in-between the hubcaps from this article, and the more common 2-3 ripple disk hubcaps from the 1940′.¬†
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Just including this photo to show the most popular version of the single bar flipper hubcap. And how it was already available in 1940. This particular one has three ribs, but there were also version with two, and even one rib.
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Factory or Dealer Accessory

In the beginning of the article I mentioned that the eBay auction listed this Single Bar Flipper Hubcap as a possible Factory Accessory part. I was very intrigued by that, since I had heard one time before about a single bar flipper hubcap as a factory accessory, but I’m still unsure about this, and so far I have not been able to find any information about this. It could of course be possible that FoMoCo had bought the designs from George Du Vall for these hubcaps… but at this moment I think they were aftermarket products, perhaps they were available from the FoMoCo car dealers. I hope one day to find out more about this.

Here is an photo of an dressed up 1939 Mercury that was listed as an factory or dealer photo with factory accessory parts, antenna’s, spotlights, bumper over-riders¬†and flipper hubcaps. Anybody knows anything more about this?
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Custom Grilles Vertical

 

CUSTOM GRILLES VERTICAL

 

Since the very early beginnings of Custom Restyling the grille has played a huge part in the overall design. Pioneer Customizers designed their own grilles, later swapped or modified grilles were the rage. Lets take a look at the early, vertical Custom Car grilles.



One of the key factors of Custom Restyling was, and still is, to hide the actual origin of the car, and make a car appear to be a more exotic car. The exclusive brand cars from the 1930’s ‚Äď when custom restyling really took off ‚Äď were Cadillac, LaSalle and Packard Duesenberg and a few others. These cars all had tall, Art Deco styled grilles and hoods, visualizing Class, Elegance, and Power. These were all wonderful designed grilles and from the very early days of custom restyling these particular grilles from the Cadillac’s, La Salle’s and Packards became the number one choice of many Customizer, or at least an important inspiration source.

Our journey in this case does starts actually before these higher-end car grilles were adapted to lower-end cars. The first Custom grilles to be used on Customized, restyled cars, were mostly hand made instead of adapting grilles from the more expensive brand cars. In the early 1930’s when car Customizing started time was relatively cheap compared to more modern times. Cheap labour made it possible for the custom restylers to create completely hand crafted details like grilles to set the restyled automobiles completely apart. The price of having those hand made grilles chrome plated was also far from what we are used to today.



Early Custom grilles

People like Frank Kurtis, George Duvall and later shops like Coachcraft designed unique grilles for their restyled cars. Grilles that required heavy modified stock or swapped grille parts, but more often complete scratch built units. Created from brass, or metal, with beautiful Art Deco styling crafted by skilled craftsman, completely smoothed before send out to be perfectly chrome plated. New grilles that made any regular automobile look like and exclusive top model and changed the overall appearance. One of the better samples of this is the multiple bar grille George DuVall designed for the SoCalif Plating 1935 Ford shop delivery car.

ccc-frank-kurtis-grilles-01Frank Kurtis created several custom built cars in the early 1930’s. Here are three samples with all hand made grilles Frank did.
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ccc-atlas-grilles-1933Frank Kurtis also did a 1931 Dodge panel for Atlas Chromium Plating company. He used a 1933 Ford grille to make it looks more modern, and streamlined. The all chrome plated grille on the race car is stunning as well.
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ccc-duvall-grille-01-1933Another pioneer when it comes to Custom Grilles was George DuVall. George worked for the Leonard DeBell’s¬†So Calif. Plating Company and designed many special parts. Including some exclusive custom grilles for the So Calif. Plating Co. shop trucks. This one, created by George DuVall was on an 1932 Ford Roadster So Calif Plating Co. Pick up and was photographed in 1933.
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ccc-duvall-grille-so-cal-plating-1936Perhaps George DuVall’s most popular grille he designed was on the 1935 Ford So Calif. Plating Co shop truck. All hand made from plated brass.
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ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-duvall-01George DuVall dod several designs for the grille on the SoCalif Plating ’35 Ford, and used similar ideas for other designs as well.¬†These designs were created around 1935.
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Custom Grilles in Early Publications


Dan Post Publications

The first and most popular publications on Custom Cars were created by Dan Post. In his Custom restyling manuals, which he started in 1944, he described how you could restyle your car by updating or changing the grille of your car. Over the years he added more and more material to the subject of grilles and added a lot of photo samples in the Master Custom-Restyling Manual (1947) and later Blue Book of Custom restyling (1949-52). These early publications must have played a big role in the style and development of Customizing in general and of course also grille restyling in particular.

ccc-dan-post-grilles-01-1944From its first publication in 1944, Dan Post has been writing about custom restyled grilles. And which factory grilles could best be used for your car.
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ccc-dan-post-grilles-02-1944Special attention was payed by Dan Post to the ’38 Ford type grilles and how they could best be restyled.
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Edgar Almquist Publications

