Frank Sonzogni Mercury

 

FRANK SONZOGNI MERCURY

 

Frank Sonzogni Lynwood Police Officer worked part time at the Barris Kustom Shop. Here he created his ultimate Dream Custom 1950 Mercury.


Frank Sonzogni was an Lynwood Police officer of Italian Descent, who was very passionate about cars, and Custom Cars specifically. In general the Hot Rod and Custom Car scene was very much frowned upon – put mildly – by the SoCal police force. By the stories that have been told by the guys ho drove heir Hot Rods an Custom Cars in the 1940’s and 1950’s, how the where pulled over all the time and getting tickets for ridiculous thing, we know there was a serious issue between these two camps. But this all did not prevent Frank to really love the scene.

Frank did not care for what his colleagues thought of him and what he did with his off duty time. Frank started to take very actively part of the custom car scene and started working part time, after his regular shift at the Police Force, at the Barris Kustom Shop. Frank was a good craftsman working on a lot of the famous Barris Customs, including the famous Hirohata Mercury, where he worked on the passenger side of the car, copying everything that Sam Barris had created in the drivers side.

Early photos of Frank chopping the top on his mercury. Most likely this was in later 1952, or very early 1953. Frank measuring the amount the top needs to be dropped. Notice the paint can used as brace. And on the right Frank is showing how the angled forward B-pillars will look.
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After having done a lot of work on the Hirohata Merc, Frank got very inspired and got himself an 1950 Mercury that he turned into his dream Custom in his spare time at the Barris Shop. Frank was inspired by some if the design elements of the Hirohata Mercury, like the removed dog leg in the door and the fender line disappearing in heavily reshaped rear quarter panels, but for the rest of the car Frank added his own personal touches.

According the period magazines Frank chopped the top 3,5 inches in the front, and to get the perfect flow the rear was cut around two inches lower than the front. When chopping the top on a Mercury like this, with more taken out of the back, the profile of the door opening gets just perfect, necessary to do this is that the windshield is angled slightly in the process as well. But Frank wanted to make the top of his Mercury even sleeker than most others, so he angling the whole windshield back a few degree more.

This picture shows the car shortly after Frank had welded the top back together in the new lower position. Notice the angle on the windshield. Frank now also started to experiment with the fade away fender line, which was alter changed to a line with a scoop and dip just behind the door.
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Frank adding lead to the freshly chopped top. Notice how the factory stock sharp edge at the belt-line was now all leaded smooth.
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To continue with the smooth flowing look Frank also shaved the drip rails and the b-pillars were angled forward. The door top and rear bottom corners were rounded for a very pleasing new door opening shape, and to help make the rear quarter window flow nice from the door lines. The rear corner of the rear quarter windows was reshaped, with a more pointy towards the bottom shape. All the stock side trim and handles were removed, including the belt-line trim

Frank sanding the lead on the body worked top smooth to be able to add some primer to have a good look at his work. This photo was most likely taken on April 18, 1953.
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Frank liked the new longer 1951 Mercury fenders, so he bought a pair and molded those into place on his ’50 Mercury. The 1955 issue of R&C mentioned that the rear section of the rear fenders was hand made, but after studying all the photos I’m pretty confident the rear fenders are just 1951 Merc units molded in place. Frank had worked on the Hirohata Mercury, and really liked the side body modifications that Sam Barris had created.  Frank wanted to use a similar styling on his Merc, but with his own twist to it. The front fender line was modified on the door, and into the rear quarter, removing the “dog leg” and raising the rear a little.

Frank cut out a section of the rear quarter panel and pushed it outwards thus creating a scoop. The character line on the rear quarter panel was raised at the front to flow nice with the extended line from the front fender. Above the scoop a nice curvature was created.and the scoop was later dressed up with trim pieces from a ’53 Chevy 210, which can be found just above the stainless rock shield on a stock ’53 Chevy. Frank heavily modified the side trim and wheel opening trim of a 1953 Dodge to create the side trim on his Merc. The back portion of the new trim flows wonderfully with the scoop opening as well as with the angled forward B-Pillars. At the rear of the quarter panels the character line was extended all the way to the back were it blended into the new taillight housing.  The taillight housings were created from 1953 Chevy grille parking light bezel’s molded to the ’51 Mercury rear fenders. Frank modified a set of 1954 Oldsmobile taillight lenses and added 9 Chrome 1950 Ford Dash Board knobs around it.

A little later, still in 1953 the body work on the car is all done, and the car is sitting outside the Barris Atlantic Blvd. Shop to be completely wet sanded and smoothed for the final primer coats and then paint. That is Sam Barris at the corner of the office building waiting for the water can to be filled with fresh water.
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This picture is very interesting since it shows the stock molded grille opening really good. The lower corners of the grille opening are slightly rounded with the same radius as was used to mold the splash pan to the front fenders. The headlights are molded in 1952 Ford units.
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The fit of all the separate panels on Franks Merc, like the hood and doors looks to be exceptional well the time it was created.
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Sam Barris wet sanding the trunk of Frank’s Mercury. This photo also gives us a good look at the reshaped and molded in rear quarter panels, and how they were extended at the back to flow nicely into the molded in 1953 Chevy grille parking light bezels.
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All the ornaments an trim was removed, including the door handles. Door poppers and push buttons installed. At the Front Frank rounded the hood corners and molded in the stock Mercury grille surround. The hood was beautifully peaked, and a lot of work went into making the hood fit the fenders and cowl the best way possible. A 1955 De Soto grille was was modified, narrowed from 9 to 5 teeth to fit the new opening. The splash pan was modified to fit the new ’52 DeSoto bumpers and molded to the body with a nice radius for a smooth look. A set of 1952 Ford headlights was molded to the front fenders for the desired french look.

