Inset License Plates

 

INSET LICENSE PLATES

 

A necessary evil, the license plate requires deft placement in order not to distract from the lines of the restyled job. Recessing is one long-used method.



Inset license plates has been a very popular Custom Restyling technique from the 1930’s up into the later part of the 1940’s. For a long period it was a technique that was on nearly everybody’s To-Do lists to get a cool looking ride. It was a Restyling technique to enable the “necessary evil” of having to use the “ugly” license plate in a more elegant way other than just putting it on the bumper as done on most factory stock cars from that era.

The Inset License plate restyling was used mostly on cars that had relatively thin bumpers ranging from 1934 to some models in 1948. After 1948 the bumpers on the cars became heavier and most of the time had integrated bumper guards and license plate surround. This made the Inset license plate styling more or less obsolete for the newer cars.

CCC-inset-license-plate-40-mercury-01Beautiful sample of a well done inset license plate behind glass on a 1940 Mercury convertible photographed in 1945. The shape has nice radius corners that fit the shape of the car really well and the plate is nicely recessed, but not to deep. The “ugly” license plate becomes one with the cars design, and the beautiful shaped bumper remains uncluttered.
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Inset License plate design

As with a lot of the styles used in the traditional Custom Restyling, the Inset License plates also originates from the Coachbuilding and design proposals from the major ¬†car companies. The early/mid 1930’s car designers tried to find a good way to incorporate the large license plated into the beautiful designs they came up with. Rather than seeing it as the necessary evil, they tried to make it look good.

CCC-1933-Cadillac-Aerodynamic_16001933-34 Cadillac V-16 Aerodynamic Coupe Concept Car shows a trunk with a in partly recessed license plate. (Photo courtesy GM Media.)
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CCC-art-ross-1934-design-license-plateArt Ross Duesenberg Concept illustration shows a set in license plate on the lower portion of a three window coupe he designed around 1934.
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CCC-bohman_schwartz-32-DuesenbergThis Duesenberg (# J212-2234) was originally built as 4-door bodies car in 1932 and later sold to Dr. Seeley Mudd. He had Bohman & Schwartz create a new body. The new car was finished in 1936-37 and included a black leather like covered body which included a set in license plate with glass cover.
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CCC-inset-plates-motor-life-may-1955According the Motor Life May 1955 Ocee Ritch “When it became a Custom” article it was Frank Kurtis who created the first inset license plate in 1936.
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CCC-1941-Chrysler-Thunderbolt-01The 1940-41 Chrysler Thunderbolt Concept Car used an inset license plate behind glass with a chrome surround both on the rear as well as the front of the streamlined body.
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Custom Restyling Technique

The Custom Restyling technique of recessing the license plate into the rear valance or trunk of a car became a very popular feature on the early California Custom Car. Later this technique was being used across the US, and after that world-wide, but it all started, like the rest of Custom Restyling in California. The technique has several different names,¬†it is known as “Inset license plates“, “Set-In License Plates“, “Recessed License Plates”, “Glass Covered Plates“, and possibly a few more variants on this. Besides the variations in the names used for this styling method, there were also several different styles developed over the years. There are basically three different styles, and sometimes we saw some variations on these styles.

  • 1 Near flush behind glass¬†¬†This style had a hole cut out in the trunk or rear valance with the edges filed smooth. A glass cover was installed from the inside sitting body metal thickness deeper than the outside of the body. The license plate was mounted with tabs behind the glass plate. Rubber seals were used to prevent water from coming in, and the glass from braking. This method gave the rear of the car an very smooth,¬†almost flush fitting appearance. The method was not used a lot. As far as I have been able to see there was no way to illuminate the plate at night using this method.
  • 2 Inset behind glass¬†¬†This was the most popular method of this restyling technique. For this a nice shaped hole with round corners, slightly smaller than the actual license plate was cut out in the trunk or rear valance. The edge was neatly folded inwards, or round rod, or a shaped metal edge was used to create an depth of about half an inch. Inside an box slightly larger than the license plate was created in such a way it could be clipped or bolted to the inside. A glass cover was placed in between the the opening and the box. Rubber seals made sure no water could leak inside. Usually the box had one or more small light bulbs installed, hidden from direct view, that would illuminate the plate at night.
  • 2a¬†Inset¬†¬†Same as above, but without the glass cover. Not the way it was supposed to be, but we have seen man samples of this in old photos. Possibly the work was done by a less experience body man, or by the owner himself. Disadvantage of this method was that water would leak inside. Advantage of this method was that the cops could not write a ticket for having the plate covered behind glass.
  • 3¬†Recessed¬†¬†This style had a hole cut out in the trunk or rear valance that was slightly wider than the license plate. An box was created that was also slightly larger than the license plate and welded inside the holw. The edges were nicely body worked, and holes drilled for the license plate to be mounted. A small light bulb was added hidden in the top portion that would illuminate the plate at night. The depth of the box would vary, from very shallow for a near flush fitting recessed plate, to half and inch or more for a more recessed appearance.
  • Surrounds¬†¬†On all these styles we have seen variations¬†of chrome surrounds being used. Most of the times the surrounds were custom made and appeared flush with the body. But there are also some photos that show aftermarket surrounds fitted inside the recessed openings.


CCC-inset-license-plate-dan-post-1944Dan Post was a pioneer in Custom Car Publications. In his 1944 publisjed document on restyling cars he mentions the Recessed License Plate.
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CCC-inset-license-plate-almquist-1946Edgar Almquist Jr. writes this about the inset license plate in his 1946 published Custom Styling Manual.
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We have heard from some of the people who where there in the early 1940’s that the inset license plates were a very popular Custom Restyling method. The technique was on the top of the To-Do lists if you wanted to have a good looking car. We were also told that three were quite a few cops that did not like the license plates to be covered with glass. And that the the Inset License plates was a good reason for them to stop a Customs for further scrutinizing.

The technique was used mostly on Custom Cars, but we have also come across some early 1940’s Hot Rods that had inset license plates.

As with most of the early Custom Restyling techniques, the inset license plate restyling originates in California. During the time this technique was popular and used the standard sizes of the California license plates changed a few times. This makes that some of the early samples have different shaped holes, and also explains why sometimes the restored original customs that use more modern plates have what appears ill fitting license plates in the inset surrounds.

  • 1929 – 1939¬†License plates were 14‚ÄĚ x 6 1/8‚ÄĚ
  • 1940 – 1955¬†License plates were 13 7/8‚ÄĚ x 6 1/8‚ÄĚ with rounded corners
  • 1956¬†and up A national standard for auto license plate size of 12‚ÄĚ x 6‚ÄĚ (except motorcycles, which are smaller) This size was¬†established in 1956 and continues currently.


CCC-inset-license-plate-wes-collinsThe builder of this Al Marx / Wes Collin’s 1934 Ford roadster Custom is unknown. But he did a very nice job recessing¬†the rear license plate into the rear valance and covering it with glass. This set up looks really great with the use of the Lincoln bumper. Late 1940’s photo.
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CCC-neil-emory-37-dodge-02Neil Emory (later co-owner of the famous Valley Custom Shop) created a double inset license plate behind glass on his 1938 Dodge Convertible. The right one for a Throttle Stompers club plaque and the one on the left for the license plate.
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CCC-inset-license-plate-wally-welchWally Welch’s 1939 Chevy coupe has a small opening for the inset¬†plate. The corners are nicely rounded giving the opening a very nice shape, the plate it placed behind a glass cover.
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CCC-inset-license-plate-jimmy-summersJimmy Summers and¬†Bob Fairman created this full fade away fenders 1936 Ford Coupe for Bob Fairman in the early 1940’s. They cut a hole in the rear valance, filed the edges, and placed the license plate behind glass. The color photos of the unrestored coupe the simple inset plate hole they created for this car. The advantage of this method was that the glass cover was only recessed the thickness of the metal body and the reflections of the glass made it look almost flush with the body.
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CCC-inset-license-plate-37-ford-021942 photo of a dark padded topped 1937 Ford Convertible shows an inset plate that was finished as nice as some of the others show in this article. The edge of the hole was rounded, but not nicely finished by either folded edges or added round rod edges. The plate itself sits very deep inside the body leaving a lot of shadow. There was not glass to cover the plate on this one.
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CCC-inset-license-plate-collage-02Some more samples showing different styles of the inset license plates.
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Creating the Inset license plates in the late 1930’s and 1940’s could be, and was done by any good body-shop. Some time¬†after the style became popular the first real Custom Body Shops started to appear, and the Inset License plates was one of the on the list items that became very popular for the shops. Although I have not been able to find any evidence for it, I assume that some of the shop did so many of these inset plates that they more than likely had templates and perhaps special jigs that helped them speed up the process. ¬†The technique was done by a large number of shops, but I like to highlight the work done by Harry Westergard and the Barris brothers, since I feel that these two shops had a big part in the popularity of the style.



Harry Westergard Inset License Plates

Frank Kurtis gets the credits of being the first body man to create an inset¬†incense plate on a Custom Car in 1936, but another Custom Car Pioneer, Harry Westergard played a big roll in¬†making the style really popular. Although Westergards work was done mostly on NorCal Bay area cars, the style was most likely picked up by others seeing the many Westergard Customs outfitted with these inset license plates. It was most likely Harry Westergard who influenced a young George Barris to use the technique on his own personal 1936 Ford. In the early 1940’s Harry had already installed many of the behind glass inset license plates. And the once he had created looked very nice, with beautiful finished round edges.

CCC-inset-license-plate-westergard-02Gene Garrett’s 1936 Ford in the early 1940’s. Styling is typical for the time, ribbed 1937 DeSoto bumpers, simple teardrop taillights (38-39 Ford in this case), shaved trunk with inset behind glass plate.
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CCC-inset-license-plate-westergard-07Harry Werstergard create this beautifully done inset plate on Max Ferris / Vern Simon’s 1936 Ford Roadster. The photo was taken in 1945-46 and shows what we now call the typical Harry Westergard style. The car is still around today, but sadly along the road the inset plate hole was filled in.
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CCC-inset-license-plate-westergard-03Harry Westergard¬†added¬†the inset plate very low in the long trunk on Leroy Semas his 1938 Chevy Coupe. Oddly the 1937¬†DeSoto ribbed bumper used on the car is outfitted with a ’49 Chevy license plate cover. Inside the cover is the Thunderbolts Car Club plaque from the club Leroy belonged to. The photo was taken in 1950.
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CCC-inset-license-plate-westergard-01Another sample of Harry Westergards great skills was on this 1939 Ford convertible he restyled for Mel Falconer. The car was later owned by Bruce Glen when Harry did the removable metal top for it. Harry created this super smooth rear end of the car by removing all the chrome, welding the trunk lid solid and setting in the plate behind glass. 
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CCC-inset-license-plate-randc-may-54This is what Rod & Custom magazine wrote about the license plate installment on the Bruce Glen 1939 Ford in 1954. By then the inset plates were out of fashion, but apparently still appreciated on the older build cars.
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CCC-inset-license-plate-westergard-05Harry Westergard also did the inset plate on Al Lauer’s 1941 Cadillac convertible. The car has been faithfully restored by a team of experts conducted by Kurt McCormick. The inset plate looks really amazing added to the lower section of the long trunk on this Caddy.
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CCC-inset-license-plate-westergard-06Close up shows the very nice done rounded edges. Compared to the Max Ferris 1936 Ford inset plate, the shape of this one has much sharped corners. This photo also shows how much the size of the plated from the¬†1940’s differ from the more modern plates.
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CCC-inset-license-plate-westergard-04The set in license plate on the Westergard 1932 Ford Roadster was done more primitive than the other samples we have found Westergard did on the Custom Cars. We have no date when Westergard did this Customized hot Rod, but most likely it pre-dates the customs he did included in this article, hence the simple hole cut into the body for the set in license plate. It does show that the set in plated were done on some of the 1940’s Hot Rods.
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CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-dickBuddy ohanesian had his 1940 Mercury four door convertible restyled by Harry Westergard and later by Dick Bertolucci. We are not sure if the set in license plate he had on his Mercury was done by Westergard or by Bertolucci. This photo shows the Mercury with Dick Bertolucci as his body shop in the early 1950’s.
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CCC-inset-license-plate-ohanesian-mercClose up of the very nicely set-in license plate on the Buddy ohanesian 1940 Mercury. This photo was taken of the restored car at the 2009 Sacramento Autorama.
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CCC-inset-license-plate-collage-01A few¬†more samples of inset plates on Custom Cars restyled in the 1940’s.
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Barris Inset License Plates

George Barris most likely learned how to do the inset license plated while working with Harry Westergard. When George moved to Los Angeles in 1942-43 he started to work for the Jones Body, Fender & paint Shop. This was a regular body shop, were George introduced Custom Restyling. One of the things he started going for the shop was the inset License Plates for customer cars.¬†When the Barris brothers George and Sam moved to a new location on¬†Compton Avenue¬†in Los Angeles in 1946 the Inset license plates were a very popular restyling technique. In fact it was so popular that the Barrises even put it on their shop wall as one of the shops specialities. During their stay in this shop, from 1946-1949 they created many inset license plates for their customers. George Barris possibly did his first inset plate on his own personal 1936 Ford convertible when he was working with Harry Westergard in Sacramento in the early 1940’s. When Barris published their printed Price-List around late 1953-early 1954, the Inset or recessed license plate was not even mentioned anymore. It showed that this styling technique had become outdated by then.