Edgar Almquist Styling manuals from around 1946-48 are another very important source for the Custom restylers in the 1940’s. When there were no regular magazines available yet it were these manuals that could be mail ordered or bought from the local speed and custom shop that brought the very welcome inspiration.


ccc-almquist-grilles-01-1946Edgar Almquist wrote a lot about restyling grilles in his 1946 Restyling Manual. He showed several cars with custom grilles and used simple drawings to illustrate his ideas.
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ccc-almquist-grilles-illustration-1946The Illustrations in the Almquist manual are easy to understand, and show how much impact these grille chances can have. Illustration #9 shows what happens when the grille is changed from vertical to horizontal. We will get back to that in part two on Custom Grilles, here on the CCC.
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ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-car-adsThe most popular¬†grilles the pioneer customizers liked to use. ¬†1937-40 LaSalle’s, 1939-40 Nash, And 1942-48 Packard grilles.
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The Aftermarket

Another way to create the more appealing smaller, taller grille was to incorporate a so called “winter-grille“. Designed to keep the engine at temperature during the winter period. One of the companies that created these winter-grilles was Pines Winterfront Co. Today these are very high sought after aftermarket products.
Other aftermarket companies as Eastern and Cal Custom started to design and produce special narrow grille kits to personalize your car in a more bolt-on type of way. Especially for the backyard¬†customizers. Products like this were available from the late 1930’s.

ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-eastern-49Eastern Custom catalog from 1949 offer several components to create custom vertical grilles.
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ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-eastern-49-02’39-41 Ford options. The aftermarket catalog show that the Fords were the most popular cars to customize. Those were the cars the aftermarket made the most custom restyling parts for.
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ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-pines-wintergrilleThe Pines Winterfront Co. in Chicago created special winter-grilles for some¬†model cars in the 1930’s. These special¬†grille, reduced the open section of the factory stock¬†grille, and could even be close more manually to keep the engine hot in the color winter. One of their products was this winter-grille for the 1936 Ford. Early Customizers used the¬†outer part of this set up¬†to create Custom grille¬†surrounds.¬†
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Narrowed stock grilles

In the late 1930’s another trend was started. Factory stock grilles from lower-end cars were modified, restyled to make them look more attractive. Modified to make them work better with the restyled cars. When modifying these stock grilles the builder was inspired by the high-end car grilles. Grilles were narrowed by adding sheet metal to the sides, or new inserts were fabricated. creating much more streamlined grilles. These narrower grilles had of course one big disadvantage… Cooling of the engine. Often special below the bumper scoops, or side grilles needed to be created to prevent the engine from overheating.

A fantastic sample is the Santa Monica ’36 Ford 5-window coupe. The unknown customizer narrowed the top section of a stock ’36 ford grille sin such a way, that the top was now as narrow as the bottom section of the grille. The grille sides body panels were extended to match the narrowed grille. The top corners of the grille were radiuses, making the whole set up much more pleasing to the eye. The result was a completely vertical shaped grille, that still looked very much like a ’36 Ford grille, just more elegant. Two small elegantly styled “wing” grilles were created in the front fenders, to help cool the engine. The new grille set up fitted perfectly with the art deco look and feel of the rest of the custom restyling on this car. This one really is a stunning sample of early customizing.

CCC-36-ford-5-window-1941-02Santa Monica ’36 Ford 5-window coupe. Beautifully styled grille based on the stock ’36 Ford grille.¬†The main ’36 Ford grille was narrowed at the top, the top corners rounded with a larger than stock radius and new stainless trim. The side of the grille was filled in with shaped sheet metal. To make sure the engine would be cooled enough two small “wing grilles” were created in the same style as the main grille and added to the front fenders. Most likely special “tunnel’s to guide the air to the engine were added underneath the fenders. This photo was taken in Santa Monica in 1940.
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ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-de-rosa-48Frank DeRosa with his 1936 Ford convertible with beautiful narrowed grille and sunken GM headlights in 1948. 
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ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-36-ford-09Bill Grader from Seattle created this great looking Roadster in Cadillac Cypress Green. He filled the grille sides more than some others leaving a very small opening, thus creating an optical very tall front of the car. This color photo shows the car in the early 1950’s after the original DeSoto bumpers had been replaced by ’49 Plymouth units.¬†
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ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-macminn-37fordEarly 1937 Ford sedan convertible custom with a narrowed grille. The sides of the stock grille are covered and a new vertical stainless trim piece was added to give the new smaller grille a nice finished look. Interesting to see the new belt line side trim to cover the grille side panels.
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Custom Made Grilles

In the early years of Custom restyling it was perhaps a bit more common to create all custom made grilles than it was later on. A few key factors played a big role for this. First of all, the custom restyles liked to be totally unique. And creating an custom made grille allowed for complete freedom in design. The low hourly rates and low prices for chrome plating also played a huge part. In cases like the cars created by Frank Kurtis and George DuVall (which can be seen above) the creativity an showing what could be done by the companies the cars/grilles were created for played a big roll. There complete custom grilles were more like an advertisement for what they could do for their customers. The result was extremely wonderful grilles working very well with the rest of the designs of the restyled cars.