Frank’s Mercury was displayed at the Petersen Motorama at the Pan Pacific Auditorium in 1954. It was displayed in the Gaylord’s section where Bil Gaylord displayed several cars his shop had created, or for which he had done the interior.
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Rare color photo of the original version of Frank’s Mercury. Clean and simple, in wonderful two tone metallic dark green and lime gold green.
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The suspension was modified to get the car to the perfect ride height. Frank stepped the frame 6 inches in the back and used 4 inch lowering block to get the rear down, and still have enough axle travel. And he installed some heavy duty swivel casters just beneath the rear bumper to make sure the rear of the car would not hit the road in case of steep driveways. The front suspension was dropped by reworking the A-arms and cutting the coils. Frank added a set of wide white wall tires and dressed them up with Custom hubcaps. The interior was done with an diagonal them by Bill Gaylord. For the cars original version Frank choose to not use the almost mandatory at the time Appleton Spotlights, but chose for the smooth look, perhaps being a cop had something to do with that choice.

It took Frank around two years to create his dream Custom. Working on-and-off in his spare time after show hours and in the weekends. As we can see in the Life Magazine photos he had some help of some of the Barris crew, including Sam Barris.

The 1954 DeSoto grille was narrowed to fir the Mercury grille opening from 9 in the stock grille to 5 teeth. This photo shows how nice the front fender flow line is extended into the rear quarter panels.
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Close up of the fender skirts which were either modified stock units, cut down on the sides to fit flush in the wheel opening, or completely hand made. The bottom of the skirts was made to flow with the bottom of the rear fenders. Very nicely done.
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Bill Gaylord really outdid himself on the interior in 1954. He most likely saw it as a display project to show what his shop was capable of. Gaylord created an really unusual interior combining traditional tuck&roll with diamond shaped patterns, using dark green, chartreuse and white material.
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This is what the R&C April 1955 article mentioned about the Bill Gaylord interior.

Frank wanted the inside of his Mercury to be as unusual as the exterior, so he went to Gaylord Kustom Shop in Lynwood. Bill Gaylord responded to Frank’s pleas with a series of rolls in pleats in a combined color combination of three shades that practically defies description. As the accompanying photos illustrate, the headliner is composed of a mixture of dark green, chartreuse and white panels with a large diamond forming the center of attraction. This inner white panel of the header is pleated with the rows running fore and aft instead of from side to side as is normally the case. The remaining door and side panels and the seats complete the design. The general styling theme of the interior is a series of diamonds, large and small, with a large, padded button set squarely in the center of each. Bill Gaylord and staff of upholsterers deluxe, has been doing a little experimentation with this new diamond studded treatment with Frank’s Merc being their latest project.

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The taillights on the original version were made from 1954 Oldsmobile lenses dressed up with 1950 Ford Dash knobs. The pod at the end of the fender is most likely created around molded in 1953 Chevy grille parking light bezels, and feathered out into the reshaped and repositioning rear quarter character line.
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Police man Frank Sonzogni posing with his ’50 Mercury. The hubcaps on Frank’s Ford are are based on Ford aftermarket dummy wire wheel hubcaps. The center of the hubcaps was modified with a chrome bullet taken from a 1951 Ford grille. These modified hubcaps are identical as those used on Bob Dofflow’s 1949 Ford.
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Nice side profile photo shows the modified fender line with the removed dog leg, reshaped rear quarters with scoop added which is dressed up with 1954 Chevy 2010 trim pieces. (These small pieces fit on top of the Chevy’s stainless rock shields) Notice the beautiful flow of the chopped roof, and how the ’53 Dodge side trim matches the angled forward B-Pillar.
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The April 1955 issue of Rod & Custom Magazine had a whopping 7 page feature on Frank’s Mercury.
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Barris Custom?
The Frank Sonzogni 1950 Mercury has been listed as Barris Kustom Shop created Custom, but as far as we know it never had a Barris Crest mounted until after Frank sold the car in 1958. The car was created at the Barris Shop, similar to for instance the Jesse Lopez ’41 Ford, but both cars were created by part-time Barris employees in their spare time. Frank’s Mercury had all the styling elements so typical for the Barris Shop, yet it was displayed at the Gaylord section at the 1954 Motorama, instead of the Barris section. Personally I see the Frank Sonzogni as a Barris Custom created completely at the Barris shop and heavily influenced by all cars that had been created around the time Frank was working on his Mercury.