CCC-inset-license-plate-barris-36-fordThis might possibly the first inset license plate George Barris created. It was done on his own personal 1936 Ford convertible he build in the early 1940’s when he was still living in Sacramento and working and learning from Harry Westergard. The work looks to be rough and unfinished in this 1942-43 photo.
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CCC-barris-dick-fowler-38-ford-06Created around 1946-47 for owner Dick Fowler the Barris Inset the license pate in this well proportioned 1938 Ford Coupe. The car is currently (2016) owned by Custom Car Historian and collector Curt McCormick  and undergoing a full restoration. This photo was taken at the 2011 Customs Then & Now exhibit at the GNRS in Pomona California.
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CCC-inset-license-plate-fowler-fordA close up of the Fowler coupe inset plate shows that the opening has rather sharp edges. Since there are no known original photos of this car showing the back we do not know if the original installment of the plate was behind glass or not.
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CCC-inset-license-plate-zaro-00The inset plate the George Barris created for John Vera, in this photo owned by Johnny Zaro, was done really perfect. The shape of the opening, the way the edges are rounded, the depth of the plate and the fact it was behind glass make this a very beautiful sample. 
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CCC-inset-license-plate-zaro-02Fortunately the Vera/Zaro Ford has survived and has been restored so this allows us to get a really good look at this set up. Notice how the rounded edges matches the edges of the body and the curve used to mold the splash pan to the body. The restored car uses a 1949 Plymouth bumper instead of the original 1946 Ford unit.
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CCC-inset-license-plate-zaro-01A nice close up look shows the round edges and the box behind the glass. It also shows how the modern license plate size is a lot narrower than the 1940’s sizes.
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Inset plates with surrounds.

As mentioned in the list of different styles for the Inset License plates one one of the versions that was used was the inset with a nice chrome plated surround around the opening.

CCC-inset-license-plate-chrome-surround-01It appears that this chrome surround is actually inside the hole cut into the trunk of this 1939 Ford convertible sedan. The chrome trim ring sits flush with the body, which is a nice detail, but the shadow shows that the plate is sitting rather deep behind the actual opening, which shows the installment was perhaps not as refined as others.
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CCC-inset-license-plate-chrome-surround-02Another variant on the chrome surrounded version is that a custom made chrome plated surround sits on top of the body holding the glass. This option gives the car a very nice, luxurious feel.
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Recessed plates

While most of the inset plates we have seen are placed behind a smaller than the actual plate size opening from inside the trunk. We have also found a few plates that are actually placed inside a recessed panel that is the same size, or perhaps slightly larger than the actual plate size. This way the complete license plate can be seen, but is sitting inside an recessed section of the body, giving it a nice finished look. The plus for this method it that the complete plate is visible, and most likely not a reason for cops to have a better look, and a possible ticket.

CCC-inset-license-plate-36-ford-02This NorCal based 1936 Ford Coupe with inset plate was photographed in 1945. The hole to recess this place was cut the same size as the plate itself.
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CCC-inset-license-plate-36-ford-01Close up of the NorCal ’36 ford shows that the recess section is nicely finished and the design completed with 1938-39 Ford teardrop taillights alongside the plate.
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CCC-inset-license-plate-gas-fillerThomas Douglas of Miami, Florida had a Sports Custom created by Doray Inc also from Miami. They incorporated a recessed license plate including fancy chrome plated surround. They even made the unit to hinge to give access to the hidden gas filler pipe mounted in the center behind the license plate.
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The end of an era…

Later in the 1940’s the bumper designs became heavier to which it was much easier to add the license plates to without ruining the overall design of the car/bumpers. Also more and more cars came with integrated license plate surrounds, or the ’49 Chevy plate surround was adapted to be able to integrate the plates with the bumpers from the cars that did not have this option. The need to find a more attractive solution to add the license plates to a car became less and less on the late 1940’s and up cars. In the late 1940 and 1950’s very few inset license plates were created. Later, towards the end of the 1950’s, when the car shows, and scoring points at these shows became very important, the inset plates became more popular once again. This time it was the recessed version that was used on quite a few show cars. License plates recessed into heavily modified rear panels, or recessed with an molded in surround. Usually the used of the recessed plated during these later years¬†was combined with a roll pan, or split bumpers.

There are also some production cars from the 1950’s that used the inset license plates. The 1953 and up Corvettes are probably the best known samples of this. The production car even came with a glass cover over the recess.

In more recent years the Mini Truck crowd is using the recessed plate designs on their cars a lot again. You can buy complete license plate recess kits today that allows you to recess the license plates into the pick up bed, or any flat surface on the back of your car. Some kits include hidden light options. Often the license plates on these Mini Trucks are mounted on an odd angle… It makes me¬†wonder how many of the people who use these kits know¬†its original designs dates back to the early 1930’s.

CCC-inset-license-plate-ayala-birdGil Ayala created a recessed license plate in the custom roll pan on his Personal Custom T-Bird. It is¬†good sample of the custom restyling using inset or recessed plates in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.
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Special thanks to David E.Zivot, Craig Wise, Ed Jenson, Tim Cunha, George Barris, Ron Brooks, Billy Crewl, Mark Murray and others for helping with information and the many photos used in this article.


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More info on the CCC-Forum

If you want to know more about the Inset License Plate, how they have to be created, or the different styled being created by the CCC-Members, then check out the CCC-Forum Sunken Number Plate Trunks  or the License Plate Behind Glass threads for more info, or to discuss the subject. 



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Westergard Ford Memories

 

WESTERGARD FORD MEMORIES

 

Anthony from Sacramento Ca. remembers how he worked on Vern Simons Harry Westergard restyled 1936 Ford Roadster in the 1940s.



In 2010 I was in contact with Tim Cunha about the Max Ferris / Vern Simon’s 1936 Ford restyled by Harry Westergard, about having the car being part of the Customs Then & Now exhibit at the 2011 GNRS. Tim discussed the possibilities with Vern of brining the car over to Pomona for the exhibit. The car was still in as found condition, and was in need of at least some restoration work. Fortunately Vern agreed and the car was part of the early Customs section at the¬†GNRS¬†exhibit. More about this 1936 and its full history can be found in the CCC-Article about the car.


CCC-westergard-ford-memories-rj-spread


Some time before all this Vern’s 1936 Ford roadster was featured in the Rodder’s Journal issue #19, but the full story and if this in fact was an original Harry Westergard Custom was not known at the time the article was published. Later in issue #47 of the Rodder’s Journal, their 15 year anniversary issue, one photo of Vern’s Ford Roadster was shown again on page 122 as part of the TRJ favorite Customs section. Anthony from Sacramento happened to see the photo of Vern’s 1936 Ford Roadster and recognized it from his childhood times he spend working with Harry Westergard. So he wrote a letter to the Rodder’s Journal for Vern Simon’s.

CCC-westergard-ford-memories-rj-photoThe photo caption in the Rodder’s Journal issue 47 (the one Anthony saw) read; ¬†We were there the day Vern Simons pulled his ’36 roadster out for the first time since 1961. He purchased it off a Northern California car lot in 1949, raced it at Bonneville in ’52 and pulled the flasmotor in ’56 and it hasn’t run since. Vern is now putting it back on the street. The nearly 60-year-old black lacquer will be retained with all of its patina. The best part is that it is most likely an original Westergard Custom.
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Vern eventually got Anthony’s letter, and the two got in contact to talk about the Roadster. Tim Cunha was able to scan the original letter Anthony wrote for Vern, in which he explained about Harry Westergard working on his roadster and a few other historic events from back when Anthony was a kid helping out Harry Westergard. Anthony was 82 years old when he wrote the letter, and we know now that some of the dates mentioned are a bit off, but the rest is just very interesting. How often does it happen you get to know somebody who worked with Harry Westergard back in the 1940’s!




CCC-westergard-ford-memories-letter2The letter Anthony wrote to Vern Simons about his Harry Westergard restyled 1936 Ford Roadster.
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Transcript from the copied letter

California 6/23/2010

Let me intro introduce myself. I am 82 years old & not seeking anything except to impart information relative to Vern Simons 36 Ford Roadster depicted on page 122 marked TRJ #47. The comment on that caption “That the car is most likely a Harry Westergard Custom” is exactly correct & (Factual).¬†I think Vern Simon might like to know what I know about that car & Harry Westergard.

I was born in 1928 and lived and was raised at 2317-16 st. Sacramento Ca. In 1945 Harry Westergard moved into a downstairs flat at 1530 X¬†st. and began working on cars in a one car garage at eh back of that property which was¬†adjacent¬†to Corffees Laundry. Located on the corner of 16th and X st. S.W. Our property was on the N.E. corner. It came to pass that I would go across the street and as a kid hang out with the guys who would come and have Harry do his magic on their pre WWII cars. Among them Mel Falkner, US Airforce pilot with a Westergard 1927 T Roadster with Cragar O.V. head and exhaust¬†down one side. Honest Joe Miller flathead Ford in 1936 French “Citro√ęn”, and many others.

Harry just got out of the SU Navy and his prices were minimal. I remember George Barris and Dick Bertolucci and Hunter Wardlous (sp) also discussing things with Harry and solving problems. All these young men were street rod orientated and loved cars and spend most of their disposable income on their cars. I believe I accompanied Harry to a wrecking yard in west Sacramento to help him remove the Packard Clipper Grille from a roll-over. And I watched him cut trim and fit same into a 1936 Ford Roadster and shorten the windshield. By that time I was working after school cleaning Harry’s shop and sanding primer for his¬†“in the Garage” paint jobs.

I remember that car well, I bolted the De Soto bumpers to the brackets harry made while he held them for alignment and level. There is lots more I could tell him, but yes that is a real Harry Westergard Ford Custom.
I’m still rodding in a 1950 Allard¬†powered by a modular 4.6 D.O.C. whipple Supercharged Cobra special. Spectacular car.

Respectfully Anthony.

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CCC-westergard-ford-early-pictureAn early 1940’s photo of the Harry Westergard Roadster.
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CCC-westergard-ford-memories-restorationVern’s Roadster being taken¬†apart for the restoration.
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CCC-westergard-ford-memories-gnrs-2011Vern on the right  looks how a friend drives the freshly restored original Harry Westergard roadster into the Customs Then & Now exhibit building at the 2011 GNRS.
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Many thanks to Anthony, Vern Simons and Tim Cunha for sharing the info.


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(this article is sponsored by)

CCC-Sponsor-KingKustomsTShirt-602Contact Rob Radcliffe at King Kustoms for more info on these T-Shirts Email Rob

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George Barris 36 Ford Coupe

 

GEORGE BARRIS 36 FORD COUPE

 

George Barris created his first full Custom, a 1936 Ford Coupe, while he still lived in Northern California and worked part time at Harry Westergard.

 
 
In the very early 1940’s George Barris, still in school, spend all his spare time he had at local body and fender shops. Looking at the craftsman repairing cars. George became well known¬†at¬†these places, and¬†after a while the guys at the shop started to¬†answer¬†all his questions and even showed him how to do the work. Eventually even letting him do some of the work. This is what really got George started. One of the shops he visited and the one he liked the best, was the small shop of Sacramento pioneer Custom Car builder Harry Westergard. George learned a great deal from Harry, and Harry allowed George to do a lot of work for him, and also let him work on his own car using the few tools he had in his shop.
 