CCC-Solomon-Wong-40Ford-01-70Coachcraft created a custom grille from chrome plated round bar for the 1940 Ford based Roadster for James Wong in 1940. The stock ’40 Ford grille insert was replaced by the new unit, and the side grilles were filled in. Later the filled in sections were replaced with louvered units once again, to help cool the more powerful engine then.
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ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-36-ford-08Another early Custom with all hand made grille was this 1936 Ford 5-Window Coupe restyled by Howard Fall for Tommy Jamieson. The front end of the car was replaced with that from an 1938 Ford, and the whole grille area was redone with a hand made chrome plated insert. Most likely this set up caused some heating problems since in the late 1940’s early 1950’s¬†several holes were cut in the grille surround, allowing for some extra air to the engine.
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CCC-george-barris-36-ford-coupe-01George Barris personal 1936 Ford coupe might have used one of the Pines winter-grille surrounds to create this custom grille opening.
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ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-36-ford-011936 Ford with a new grille cover with smaller vertical with round top and bottom grille opening, nicely molded to the front fenders. A new grille was created from what appears to be flat bar surround and round bars inside the opening. The whole unit was chrome plated for a nice finished look.
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ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-37-chevy-011937 Chevy with Custom created grille opening. Possibly the bars using in the new opening come from a 1939 Nash. The new much narrower oval shaped grille changes the look of the Chevy completely.
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ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-jimmy-summersJimmy Summers created a custom grille for his personal channeled 1940 Mercury with sectioned hood. The grille was created from flat bar stock and has been shaped to roughly resemble a Buick grille.
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In the early 1940’s customizers started to use the more exclusive car brand grilles like the afore mentioned Cadillac, La Salle and Packard grilles. They were taken from junk yards, or perhaps sometimes straight from the car dealers and adapted to smaller, cheaper lower-end-models from Ford, Chevy, Buick, etc. The grille designs from these high end brands were often of much nicer design, added much mored style, or length and height to these lower-end-models. And of coarse the idea of up-scaling the lower class cars played a roll in all this as well. And above all these nicely designed grilles just look so awesome in these restyled cars.




Packard Grilles

The Packard Clipper was introduced in April 1941, the car came with a wonderful Art-Deco styled narrow grill devised in two halts with small horizontal grille bars. This grille was an instant hit among the early customizers. This grille ended up on many restyled cars, and in many different ways. Larger model types as the Packard Super used larger, and most of all wider grilles with a similar design, but then with vertical grille bars. It was a bit more tricky to get these larger grilles to work with the customized cars, but especially 37-38 Chevies and 39-40 Fords looked very well with these larger grilles. The samples below illustrate that there were/are many ways to install one of these Packard grilles. Some are placed as high as possible, others simply start at the bottom of the grille opening and end a few inches below the hood opening.



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Harry Westergard used a Packard grille on Gene Garrett’s¬†’36 Ford¬†convertible built in the early 1940’s (1943 photo). The rather low position might perhaps indicate this was one of the first Packard grilles he used¬†on the Customs he created.¬†
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ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-westergard-simonsHarry Westergard loved to use Packard Clipper grilles. This one he added to Max Ferris’s 1936 Ford Roadster. Harry created a beautiful filler panel, molded it to the front fenders and made the Packard grille fit like it came like it from the factory.
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ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-westergard-salHarry also added a Packard Clipper grille to Sal Cacciola’s 1938 Chevy convertible. The Packard grille works extremely well on this car, where the hood starts at the flat spot of the top of the grille. As it always belonged on this car.¬†
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CCC-barris-dick-fowler-38-ford-09The Barris brothers reshaped the front of the hood, and hood sides to make the Packard Clipper grille work on Dick Fowler’s 1938 Ford Coupe around¬†1946-47. The new grille made the ’38 Ford look much taller than stock, and more exclusive.¬†
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ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-40-ford-01The 1940 Ford customs usually had stock grilles, or perhaps the sides filled in. The use of a Packard Clipper grille like on this chopped and padded topped convertible was rather rare, but looks surprisingly good. A lot of work was needed to the hood and side panels tao make it all work and look perfect.
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ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-36-ford-02Interesting photo from the Howard Gribble shows how a Packard Clipper grille surrounds was added to the center of a stock ’36 Ford grille, on this ’36 Ford. The center bars were removed from the stock grille so that the Packard grille could fit inside. Typical backyard restyling, to make your “average” Ford look like a more expensive car.
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ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-37-chevy-semasHarry Westergard used a larger Packard Super grille on Leroy Semas’s 1938 Chevy Coupe. Another really great sample of how to integrate thes grilles the best way. Harry Westergard was a great craftsman, and he was exceptionally skilled in using more exclusive grilles to make lower end car look at their very best.
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ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-bertolucci-38-chevyDick Bertolucci used a larger Packard grille on his personal 1938 Chevy Coupe in the¬†late 1940’s early 1950’s. Dick still has the car today, and has been working on it in the last couple of years to restore it back to how it looked in the early 1950’s. The Packard Super grille is wider than the more common clipper grille, but suited the wider front of the ’38 Chevy very good. Dick had to reshape the side panels and hood a lot to make it wall look like it came this way.
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La Salle Grilles