Version 2

Somewhere around 1956, after Frank had been showing the car for some time it was time for an update to keep up with the current trends, which was usually done at the time. The original super clean body was dressed up with bolt wide white pin-striping done by “Earl”. On Frank’s Mercury the striping was very much present, and changed the look of the car quite a bit. Personally I do not feel it as an improvement, but at the time it must have been a spectacular update. Frank also replaced the Oldsmobile taillights and modified a set of 1956 Ford Customline taillights to fit the ’53 Chevy grille parking light molded in bezel openings.

The modified second version of Frank’s Mercury was featured in a four page article in the February 1958 issue of Custom Cars.
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Frank’s Mercury at one of the many parking lot car shows he went to. Notice the bolt striping on the hood and front fenders creating different optical lines on the car.
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Frank’s Mercury together with the Johnny Zupan and Buddy Alcorn Mercury posing in front of the Lynwood City Hall. Ironically this Barris color photo shows three Mercury’s that all have been created by other shops, or people. Two Ayala merc’s on the right, and Frank doing his own Mercury.
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A different angle from Frank’s Mercury at a photo shoot at the Lynwood City Hall.
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I really love this photo of the Sam Barris 1955 Chevy in front of the Barris Shop. A mother and daughter “patiently” waiting for here husband to get back out of the Barris Shop. And in the background the Frank Sonzogni Mercury. Frank used his Merc as daily driver, and of course it was a good idea to have such a great looking custom parked in front of the shop.
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Frank demonstrating the push buttons he added to the Dodge side trim.
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George Barris photo proof of Frank’s Mercury. Although much heavier than the stock Mercury bumpers, the ’52 DeSoto units looked really well on Frank’s Mercury. Both front and rear splash pans had to be modified to make the bumpers fit.
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A closer look at the custom made scoops with ’53 Chevy trim pieces, the modified Dodge side and wheel opening trim. On the right a better look at the 1956 Ford Customline taillights that had to be modified a bit to fit the ’53 Chevy parking light openings. A section around the taillight had to be cut down. The chrome ribbed bezel also comes from the ’56 Ford.
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Frank Sonzogni sitting inside his ’50 Mercury. Frank was 6-foor tall so the seat had to be cut down 2.5 inches to give Frank enough headroom. Notice the Bob Hirohata dash, shifter and Appleton handle knobs. Frank is demonstrating the push buttons he installed on the dash to open the doors.
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1958 New Owner

Around 1958 Frank sells his Mercury to a new, unknown owner from Tucson, Arizona. We do not know anything about this new owner (so far0 All we know is that at the time he bought the Mercury is that the car had new wheel covers and that a Barris crest was added to the front quarter panel, close to the wheel opening. The new owner apparently used the car at the drag strip as well. In 1959 the car caught fire and the car was taken to the local junk yards were it sat until Larry Dames found it in 1973.  According Larry’s son there was a rumor that the only reason the car didn’t get crushed all these years is the owner of the yard was gradually taking the lead out of it. (We do not know if this was true, or that the fire had caused the lead to melt, which seams to make more sense.)

Pat Ganahl shared this neat color snapshot in his Hot Rod Gallery book. It is very interesting for several reasons. One, because by the time this photo was taken 1958-59, Frank had sold it to a new owner in Tucson, Arizona. Two, because it is the only photo I have been able to find of the car with a Barris crest added to the front quarter panel (possibly added when Frank sold it?). Three, it shows the Mercury with all new hubcaps. And Four, because this is perhaps the last photo of the Mercury, at the Tucson Drag strip (by Tom Prufer) before the car burned down in 1959.
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Larry Dames owner from 1973

In 1973 Larry Dames acquired the Merc back when he had just moved down to Tucson from St.Louis. Larry was looking for a Custom Car project car and found the burned down remains of an old Custom ’51 Mercury at the local junk yard. He found out that the car was burnt up back in 1959 and had been sitting in this junk yard ever since. Larry did not know the history of the Merc at the time, but liked its overall shape, and despite the poor burnt condition with caved in top he decided to bring it home.

The photos below show that the Mercury was in pretty poor condition, and we all can be very grateful to Larry for saving is despite all that. Larry needed a new mercury rood, hood and trunk, plus a lot of hours to get all the damage done by the fire fixed. Along the way a few changed were made, especially to the rear where the extended line from the rear quarter was brought back to stock 51 Merc rear fender specs.


This is how Larry Dames acquired the Mercury back in 1973. Larry had just moved down to Tucson from St.Louis and found the Mercury sitting in a junk yard. Most of the trim of the car looks to be still in place, but all the lead has been molten in the fire.
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This picture shows the caved in roof and missing lead work from Frank a bit better. Sad to see it like this.
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The Mercury during its restoration in the late 1970’s. Larry Dames had to use a donor roof and trunk and hood to replace the damaged in the fire original parts.
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Larry finished the restoration and painted the car all white, and installed a Hemi engine. He drove it around for quite some time in the 1980’s. Entering it in shows and swap meets. Very few people knew the real story on the Mercury. In 2009 Larry was invited to bring his Frank Sonzogni Mercury to the Sacramento Autorama Mercury Gathering where it would be displayed with several other historical Custom Mercury’s.


