George Barris First Photo Location

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George Barris was known for taking photos of Custom Cars in beautiful special locations. Hollywood Park was his first special location back in 1947.

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Special thanks to David E. Zivot, Jesse Lopez and Gerald Fassett.

After seeing the color photo of George Barris’s 1941 Buick for the first time I was not only intrigued by the gorgeous Custom, but also with the Streamline Moderne building in the background. I had seen the building before in one other photo of the Buick and in a few other photos with other customs as well, but had never been able to find out what building or which location it was.

The new color photo showed a much larger portion of the building than any of the other photos I had seen so far. The search was on, the large round section and very horizontal shape of the windows did remind me about the horse track grand stand buildings as the one at Hollywood Park, but all the photos I was able to find at first showed the building after 1950, and it had a similar Basic shape but all the details were quite different. So I searched further, in the beginning I was not even sure the building was in the Los Angeles area, George had made the trip to Sacramento already, could perhaps these photos had been taken on that trip?

Two aerial photos showing the original building with the more horizontal feel on the top, and the after the 1949 fire rebuild version which had the same overall shapes, but less Art-Deco in design and taller overall.

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The 1947 color photo of George Barris’s 1941 Buick photographed in front of the original Hollywood Park Turf Club building. The photo that started the quest for the identification of the location.

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While searching for something else I came across an website with dome old photo’s taken at some 40’s horse track races. And one of them showed a building that looked very much like the one in the George Barris Buick photo, it was listed at 1940 Hollywood Park track in Lynwood California. I thought this must be a mistake, since the building did not even look close to how the Hollywood Park building looked in the photos I had of it. But when I find a more in depth search I found out that the Hollywood Park Horse track, run by the Turf Club, was originally built in 1938, and destroyed in a fire in 1949. Then rebuilt into the building I had seen in many 1950 and newer photos.

George Barris had his ‘41 Buick photographed in front of the original Hollywood Park Turf Club building in 1947. Not sure if George took these photos, or if he had “hired” a photographer to do it for him. With that knowledge I was able to find a few more photos of the original building which had an absolutely stunning Streamline Moderne feel, very similar in style to the famous Pan Pacific Auditorium. And I can totally see why George Barris wanted to use the building and the garden as background for his Buick. It was only around 16 miles from the Barris Compton Ave shop, a very convenient distance, plus the whole complex was very easily accessible for the cars.

When I thought a bit more about this all, I realized the original Hollywood Park Turf Club building, pre 1949, is actually the very first George Barris Photo Location. A good backdrop George used more often to photograph, or have photograph cars the Barris Shop created. We are all familiar with the House, Lynwood Drive In, Lynwood city hall, mausoleum, the Edison Power plant, and now we can add one more location to this list. The very first one Hollywood Park Turf Club building. George used this location for his own Buick, John Vera (Johnny Zaro) 1941 Ford, and Jesse Lopez’s 1941 Ford… and perhaps we do not know about.

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George Barris 1941 Buick

George Barris took his just finished 1941 Buick padded topped convertible Custom to the Hollywood Park Turf Club complex somewhere in 1947 and either had photos taken of his car, or took them himself. One of the photos, a black and white one was used in the May 1948 issue of Road & Track and would instantly change everything for George and the Barris Shop.

Did the glamorous setting of the Hollywood park complex have anything to do with this… Hard to say, but I like to believe it did. George idea of setting his stunning car in this beautiful surrounding of the well designed garden, and beautiful Streamline Moderne building in the back helped with the complete glamour picture of it all. For more info on the George Barris 1941 Buick, check out the Article here on the CCC.

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The 1947 color photo from the Gerald Fassett Collection was the first photo we found showing a big enough portion of the building in the background to identify it as the Hollywood Park Turf Club building.

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The first time I noticed the building in the background was in the photo used in the May 1948 issue of Road and Track Magazine. The photo that really changed the career of the Young George Barris.

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The same photo of the Buick was also used in the Custom Cars 101 Trend book from 1951, but here the building in the background was cut off.