The Cadillac La Salle grilles from 1937 to 1940 are the ones that were used the most on Custom Car. The ’37 and ’38 models had a slightly more square look, while the ’39 and ’40 units were extreme round with pointy shaped ends. The older models were a little easier to adapt to other cars, and fitted perfectly to the front of a ’36 Ford. one of the more popular cars to customized in the mid 1940’s. The ’39 and ’40 models came in several divergent versions, and were pretty hard to install right. Especially since the angle of the grille on the cars they were matted to, were different than that from the stock LaSalle, resulting in misaligning grille bars. When installed the right way the ’39’40 LaSalle grilles are the top of the line in custom grilles.

ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-36-ford-07Harry Westergard installed an 1937 La Salle grille on Jack Odbert’s¬†1936 Ford Convertible. Notice how the lower edge of the top portion of the grille sits level with the bottom of the hood. Details like this make a grille installment like this look like how it was always meant to look.
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ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-caloriAnd of course we cannot forget the use of the LaSall grille on Jack Calori’s 1936 Ford. The what we know as typical Westergard look was created by Herb Renau in Long Beach in the later part of the 1940’s. Herb hand shaped the surround and fitted the¬†1939 LaSalle grille the best way possible. Stock ’39-40 LaSalles have a much more upright grille position than the 36 Ford has, so it was/is not an easy grille to adapt.¬†
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ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-westergard-38Harry Westergard loved to use Packard grilles, but he also used a few LaSalle grilles on the cars he restyled. For Norm Milne he reshape the hood and hood sides, and created a new grille surround to be able to use 1940 LaSalle grille on his ’38 Ford.
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Nash Grilles

Custom pioneers as¬†Harry Westergard,¬†George Barris,¬†Dick Bertolucci¬†and others started to experiment with other grilles on their customs. Grilles that usually had a more vertical feel than the stock grilles of the cars they were restyling. Grilles from a 1939¬†-’40 Nash for instance was another very popular grille. Not really a more exclusive or expensive feel, but it just looked right on many other cars. ¬†Both year grilles had similar styling, very narrow, tall with horizontal grille bars. The ’39 model was a a bit more robust, with heavier and fewer grille bars than the 1940 model. One thing that made the Nash grille a little harder to adapt in a good way to other car, was that the nose of the Nash was angled forward towards the top. If the Nash grille was adapted to other cars that had an angled backwards front of the car, the horizontal grille bars appeared to angle down in the new position. Later pioneer restyles found they could flip the grille upside down to prevent this problem.

ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-36-ford-03Frank Sandaval’s 1936 Ford shows a flipped upside down 1939 Nash grille in a hand shaped none molded surround. What makes the Nash grille on this car really stand out is the¬†us of a modified ’36 Ford grille surround trim.¬†Mid 1940’s photo fro the Howard Gribble Collection.
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ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-36-ford-04Oregon base ’36 Ford Phaeton custom also uses an 1939 Nash grille, but the owner opted to use the grille in the stock position. 1942 photo.
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ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-36-ford-05Close up reveals that by using the ’39 Nash grille in the stock way, the grille bars are not flowing with the Ford lines. This is cause by the forward angle of the grille on Nash cars, while the Ford have a slight leaned back grille. The Nash grilles work better upside down.
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ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-36-ford-g-barrisGeorge Barris used a 1940 Nash grille inside a custom created grille opening on his personal 1936 Ford Convertible. George molded the new grille surround solid with the fenders for an ever smoother look.
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ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-36-ford-06Bob Gill’s 1936 Ford uses a 1940 Nash grille¬†in a custom grille opening. This grille also has slightly dropped grille bars, indicating it was¬†not flipped upside down. Interesting to see in this photo is the extra air scoop added below the bumper to make sure the grille would be cooled after the hood sides were filled, and the grille opening was drastically reduced with the new custom grille. Bob was good friend with Jack Calori.
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ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-37-chevy-021940 Nash grille installed in a new front section on this otherwise mildly restyled 1937-38 Chevy sedan. The narrow grille makes the front of the car look very tall, and the hood a “mile” long.
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ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-kippwinward36fordPossibly one of the best ever installed Nash grilles is done by Kipp Winward who used an upside down 1939 Nash grille in his ’36 Ford 5-window Coupe. The photo of the car was taken in 2016, when the car was mostly finished on the outside.¬†
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Modified grilles