Larry finished the car in all white and had added a Hemi Engine. This is how he showed it in the early 1980’s. By now Larry had found out all about the cars history and even added a Barris Crest to the front quarter panels.
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Painted all white it links back to the early 1950’s Barris times where painting your Custom white primer was very hot.
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Larry Dames’s son wrote this about his father’s mercury.
“To those who are wondering why the cars is White instead of green and why it does not have the Desoto grill or side trim on it. This car was burnt and sitting in a junk yard for almost 15 years before he got it and allot of stuff was missing including the 54 Desoto grill, the original flat head as well as numerous other items. The car was rough and in a sense worthless back in the mid 70’s so he built it the way he wanted and could afford at the time. The car is still the way it was when he finished it 30 years ago, and still has the Chrysler Hemi he put in it back then, which is why it has a louvered hood, and he still drives it all the time.

As far as the cars future, I have been bugging him for over 15 years to restore it back to its original look but with kids, work and other cars, that has yet to happen. He has told me that if he can get his chopped 51 conv. going so he will have a Merc to drive, he will start to tear the car down and restore it back to its original look, Although the interior will more than likely be different, it was pretty hideous looking and he can’t get himself to match the interior, I can’t say I blame him for that.”

Larry Danes was invited to bring his Sonzogni ’50 Mercury to the 2009 Sacramento Autorama Mercury Gathering. The car made quite in impact at the event all in white with bright white and red contrasting interior. It was one of several original Barris Mercury’s on display.
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David Myers took this snapshot of Larry showing one of the burnt down original Bob Hirohata created dash knobs that were still in the car when he got it.
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With all the lead molten away in the fire the rear quarter panels looked quite different than original. Larry kept the stock rear quarter panel look and replaced the taillights with slightly different 1955 Ford units.
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Danny was extremely impressed with the reception his Mercury got at the 2009 Event, and he was very inspired with all the other classic Mercury’s at the event. He planned to get back on the Sonzogni Merc as soon as he could to get it back to the cars original version. Hopefully we will see that happening in the near future.
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A Day at the Barris Shop

 

A DAY AT THE BARRIS SHOP

 

The August 1953 issue of Rod and Custom magazine  had a beautiful feature on a day at the Barris Kustom Shop. Lets take a closer look at this and see some never before published photos.



I was born in 1967, in the Netherlands, far away from where most of the Custom Car History originated. I’m way to young to have been able to walk around in the famous Custom shops from the 1940’s and 1950’s, my favorite Custom Restyling period. When I came across some old R&C magazines at an Dutch Classic Car show decades ago I was in 7th heaven. Many years later I came across some of the early Hop Up and R&C magazines, one being the 4th issue of R&C, August 1953, one of my all time favorite R&C magazines. This issue had an whopping 6 page article on an Saturday at the Barris Shop as part of the new Barris Korner series.

It was for me the first time I was able to get a better view of how the Barris Shop looked like, and worked, and how it must have been for the guys back then to work at this shop, or hang out there on a Saturday afternoon. The lead-photo of the article, taken across the street from the Barris shop is one of my all time favorite photos taken at the Barris Atlantic Blvd shop. To me it is pure magic, and I have always hoped that one day some more, or at least better photos would surface of this photo, or photos taken the same day.

The openings photo from the August 1953 R&C article. What a sight! This photo alone must have had an impact on a lot of people back in 1953, and really ever since. The Barris Kustom Shop, where all the Custom Car magic took place.
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Unpublished photos.

In December 2017 my good friend and CCC contributor Tom Nielsen, mentioned he had a few more photos taken at the Barris Shop, and was wondering if I could tell him a bit more about these photos. It turned out that Tom had several photos from this same Saturday photo shoot with George Barris as that was used in the August 1953 issue of R&C. But Tom’s photos had never before been published. They must have been outtakes. The photos Tom has in his collection are copies from copies from the original photos, and at this point it is impossible to find out where they originally came from. But we know that they were all taken with George Barris his camera, most by George himself, and others, where we can see George in, were taken by somebody at the shop.

One of the guys fooling around in the driveway. I wonder if George was standing on the roof of the building across the shop, or perhaps he used a ladder?
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My new all time favorite Barris Shop photo is this one, from ground level showing the fantastic Customs lined up in front of the shop, and the rest of the activities going on.
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Close up of the photo shows: from left to right Mystery parked in-progress Ford, Dick Meyer 1953 Ford, Snooky Janich 1941 Ford, Jerry Reichman 1950 Mercury 4-door, Dale Marchall 1950 Mercury, Jim Collins / Don Vaughn 1947 Buick, Larry Ernst 1951 Chevy.
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Sam Barris showing how an Barris Accessory Hot Rod fender would be mounted on his Model A roadster. The majority of cars done at the Barris Shop were Customs, but they were also very capable to do Hot Rods, as this and several other photos taken this day show.
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I really love this photo as well, not only because it shows three fantastic Barris cars, but also since it shows the corner across the street from the Barris shop, where an other iconic photo was taken which we have used for another CCC-Article. Dale Marchall is mounting his Kustoms Los Angeles brass tag to his in progress mild 1950 Mercury Custom. Behind it is Jim Collins 1947 Buick (formerly owned by Don Vaughn), and next to that is the Larry Ernst 1951 Chevy.
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In the R&C article we can read that Sam Barris (left) and George (right) are discussing plans for the Chet Herbert Bonneville Streamliner with Harry Lewis. Harry was hired by Barris to design and help create race cars at the Barris shop. This never before published photo was taken from a slightly different angle than the photo that ended up in the R&C article.
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Dicky Meyers is prepping this Model A on ’32 Ford rails Hot Rod for paint in a corner of the original building. Very interesting how they use news paper to tape off the engine bay preventing over-spray. The wheels and tires were covered by old rags. Notice the meters on the wall behind the car.
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1949-50 Lincoln coupe mildly restyled stopping at the Barris shop, possibly for a quotation on repairing the damaged front, and possibly further restyling?
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The R&C article describes a bit how a typical Saturday at the Barris shop looks like, at least part of it. We have heard stories from some people that the info in this article(s) is mostly correct, but very often they leave out the part that later at night they all went out to some of the famous places to hang out, go to dances, trying to hook up with the girls. have the most fun possible. According to some chasing the girls and trying to get them impressed with their automobile was one very important reasons for having a Custom Car.