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Jesse Lopez 1941 Ford

Jesse Lopez confirmed that his ’41 Ford was photographed, just as George’s persona 1941 Buick at the Hollywood Park Turf Club complex. For many years I have been trying to find out more about the famous photo of Jesse standing in front of his Ford at the Turf Club Members Only building. I knew it had to be at some sort of race track, but non of the photos I was able to find matched the photos of Jesse and his Ford. Only recently I found out the original building, that was used as the backdrop for the Lopez photos, around 1948, is gone now, and most photos found are of the rebuild, and remodeled 1950 version of the Hollywood Park building. For a closer look at Jesse’s 1941 Ford, check out the Article here on the CCC.

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Several photos of the Jerry Lopez 1941 Ford that were taken at the Hollywood Park location were used in publications over the years. This one, published in a Petersen Publication from 1987 shows the most of the Turf Club in the back. The Jesse Lopez 1941 Ford photos were taken around 1948. This is location (B) as shown in the aerial photo below

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This is the best known photo of Jesse Lopez’s Ford at the Hollywood Park Turf Club photo location. I have searched for other photos with this background for years, but never was able to find it. Which makes sense because these Turf Club letters were all replaced with new ones in 1950.

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This photo of Jesse’s Ford was taken direct in front of the main entrance (A in de aerial photo below) which is not far from where George Barris’s Buick was photographed.

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John Vara / Johnny Zaro 1941 Ford

George Barris was responsible for most of the work on this radical 1941 Ford Convertible Custom. It was originally created for John Vara, but was sold to Johnny Zaro in the later part of the 1940’s. The car was brought to the Hollywood Park location for a photo shoot around 1948. I have found three published photos of the car at this locations so far. hopefully more will surface one day. For a closer look at the Vara/Zarro Ford, check out the Article here on the CCC.

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Johnny Zaro’s 1941 Ford, most likely still owned by the original owner John Vara, was also photographed in front of the Hollywood Park building around 1948.

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The car was parked at about the same location as the George Barris Buick, only the photographer was located at a bit different point of view.

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Location A, where George Barris’s Buick and John Vara’s Customs were photographed, and Location B is in front of the Turf Club sign we can see in the Jesse Lopez 1941 Ford photos. This aerial photo was taken in the late 30’s when all the trees and shrubberies in front of the complex were still rather small.

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The Hollywood Park complex was designed by Arthur Froehlich (May 17, 1909 – October 3, 1985), of the firm Arthur Froehlich & Associates. He was an architect from Beverly Hills, California, known for his mid-century supermarkets and racetracks. Froehlich was born in Los Angeles to a cattle and dairy farmer. He attended Polytechnic High School in Los Angeles and studied at UCLA. One of his first jobs was drafting plans for Santa Anita racetrack, which opened in 1934. He began his own firm in 1938, and became well known for his design of Hollywood Park racetrack in Inglewood, CA. (wikipedia)

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Announcing magazine/news paper ad from 1938

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Color photo from an 1941 program cover.

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The main entrance had a really beautifully Streamline Moderne design which reminds me a lot about the Pan Pacific Auditorium building.

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Mid 1940’s postcard. This image shows why George Barris liked this location so much. there was plenty of space to park the cars, the back round building had a nice natural base color and was beautifully shaped enhancing the cars. Plus the trees etc looked really good as well.

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Photo taken not too long after the building had been finished around 1938

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Los Angeles Public Library photos

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Los Angeles Public Library photos

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A selection of early Hollywood Park program covers all had nice illustrations or photos of the beautiful building.

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Disaster truck in 1949 when most of the grand stand building went up in flames.

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In 1950 the new building was finished, and not long after that George Barris used it as backdrop for several photos shoots again. Later in the mid 1950’s the huge parking lot was also used for several outdoor car shows, and many photos taken there also show the main building as backdrop.

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The Hollywood Park Building around 2000. In 2015 the complex was sadly demolished.