Other methods to customize grilles was to modify their appearance. The aftermarket had produced partly cover panel that would be bolted on. And you could create panels yourself that covered up parts of the stock grille, to make them look longer, narrower, or just shorter. ’38 and 39 Fords used stamped metal grilles with only a small plated trim ring as extra decoration. These were grilles that could easily be modified without having to replete the grille. It was very popular to cover up the top portion on this type of car, which gave the car a new look. Many ’40 Fords used special cover plates to cover up the side louvres, and the ’41 Fords looked stunning when the center grille was replaced with a smooth filler piece. And it was even better if these filler panels were not just bolted on, but actually welded, and blended in with the rest of the body, for a much smoother look.¬†With the newer car models after WWII customizers started to experiment with other brand grilles as well. Grilles that tarted to make the cars look wider.


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Very popular modification of 1938 and ’39 Ford was to fill in the top portion of the louvered grille section on the hood sides. It changed the look of the car, but unlike the earlier style of creating Tall small grille it made the front appear to be lower than stock.
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ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-41-ford-011941 Ford with filled in center section. A very popular treatment especially after the aftermarket companies made filler panels for this available. The owner of this Custom took it a step further and molded in the panel for a ultra smooth look. The car also appears to have an sort of air-scoop below the bumper for extra cooling. The Ford side grille have been remained.
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ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-40-ford-02A 1939 Buick grille was used in a heavily reshaped front end on¬†Jim Chapkis’ 1940 Ford Coupe. Going more towards the modern, wider and lower horizontal look.
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ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-ed-jaquesThe Valley Custom Shop in Burbank California was known for their exquisite craftsmanship and attention to details. For Ed Jacque they created a really wonderful horizontal bar grille insert to fit a stock 1941 Ford grille opening. 
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ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-ferhuson-36The Montrose Body Shop created this stunning looking all custom grille for¬†Gene Ferguson’s 1936 Ford coupe. The grille design shows how the Customizing style is changing from¬†vertical grilles towards the modern look of horizontal grilles.
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ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-collage-01A few more samples of Custom Vertical grilles.
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And even more variations of the Vertical grille.

The new cars that had low and wide new lines were introduced and became available. The tall grilled cars from before the war were still popular for some time, but for those who could get their hands on the newer model cars to restyle, low and wide was the way to go for grille designs. In part two we will take a closer look at the horizontal grilles in Custom Restyling. Stay tuned….

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SoCalif Plating Truck

 

SOCALIF PLATING TRUCK

 

George DuVall designed the 1935 Ford for the So California Plating Company and it turned out to be one of the most outstanding early Custom Cars.



The first time I saw a photo of the So Calif. Plating Co. truck was in the Flying V’s article by Dean Batchelor and Pat Ganahl in the August 1990 issue of Rod & Custom Magazine. The article showed three black and white photos of this amazing car/truck. One with the midget on the trailer behind it, from a bit higher point of view was shown in a nice size, and two others rather small. And there was quite a bit of written info about it as well. I thought that 1935 Ford was one of the most beautiful Customs¬†I had ever seen. With its wonderful slanted DuVall windshield and long and low padded¬†Top, large white wall tires with chrome hubcaps and that amazing hand made grille. Stunning.

I could not believe no more 35-38 Fords were styled like this one, it was so beautiful, in my eyes everything was right about this car. Later I started to collect every bit of info and photos from this car I could find.

In en email conversation in 2006 ,¬†Pat mentioned he was working on article about the SoCalif Plating Co. truck for the Rodder’s Journal, and how he had found some new images and some very interesting info on the car. In the summer of 2007 that article was published in the Rodder’s Journal #36. And it is an incredible article with a load of new information on this car the enthusiast had been waiting for for a long time. If you have not read it, and love custom car history, you better get a back issue for your collection.


CCC-socalif-plating-truck-rodders-journal-36Pat Ganahl wrote an excellent article in the Rodder’s Journal issue 36. Several never before seen photos as well as some really great information about the car was shared in this article. (openings spread of the RJ-article)
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CCC-socalif-plating-truck-american-rodderThe American Rodder published an article about George DuVall in 1997 which featured another nice never before seen photo of the SoCalif Plating truck.
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CCC-socalif-plating-truck-sketchThe American Rodder article also shared this amazing sketch George DuVall created for the SoCalif Plating truck he designed for Leonard DeBell’s 1935 Ford. The overall shape is all there, but the details as the grille, and bumpers are different from what was actually build.
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CCC-1935-ford-phaetonA 1935 Ford Phaeton from the Ford Sales Brochure. A car like this was the base for the SoCalif Plating Co. Truck.
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The 1935 SoCali. Plating Co. Truck has always been a great inspiration for me. When I looked at the photos of the Custom, especially the one with the midget behind it, and the old cars in the background I could not stop wondering how much impact this car must have had back in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. It must have looked like it came from outer space to some. The car was so far ahead styling wise. As Pat Ganahl mentioned in his RJ article it is really a wonder that there are no old magazine or news paper articles about this car. The only thing I can imagine is that everybody who saw the Custom during the day trips to deliver fresh chrome, or in the weekends at the race track, was to much in awe to even take pictures, let alone think about doing something about it for an early magazine or newspaper. As far as I have been able to find out it was not until 1955 before the first photos of the Custom appeared in a magazine.