Published photos

The article is done really nice and literary walks us true the shop as if the reader was to visit the shop himself. Starting outside the shop then going on to the drive way, or parking area, and then into the shop, the office first, then the work places int he original building and then on to the former Filbar Furniture building Barris had added to the shop not long before these photos were taken. The only thing that could have made this already perfect article would have been with a floor plan drawing…. I have thought about creating one, but at this moment I have not enough information to actually do one that I know is accurate enough.

The 6 page article in the August 1953 issue of Rod & Custom magazine. One of the very best Barris Kustom Korner articles, and this article alone must have boost sales on the magazine enormous.
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More stories on Saturdays at the Barris Shop
Jack Stewart was good friends with George Barris and spend a lot of time at the Barris Kustom Shop at Atlantic Blvd. George Barris finished his mostly Ayala restyled 1941 Ford in 1951. Jack mentioned that George loved to paint cars, and very often used the more quite weekends to stay at the shop mixing paint and spraying the many coats of lacquer to get the deep lustrous paint jobs the Barris Shop was so well known for. George painted Jack’s ’41 Ford during the weekend as well. Jack brought his car over on Friday, and when he showed up at the shop on Monday it was all done and looking amazing. Which, according to Jack was somewhat amazing, since the paint booth at this Atlantic Blvd shop was far from ideal with a dirty dusty floor. Jack always mentioned to George he might as well paint the cars outside. But George was still able to turn out amazing paint jobs at this shop.

In the early days of the Barris Shop, George was single (just as jack) and he would be at the shop most of the time 7 days a week. But especially the Saturdays were very busy at the shop. The Saturday all the car owners were off from their regular job, and would go over to the Barris shop to help out with their cars at the shop. The more work the owner could do on their own cars, the lower the bills would be.

Tommy Thornburg polishing the Larry Ernst 1951 Chevy. Parked next to is is the old Don Vaughn 1947 Buick, and peaking out over the rear of the top is an Henry J Custom. If we only could see this picture in color…
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Nick Matranga on the left discussing the options how to fix the damage done to the rear of the Snooky Janich 1941 Ford.
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Jim Collins from Gardena, California had recently bought the beautiful Barris restyled 1947 Buick convertible with Gaylord padded top from original owner Don Vaughn.In this photo Jim is cleaning the car, and we can see the back of Dale Marchall’s 1950 Mercury with custom taillight pods and primer painted sitting next to it.
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Bob Lund 50 MercuryFrank Sonzogni working on Bob Lund’s 1950 Mercury. In the background we can see the model A roadster getting ready for paint, and outside we can see a small portion of Jerry Reichman’s in progress 1950 Mercury 4-door.
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Jack also remembers many Saturdays he spend at the Barris shop with a lot of the guys from the original Kustoms Los Angeles club. The shop was a hangout place for the club, and everybody got together there, hang out for some time and then would go out together that Saturday night. Jack had good memories hanging out at the Barris shop with his good friend Doug Anderson (aka dog face) who owned a Custom 1939 Ford convertible with chopped padded top. And Jack Cordkill who owned a 1938 Ford Chopped Coupe, Dick Fowler was also a guy that Jack hung out with when he turned up at the Barris shop. Dick also owned a chopped 1938 Ford coupe, the one with the Packard grille, that Kurt McCormick now owns. Jack was also good with Bill Ortega who worked at the Barris shop part time and as well as at the parts department at an Lincoln Mercury dealer.

The Saturdays were always a lot of fun, where everybody helped on the projects, getting cars ready to hit the road on Saturday night, or prep them for a show the next day. Jack had very good memories about him and George driving George his cars to the parties, Jack never drunk much, so he usually ended up driving George his cars back home early in the mornings on Sunday. But this was perhaps a year or two before these photos were taken. During that time Jack also hung out with Marcia Campbell who hung out at the Barris Shop on Saturdays during the 1950-51 period. Jack remembered that Marcia was very well accepted at the shop by everybody. It was still very unusual for a girl to hang out at a Custom shop, but she fitted right in with the rest of the clan. Marcia always had here camera on hand, and shot a lot of photos at the shop and took the guys to nice locations to take photos, which she would develop and print, and then brought them over as a gift for the owner (and a copy for George Barris) the next Saturday.