CCC-george-barris-36-ford-coupe-02This is the only published photo we have been able to find of the George Barris 1936 Ford Coupe.
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The first real full custom George Barris created for himself was a 1936 Ford Coupe in 1941. It shows a typical Nor Cal style we often associate with as the Harry Westergard Style. Long, sleek, high small nose and a speed boat stance. We do not know much about this car, sadly only one photo of the car was ever published. The May 1953 issue of Hop Up magazine showed a very small photo of this very first George Barris full custom in the Barris Story article. We assume that at this time George did not take many photos, and possibly he only took this one snapshot of the car, when it was just finished. By the time the magazine article was done, in early 1953, the car was long sold and George most likely had no idea what ever happened to it.

The Ford sported a beautiful proportioned chopped top. George had removed the running boards, and hand shaped frame covers were added below the body to fill the gap where the running boards used to be. The back portion of the front fenders were extended where the holes for the running boards used to be and the lower portion completely reshaped. The front section of the rear fender was also filled in and covered with a stainless rock shield. The stock grille was removed and a new panel was either hand shaped from sheet metal, or possibly an early aftermarket part was used for this. The result was a narrow grille which made the front of the car look very tall. Stock bumpers were replaced with 1941 Ford units, and according the text in the Hop Up magazine modified the taillights and set in the license plate. The car was lowered with a nice speed-boat stance and the wheels were dressed up with single bar flipper hubcaps. A set of Spotlights was mounted on the A-Pillars and a large antenna –¬†big trend in those days – mounted on the cowl.

 

CCC-george-barris-36-ford-coupe-03The May 1953 Hop Up magazine The Barris Story is, as far as we know, the only time a photo and write up of George his 1936 Ford was published.
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[box_light]The text in the Hop Up magazine is not always accurate, and also on describing George his ’36 Ford they mention that the exterior handles were removed, while the photo shows clearly the door handles are still in place. Something quite common for the years the car was built, but when the article was written , 1953, it was more common to shave the complete cars.[/box_light]

 
George used his Coupe for daily transportation for some time, but he had always liked the more expensive convertibles better than coupes. He figured that when he would sell his finished coupe custom, he would have enough money to get a convertible as next project. And that is exactly what he did. The 36 Coupe changed hands and George bought a 1936 Ford convertible which he immediately started to restyle while he was still working part-time at Harry Westergard.
 

CCC-george-barris-36-ford-coupe-01Ron Brooks shared this photo taken in the mid 1940’s. the Coupe has been updated with a set of white wall tires an the ’41 Ford bumpers had been replaced with more elegant 1937 DeSoto units.
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A few years ago, Nor Cal Custom Car enthusiast¬†Ron Brooks¬†shared a few old photos from his collection and on one of the photos there was this same 1936 Ford Coupe again. This time it was updated with a set of wide white wall tire, and the bumpers had changed to 1937 DeSoto units. Sadly Ron had no info on the cars in the photo, only that the photo was taken in Northern California in the 1940’s. We are not sure if George Barris still owned the car at this time, or that it belonged to a new owner, who had bought it from George around 1942-43.

Although this 1936 Ford Coupe never really got much¬†publicity, we think it really is an Custom Car Icon… it is after all George Barris his first full Custom Car he created. It is the car that started his career. It would take a few more years, till 1948 to be exact, before George Barris would get the full recognition for the custom restyling he¬†was doing with his 1941 Buick Convertible. The publicity he got with that Buick made him well known in the whole country, and the business bloomed. But the 1936 Ford coupe in this article is what started it all, and the way it came out assured George would all be all-right!
 
 
 
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Fadeaway fenders

 

FADEAWAY FENDERS

 

One of the more extensive ways to Custom Restyle you car is to reshape the front fenders into full Fade-Away units. Creating a more elegant and exclusive looking car.



In our stories on the Custom Car Restyling History I would like to highlight one of the Restyling Techniques that drastically change the appearance of a whole car. A technique not easily adapted, and therefor also not used as often as other techniques. But when it was used, it was most of the time creating a unique improved look for that particular car. The technique is know as the Full Fade-Away fenders, or fadeaways. A restyling technique that was mostly performed in the early days of Custom Restyling up to the early 1950’s. It is also as style we fortunately still see being created on some Custom Cars today. For this article we will focus on the vintage Customs with Fade-Away fenders, but perhaps we will create another one using the more recently created samples. This article is also focused on the early style cars, with separate fenders. From 1948 and up the cars came from the factory with the fenders as part of the main body, and most cars already had a sort of Fade-Away fender line stock from the factory. Others, like the 1949-51 Mercury had a dip in this line, which was made into a Fade-Away line on some customs. This will also not be part of this article…

Several years before the Fade-Away fenders would become part of the Custom Car scene, car designers were already experimenting with the long sweeping lines of front fenders moving back all the way to the rear fenders. This created a much different look and feel than the cars people were used to see back then. Cars with separate front and rear fenders, functional units to cover the tires and keep the body clean. These new long fender lines make a car look much longer and lower, more elegant.  We do not really know who was the first to create these designs for the full fade away fender line, most likely this happened around 1934 for the first time, and became more used from 1936 and up.

CCC-fadeaway-fenders-art-ross-34Art Ross created many amazing designs for cars in the 1930’s, 40’s and later. In 1934 he created this full Fade-Away fendered Duesenberg design proposal. (Images from The Art Of Art Ross)
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CCC-fadeaway-fenders-alexis-de-Sakhnoffsky-36Alexis de Sakhnoffsky created this wild design in 1936 for a boat tailed v-windshield roadster with flowing Fade-Away fenders.
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CCC-fadeaway-fenders-bill-mitchell-38Bill Mitchell designed this stunning looking speedster with long, full fade-away fenders in 1938.
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The one-of-a-kind BMW 328 Mille Miglia ‚ÄėBuegelfalte‚Äô was originally built in May 1937 as a standard-bodied car for Rudolf Schleicher¬īs Experimental Department at BMW. In autumn 1939, the car was dismantled at the BMW factory‚Äôs racing division and extensively re-engineered and used as the basis for even more streamlined bodywork in preparation for the 1940 season and the Mille Miglia in particular. To that end, BMW built both an aerodynamic coup√© and this lightweight open roadster. Included in the new body work are wonderful full Fade-Away fenders. More info on this BMW can be found here. (thank you Bert Gustafsson for the tip)

CCC-fadeaway-fenders-bmw1937 BMW 328 Mille Miglia ‚ÄėBuegelfalte‚Äô was re-bodied in 1939 and recieved a wonderful streamlined body which included full Fade-Away fenders and fender skirts.
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ccc-fade-away-fenders-1940-alfa-pininfarinaPinninfarina created this stunning Alfa Romeo in 1940 with full fade-away fender and teardrop shaped bubble skirts.
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Another early produced car with the use of full Fade-Away fendered was the 1940 prototype created for the Chrysler Corporation by LeBaron. They named the dual cowl smooth full Fade-Away fendered car the Chrysler Newport. Coachbuilders from Europe where starting to designing and building cars with fade-away fenders as well. Around the same time the first Custom Car builders started to experiment with the fade away fenders also. Harry Westergard, Less Crane and Jimmy Summer were Custom Car pioneers who all get credit from being among the first to create the full Fade-Away fenders on a custom car.




1940 Chrysler Newport by LeBaron

1940 Chrysler Newport dual cowl phaeton, designed by Ralph Roberts from LeBaron and Alex Tremulis and created by LeBaron. It had breakthrough flowing lines with smooth, fluid fenders foreshadow the full envelope styles that would develop years later. Its beautiful, organic shape was subtly accented by¬† the elimination of the visible body seams necessary for all other cars with their bolted-on fenders. The Newport’s hood, deck, doors and fenders were completely smoothed, with no design-interrupting ornamentation. LeBaron’s devotion to a smooth, uninterrupted flow of the body panels extended to integrated rear fender skirts executed in the teardrop shape of the fenders, a flush cover for the top and even recessing the license plate into the deck-lid and covering it with glass. All touches that would later become the standard for many Custom Cars.

CCC-fadeaway-fenders-chrysler-011940 Chrysler Newport dual cowl phaeton with full fade-away fenders.
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Documentation

In the early days, when some of the cars were restyled used in this article there where no magazines or books devoted to Customizing. But in 1944 and later the first publications appeared, and in these the Fade-Away fenders restyling technique was mentioned. Dan Post named it “Tack On” fenders, and with his books he most likely has inspired several customizers to add fade away fenders to their car or their customers cars.

CCC-fadeaway-fenders-dan-post-bluebookThe Dan Post Blue Book of Custom Restyling showed several Custom Cars with the fade-away fenders, and explained in the text how this was done. The image above shows a spread from the 1951 edition of the Dan Post book, and the technique is called Tack-On Fenders.
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CCC-fadeaway-fenders-history-02Another page in the Dan Post Blue Book of Custom Restyling showed two photos of an unidentified Convertible with an oddly styled grille and full Fade Away fenders. This car can be seen in all of the Dan Post books. The page also shows a nice side view of the Bob Fairman 36 Ford coupe with Jimmy Summers created fade away fenders. The photo on the right comes from my personal collection. I still have not been able to identify this car from the Dan Post books, no name, not even the brand car used. If anybody knows more, please let me know.
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CCC-fadeaway-fenders-hop-up-jan-53The Hop Up magazine from January 1953 devoted an three page article on the Fade-Away fenders. Photos and diagrams where used to explain how they could be created. The in progress photos show the 1941 Ford of Frank Monteleon getting full Fade-Away fenders installed at the Barris shop.
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1941 Cadillac ‚ÄúThe Duchess‚ÄĚ

Edward the Eighth, King of Great Britain, abdicated his throne in 1936 to marry the American, Wallis Simpson. The couple was henceforth known as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. In 1938, England appointed Edward governor of the Bahamas. Close to the United States, Nassau proved a quick trip to New York City, where the pair kept a suite at the elegant Waldorf Astoria Hotel on Park Avenue.

During their first stay in late 1941 at the Waldorf Astoria hotel, where the couple kept a suite, the Windsors received a car, based on a 1941 Cadillac, from one of their society friends, Alfred P. Sloan Jr., the chairman and CEO of General Motors. Delivered in the waning days of old coachbuilding and the Classic Era, ‚ÄúThe Duchess,‚ÄĚ as it became known, was one of the final, truly one-off, coachbuilt Cadillacs, as well as one of the most famous Cadillacs ever produced.

CCC-fadeaway-fenders-duchessBeautiful lines of the coachbuilt 1941 Cadillac for the Windsors. The car could be seen in several news paper and magazine articles in the early 1940’s. Perhaps influencing some custom builders?
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Not a single body panel on the Windsors’ car matched any other 1941 Cadillac. The hood, trunk, fenders, fender skirts, roof, and doors were all crafted by hand, and all interior appointments were hand-fitted. The fenders were, and remain, the car’s outstanding feature. Beginning with a crest over the wheels, they extend and fade through the back of the body, forecasting Hooper’s future coachwork on Rolls-Royce. The streamlined appearance was so sufficiently striking that Buick would borrow the basic style of the design for its 1942 production models.

The car‚Äôs custom roofline, which dips between the windows to form a wide center post, would appear on the production 1942 Cadillac Series 60 Special. Other unique exterior features included the Windsors‚Äô ‚ÄúW.E.‚ÄĚ monogram and crown to the rear doors, unique stainless steel rocker moldings and drip rails, blacked out headlight and fog light trim rings, and the deletion of most chrome and excess emblems. On this car, Cadillac‚Äôs iconic Goddess hood ornament was plated in gold.




Info from: MorganMurphy

The Early Customs with Fade-Away fenders

One of the first known custom Fade-Away fender jobs is the 1940 Mercury owned by Butler Rugard. The Mercury was restyled by Harry Westergard when the car was brand new in 1940, It was restyled over a period of time, but we where told that the Fade-Away fenders was one of the first restyling that was done on the car. We do not know where Harry or perhaps Butler got the idea for the Fade-Away fenders from, perhaps they had seen it on some design sketches in a magazine, or perhaps they were just thinking along the same line as these designers, and just thought about ways to make the body on the 1940 Mercury look more streamlined.