In the 1930’s and early 1940’s the Custom Cars where created for other reasons than during the golden years of Custom Cars (late 1940, to late 1950’s). There where no cars show to enter your Custom in, no reason to modify something to gain extra points. These Early Customs were designed to improve over the original designs of the cars they are based on. They were designed to look more exclusive, more expensive, and perhaps more powerful. And in this case the car was designed as a working truck. A full Custom Car with a exceptional amount of work done knowing the end product would be used on the road 7 days a week!



Creating the So Calif. Plating Co. Truck

Because the Custom has been built so long ago a lot of real facts about the car have been forgotten, and the people who might have remembered are no longer with us to ask about it. But with the several articles on the car, and memories shared by the people involved in the creation of the car over the years, a lot of history about how it was created has fortunately been documented.

The car was commissioned by Leonard K. DeBell, owner of the So Calif Plating Co. who had bought a brand new 1935 Ford phaeton. His plan was to use it as a very classy delivery truck. But to be able to do that the car had to be lengthened 12 inches to assure freshly chromed bumpers could be stalled behind the front seat cargo section. George DuVall had been employed by DeBell since 1933. He was hired to design and develop new chrome plated aftermarket parts for the company, and as part of this he had already designed and build several company pick up trucks.

It is unsure who all worked on this truck, and who did what, but from the archived documents we know that George was of course responsible for the design.¬†We do not know who actually added the 12 inches to the frame, and welded the rear doors before extending them with 12 inches. Some people say it was the George DuVall – Frank Kurtis team who did this, others say Jimmy Summers might have done some of the body work.¬†George and his¬†friend Frank Kurtis created the grille from brass sheets, bend to shape. It has been described as a lazy “Z” shaped sections that form the actual grille bars. One bend and shaped all the separate unit where chrome plated and installed. George did an absolutely fantastic job integrating the new grille with the 36 Ford body work.


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George also created the V-Windshield that would later be his most popular product. The typical V-shaped windshield with the thin posts and wonderful lines which would later be used on many Hot Rods and Custom cars was specifically designed for this 1935 Ford. We also know that the rear door, which hinged at the top, was created by¬†Chad Schultz¬†of¬†Joe Newell’s¬†body shop. The door could also be removed easily when larger parts needed to be transported. The rear door gave access to a flat floor that started just behind the front seats. So there was actually quite a lot of space for product. But it might perhaps not have been as handy as an actual pick up truck like the previous So Calif. Plating Co. trucks were. However DeBell liked the idea to promote his business, and knew that the good looks of this truck would help him sell more product.

After the frame and body had been extended 12 inches DeBell bought a set of fenders, hood sides and radiator shell from the brand new 1936 Ford directly from the dealer. He liked the shape of them better than from the 1935 Ford. It looks like the new 12 inch longer running boards are made out of stainless steel, and that the four step on strips on them are actually integrated, pressed in the units, rather than using separate strips. At least the new high res photos give us the impression they are.

CCC-socalif-plating-truck-06Another photo taken at the same location from the Revs Institute Collection gives us a good view at the rear of the car. My guess is that the tubular rear bumper might not have been finished when these photos were taken.
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DuVall added a 1936 Cadillac bumper to the front and created small teardrop shaped headlights, more like paring lights. At the rear a four bar bend chrome tubular bumper with cone shaped ends was created. A single taillight was mounted below the lower pan mounted license plate. I have not been able to fin a gas filler car on the photos I have seen on the car. Possibly this was moved into the cargo section?

With all the body work done the car was painted in the So Calif. Plating Co. Sea Foam Green color by Charlie Remidi. A very unusual color for a car back then. The color is sometimes described as a gray green color, others have mentioned it had a sort of olive tint to it. George Du Valle created a set of ribbed wheel covers to cover the wire wheels, and they were dressed up with some fake knock-offs. Unsure is if the hubcaps were designed for the truck, or if they were already in production by the company. The wire wheels were fitted with large Vogue white wall tires Vogue. It took them a total of three month to create this Custom Car mater-piece.