Jack mentioned that the guys hanging out at the shop on Saturday were mostly the same guys each week, mostly pretty much the local guys, but when there was going to be a special event, or a special show, then Kustoms of Los Angeles club members from all around would gather at the Barris shop to drive to the event together. Jack proudly mentioned that very often he was leading the parade, just because his windshield had been cut into the roof a few inches, allowing him to see the stop lights. The rest would then just follow along.


Tommy Thornburg who owned a Barris restyled 1947 Studebaker Custom Convertible can be seen here cleaning the Larry Ernst 1951 Chevy. Perhaps Tommy’s Studebaker had not been finished at this point, or perhaps he agreed to take the Ernst Chevy to the show for Barris. Larry Ernst was from Ohio, and was most likely not in California when this picture was taken.
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Jim Collins cleaning his 1947 Buick Custom at the Barris shop to have it all Tip-Top for the show the next day.
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A low angle view of Dale Marchall mounting the Kustoms Los Angles tag to his 1950 Mercury, getting the car ready for the Pasadena show the next day. The old Don Vaughn Buick is sitting behind it.
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Sam Barris (left) and George (right) with Harry Lewis taking about the plans for the body on the Chet Herbert Streamliner, which will be created at the Barris Shop.
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Bob Johnson aka “Jocko” sanding the freshly applied primer on the rear fenders of Mr petersen’s 1952 Cadillac convertible. The car would later be painted Metallic Fuchsia Orchid.
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Frank Sonzogni working on the grille on Bob Lund’s 1950 Mercury using a 1951 Frazer grille bar, later three 1951 DeSoto grille bars would be added to this as well.
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1929 model A roadster on ’32 Ford frames getting ready for a new paint job. Old rags were used to cover up the tires while Dicky Meyers is cleaning the body.
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George Barris often used 1/25 scale plastic promo-model cars to give a quick impression of how a car could look. This helped him as well as the client in making decisions on the modifications, as well as on the colors. In this photo George shows some new paint on an Oldsmobile model for Jack Nethercutt’s 1952 Oldsmobile that looks to be almost ready for paint.
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Sam Barris putting together a brand new 1953 Cadillac Coupe deVille that had been just painted off-white at the paint booth at the back of the Barris shop.
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Different angle of Nick Matranga talking to Snooky Janich (named “Little” in the R&C article) to see how they can fix the dent in the trunk that happened the day before. Notice that the Snooky Ford had already been outfitted with the ’39 Chevy taillights by then. The R&C article stated that the Barris Shop always kept the paint formula of all the cars they painted. But as far as I know, in case of damage, they usually decided it was time for a complete new paint job.
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Lloyd Jensen working on a sectioned and turned convertible Henry J, seen here figuring out how to make the Kaiser taillights to work with the Henry J rear fenders. This car came from Iowa to have the Barris shop perform their magic. Not sure if I have ever seen the finished car. The Henry J was sitting just outside of the furniture building entrance.
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Ralph Manok working on a scoop set into the Cadillac front fender that was added to this 1941 Buick that came all the way from Ohio. We are still trying to find out who was the owner of this car, and what ever happened to it.
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John Manok working on the chopped top of Earl Wilson’s 1947 Studebaker four-door that later would be known as the Grecian.
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Frank Sonzogni is a full time motorcycle officer during the day, and is working part time at night and in the weekends at the Barris Shop. In his spare time Frank is working on his personal  car, a 1950 Mercury which he can be seen working on in this photo. Sanding away on the freshly leaded chopped top.
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George Barris posing with a Jaguar Xk120 which he is Restyling as his own personal driver.
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Sam Barris talking to the owner of the ’29 Model A Roadster about using the new Barris Aftermarket Accessory Hot Rod cycle fenders.
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Dating the photos
So far we have not been able to confirm the date of the Saturday these photos have been taken. None of the photos have a date on it as far as we know.  The Barris Korner article featuring these Spend a Saturday at the Kustom Shop photos was published in August 1953, which means the photos and text must have been submitted at least two month prior to this, and more likely even longer. Most likely the photos were taken in the first couple of month of 1953. There is one more hint about a possible date given in the R&C article, which mentioned that the next day, Sunday, there was going to be a car show held in nearby Pasadena. All the cars were cleaned and detailed for this show. So far I have not been able to find out what this show was for sure, but a good chance is that this was the Pasadena Auto Show and Reliability Run held on Sunday April 19, 1953. The 1952 Pasadena Auto Show (the first annual the previous year) had some high end Customs and Rods attending, plus it had a two page article in Hot Rod Magazine. So this could very well be the show the guys were preparing for on Saturday. (More info and photos on the ’52 show can be found in the CCC-Nick Matranga article.) If it was indeed this show, then the Saturday these pictures were taken was April 18, 1953. But I’m not 100% sure.

Flyer for the 1953 Pasadena Auto Show and Reliability Run.
(Courtesy of Bob Rhoades / Renegades Car club.)
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Special thanks to Tom Nielsen.




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LIFE magazine photo shoot at Barris

 

LIFE Magazine photo shoot at BARRIS

 

In the early 1950s several non car related magazines did some magazine features on Custom Cars. One of them was Life Magazine, or at least they sent out Loomis Dean to take some photos for a possible feature to the Barris shop in 1953.