The early cars, from the mid to late 1930’s that were used for the first Fade-Away fenders all have very round bulbous fenders. Fenders that perhaps do not really lend themselves to well the full fade away fender line. All of the early attempts show fading fender lines which have a very large radius, caused by the radius of the fender. Most of the early attempts also show that the width of the fade away section remains the same, and the end of the fender sits flush with the rear fender. Later we can see that the customizers started to experiment with slimmer fender extension, that were made narrower towards the rear, leaving the original rear fender line in place. The units that Jimmy Summer offered were of this type and created very elegant lines on the cars they were used. Sometimes the slimmer units were used in combination with chrome or stainless rock shields on the rear fenders. Personally I think that the later, 1941 to ’48 slightly more square fenders lend themselves to even more elegant Fade-Away fenders. The fade-away sections could be made to look a bit more crisp and slim and really made the car look a lot longer.

Another type of Fade-Away fender style we will not go into to deep here is the half fade away. Several early Custom Cars and cars created by the Coachbuilders extended the front fenders but made the panels in such a way that the fender line would fade away in the doors.

CCC-fadeaway-fenders-westergard-02Butler Rugards 1940 Mercury is one of the first custom cars we know about with full Fade-Away fenders. Created by Harry Westergard and Les Crane most likely in 1940. More about this Mercury can be read in this CCC-Article.
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CCC-fadeaway-fenders-37-buick-01Another early Custom using the full Fade Away fender design was this 1938 Buick created for Richard Meade – who attended the fine arts college seen in the background of the photo. This Custom was created between late 1940 and early 1942 in the Los Angeles area. Besides having full Fade-Away fenders the car also has a raked windshield padded top, ’41 Buick taillights, ’42 Buick bumpers, custom hubcaps and teardrop skirts. Richard remembers the car being built by both Jimmy Summers and Coachcraft. The car appears in the earliest edition (1944) of the Custom and Restyle book by Dan Post.
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Jimmy Summers and Fade-Away fenders

Jimmy Summers and Fade-Away fenders have always belonged together. Jimmy was possibly the only Custom builder that ever offered an aftermarket kit for Fade-Away fenders. At least in our research we have not been able to found any other source for these. Jimmy’s product was called Fender Extensions and were specifically made to fit the 1942 to 1948 Chevy bodies. Two types were offered, one for the Aero Sedan and on for the convertible, coupe and sedan body styles. But more than likely these panels ended up on several other brand cars as well.

CCC-fadeaway-fenders-summers-01The Popular Mechanics article called They Tailor their own cars from May 1947 showed two very interesting photos of Jimmy Summers working on one of these Fender Extension kits.
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CCC-fadeaway-fenders-summers-04Jimmy Summers Fender Extensions ad in a 1949 Hot Rod Magazine.
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Jimmy Summers ran this ad for the Fender Extension in the Hot Rod Exposition program book from 1949.
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1936 Ford coupe Bob Fairman – Jimmy Summers
Another very early Custom that had a set of full Fade-Away fenders was a 1936 Ford Coupe owned by Bob Fairman. Bob worked with Jimmy Summers and most likely the two worked together on this car. The top was chopped, the body dropped over the frame and the front and rear fenders raised. The front fenders where reshaped completely to accept 1937 Ford headlights and flow into hand made Fade-Away panel. The Fade-Away panels on this car are separate units that bold on to the main body, just like the kit Jimmy Summers would later sell. We do not have a date when this car was built, but the photo below appears to have 1942 license plates, and the newest parts used are the 1941 Ford bumpers. The Ford is still around today, although in very bad shape, it has been rusted in a yard since 1972. Bob’s 1936 Ford has been published quite a bit in the early publications, and most likely played on important role in the popularity of the style.


CCC-fadeaway-fenders-summers-03Photo taken in the early 1940’s show the rather bulbous full Fade-Away fenders on Bob Fairman’s 1936 Ford. The new fender lines looks a lot like the fenders used on the Jaguar XK120, but those did not come out until 1948.
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CCC-fadeaway-fenders-summers-05These photos are from Bob’s 1936 Ford taken in 2009 and 2010. The car had been sitting in a field for almost 30 years. It is even amazing that is has survived this long. The last info we have on it is that the present owner is doing all he can to save it. The Front fenders, not shown in the photo are supposedly stored inside the car. Although its heart braking to see these photos of the car in such a state, it also gives us a great look at how the fender extensions were used.
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1942 Buick first production car with Fade-Away fenders

The 1942 and postwar Buick Roadmaster was longer, lower, wider, and roomier than before, thanks in part to a three-inch-longer wheelbase. The Buicks for 1942 sported a complete restyling, which was highly unusual at a time, when most of Buick’s competitors offered only modest face-lifts of their 1941 designs for 1942.
New restyling included a new vertical-bar grille that would be carried over in modified form through 1954 and, on some two-door models, including both Roadmasters, and the “Airfoil”, front fenders that swept back all the way to the rear fenders. The 1942 Buick Roadmaster was the first production car to feature production Fade-Away fenders. Most other cars from that time could still be considered fat fendered with separate bulbous front and rear fenders. while the new Buick lines included a continuous sloping line of the fade-away from the front to the back of the car added a graceful, flowing appearance. Seeing these new 1942 Buick’s on the roads must have inspired many Custom Car builders during and shortly after WWII.


CCC-fadeaway-fenders-1942-buick

CCC-fadeaway-fenders-history-06Bob Creasman chopped the top and channeled the body over the frame 4 inches of his 1940 Ford Coupe. In 1948 Creasman fitted his coupe with the full Fade-Away fenders. Notice that the sides of the Fade-Away panels sits flush with the rear fenders, making the fender sections look rather wide, especially when compared with the 1942 Buick pictured above.
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Ayala and Fade-Away fenders

Even though several more shops where known for doing great work on full Fade-Away fenders on Custom Cars, it was Gil Ayala’s shop that was recognized by it for the style, back then, and even today. While the fade away fender extensions created by Jimmy Summers where mostly bolt on units, it was the Ayala’s that were known for the wonderfully smooth fully molded-in version of the fade-away fenders. We do not know when the Ayala’s created the first Fade-Away fenders on their Custom Cars, we do know that Gil added them on his own personal 1940 Mercury in 1949. The shop did at least two more cars with full Fade-Away fenders, but more than likely there were more than that.

CCC-gil-ayala-1940-mercury-05Gil Ayala’s personal 1940 Mercury with full Fade-Away fenders, most likely created using panels from California Metal Shaping to make the work easier. The fenders extensions are blended in with the rest of the body and 1949 Cadillac rear fenders for an ultimate smooth and streamlined look. (1950 photo)
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CCC-fadeaway-fenders-ayala-02The Ayala’s also created the fade away fenders on the Jack Stewart Ford, this was done in 1950 and the California Metal Shaping company was called in for help on shaping the panels. (1951 photo)
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CCC_Hank-Griffith-1942_Ford_01Hank Griffith’s 1942 Ford had a set of full Fade-Away fenders created by the Ayala shop. The Ayala’s used a set of 1950 Cadillac rear fenders and two front doors to create the Fade-Away fenders on this car. The new fenders made the car look much more modern, and streamlined. More about this car can be seen in the CCC-Article.
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Barris Kustoms and Fade-Away fenders

The Barris shop has created quite a few custom cars with full Fade-Away fenders. It all started with George Barris his own 1941 Buick Convertible which he bought after his 1936 Ford Over a period of time George restyled the Buick in one of the most amazing looking custom cars of the time. We have not been able to put an excact time on when the car was built, but most likely the fade away fenders were done around 1946-47. The car was completely finished in 1948. We also do not know if George used perhaps the fade away panels of the Buick, which could have been bought from the dealer, or perhaps at the junk yard, or if he hand fabricated the Fade Away panels by himself, or perhaps with the help of the Calfornia Metal Shaping shop. We do know that the car was a huge success, and Georg has mentioned he did several with similar fenders for a few customers.


CCC-fadeaway-fenders-history-05Early version of George Barris his 1941 Buick with black wall tires, and cut down 1942 Cadillac grille.
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CCC-fadeaway-fenders-barris-02This is an very interesting photo of George his 1941 Buick in primer, after he had an accident with the car and after the repaint and some more restyling had been performed. This photo is interesting for many reasons, but especially because a similar styled full Fade-Away Custom can be spotted behind the Barris Compton Ave. shop on the far left side of the photo. This photo was taken in either 1948 or ’49.
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CCC-fadeaway-fenders-barris-01Another early Barris creation with full Fade-Away fenders was this 1941 Buick coupe done for Var Martin. This side view photo gives us a good look at the shape of the fade aways, which are slightly narrower at the back. The shape of the front fender basically dictated how much dip there would be at the end. Gorgeous lines on this one, who knows what happened to it?
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CCC-fadeaway-fenders-decarr-01Bill deCarr build his own personal 1941 Mercury with a set of Full Fade-Away fenders creating one of the most beautiful full Fade-Away customs ever. Bill can be seen her with his freshly primered Mercury at the back of the Compton Ave Barris Shop. Notice how the fade away fender lines looks much slimmer than on the 1930’s models, and how high the rear of the fender extension sits on the body. Almost creating car model lines from cars that would come out the next year.
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CCC-fadeaway-fenders-history-04 The Johnny Zaro 1941 Ford had its front fenders raised before the fender extension was created. This rear 3/4 view is perhaps the most attractive for this car.
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CCC-fadeaway-fenders-westergard-01Harry Westergard created this stunning 1941 Cadillac with full Fade-Away fenderline and 1948 Cadillac rear fenders. The flowing fade away fenders are nice and crisp even though they have been molded to the rest of the body. There is a clear line between the fade-away sections and the rear fender, which create very interesting lines on the car. One of the very best Fade-Away fendered Customs ever done. The car is now owned by Custom Car Collector Kurt McCormic.
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CCC-fadeaway-fenders-history-photosSome more samples of Custom Cars with full Fade-Away fenders.Interesting to see is that not only coupes and convertibles recieved the full Fade-Away fender treatment.
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CCC-fadeaway-fenders-history-01Not everybody had the talent or money to create full Fade-Away fenders on their Custom Car. So the owner of this mildly customized 1941 Chevy Convertible created the fade-away fender line with paint. (Rik Hoving Collection)
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A close up look at the Fade-Away fenders

One of the reasons why we do not see a whole lot of Custom cars with Fade-Away fenders, from back in the early days, or currently built, is because they are quite complicated to create. The cars to which the fade away fenders are being added, have door hinges never designed to be used with fade-away sections. Creating the fade away section in itself is perhaps not really all that complicated for a body man, but making the door open and close with the new panels added is a different story. The section of the fade away fender located at the front of the door will need to move inboard on the fender section when the door is opened. Therefor this section needs to sit slightly lower than the fender section, or at least the edge needs to fit inside. We have chosen two samples cars to show this section up close. The first one, in bare metal is the Jack Stewart 1941 Ford created by the Ayala’s. While the photo are being made of the unfinished car it gives us a good look of what is needed to make this all work. The second one, the Harry Westergard’s created 1941 Cadillac uses a slightly different, perhaps more elegant way to make the doors open and close. For both and others we have to keep in mind that these are close up photos and the flow of the Fade-Away fenders will look much more natural from a normal distance.


CCC-fadeaway-fenders-ayala-03The fender extensions on the Jack Stewart Ford are created by the California Metal Shaping company and custom fitted by the Ayala shop. Looking up close we can see quite a gap at the line where the front fender ends, and the door extension starts, especially where both meet the rest of the body. Also noticeable is the way the door extension section is folded in a bit to make sure it will fit inside the fender section when the door opens. Keep in mind that a lot of fine tuning still needs to be done on this body.
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CCC-fadeaway-fenders-westergard-03The door line on the Westergard Cadillac is flowing differently than on the Jack Stewart Ford. The lines look much more factory here. Perhaps the fade away panels from a Buick were used, or perhaps the Jimmy Summers units were custom ordered. The restoration of this car did not reveal any of the secrets on how the panels were created.
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Removed Running boards

 

EARLY CUSTOM RESTYLING

 

Back in the late 1930’s early 1940’s more and more Custom Cars showed up with their running boards removed, for an ultimate slick, sporty, and perhaps European look. Lets take a closer look at this once very popular Custom Restyling technique.