The long and wonderful padded top was create by the¬†George Thomas Top Shop¬†in Hollywood. He created a top that fitted the DuVall windshield perfectly and the teardrop shaped side window openings give the car instant speed. We are not sure why there was never an rear window created in the top. Driving the long car with blind rear must not have been easy. But on the other hand this was late 1930’s and the roads were of course not as crowded as they are now.

CCC-socalif-plating-truck-05Rear 3/4 view shows the amazing lines of this car. Everything about it is just right. This photo shows the unfinished rear bumper, and the hitch sitting in front of the bumper coming from underneath the rear pan. It appears that the rear fenders and lower rear panel have been extended, possibly to make space for a lower position of the gas-tank, so that the cargo floor could be flat, and lower.
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CCC-socalif-plating-truck-08The photographer might have been more interested in the Midget than the truck, hence the cut off front fender.
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CCC-socalif-plating-truck-07This photo of the midget does give us a good look at the unique Vogue white wall tires and the Chrome disk with “knock-offs” covering the wire wheels.¬†
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The Details

The Revs Institute scans allowed me to see details on the car that I had never saw before. The car was built really well.. and even more designed exceptionally well. The close ups of the windshield and top show all excellent designs and craftsmanship. Photos like these make it even harder to believe why there have not been more cars build inspired on this one. (special thanks to Jamie Barter for the link to the Revs Institute collection photos of the So Calif. Plating Co. delivery truck.)

CCC-socalif-plating-truck-detail-01Notice the small peak at the center of the top visually extending the windshield center. The fit of the windshield to cowl, and the top to the windshield is really flawless. The DuVall windshield is made up from 5 separate brass casted parts.
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CCC-socalif-plating-truck-detail-05Before these photos became available all we had were the photos that appeared to have been copied form the original photo, and were rather dark. I always thought the extended running boards were a slightly different color, or shade than the rest of the car, and for sure not covered with rummer. But these high res photos make it look like the running boards were actually made from shaped stainless steel with the four step on ribs pressed in them, rather than them being separate strips. 
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CCC-socalif-plating-truck-detail-04George DuVall really did an amazing job on the design of this car. The V-windshield is absolutely gorgeous, but how about the grille bars extending to the hood sides, and even a little bit on the cowl. Look how they are beautifully rounded at the end, and the way to overlap on the cowl, make the hood look longer than it actually is. Another detail I had never notice before is the side trim t the top of the hood side, below the hood. The 1935-36 Fords never had side trim, but if you look at the image below you will see it makes total sense for it to be placed there.
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A close up on the front of the car shows the very small headlights intergrated in the front fenders, the 1936 Cadillac bumper, the oval shaped license plate frame and of course the beautiful shaped and created grille. This photo also shows where the top side trim seen in the previous photo comes from. The original 1936 Ford nose/grille piece was used, and the trim is actually in place of the original 1936 Ford grille surround. The oval shaped license plate cover might have been another DuVall- So Calif. Plating Co. product. The plate is from 1936.
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ccc-socalif-plating-truck-23-wheel-tireThe beautiful patter on the Vogue white wall tires is clearly visible in this photo. It appear that the custom hubcap covering the (most likely) wire wheels is made up of at least two separate pieces, possibly even three, or four if the “Knock off” comes off.
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By looking good at all the photos it appears to me that the photos taken with the midget on the trailer and similar once at the same location where taken in early 1936 when the car was freshly done, and not yet 100% finished. The rear bumper is still unfinished in thos photos, and there are no side view mirrors mounted.


CCC-socalif-plating-truck-10Here the ’35 truck can be seen parked with an older So-California Plating Co. truck, which was based on an 1934 Ford pick up truck, dressed up with DuVall designed chrome hardware.
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CCC-socalif-plating-truck-16This photo from the rear, and the next one show the finished tubular bumper really well. The bumper guards are the same as from the front bumper, 1936 Cadillac. And it appears that there is just one singe taillights mounted behind the bumper, below the license plate. Most likelely the hitch used for the weekend midget trailer was a removable one. 
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CCC-socalif-plating-truck-15By now the trunk has been decorated with a Modern Plating Service logo. And the top sides have the S0 Calif. Plating Co. teardrop sign added. All the photos taken after the midget trailer photo session show the car with hinge mounted side view mirrors, but left and right. 
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CCC-socalif-plating-truck-14This front angle photo shows the teardrop shaped very small headlights. They are rumored to be Woodlite headlights. But the shape of those does not really matches these units. The low angle gives the car a wonderful aggressive look. 
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CCC-socalif-plating-truck-11A wonderful low angle photo shows the wonderful Art-Doco styling on the car, which goes perfect with the building in the background.
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CCC-socalif-plating-truck-04 CCC-socalif-plating-truck-03May 1955 issue of Motor Life magazine most likely is the first time the SoCalif. Plating Company truck was ever published. It appears that the photos are taken in 1936. The rear quarter photo clearly shows the 1936 California license plates. It also apears that the car did not yet have the hinge mounted mirrors added when these photos were taken.
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Snapshot taken at a midget race in 1937 at an unknown stadium. Very interesting photo shows the chrome plated hand made hinges for the custom made deck lid. 
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Enlarged section from photo above shows a little bit of the car’s dash, and the deck lid hinges again.
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Updated headlights