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The route from the Barris Compton Ave shop to the Hollywood Park Turf Club for the 1947 photo shoot with George’s Buick. Around a 16 mile trip.
(A) Hollywood Park Turf Club 3883 W Century Blvd, Inglewood

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The other famous Barris Photo shoot Locations

George Barris knew that building fantastic Custom Cars was the main business of the shop. Nut what made him and the Barris Shop really unique was that he understood there was more than just building the cars. He created the Kustoms Los Angeles club to keep his clients connected and have them come back to the shop with a next custom project. He also realized that the Shops specialties needed to be promoted. And one way to promote them is to create stunning photos of the shops creations.

He knew that the Barris Shop created Customs were standing out for the crowd already with the super smooth, organic shaped look and feel. But inspired by the magazine ads, and magazine features he realized he could enhance the looks of the Barris Custom by photographing them in an equally stunning setting. He found several locations, most of them close by the Barris Shops that could serve as backdrops, to make the cars look even more attractive and glamorous than they already were. The Hollywood Park Turf Club was the first glamour location he found around 1947 when the Barris Shop was starting to bloom. And several more special “Barris” locations would follow in the years after that. Below are the most popular of these Barris Photo Shoot Locations.

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(B) Edison plant 3395 W Manchester Blvd, Inglewood, California

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(C) Angeles Abby 1515 E Compton Blvd, Compton, California

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(D) Barris The House 5199-5141 Abbott Rd South Gate, CA, California

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(E) Pan Pacific Auditorium 7600 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, California

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(F) Compton Drive-In 2111 E. Rosecrans Avenue, Compton, California

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(G) Lynwood City Hall 11330 Bullis Rd, Lynwood, California

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(A) Hollywood Park Turf Club 3883 W Century Blvd, Inglewood
(B) Edison plant 3395 W Manchester Blvd, Inglewood
(C) Angeles Abby 1515 E Compton Blvd, Compton
(D) Barris The House 5199-5141 Abbott Rd South Gate, CA
(E) Pan Pacific Auditorium 7600 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles
(F) Compton Drive-In 2111 E. Rosecrans Avenue, Compton
(G) Lynwood City Hall 11330 Bullis Rd, Lynwood

(1) Barris Compton Ave Shop
(2) Barris Atlantic Blvd Shop

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Lopez 41 Ford Magazine prepped

 

LOPEZ 41 Ford Magazine Prep

 

In the old day, before Photoshop, photos were retouched by hand. Using fine brushes or airbrushed details were added or backgrounds deleted.



This photo of the Jesse Lopez 1941 Ford, used for a magazine print comes from the Barris Kustom Collection. It is a great sample that shows how photos were retouched, or prepped in any other way for magazine or book printing. Today, photos get retouched digitally, using Photoshop, or similar photo editing program on the computer. But before there were desk top computer this retouching was done all by hand. By skilled craftsman who used fine brushes with many shaded of gray, white and black to fine tune black and white photos. Often photos that were going to be used in magazine or book printing had to be enhanced in a way to make sure the image looked the best in print form.

Printing techniques were not as high-tech and detailed as they are today, resulting in that photos needed to have a higher contrast to begin with to make sure the end result would not turn out as a black blob in case of black and white printing. This photo of the Jesse Lopez 1941 Ford, which was actually owned by Danny Lares when this photo was taken is a wonderful sample. It shows how photos had the back ground removed, to high light just the subject car. The background was “simply” painted white with water thinned paint. Water thinned paint was used to ensure the photo could go back to original simply by rinsing it in water.

Photo from the Barris Collection with the hand painted white background still in place.
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This ’41 Ford sample photo shows how the background was “taken out” with the white paint, and also shows how some of the details were slightly enhanced using subtile lighter color fades added using an airbrush. Details like this made sure there would still be some details left after the printing process, especially important with dark painted cars like the Lopez Ford which was dark green, but appeared more like black in every black and white photo.

Techniques like this were developed in the early 1900’s, and continued to be used until the Computer made its entry in the graphic world in the mid 1980’s. This particular photo has several markings which makes it hard to figure out when the retouch and background removal actually happened. The photo clearly is old, and looks to be from the mid 1950’s. But on the top right it can be read that the photo was planned to be used in Street Rodder magazine from May 1982. The “Outline” lettering looks like it dates back to the 1950’s. So possibly the photo was used with the car set free from the back ground several times.