In the late 1930’s and early 1940’s¬†shops in California, but also in other states, started to create personalized cars based on the every day cars. Styled after the hand build coach built creations from the famous coachbuilders in the US as well as from Europe. Coach built cars from the famous movie stars and hot rodding on the dry lakes where the inspiration for the young kids who wanted their Fords to look more classic than all the other cars they saw on the street. Several shops started to specialize in these Custom Cars and styles developed quickly. Besides many techniques used to customize your car, like chopping the top, adding padded tops, more exclusive grilles, lowering the suspension, the removal of the running boards was one way to make your boxy car look much more streamlined, more sporty, more like those exclusive Auburns, Cord’s Grahams, or even more exotic cars.


CCC-38-Ford-Stock-removed-runningboardsMostly stock 1938 Ford convertible with the running boards removed, the front fenders extended where the running board used to connect, the frame covered with a body color painted panel, dressed up with two stainless trim pieces and a nicely shaped stainless rock shield covering the hole on the rear fender. Notice the use of a mudflap on the front fender.
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There has always been a strong pro and con camp on the subject of removed running-boards on early style custom cars, for as long as I have been into Custom Cars. I have to say that I’m from the pro camp, I personally love the look of removed running boards on early style custom cars. Cars with the runningboards removed with hand shaped panels covering the frame rails, which are painted body color, and possebly dressed up wit a set of stainless trim. The back portion of the front fenders reshaped and the front of¬†the rear fenders filled in, and possebly dressed up with an elegantly styled stainless steel rock cover to protect the rear fender.




There are two types we can identify when it comes to removed runningboards on Custom Cars.

  1. Cars with removed running boards where the hole left from the running board is filled in with a shaped panel to cover the frame.
  2. Cars with removed runningboards and raised fenders and chaneled bodies where the lower body section is now level with the lower line of the fenders an covering the frame rails from view.



Both styles were used a lot in the early days,¬†but the channeled version with the raised fenders is the one that “survived” and was still used in the 1950’s and later. The more regular removed running board look more or less disappeared towards the end of the 1940’s. So far I have not really found a good reason for this, perhaps the style was considered to be outdated, or perhaps it was not practical with the roads still being rather bad and a lot of road debris might have ended up damaging the paint on the body sides and rear fenders. However the channeled look with the raised fenders must have had the same problem, but the more sleek lower profile body lines probably made up for all this. Fortunately we have seen a bit of a come back when it comes to removing the running boards on late 1930’s early 1940’s Custom Cars in more recent years. I will come back to that at the end of this article.
For this article I will concentrate on the cars restyled with according the number one listed description. The original restyling technique of removing the running boards on none channeled cars.



The Inspiration

When and how did it all start?
Well, we do not ave any excact dates on this, but based on photos we have seen it must have started in the later part of the 1930’s. Ealier we have seen Hot Rods wit their fenders and running boards removed, and possibly this has been¬†of invluence on the removal of running boards on Custom Cars a bit, but as mentioned in the intro, it is more likely this¬†was invluenced by the American Classic Sports Cars that where produced in the later part of the 1930’s and the coach built cars, and especially from the European coach builders. These builders created exotic looking sports cars whith wonderful round and teardrop shapes on the fenders and bodies with chrome pated shapes on the fender ends wit no running bosrds showing. This excotic look was shown in some of the magazines back in the 1930’s, and could also been seen on the roads of sunny Hollywood where the rich an famous would drive automobiles like this. More common on the street would have been the Auburns and similar styled factory sports cars. The absence of the running boards gave these cars very elegant lines and a nice low to the ground look. American car manufactors like GM where also starting to offer some models wit no running boards, but possibly due to the bad roads of the time, causing thrown up road debris onto the body sides and rear fenders made this a little less practical option for production every day used cars. But the customizers sure loved the look of it.


CCC-1935-auburn-01The Auburn Speedster was available from 1934 and showed the wonderful sleep looks of a car with no running boards peaked front fender backs and nicely shaped chrome rock shields on the rear fenders.
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CCC-39-cadillac-brochure-runningboardsSome GM body styles¬†from 1938-40, like this 1939 Cadillac and LaSalle had no running boards The running board location was “filled” up with a body colored panel and three full length trim pieces. Once these cars hit the dealers the customizers found out about these frame covers¬†and started to use them on their Fords and other more regular cars.
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CCC-graham-photoAnother factory Sports Cars with no running boards was the Graham.
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This article is based on my own personal observations and ideas about the subject and not on facts based on old publications, or stories from the old timers that where there back in the 1940’s. A far as I know none of this has been written about in depth in early Custom Car publications. For a great number of years I have tried to collect everything I could find about this subject, and now its time to share my story on it. I still would love to hear more about this, perhaps there are some people out there that could share some more info, or perhaps even have one of the old aftermarket kits. If you do, please let me know, I would love to add it to this article for everybody to enjoy.




1936 Ford 5-window Coupe

One of the first Custom Cars that I saw in the magazines/books that had the running boards removed was this wonderfully restyled 1936 Ford 5-window coupe. These photos date from 1940-1941 and show some very well performed restyling. The removed running boards give the car a much sleeker look, and the stainless trim on the frame cover optically make the car look a lot longer than it really is. The stainless rock shield is very elegantly shaped, and since we have found at least one more photo of a 36 Ford using the same frame cover and rock shield we assume this might have been an aftermarket product available in the early 1940’s. Some even mentioned George DuVall might have been responsible for this product. But so far we have not found any evidence for¬†this to proof it. It was this car that started the love for the removed running boards Custom Cars for me.


CCC-36-ford-5-window-1941According to Dean Batchelor who took this photo the Ford was¬†restyled¬†by¬†Santa Monica Body Works¬† in the late 30’s early 40’s. The photo is taken in Santa Monica in 1941. Several people mention George DuVall as the creator of the running board covers and some other dress up parts used on this car.
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CCC-36-ford-5-window-1941-02Another photo of the same 36 Ford that I came across on eBay many years ago shows a slightly different view, and show how much effect the removal of the running boards had to this car. This 1936 Ford also has mud-flaps behind the front tires.
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CCC-custom-car-pride-joy-13Howard¬†Wilson’s 1936 Ford coupe is the other Ford that used a similar set up for the removed running board style. Making me believe this must have been an aftermarket set available¬†in the early 1940’s.
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CCC-removed-running-board-almquist2Edgar Almquist Jr wrote about the removal of the running boards in his Custom Styling Manual (Simplified methods for Custom Streamlining) copyrighted in 1946.
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CCC-westergard-1936-ford-coupeI think this photo comes from the Dick Bertolucci Collection and shows and early Custom 1936 Ford created by Harry Westergard. The running boards are removed, the front fender reshaped and peeked at the back. The rear fender dressed up with a simple stainless rock-shield, and the most interesting thing is the nicely shaped frame cover. It was mentioned that Harry used a Model A Sedan top to shape these wonderful frame covers.
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CCC-1940-ford-coachcraftThis Coachcraft created car was based on a 1940 Ford, but a lot of the body panels were home made. The design was made with no running boards. longer reshaped front fenders and rock shields on the rear fenders.
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CCC-1938-ford-bistangeGeorge and Tom Bistagne built this¬†1938 Ford convertible sedan for their own personal use in 1939-’40. The car was chopped with a Carson top using ’34 cabriolet rear door windows. California Metal shaping created the frame¬†covers that where needed¬†after the running boards where removed, as well as the chrome plated or stainless steel rock guards for the rear fenders.
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CCC-barris-39-mercury-coupe-1947This early Barris Customs restyled 1939 also uses a shaped panel to cover the frame. This one does not follow the body at the beginning and the end, perhaps indicating that the panel was created from some other body panels, perhaps similar to the Westergard built 1936 Ford coupe.
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CCC-1937-chevy-leroy-semas-westergardRemoving the running boards was not only done to Fords, Harry Westergard removed them on Leroy Semas his 1937 Chevy three window coupe with great result. Harry created the panel to cover the frame and molded it to the lower body for a very smooth look.
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CCC-1937-ford-pheatonEarly restyled 1937 Ford Phaeton with chopped padded top and removed running boards. The shaped panel to cover the frame is not molded in on this car. The rock-shield is nicely shaped and taller than some others. Notice the small diameter Single bar flipper hubcaps used on the car. The license plate is dated 1940.
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CCC-1938-ford-sedan-barrisMost likely created by the Barris Shop is this 1937-38 Ford sedan with the running boards removed. The front fender has been very nicely reshaped and the frame cover molded to the body, to fit in with the theme of the rest of the car.
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CCC-removed-runningboard-collectionI think its save to say that the reming the running boards style originated in California. But the looks were used in other parts of the US as well. This photo shows a series of snapshots of custom cars photographed in and around Dayton Ohio in the late 1940’s. They all have the running boards removed. So the style was “universal” only perhaps a little later in the other parts of the US than in California.
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The Aftermarket Influence

From very early on several aftermarket companies realized there was¬†a market in offering – do it youself Restyling by removing the runningboard kits. We have seen an advertising postcard from the Hollywood trim company offering such a kit as early as 1940. But perhaps similar products might have been available even earlier. These kits show how popular this kind of restyling was in the late 1930’s up into the 1940’s and even in the early 1950’s. However these kits would never have the same elegant effects a full custom job would have. These trim sets where easy to bolt on, and covered the exposed parts with¬†either stainless or chrome plated panels, which would look fine on the frame covers, but look odd on for the fender covers, especially the front. The rear covers were small, just to cover the holes left from the running boards, and not as nicely shaped as elegantly shaped as we can see on some of the full custom jobs. And the covers for the front also looked like nothing more than something to cover up the holes. Still these kit must ave been sold very well, since we have seen¬†a lot of old snapshots of cars using these kits.


CCC-hollywood-trim-card-02Postcard with a February 1940 stamp on the back shows the Hollywood Running Board Trim kit for the Ford and Mercury bodies.
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CCC-hollywood-trim-adThe Hollywood Trim kit was also available from Eastern and Cal Custom aftermarkets houses, who sold these in their shop and thru the mail. This one comes from the Eastern 1949 catalog, and their 1951 catalog still shows them as well.
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CCC-hollywood-kit-photo-collectionJust a few of the samples I have come across of cars using the Hollywood Running Board Trim kit. The were used both on further customized cars as well as on nearly stock looking cars. Makes me wonder how many of these kits were used back then. (some photos courtesy of the Zeke Carrillo Collection)
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CCC-hollywood-trim-cardThe Hollywood fender trim, product of Perry Mfg. Co. was just one of many of the rock shields available in the early 1940’s. These where shaped nicer than the short unit from the Hollywood Trim kit. Shields like these were used by those who made their own frame cover and reshape the fenders on their own car.
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The removal of the running boards on Custom Cars also was done on 1941-48 Ford and Mercury products (and most likely on other brand cars as well) however the running boards on these cars are mostly covered by the lower section of the doors which moved outboard at the bottom. This resulted in a far less obvious effect when the running boards were removed on these cars. Still George DuVall decided to come out with an aftermarket product that could be used when the running boards where removed on your car.


CCC-george-du-vall-41-ford

Fred Creller – Ron Brooks 1941 Chevy

Ron Brooks owns this 1941 Chevy with original Hall top custom that was originally built in the late 1940’s by Fred Creller. Fred removed the running boards on his Chevy and had a local shop make a filler panel to hide the frame. But after installing it he was unhappy with it. Fred had told Ron that he later had a second set made that had horizontal ribs in them. But Ron always wondered if if these ribbed panels are perhaps the ribbed aftermarket pieces shown on a few other early customs as well as being mentioned by other builders. The chrome plated fender covers are a bit crude according to Ron, so he believes those could have been made by Fred himself. Below is a photo of¬†the 1941 Chevy in 1950. And two taken by Per Webb of the restored car, taken in 2013.