A number of years ago Life magazine started to share some of their used, and none used historic photo material thru Google Images on the internet. Including those photos were some really unique photos taken around 1952 on the Hot Rod and Custom Car subject. Photo’s taken at the drag races, the 1952 Petersen Motorama show, some outdoor photos at an unknown location and some very interesting photos taken at the Barris Kustom Shop. Some of these photos might have ended up in an 1953-54 issue of Motor Life magazine, but so far I have not been able to find any of those actually being published. It might have been possible that the editor planned an article about Hot Rodding and Customizing, and send out the photographer Loomis Dean to take some photos for a possible future article.

The great thing about these Life Magazine photos taken my Loomis Dean is that he most likely was not a real car guy, so he took the photos with more than just the cars as the subject. It resulted in some very unique photos, that have helped clear some mysteries, and gave us a much better look at how things were, especially at the Barris Kustoms Shop. I have already used some of these Life Magazine photos in the article I did on the Barris Shop Wall, identifying the things on the shop wall at the Barris Kustoms Shop.

I have always been very interested in everything that goes on in the background at the Hot Rod and Custom Car photos from the 40’s to the 60’s. And these Life Magazine photos gave use some really great “unwanted” information from everything that was going on in the background.

The idea for this article started when I looked carefully at one of the photos taken by Loomis Dean in 1953 at some guys pulling off the frame of the Chet Herbert’s Streamliner so that the guys at the Barris Shop could start the rush job on creating the streamlined all custom body panels for it. The photo is of course very interesting for the land speed fans, but everything that goes on in the background of this photo is very interesting for the Custom Car fans.

The Life magazine photo that started the idea for this article with the car inside the Barris Shop hidden in the dark shadow of this photo.
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The most obvious things in the background are the rear fender of a 1940 Ford on the left, next up is a sectioned Shoebox Vicky, that has been mentioned and shown in the Barris 50’s Techniques books. (a bit more on that one later) Followed by a nosed 1951-51 Oldsmobile, a 1951 Cadillac Convertible with padded top, an freshly painted Jaguar, a 37-38 Ford coupe and one or two more cars behind that. In the shop there was one car pretty much in the dark, and when I lightened that part of the photo I noticed that it was the Earl Wilson heavily restyled 1947 Studeabaker “Grecian” in progress, and a custom grille sitting just in front of the shop sitting on some stands. On closer inspection it turned out the grille was the custom grille the Barris Shop had created for Fred Rowe’s 1951 Mercury.

After I lightened the right section of the photo I was able to identify the in progress 1947 Studebaker, chopped and sectioned and heavily restyled Grecian. And on the left side of the photo we see the, possibly freshly chrome plated custom grille for the Fred Rowe 1951 Mercury Convertible.
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Finished 1947 Studebaker “Grecian) for Earl Willson.
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When I was looking at some of the other photos taken around the same time as the first one posted in this article. I noticed a chopped convertible sitting in the open office door all the way on the right of the photo below. The main subject of the photo was the Frank Sonzogni 1950 Mercury being hand sanded getting it ready for paint. A fantastic photo showing how some of the dirty work at the Barris shop, like the wet sanding of the many coats of primer, was done outside, in front of the shop by multiple guy, including Sam Barris. The convertible I was spotting in the open Office door was interesting, and after I had spotted in the background of a few other photos, I had to conclude that it must be the nearly finished Fred Rowe 1951 Mercury, awaiting the custom grille that was sitting in front of the shop in the first photo. The photo below might have been taken before the one we started this article with. The ’51 Cadillac convertible is sitting closer to the street, (now in front of the “Auto Painting” building).


Three guys, including Sam Barris are wet sanding Frank Sonzogni’s 1950 Mercury. On the right is another mystery Barris Custom based on a 1941-48 Ford Coupe body with more modern fender added. (we will get back to this car at a later date) The chopped convertible can be seen thru the open Office door.
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Taken from another angle we can see Sam Barris filling an old tin bucket with water for the wet sanding, and two guys sanding the Frank Sonzogni ’50 Merc roof.  The Fred Rowe ’51 Mercury can be seen here just to the left of Sam Barris, all the way on the left side of the photo.
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Fred Rowe 1951 Mercury

The Fred Rowe 1951 Mercury was customize at the Barris shop in 1952, first in a milder version, chopped windshield, Chrysler taillights, Custom grille and molded grille surround. a little later it was back at the Barris shop for an update including ’52-53 Buick side trim, and subtile hood scoops. In 1955 the car was featured, along side the Hirohata Mercury in the movie Running Wild straring Mamie Van Doorn. In this series of photos from Life Magazine the car appears in the background of several photos being in progress from the first round of Custom Restyling.