Outline was written down as instructed by the art-director, to make sure the prep people at the print shop would know what to do with the photo.
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Close up details shows that the Sam Barris chopped rear quarters were not followed exactly by the artist who applied the white paint. But, in his, or her defense, making these brush strokes with the back ground of the photo still visible is not easy.
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Over time the water diluted white paint dried up to where it started to crack. making it look really beautiful.
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The details of the outlining are far from perfect when you look at it close up, but ones the photo was prepped for reproduction and printing plates in the rather course grid were created it all looked just fine.
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The original photo of the Lopez Ford was so dark that it was hard to see the door lines. So a light mist was airbrushed separating the door from the rest of the body
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The rear fender shows some added highlight fading at the top, and at the lower section on the fender skirt.
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I have not been able to find the actual magazine printed version of this set free Jesse Lopez / Danny Lares ’41 Ford, there is one similar that was used in several early publications, but that shows the car with the short hood trim, no Barris crest and single bar flipper hubcaps.


The is the only similar, but different photo of the Jesse Lopez Ford I could find that had been set free from the background. It is however a good sample to show how the end result looked like. This one was used in the Dan Post Blue book of Custom Restyling.
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Jesse Lopez 1941 Ford

 

JESSE LOPEZ 1941 FORD

 

Around 1947 innovative car enthusiast Jesse Lopez dreams up his ultimate Custom. Together with Sam Barris he creates what would become a true Custom Car Icon. The Jesse Lopez 1941 Ford.


The subtitle of this article “The Ultimate Taildragger”, might not be totally period correct. The word Taildragger given to a pre-1948 based Custom Car with the rear suspension significantly lower than the front, giving it an emerging from the water speed-boat stance was born much later than when the Jesse Lopez Ford was originally build. Still I like to use the “Ultimate Taildragger” title to describe the Jesse Lopez ’41 Ford Coupe since the car can be seen as one of the most distinctive and earliest Custom Cars of its kind. The one that surely set the style. And today if somebody talks about a Taildragger Custom, it is the Jesse Lopez ’41 Ford that comes to mind at first… most of the times.

We have already shared the amazing two part article on Jesse Lopez written by Michelle M. Yiatras here on the Custom Car Chronicle, that concentrated on the life of Jesse Lopez on the 1940’s and 1950’s. It included some stories on Jesse’s ’41 Ford. But now it is time to get up close to Jesse’s Personal trend setting Iconic ’41 Ford Custom, and share the car in all its beauty.

Before buying his ’41 Ford coupe Jesse had owned two Hot Rods, an A’ RPU with the pick up box removed, nicknamed “bucket”. A very fast rod. The other was an was an AV8 roadster and, the third car was a little more of the Custom kinds a ’36 2 door-sedan. Jesse was more a Hot Rod than a Custom Car guy, but he still wanted to have a full custom, just as some of his friends had. They were just more comfortable and great for picking up girls. At the time a lot of the Custom Cars were based on convertible and had beautiful styled padded tops. Jesse really liked the shape on the padded tops, but for his personal ride he wanted to have a coupe.

This is the oldest photo we have been able to find of the Jesse Lopez ’41 Ford. Completed, but still in primer wearing the Single Bar Flipper Hubcaps.
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Jesse discussed his ideas he had for an ’41 Ford Custom with Sam Barris at the Barris Custom Shop on Compton Ave. Sam suggested Jesse should get a short door coupe, since those would create a much sleeker custom. Plus Sam had already chopped on of those short door coupes recently, (most likely the Snooky Janich ’41 Business Coupe, or perhaps Bill DeCarr’s ’41 Mercury, both short door coupes done very early at the Barris Shop.) so he knew how to tackle that for the best result, plus he thought the long door coupe would need much more work to look right. Jesse was not quite sure about the short door coupe’s lines, and really wanted to have a back seat for his ride. So he found a picture of an long door coupe and started to cut the top of the car on the photo with a pair of scissors and pasted it in place to where the car had the profile he had in his mind. He loved it, and the longer doors worked really well with his design.