CCC-removed-running-board-brooks-03Fred Creller’s 1941 Chevy in 1950.
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CCC-removed-running-board-brooks-01Ron Brooks restored the Chevy many years ago and it looks still amazing. Per Webb took this night time photo which shows the ribbed frame covers really well.
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CCC-removed-running-board-brooks-02Close up of the ribbed panel and the rear fender rock shield.
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As mentioned in the text in the beginning the removal of running boards on custom cars slowly disappeared in the late 1940’s early 1950’s. Several reasons can be found for this. Perhaps the most obvious that the cars with these modifications were considered to be to old at the time. The same year cars with channeled bodies and raised fenders had so much more different profiles that they still would fit in the more modern styled cars with integrated fenders. One of those cars was the famous Jimmy Summers 1940 Mercury. The none running board looks however has never been really popular with the modern day customizer. Very few samples of restored old custom, or new built customs based on real fendered cars with the running boards removed have been created in the last few decades. But fortunately we do see them from time to time, and it looks like this early look for Custom Cars is having a come back so we do hope that we will see more of these in the near future.


CCC-1940-mercury-newThis 1940 Mercury was built as a mild classic custom with a stock height top. The running boards were removed, new nicely shaped panels created to cover the frames, the front fender holes filled i and a nicely home made rock shield added to the rear fender.
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CCC-bert-gustafsson-buick-runningboardCCC-Member Bert Gustafsson removed the running boards on his 1940 Buick Convertible and hand made some really nice fender shields. Check out how Bert created the rock shield for his Buick on the CCC-Forum Post.
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“Another well researched exposé, on one of the finer points of pre-War restyling.
And as Rik rightly points out, seldom seen today.
I am convinced that the young enthusiasts who were school-aged kids during the mid to late 1930’s were highly influenced by the
Auburn Speedster, Cord 810-812, & the designs coming out of the Howard Darrin Studio.
These young fellows had ads featuring these cars plastered on their bedroom walls, and were obviously inspired by them!
I had definite plans to execute this very revision,¬†as well as others on my own ‚Äė36 roadster¬†shortly after displaying the car at the ‚ÄúCustoms Then & Now‚ÄĚ event.¬†Per my request, Rik Hoving produced a rendering¬†via ‚ÄúDigital Restyle‚Ä̬†showing exactly how the roadster would appear¬†with the running boards removed,¬†the DuVall or Cad-LaSalle accessory running board delete covers,¬†and the beautifully formed chromed steel rock guards¬†at the rear for the finishing touch.¬†I had fabricated these pieces,¬†but sold the car and therefore never completed the changes.
My board delete covers were hand‚Äďformed steel,¬†the ‚Äúspeed line‚ÄĚ highlights were deeply embossed.¬†The entire cover was chrome plated, then the background area was etched, primed,¬†and painted body color.
I have seen an original set of these that were done in a similar manner.¬†Perhaps these were the DuVall’s.
It also appears that the 1939 General Motors accessory covers differ slightly in form whether they are applied to the Cadillac or LaSalle models.
The GM covers also appear to use three separate chromed die cast or stainless trim pieces that are applied to the sheet metal covers.
I still have all the pieces to do this¬†running board delete.¬†Perhaps I will be fortunate enough¬†to apply them to a future ‚Äė36 Ford custom project.‚ÄĚ

David E. Zivot

CCC-36-ford-david-zivot-photoshoppedThis Rik Hoving work shows the photo restyled revisions¬†I had planned to accomplish on my ‚Äė36 Ford roadster,¬†including the running board delete,¬†and the Santa Monica Body Works influenced grille treatment.
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[box_light]If you have any additional information about the Restyled Custom Cars with the running boards removed, the special aftermarket kits to cover the frame rails and running board holes in the fender. Then please Email Rik so that we can add the info to the article.[/box_light]


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Every Picture has a Story

EVERY PICTURE HAS A STORY

I always wondered about how these two photos of a classic California custom were in with a picture collection of an early Washington State car.

 
by Tom Nielsen

A while ago I received a packet of pictures of a custom ’34 Ford sedan that had been built and owned by a friend who passed away several years ago. I had only seen his car once many years ago, so I was very interested in seeing the collection of photos that I had been given. In looking through them surprisingly I found two pictures that I hadn’t expected.
They were photos of Butler Rugards custom Chevy convertible built by the famous Harry Westergard. I had seen pictures of this car in a Custom Car Annual long ago, but didn’t remember any details about the car.

I found out later it was built for Butler Rugard with a Hall top and Summer’s fadeaway fenders. I sent the two photos off to Rik Hoving to be part of my collection on the Custom Car Photo Archives. In short order I received an email back from Rik. He was quite enthusiastic about the two new photos I had discovered of the historic Harry Westergard ’47 Chev convertible.
I always wondered about how those photos of a classic California custom were in with pictures of an early Washington car. I think that I have now put together the story behind the pictures, with just a little sleuthing.
 
CCC-tom-nielsen-picture-story-03
 
In the 1950’s and 60’s when the military draft was facing young men in the US, an alternative to active duty was to join the reserves. You would have weekend meetings once a month and two weeks active duty in the summer. John Dennis was in the US Army Reserves around 1951-3 and had his summer camp for two weeks at Fort Ord in Monterey, California. The Army reservists were all given a travel allowance to get from their hometown to the place where their summer camp was held.

A young car guy with a cool car probably wanted to drive to the ‚ÄúMecca‚ÄĚ of hot rodding that California was at that time. It was the place to see and be seen in a custom car. Young John, probably got a couple of Army Reserve friends to go along together with him on the 910 mile trip from Everett, Washington to Monterey, California. His¬†‚Äô34 sedan had a built 59A flathead with an Eddie Meyer two carb manifold so it could cruise along pretty well on the long journey.

While at the base the reservists could park their car next to the barracks on the base. So it was pretty easy to see if there were other cool cars that fellow soldiers had driven in for their two week encampment.
In their time off, I am sure these car guys got together to kick tires and compare each other’s cars. Luckily, John had his camera along with him to snap a few photos of his own ’34 and the Harry Westergard Custom Chevy at the camp.
 
CCC-tom-nielsen-picture-story-05John took this photo of his chopped sedan parked next to a barracks at Ft. Ord.
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In the 1952 time frame the owner of the Chevy was probably Joe Martin. At least he was listed as the owner in the feature shown in the 1957 Custom Car Annual.
I am sure that both John’s ’34 and the Westergard Chevy both stood out in a parking lot filled with more mundane daily drivers. Sometime during their leisure time at the base they must have gotten together to take a few photos.
 
CCC-tom-nielsen-picture-story-01The Westergard Chevy with Hall top on the right with the Military barracks in the backround[divider]
 
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The pose: In the early days of customizing there was always motivation to have your car look more modern as well as lower and more sleek like the newer models were becoming. Since there was a sharp looking 1952 Chev hardtop nearby, that one of the reservists owned, it was only natural to compare it to the five year older Chev. They put the two Chevrolets side by side and photographed them from various angles. I think that it makes an interesting pose and kind of defines that era of hot rodding and customizing.

It is fortunate for us that John snapped these photos in this setting. It is also nice to see his car in the same setting and imagine the excitement of showing off your own custom ride in Northern California. The fact that the bodyman who chopped, modified, and painted his ‚Äô34 was from California is an interesting coincidence. He was known as ‚ÄúTiny‚ÄĚ and he had worked on lots of custom cars in California, where he had learned his trade. Tiny convinced John to chop his sedan and then let John help with the hacksawing etc. When all the modifications were finished and it was ready for paint he sprayed it with a ‚Äúspecial mix‚ÄĚ of purple lacquer.

I think that I have figured out the story behind the two pictures of the Butler Rugard’s convertible. The barracks in the background were the giveaway to putting the pieces together. It must have been a good journey for these car guys who ended up at Fort Ord for two weeks.
 
CCC-tom-nielsen-picture-story-04John Dennis cleans up his ’34 sedan at a Flying A station in Everett around 1952.
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Ohanesian Merc – details

 

OHANESIAN MERC DETAILS

 

One of my personal all time favorite custom cars, The Harry Westergard/Less Crane/Dick Bertolucci-built 1940 Mercury Convertible Sedan. Lets take a look at the details that make this car so special.


[dropcap]Harold[/dropcap] “Buddy” Ohanesian from Sacramento, California bought a rare 1940 Mercury Sedan Convertible in 1945, shortly after he returned from service. Not long after that he took the car to Harry Westergard for some Custom Restyling. Harry worked together with Less Crane on reshaping the front end of the Mercury to adapt and 1946 Chevy grille. They also chopped the windshield frame¬†and added 1937 DeSoto bumpers.¬†A little later Hall of Oakland created a padded top for the car. In 1949 Harold took the car to Dick Bertolucci who was by then just 19 years old, but already very well known in the area for his excellent body work. Harold wanted Dick to create a lift off metal top to replace the worn out padded top. This resulted in one of the most stylish Custom Cars of all time. In the next few years a few more changes would be made and eventually the car put in storage and restored back to its former glory in the early 1970’s. In the 1990’s the car found a new owner in the late Ed Hagerty who had the car completely restored. It was this version I saw at the 2009 Sacramento Autorama Mercury Gathering. And it was at this show I talked to Dick Bertolucci about the details on the Harold “Buddy” Ohanesian Mercury.



CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-earlyA small photo of Ed Ohanesian’s 1940 Mercury appeared in the August 148 issue of¬†Hot Rod Magazine. This is the first version that we know of. Harry Westergard and Less Crane worked on this version with the ’46 Chevy grille, chopped windshield, molded fenders and 1937 DeSoto bumpers.
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CCC-1940-mercury-brochure-sedan-conIllustrations of the Mercury Convertible Sedan from the 1940 sales brochure. 
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CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-dick-02An photo of the later version shows the car with the metal top at Dick Bertolucci’s shop. This¬†version shows bumper mounted taillights and no bumper exhaust tips yet.
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CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-colorizedColorized photo shows the car in 1951, still with the bumper mounted taillights. This side view shows the absolutely wonderful shape of the top and how well balanced the whole car is with the perfect stance and overall flow. 
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CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-70sThe Ohanesian Mercury was restored in the 1970’s when the car was owned by¬†Louie Martin and Dennis Nash.
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Being part of the organization of the Mercury Gathering at the 2009 Sacramento Autorama I was able to walk the buildings during the two set up days. During on of these days I met Dick Bertolucci. When we put to gather¬†the list of Mercury’s that would be part of the Gathering, there were a few that stood out for me a little more than the rest of the invited cars. Cars like the Sam Barris mercury, the Hirohata Mercury, the Ralph Test Mercury, and the Harold “Buddy” Ohanesian Mercury. I was actually walking towards the building when the Mercury arrived, I was super thrilled to see this car for the very first time in person, and not only that, but also hear and see it drive by. What a sight!



CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-details-16The Ohanesian Mercury when it arrived at the 2009 Sacramento Autorama Mercury gathering. The first time I saw this car in person…¬†
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After the car had been parked inside the building I checked it out from top to bottom for at least an hour. I took photos, stood back and looked at the car from all angles. I was lucky that the car was one of the first arrivals for that part of the show floor. So now I was able to walk around it and view it undisturbed from a distance. I had studied photos of the car for a long time, but that sure does not compare to looking at the car in person and being able to walk around it. The next day I was again walking around the Ohanesian mercury, when I spotted an older man in an electrical cart surround by some family members or friends. The man got out of his cart and walked over to the Ohanesian Merc. Stepped over the cord that had been put up by now, so I knew the guy must be familiar with the car and I thought he must be Dick Bertolucci.

When¬†I walked over and asked if he was mr Bertolucci. He sure was and shacked my hand. “Wow you have nice warm hands, please hold my hands, since I have these ice cold hands” was Dick’s response. And he really had¬†very cold hands.¬†We bonded right away.¬†I told him who I was and that I had just done the colorized Cover of the Rodders Journal, which he really liked.¬†That was the perfect opening for a conversation about the Mercury. And Dick was very enthusiastic to tell everything about the car, like it was the first time he ever told the story, but I knew he must have told it a hundred times or more before.



CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-details-12Dick Bertolucci posing with the Buddy Ohanesian 1940 Mercury at the 2009 Sacramento Autorama Mercury Gathering.
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He explained to me that Harry Westergard and Less Crane worked on the car before he did. Larry and Less had created the new grille opening, extended the hood and reshaped the front of the front fenders, and installed the 46 Chevy grille including the molded in splash pan and installed 1937 DeSoto bumpers. They also chopped the windshield and reworked the rear of the car where he had cut of the top portion of the very high from the factory Phaeton back end. To be able to do this they had to shortened the trunk. Dick mentioned that the first version of the car had no top, but that Harold, the car owner drove the car to Oakland to have Hall create a padded top for the car. I wish we could show you a photo of this version of the car with padded top, but so far we have not been able to locate on. Hopefully in the future we will be able to add one to this article.