I have enlarged two sections of the last two photos to show the in progress Fred Rowe ’51 Merc a little better. It is hard to tell how much more work still needs to be done on the car. It looks like it is almost ready. The low mounted Chrysler taillights can be seen in the photo on the right.
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When the guys arrived with the Chet Herbert’s Streamliner there had to be made some space to be able to unload it from the trailer. It looks like the Fred Rowe Merc (on the left side just behind the guy on the left) was moved forward, towards the street, and the ’51 Cadillac is gone in this picture, but in the first image we could see that it was moved more to thwards the back of the shop.
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Enlarged section shows the Fred Rowe Mercury with possibly a stock grille installed, Appleton Spotlight and the stock Mercury side trim which was used on the first version of the car. Later the car would be outfitted with a ’52-53 Buick boomerang side trim.
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Running Wild Fred Rowe MercuryFinished Fred Rowe 1951 Mercury, George Barris was able to get the car in the Running Wild movie, some extra exposure for the Barris Shop.
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1940 Ford Chopped Coupe

In the openings photo of this article we could see a small portion of a rear fender of an 1940 Ford on he far left side of the photo. In several other photos taken by  the Life Magazine photographer we can have a better look at his custom. I t appears to be an heavily and well proportioned chopped 1940 Ford coupe. One photo of this car in progress appeared in the Barris Kustoms Techniqes of the 1950s book Vol 1 book. The car is shown there with the chop being worked on, and the last photo shows the car getting ready to get a coat of primer. It appears that the Life Magazine photographer visited the Barris Shop shortly after that when the car was in fresh primer sitting outside the shop waiting to be finished. I have, so far, never been able to find any photos of this car as a completely finished Custom. This is another Barris Kustoms from the early 1950’s that has survived, and a couple of years ago it was offered for Sale, completely redone with an rake,  5-spoke wheels, making it look very odd.

This photo shows the guys shortly after arriving with the Chet Herbert’s Streamliner. Behind the trailer we have a great look at the ’40 Ford coupe with a very well proportioned chopped top. Angled back windshield and a perfect flow. On the right we can see the sectioned Shoebox Vicky.
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This is the photo of the same ’40 Ford Coupe that appeared in the Barris Kustoms Technique book. It shows the car ready for primer. The Barris book did not mentioned the name of the owner, and if and how t was finished. So that remains a mystery for now.
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Cropped Life Magazine photo gives us a better look at the great flow on the chopped top. Rounded door corners, molded in fenders, and rounded trunk corners.
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The Barris ’40 Ford how it looked in 2009. At this time it was being offered for Sale at a Barrett-Jackson auction. Not a very attractive look for this well done Barris Kustoms ’40 Ford Coupe. But it could be saved, and redone with a proper speed-boat stance, proper wheels and hubcaps, and teardrop bubble skirts, which would change the look dramatically.
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1951 Cadillac

In this series of Life Magazine photos a 1951 Cadillac convertible pops up as well. And I think that this car is one of George Barris’s personal cars. I have heard some people mention an early 50’s Cadillac as being George his personal ride in the early 1950’s. But so far I have not been able to find any published material on that. The Cadillac shows up in the photo shoot at the Barris shop at the time the Chet Herbert’s Streamliner was photographed, and also at an later, or earlier photo shoot at a different location with a few Barris Kustoms. The Cadillac is a very mild restyled car with no visible body modifications. Most likely it had a new paint-job, and all custom is the panoramic rear window padded top, customized Cadillac hubcap and Barris Crest on the front quarter panels.

A good look at the ’51 Caddy’s padded top with wrap around (panoramic) rear window. Not sure why the rear portion of the door and front section of the rear quarter panel was masked off. Perhaps to repair some minor damage? The open door int he front is from the Frank Sonzogni ’50 Mercury.
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The George Barris ’51 Cadillac on the right, and behind it we can see the nosed Oldsmobile. So far that is another car we are unable to identify.
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In one of the photos taken at an different location we can see George’s Cadillac in the background.
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Loomis Dean also took some photos of just the Caddy, of which this is the nicest one. Custom spinners in the center of the Cadillac hubcaps, which must have been a brand new item at the time this photo was taken somewhere in early 1953.
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1951 Ford Sectioned Vicky

The story on this sectioned 1951 Ford Victoria is pretty sad. The owner took it to the Barris Custom Shop to have them section the body and possibly do other custom work. But after the car was delivered, the first term was paid for, the owner never showed up again to pay for the rest of the work. He left the car at the shop and George never found out what happened to the guy and why he never paid to complete the work, or even pick up the car. George was also not able to find anybody else interested in the project so after it had set outside at the shop for a year or two the car was hauled to the junkyard. In more recent years somebody claims to have bought the remains of this car and rebuilt it as a sectioned convertible. So far we have not been able to verify this info.

Really sad to see this party sectioned ’51 Ford sitting outside. This was in 1952, so the car was really new at the time, and must have cost a lot of money. Notice the cut door tops inside the car with the bottoms in the back seat section. The sectioning was done at the height where the side trim would be, saving some time in finished body work… at least that was the plan.
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The body at the passenger side had been all welded together already.
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There are some more interesting photos from this photo and a slightly later photos shoot from the Life Magazine photographer, some can be seen in the article we did on the Bob Lund 1950 Mercury, and others might be shown in a future article here on the CCC. We are really grateful that Life Magazine has shared these really unique photos taken at the Barris Kustom Shop which gives us an unique look at an ordinary day at the Custom Shop. If any of our readers ever comes across an Life Magazine from late 1953 or 1954 that has any of these photos, or possible other photos taken at the Barris shop used in an article. Please email Rik here at the Custom Car Chronicle. I would love to add that to this article.





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