He showed his taped together photo collage to Sam and told him this is what I want. Sam agreed and Jesse went on to look for the perfect base car, he found a very cherry ’41 Ford long door coupe. Work could start around 1947, Jesse was in his senior year of High-school, and Sam and Jesse made a deal for working on the car. As in most cases at the Barris Shop the customer was allowed to work on the cars themselves as well, under supervision of the Barris crew. This was to help save some money, and to speed up the process.

Jesse was a very handy guy so he could help a lot on the car. It was Sam Barris who did the initial body work, and Jesse worked from there. Jesse mentioned that only Sam Barris worked on the car, “George never touched it“. The car was lowered with a dropped front axle, and the rear of the frame was kicked up (channeled) to get it as low as Jesse wanted it. He ran stock springs an no shackles. The car drove very good, it was low and especially if he had passengers (car had a back seat) the car would hit the ground when they ran over a bump in the road. He later installed rubber stoppers at the low point of the frame. It still bumped, but it did not sound all wrong anymore.

Freshly painted photographed at the Barris Compton Ave shop. Amazing flowing lines make the car look ultra modern in 1948. Notice how low the car is showing just a small portion of the rear white wall tires.
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No matter what angle you look at Jesse’s Ford, the chopped top, as well as the rest of the car looks absolutely stunning.
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The next part to tackle was the chopped top. Jesse’s cut and pasted photo showed a very low profile, with a heavy chop. How much was cut from the pillars we don’t know exactly. Measurements published in the past and present vary from 4.5 to 6.5 inches, and also an 8 inch tall windshield has been mentioned. Whatever the amount of material was that they removed, it turned out to be just perfect for Jesse’s Coupe. Jesse wanted to have the rear of the roof to be shaped inspired by the Padded Tops he saw on most of the custom cars. They cut the top off going through rear window opening. They removed the B pillars and put them aside. Bumper jacks were used to spread the A pillars. After the windshield height was where Jesse wanted it, it was tacked in place. The top was allowed to settle until Jesse saw that Padded top shape. The B pillars were cut to fit and tacked in place.

The top was going to have a slight hump at the back, which would later become a Barris trademark. Jesse remembered that getting everything to work together was a real sonofabitch. At one point he decided to mock up the complete rear of the top in heavy chicken wire covered with masking paper and adding some primer to blend it in with the rest of the body. Then Jesse and Sam would stand back and checked to see if it looked right from all angles. Several tries were needed before Jesse was perfectly happy with it. At that time Sam had already lost his patience and let Jesse do the work on the mock up.

Jesse and Sam created a custom color for Jesse’s ’41 Ford based on a 1939 Plymouth green color (Vineyard Green). Toners where used to make it darker and deeper. Venus Martin number 9 gold powder was added for some extra sparkle.
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So far no actual color photos of Jesse’s Ford have surfaced, so This colorized black and white photo is the best alternative to give an impression how stunning the car must have looked in the late 1940’s.
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Now the shape needed to be repeated in metal, and that is were Sam Barris’s skills were needed. Sam shaped the ’41 Ford top till perfection and according Jesse’s mock up. The rear of the top metal was cut right across the rear window, the shape Jesse wanted dictated that the cuts needed to be made right there. They would worry about the rear window at a later point. Sam and Jesse hammer and dollied the crease out of the lower panel, below the rear window glass, and tipped the metal forward to meet with the top of the roof. Jesse used pieces of hacksaw blades with home made handles to cut slices in the lower top area and the upper rear body panel area. These two areas came together and the overlapping metal was removed. This resulted in the rear window being chopped a bit. The pie shapes that were open after reshaping the top using the slices sections were filled with metal pieces and everything was welded up solid.

Jesse mentioned that the smaller than stock back window was composed of a sheet of 1/4″ aircraft grade Plexiglas, that he got to bend and conform to the convex ellipse, because of complications cutting tempered glass.