CCC-1940-mercury-sedan-convertible-02The photo above and below show the huge difference the Dick Bertolucci created top made on the overall appearance of the 1940 Mercury sedan convertible.
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CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-details-13To make the new metal top work well with the rest of the body, Dick removed a large section of the rear of the body. This way the belt-line could be continued all the way to the rear of the car, where it slightly moved down, following the curvature of the body. An 1946 Oldsmobile rear window was used.
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Dick continued that Harrold brought the mercury to his Dick Bertolucci Body and fender shop in 1949. The padded top had seen better days and was really worn out. So Harold wanted a lift of metal top, and asked if Dick could create it. Dicke metnioned that he was only 19 years old then, but had been doing a lot of body work already and people came especially to him for good quality and stylish custom work. Dick found a 1946 Chrysler four door wrecked car with a perfect top, which he thought would be the perfect shape for the Mercury. After he had cut off the top and placed it on the Mercury he found it to be to long. The front end needed to be shortened and the rear needed some reshaping for which he used the rear of the top from a 1941 Buick. For the front of the top he made many cuts and reshaped the metal to fit the windshield frame. While doing this he realized he needed to do something different on the A-Pillars since installing the top on top of the windshield would not work well with the side profile on the car.

He took a good look at how the padded top had been created and noticed how the sides of the top actually fold over the ends of the A-Pillars and thus allow for a heavier side profile of the top. To be able to do this on the metal top, Dick cut a round section from the top of the A-Pillars, this allowed him to fold the metal top over on the sides and make it flow nice with the A-pillars, in a similar what as the padded top had done. Now he was able to heave the nice heavy, but in balance top for the Mercury. Most of this work was done by hammer welding. Not something Dick was very used to at the time, but he had noticed all the other work done on the car by Harry and Less was hammer welded as well, so he thought he should just continue the technique for the top where possible.



CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-details-01The rear of the body was angled forward slightly to match the new lines of the top, the trunk was shortened from the top to fit the new lowered rear of the body. The way Dick handles the continuing belt-line, compared to the new trunk line is so wonderful, it makes it look like it came from the factory (but then better) this way.
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At the back Dick needed to modify the body work previously done by Harry and Less. The work done was fine for the padded top, but for the metal top the lines just needed to be a bit more straight and in line with the rest of the car. Dick wanted the top and how it was mounted on the body to look like something that could have come from the factory that way. So a lot of time was spend on the back. Making pie-cuts to reshape the rear and make it flow perfectly with the new shape of the top. The lower edge of the new top was made ridged with a welded in frame work to ensure the best possible fit. The only problem was that these sections could later not be metal finished due to the frame work. So that was the only section Dick had to use lead for fine tuning. Dick found that a rear window from a 1946 Oldsmobile was a perfect fit for the top. It flows really nice with the rest of the lines of the car. Another tricky section was how the top needed to be smaller at the top to fit flush with the side window frame and line up with the windshield frame, but go wider all the way at the bottom on the back to fit flush with the wider section of the belt line. Dick spend a lot of time shaping the edges of the top to make everything look factory finished.



CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-details-08Another look at how Dick Bertolucci handles the panel lines on the top and the trunk. Work of Art.
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CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-details-02A detail that is often overlooked at the Ohanesian Mercury is the way Dick Bertolucci reshaped the top corners of the A-Pillars. Below is a photo showing the stock A-Pillars and how the top ends flat with the top of the windshield. But on the Ohanesian Ford to top section is cut of with a radius. This allowed Dick to have more height at the top when viewed from the side, and the side windows could be made smaller in height, which enhanced the low profile of the car. 
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CCC-1940-mercury-sedan-convertible-03Stock A-Pillar shows flat top corner.
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CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-details-03This photo gives us a nice view of the interior upholstery and headliner. But it also shows how Dick gently widened the top towards the rear and towards the belt-line. This was needed to make sure the rear of the top fitted flush with the main body. (see also photo below)
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CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-details-06The flowing lines from the lower edge of the trunk to the center of the top is absolutely perfect. It also flows so nice with the molded rear fenders and Buick Skirts. This side view also shows the matching shapes and lines on the molded splash-pan and taillight pods.
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CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-details-10The original dip behind the doors for the convertible top was extended towards the rear of the body to optically follow the belt-line all around the car. This photo shows all the work that was needed to make sure the top would match the chopped side window frames as well as fit to the main body. It also shows the molded fenders.
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CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-details-07Close up of the later 1946 Ford taillights that were set on hand made pods. The pods echo the shape of the splash pan. The molded in fenders and splash pan create very smooth body lines. Notice the exhaust tips in the Chevy rear bumper. Dick mentioned that he had not done those, if he had, he would have modified the tops to follow the shape of the bumper.
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Dick was also responsible for the set in the license plate, and the addition of 1946 Chevy bumper to replace the 1937 DeSoto units. To make the Chevy bumpers fit, he had to reshape the molded in splash pans Harry and Less had created earlier. The interior was updated with a 1941 Cadillac dashboard and steering wheel. The headlights were dechromed and primered to be painted body color. Dick painted the car in wonderful maroon mixed from Chevy color toned darker and gold powder (Venus Martin No. 9). Buddy drove the car around like this until 1952. Then Dick got the car back in his shop for a repaint and while at it he changed the motor cycle bumper mounted taillights for 1946 Ford taillights in home made pods molded onto the fenders. These new pods were shaped to fit the Ford taillights, but also to look similar to the side view of the rear molded in splash pan. At this time it was also decided to mold in the previously painted stock headlights.

Dick mentioned that he did not remember who did the bumper exhaust tips.¬†But he assured me that it was not him who had done those.¬†Since he would have re-contoured the tips to follow the bumper shape, which would have looked much nicer he said. Dick mentioned that he was still very proud at how well balanced the removable to came out on Harold’s mercury and how he was able to balance the whole car so well, with the perfect ride height and window size, top shape and height combination.



CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-details-04Dick also created the set in license plate at the lower part of the trunk. The license plate sits behind glass and is installed from underneath the trunk lid.
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CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-details-05The dashboard is still the 1941 Cadillac dash that was installed into the car when it was customized in the late 1940’s. But the steering wheel has been replaced with a 1947 Cadillac unit at a later date. The interior was upholstered by¬†Ron Lago in the 1970’s.
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CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-details-09Another update from the 1970’s restoration is the chrome plated removable B-Pillars. Those were painted body color on the original version of the car.
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It was amazing to be able to walk around the Mercury with the creator of this fantastic Custom Car and see him point out all the details. And the really amazing thing is that in 2009, 60 years after the majority of the custom work was done, the whole car looked still absolutely stunning. And the fit and finish of the metal top was top quality with an even gap all around.



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CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-details-15The two photos above show the difference in A-pillars very well. If the A-pillars would have remained the stock shape then the side windows would have been one to two inches taller. and the roof very thin. Now everything is nicely balanced and in good proportions. Notice the work that needed to be done for the grille to fit and how more finished the front looks with the molded in splash pan.
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CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-details-14Close up of the front shows the work that was needed to make the 1946 Chevy grille fit the 1940 Mercury front fenders and hood. Both front fenders and hood had to be extended forward and reshaped. A later edition of the car had molded in stock Mercury headlights. 
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There is a lot more to tell about the Ohanesian Mercury, and we probably will do… in another future CCC-Article, but for this article I wanted to high-light all the body details that make this Custom Car Icon so special. Take a look at the photos in this article of the Harold “Buddy” Ohanesian Mercury, see how well balanced the car it, how a perfect ride height works wonders and how good a four door sedan body can make just the perfect custom.

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Westergard Custom Found

 

WESTERGARD CUSTOM FOUND

 

Rick Atterberg posted three photos of a 1939 Ford custom convertible on his facebook. Rick Amado possible id-ed the car as an original Westergard Custom.



Close to midnight on October 28, I was just going to shut down the computer when I spotted three photos of an very interesting late 1940’s looking 1939 Ford Custom Convertible on Facebook. Rick Atterberg posted these on this Facebook page for his friend and Car owner Larry with the following message;


[box_light]”Would anyone have any information on the original builder and owner of this 1939 ford convertable? It has been chopped 3 ” with a gaylord top it has a 1940 dash with a maroon and white rolled and pleated interior with a black exterior. It left Sacramento California in 1953 to Burlington Iowa I think it was built in 48-49 after finding a Sacramento paper in the inside passenger rear quarter panel. Any information or pictures would be great.”[/box_light]


CCC-westergard-39-ford-found-01The 1939 Ford as it sits in 2014. It looks like the body is in really great shape. The hood that is now on the car is an original Ford hood. The Harry Westergard modified hood is being worked on at the moment.
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I got very excited, but right then I could not find it in my memory database. So I figured that if I would show them on my own Facebook it would be seen by many more Custom Car enthusiast, and could possibly, or at least hopefully be identified during the night. Rick Amado found a small black and white photo on the Custom Car Photo Archive showing an 1939 Ford Convertible built by Harry Westergard in the late 1940’s. A Custom that has a similar style grille opening, the same headlight treatment, chopped windshield with padded top, same bumpers. And even the location, Sacramento sounds right. Looks like the Custom Car Photo Archive has helped identifying another early Custom Car again. Great!


CCC-westergard-39-ford-found-04Al Garcia’s 1939 Ford Convertible build by Harry Westergard in the late 1940’s. The Garage magazine mentioned this photo was taken in 1948. But according to Dick Bertolucci the photo was taken at the 1952 Autorama show.
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Sadly at this point this grainy photo showed only very small in the Garage Magazine Harry Westergard article is all we have of the car when it was just finished and owned by Al Garcia.¬†The photo caption reads Al Garcia’s ’39 Ford seen in 1948. The only thing I cannot see in the black and white photo from the late 1940’s is the rather wide rear window in the padded top. The rear window in that photo looks to have the more regular proportions, while the top as it is on the car in 2014 has an exceptional wide rear window. But that, could of course have been changed over time to help improve visibility.

Well, I have in the meantime spoken with the owner of the car, Larry May. And he confirmed that the wider rear window was done by a previous owner, but that he still has the original smaller rear window… as well as all the other parts we cannot see in the photos Rick shared first.¬†The original grille was create from brass tubing and Larry already has re-plated it for the restored car.
Larry also mentioned that he has two old photos from the early 1950’s showing a little more on the car. Hopefully we can share those two with you here shortly. Larry also knew the owners name was Al Garcia, but never was able to link Harry Westergard to the car. Well the Garage magazine article conformed all this.

Rick Atterberg spoke to Dick Bertolucci in early November 2014. Dick mentioned that that the car in all the old photos shown and the car that Larry now owns are indeed the same car and that besides Harry Westergard, Les Crane and Dick Bertolucci himself also worked on Little Al Garcia’s 1939 Ford. Dick mentioned that he did the taillights, molded in 1939 Chevy units on the car, and ended up painting it black. Little Al and Dick were good friends and Al really wanted Dick to build the car for him. But Dick had several people in line, before Al to have their car build for him. Al Garcia did not wanted to wait, so he ended up having the car done by Harry Westergard and Less Crane, but did find Dick willing to spend his spare time putting the taillights on and have him do the paint work on the car.

I’m trying¬†to get in touch with Sully Hake, who wrote the great story on Harry Westergard in Garage magazine back in 2004. This article shows the 1948 photo of Al Garcia which I have added to this article. The current owner of the car would really love to have a better copy of that old photo to help him with the restoration of the car. Or anybody else who knows about this photo, or perhaps other old photos of Al Garcia’s 1939 Ford. Please let me know by sending an email to:¬†Rik Hoving

If there is anybody who knows more about Al Garcia or this 1939 Ford, please let us know.


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Larry mentioned that he knew about this car since 1958, and he has been trying to buy it from the then owner in Iowa ever since. In 1990, he was finally able to acquire it, and has been working slowly on the restoration. From time to time Larry was asking around to find out more information on his car, but nobody really knew. He even asked Custom Car Collector and Historian Jack Walker, he also had no idea¬†who originally build it. ¬†But he sure tried to buy the car from Larry…. Larry always said, No, its not for sale. I have been waiting to drive this car since 1958, and nobody is going to take that away from me. Together with Rick Atterberg they are now working a little harder on the car. And with this last piece of information… a real harry Westergard Custom, my guess is they really want to get this one out on the road as soon as possible.