Somewhere in the late 1930’s or early 1940’s the car was updated with a set of low mounted, or perhaps molded in headlights. Most likely done by Jimmy Summers. Apparently there have been a few, perhaps as many as three SoCalif Plating Co. trucks with a similar design during the late 1930’s. There is more information about this in the Pat Ganahl Rodder’s Journal article. The article also covers what might have happened to to car, that it might have been in use up to the mid 1950’s and that if might have been seen as late as the mid 1960’s sitting in a shop on Melrose. And that the car¬†might possibly still be around today. I really hope so, and I really hope it will be “found” and shared with the public again.

CCC-socalif-plating-truck-12A rather fuzzy photo, actually only a small portion of it, enlarged, shows the truck with the new headlights. 
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CCC-socalif-plating-truck-21The Revs Institute for automotive research has another very interesting photo in their collection showing the front of the 1935 SoCalif Plating truck. This time with the new headlights added. We can see clearly that the original headlights are still in place and the new headlights are not molded into the front fenders. Sadly the photo is not dated. Note that the trunk lid is open in this photo.
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CCC-socalif-plating-truck-22This is the complete photo taken by Ted Wilson with the SoCalif truck on far right. Judging the other tow cars and race cars on the¬†Atlantic Speedway, South Gate, California,¬†track it looks like this photo is taken in the late 1930’s.
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So Cal Plating 35Parked on the inside of the track with the trunk door open.
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CCC-socalif-plating-truck-last-photoThis is supposedly the last known photo of the car, taken by Spencer Murray in March 1944 at 5229 Sunset Blvd. Los Angeles. It appears that the hubcaps might have been changed, and the white wall tires look to be less tall. And it also looks like the padded top has been recovered with a lighter material. Although the last might only look that way due to a light overexposure. In this photo we can also see the added headlight, which were done by Jimmy Summers. But there still is no real evidence of the rear lights. 
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CCC-socalif-plating-truck-colorized-2At one point I set out to do a colorized photo of the SoCalif. Plating Co. truck. But at the time all I had was a rather poor scan of a to dark copy of the photo. So I did get it started, but never really finished it with any details. Still nice to see some color on the car. It still makes me wonder how spectacular this one must have looked like in color with all the bright chrome.
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CCC-socalif-plating-truck-02I really love the 1936 photo of the car taken from a bit higher point of view, but always wondered how it would have looked without the trailer behind it. So when I came across the Revs Institute scan of the original photo I had to do some photo shop work to set the car alone, all by itself.. and I think it looks absolutely amazing.
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CCC-duvall-windshield-adJulian Doty took over the patterns and rights to cast the DuVall V-Windshield in 1946. Here is an late 1940’s ad he ran. The windshield was one of the most popular items DuVall designed, and it all started with the SoCalif. Plating Co. truck.
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CCC-36-ford-joseph-hockerOne of the cars most likely inspired by the SoCalif Plating truck was this 1936 Ford owned by Joseph Hocker. DuVall windshield and white padded top. Although the top is not as nicely shaped as the one on the original one. 
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CCC-36-ford-phaeton-otherAnother one based on a 1936 Ford also shows a lot of similarities with the DuVall designed Custom. This version has the running boards removed.
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Over the years several projects have been started recreating, semi recreating or inspired by the So Calif Plating Co. truck have been started. But so far none of them have been finished as far as I know. Back in the 1940’s there were a few 1936 Fords inspired by the SoCalif Plating Co. truck. At least two of them are documented. Hopefully new creations inspired by it will be created, or finished in the near future. This 1935 Ford designed by George DuVall has played a huge roll in the history of the Custom Car. And I think we all have to be very happy that there are so many photos of it taken back in the 1930’s, and that so many have survived and are being shared.

CCC-socalif-plating-truck-20Here is an interesting photo showing another So-Cal-Plating “truck” Based on a late 1936 Ford¬†Convertible¬†Sedan. Pat Ganahl’s Rodder’s Journal article showed a rear angle of this car, and the Revs Collection gives us a bit of an front view. There is no top on the car when this photo was taken, and the grille bars look to be a taller and less in number than on the original 1935 based car. The front bumper is also quite different. According the Revs site the guys in the photo are:¬†Dominic Distarce, Sam Hanks and Karl Young.
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Reference and more info

  • Motor Life magazine May 1955
  • Rod & Custom Magazine August 1990
  • American Rodder¬†Magazine 1997
  • Rodder’s Journal Magazine, issue #36
  • Earlier So California Plating Company trucks CCC-Article.

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