CCC-al-garcia-westergard-39-ford-12The Harry Westergard 1939 Ford current owner Larry May with the car.
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Larry send these digital photos made of the photocopied photos he got when he bought the car. Its all he has, and will help a lot with the restoration. These photos were taken in Iowa 1954, and Al Garcia had already sold the car by then. Some changed have been made, like the hubcaps which now appear to be 1953 Studebaker units. These photos show that the car has 1949 Chevy bumpers front and back. So perhaps these bumpers have been added to the car at a later date, since it was mentioned that the car was build in the 1946-48 period. We have seen that happen before on another Harry Westergard Custom.

Early photo of Al Garcia’s ’39 Ford with the chopped windshield and padded top, but without the grille work. Photo taken around 1949-50, thanks to stillrunners.
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Early photo of Al’s ’39 at a local rod run. (stillrunners)
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Al’s ’39 Ford all the way on the right at the Car show held at Capitol Chevrolet in Sacrament on November 4-5, 1950.
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CCC-al-garcia-westergard-39-ford-07The hand made grille looks really good in the car, giving it some more width, and making the front looks a bit aggressive.
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CCC-al-garcia-westergard-39-ford-11This side view shows the 1953 Studebaker hubcaps on the wide white wall tires. It looks like the teardrop skirt is in primer, perhaps a mishap, or the original went missing and had to be replaced.
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CCC-al-garcia-westergard-39-ford-09The photo from the rear shows the original smaller rear window still in place in 1954.
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CCC-al-garcia-westergard-39-ford-06Ford Crestliner steering wheel. To bad we cannot see more of the interior, and it looks like the glove box door is missing. 
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CCC-al-garcia-westergard-39-ford-15The previous owner of the car had trouble looking out the back of the padded top, so he widened the rear window. Larry still has the original trim piece for it, which will be used on the restored version.
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CCC-al-garcia-westergard-39-ford-14With the rear bumpers held in place.
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CCC-al-garcia-westergard-39-ford-13The grille is hand-made from brass tubing by Harry Westergard. Larry already restored it and had it re-plated. Its just sitting inside the hand made opening just for the photo.
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CCC-al-garcia-westergard-39-ford-05The interior was done in black and white as the headliner in the padded top shows. The inside of the top is still in remarkable shape after all these years.
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RIP Ed Rincon

RIP ED RINCON

We are sad to report that we lost another Custom Car guy, Edward Rincon from Sacramento at age 79.

 
Chip Chipman informed us that another Custom Car guy has left us. Ed Rincon from Sacramento, worked as a paint-mixer for his own company as well as for Dick Bertolucci. He had amongst many other cars and bikes an 1951 Mercury that was mildly customized by Harry Westergard and later finished by Dick Bertolucci.

Our deepest condolences go out to Ed’s family and friends.
 

Click HERE to visit the online obituary

 
CCC-ed-rincon-51-merc-02Ed’s 1951 Mercury with body work by Harry Westergard¬†(photo courtesy of Garage magazine).
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CCC-jim-roten-indoorshow-01-WEd’s Mercury finished by Dick Bertolucci at the ’56 Sacramento Autorama.¬†
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Butler Rugard Westergard Merc

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BUTLER RUGARD WESTERGARD MERCURY

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A very early Westergard customized 1940 Mercury survives several re-stylings over the years, gets restored to 1950’s specs and ends up in Europe.

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A little while ago we ran a short story on the Butler Rugard’s 1940 Mercury restyled by Harry Westergard. The story was about the car being for sale at a large auction in Greece. At the time the car did not find a new buyer. Recently the Greece owner contacted us to share some more photos of the car taken in Greece and to let us know the car is still For Sale. So we thought its time to do a full article on this unique early Westergard Custom, and perhaps find a new owner for the car who might even take it back to how it original looked when harry Westergard restyled it in the early 1950’s. The last restoration on the Butler Rugard Westergard Mercury, done by Jack Walker and team. The car was restored to a generic mid to late 1950’s version.

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This is how the Mercury looks now, photographed in sunny Greece in 2015.

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Lets go back in time first… to when Butler Rugard’s bought this 1940 Mercury Convertible brand new from the dealer.
Most likely being inspired by the GM design studies of the early 1940’s Butler started to have his brand new 1940 Mercury Customized right away. One of the people who he knew could handle the changes he had in mind was Harry Westergard. Butler took the Mercury to Harry to have him create full fade away fenders.

The story goes that the complete restyling was done over a period of time. Dick Bertolucci mentioned that some of the early work on this Mercury was done by Les Crane, who worked with Harry Westergard on a few projects. Each time Butler took the car back to Harry to have some more changes done to it. But as far as we know the fade-away fenders was the first restyling done by Harry.

There are different stories going around about the padded top on the car. One story is that Westergard chopped the windshield, and created a frame for a padded top, another story is that it was the padded top that was done by one of the famous shops very early on in the process. Westergard is credited for replacing the stock grille with the Buick unit. The hood has also been modified to fit the flatter Buick grille, but the typical Mercury side bulges on the hood are still on the hood sides in this version.

In the later version the bulge was removed and the body crease on the hood sides extended and wrapped around to the front of the hood. The car has 1937 DeSoto bumpers, and the stock 1940 Mercury headlights are still in place. This version used black wall tires and single bar flipper hubcaps. Jack Walker provided the Custom Car Chronicle with a very rare photo of this early version of Butler’s 1940 Mercury. De photo did not come with a dat, but this must have been in the very early 1940’s.

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Jack Walker provided this amazing photo. It shows the car in an early version when the hood sides and headlights were still stock. The car was then also fitted with 1937 DeSoto bumpers.

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He reshape the front of the front fenders and added Packard headlights to them. The team wanted to use a 1942 Buick grille, but since that unit is a lot thinner than the v-shaped Mercury grille the hood needed to be reworked considerably to make this all work. Harry reshaped the front of the hood, he tucked the lower section inward, to meet the new 1942 Buick grille. this all resulting in a dolphin like hood shape, a similar shape we can also see in some coach-built roadsters from those days. Although we are not sure if Harry might have been influenced by those, or if this is just a coincidence.

At the rear Harry installed 1940 Chevrolet taillights, vertical on slightly extended moldings and a set of tear drop fender skirts. The car was lowered with long shackles and a de-arched spring at the back. The car was dressed up with Lyons hubcaps on wide whites, 1941 Packard bumpers and a set of spotlights. The original flathead Mercury V-8 was kept in the car, but was dressed up with some early Hop Up speed parts as a triple-carb Offenhauser intake manifold with matching Offenhauser finned heads. We are unsure when Harry completed the car in this what we cal final version. But we do know that the car was shown like this at a Sacramento Car dealer show in 1950.

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Butler Rugard’s 1940 Mercury at the Sacramento Car dealer show in 1950.

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August issue of Custom Cars magazine showed the car in the letter section. Dark paint, no skirts and long lake pipes.

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It appears that Butler hung on to the mercury long enough to hand it over to his daughter Marie somewhere in the 1950’s. In the August 1960 issue of Custom Cars magazine, there is a small write up on the car in the “Mail Call” section. According this article the car was painted black then, had leopard fur upholstery on the inside of the padded top, a chrome plated dash, and leather upholstery. The photo showed full length lake pipes and no skirts on the rear fenders. It also appears that at least the rear bumper was replaced with a more wrap around unit.

Steve Bateman bought this 1940 Merc Conv. in 1973 in Isleton, Calif. from the Fernandez family (Butler’s daughter), he kept it for two years and then sold it to Ron Marquardt

The next update we were able to find, comes from the early 1980’s. The car is a dark color, but has now an new horizontal grille opening added. The padded top is re-upholstered in dark material. The lake pipes are gone and so is the front bumper. Black wall tires replace the classic white wall units from the previous versions.

According a small write up, the car had been in storage and had been restored when the photo was taken in 1982. Ron kept the car for the next 25 years and they cruised every summer. Most likely during this period the car was in an accident damaging the front and rear end of the car. The car was repaired with tunneled headlights and set-in, turned upside down, 1939 Ford taillights in the back.

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Dark paint, dark top, black wall tires and a new grille opening.

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The the car was painted white, the padded top was covered with white material, and a 1949 plymouth rear bumper was added on the back. The horizontal grille opening was filled with 1951-53 DeSoto grille teeth, and no bumper was used on the front. The original Spotlight have now been replaced with Dummy units. Chip Chipman photographed the car like this in August 2000.

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This photo and those below , (of the white version) were taken by Chip Chipman in 2000. The car was now painted white with a white covered top and a set of DeSoto grille teeth in the new grille opening.

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In the 1990’s, Ron advertised the car for sale in the Hemmings Motor News. Jack Walker, custom car enthusiast and collector of Belton, Missouri, spots the ad. Before he decides to buy it he is doing some research to find out if it is the real deal as the advertisement claims. Jack even asks George Barris, who recalls the car from the time he was learning the trade at Harry Westergards shop. So he advised Jack to buy the car sight unseen. Jack decides to buy the car and asks his friend Ed Guffey to team up with him on the restoration.

Dave Dolman in Verdon, Nebraska, was hired to do the bodywork restored. The body was n rather bad shape and needed a lot of work getting straight again.Once the body work was done Jack and Ed decided to paint the car Candy Apple Red. Not really the right color for this 1940’s custom. But the team decided to see it as a mid 1950’s redone version of the car. The modern engine was replaced with a flathead engine and the interior that came with the car was good enough to be restored. Bob Sipes redid the padded top.

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The Butler Rugard, Harry Westergard-built 1940 Mercury was invited to the prestigious Taildraggers on the grass exhibit at the 2005 Pebble Beach Concourse.

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At some point not too long after the Pebble Beach event Jack Walker and Ed decided to let go of the Historic Mercury and Ralph Whitworth’s aquired it for his Museum. Sadly the Museum plans came to an halt in 2009 and most of the collection ended up being auctioned. The Butler Rugard, Westergard Mercury ended up in the hands a new owner from Greece.

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When the car was part of Ralph Whitworth’s Museum the car was invited to the Mercury Gathering at the 2009 Sacramento Autorama. A historic event with the best and most historical Custom Mercury’s from all over the US.

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To Greece

Not long after the Sacramento show the Museum was closed and most cars in the collection auctioned at the special Icons of Speed & Style RM Auction. The car was sold for $75,000.- plus 10% auction fees. Far below the estimate. The new owner of the Butler Rugard 1940 Mercury takes it to his home in Greece after that.

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The Harry Westergard Butler Rugard 1940 Mercury as advertised for the Icons of Speed & Style RM Auction. Estimated to sell for $125,000 – 175,000 it eventually went for $75,000.- plus 10% auction fees.

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The Butler Rugard’s 1940 Mercury after it has been shipped to the new owner in Greece.

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In June 15, 2013 the car ends up at an COYS auction in Greece. However the car did not meet its reserve, it was estimated to bring: ‚ā¨80,000 ‚Äď ‚ā¨100,000 ($124,208.00 ‚Äď $155,260.00) and was not sold and went back to the owner who had bought it at the US Auction.

The Mercury at the 2013 COYS Auction.

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This photo, and the four below shows the car as it was in 2015, photographed by the then owner in Greece. The owner had contacted us to advertise the car for Sale on the CCC. Eventually around 2019 he is able to find a new owner for the car.

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The car today is still in the same condition as the Jack Walker team restored the car in. Odd, far from period perfect Candy apple red with red wheels and Packard baby moon hubcaps. A nice set of Lyons hubcaps, wide whites and a dark maroon or black paint job would do wonders for this car.

GOOD NEWS!
September 2019. The really great news is that the new owner has great plans for the car. The new owner, and his friends are very dedicated. First plan is to get it technically all in order so that the car can actually been driven, and driven safely. The next plan is that the car will most likely be shipped to the US at the end of the summer in 2020, possibly to attend some shows there. The new owner lives half of the year in Greece, and half of the year in the US. Then the later part of the plan is, and this is the most exciting part of it…. to have the car brought back to early 1940’s specs. Black paint, DeSoto Bumpers, just as how the car was initially created for Butler Rugard.

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We soon will be updating this article with more info, and current photos of the car.



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