The September 1949 issue of Motor Trend had a one page article on Jesse’s ’41 Ford, comparing it with photos of a stock Ford made the reader realize how much more beautiful the Custom Restyled version of Jesse is.
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The rear quarter windows were up next, and those turned out to be just as difficult to do than the top. When the top was chopped they had removed the drip rails and the door rear corners (sharp from the factory) looked odd, and did not blend well with any shape of the rear quarter windows. So the rear door corners were reshaped and rounded to flow with the shape of the top. At one point he completely filled in the quarter windows to figure out the best shape of the rear quarter windows. A lot of cutting, pie-cutting and welding was needed to get the frames in just the right flowing shape to follow the door windows, as well as the new roof lines. Remember that during the time this car was built it was Jesse’s only driver. So even during the chop process Jesse drove the car, without the top, the top partly chopped and sitting on nothing more than a wooden crate… wild!

When the new top finally had the perfect shape everything was hammer welded and leaded to get it perfectly smooth. Next up was sealing in the fenders. (later this would be called molding the fenders) hand shaped metal shapes were welded from the fenders to the body to give them a perfect radius and the desired one piece look. The running boards were removed, and the lower body panels were extended down with rolled metal to cover where the running boards used to be. All handles and emblems were removed and the holes filled. The two part hood was welded solid and a subtle peak added in the center.  The two part front fenders were also welded together for a smoother look, and the fender crease that used to run all the way to the front of the car was reshaped just in front of the wheel opening, very much like a ’46-48 Ford fender, but with a touch of Jesse’s own styling.

The Ansen’s catalog shows Jesse’s Jesse’s Ford in an illustration drag racing on the cover… this really happened. On the right is Jesse’s Ford used in a late 1940’s Barris Hot Rod magazine ad.
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The first version of Jesse’s ’41 Ford was also published in the Trend Book #101  Custom Cars published in 1951. Here it was mentioned the car was chopped 6/5 inches, but also that the car was channeled. 3 more photos of Jesse’s Ford were used thru-out the booklet.
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For a custom grille on his ’41 Ford, Jesse wanted to use one of the not even available ’48 Cadillac grilles. He had seen the new ’48 Cadillac’s in an advertisement or something like that. And he knew that that grille would be perfect for his car. He wrote a letter to Cadillac and told him about his plans for the grille and asked if he could get one for his ’41 Ford Custom being built at Barris. He mentioned his good friend’s father owned a local Cadillac dealer ship. Some time after that he gets notification that there was a package from Cadillac at his friends father Cadillac dealer. It was the new ’48 Cadillac grille, he got one from free.. no charge. The grille was perfect.

Sam and Jesse worked hard to get the grille to work with the ’41 Ford body lines. They decided that the lower section of vertical grille bars needed to be removed. The placing of the grille on the stock position of the front splash pan turned out to be to low. To get that grille in the correct relationship to the hood and headlights, they lifted/tilted the stock bumper brackets up. This raises the gravel shield around 2 inches higher than stock. The grille sits 1/4 inch above the gravel shield to make it look more factory, this all created the perfect location for the Cadillac Grille. Sam and Jesse used an aftermarket, blank center grille, replacement panel cut down to fit with the Cadillac grille, and molded it in place.

There is only one snapshot showing Jesse’s Ford with the Blower set up and removed hood. The way he drove it at the drag races. The rear of the car is in primer in this photo, some small body work was done before another paint job was added.
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The lower pan below the bumper was modified and to help cool the engine Jesse installed an extra air-inlet created from an refrigerator drip pan. The headlights were molded in with the addition of an extra lip, slightly recessing the headlights. The taillights were removed from the rear fenders to enhance the ultra smooth look. The stock ’41 Ford bumpers were replaced with more elegant and bulbous ’46 Ford units. The rear bumper guards were modified to accept custom made clear red Lucite shaped lenses as taillights. Jesse was the first to build this type of taillights into the bumper guards, “I was good at doing plastic work and I got the bright idea to set them in the indentation of the bumper guard, about 1 3/4” x 3 3/4”, a small light fit into the back of the guard. I made the plastic formed and recessed to the shape with 1/8” grooves cut inside with a triangle file to reflect. It’s easier working with plastic than metal.”

With all the work done on the car it was sprayed with several coats of dark gray primer. This is how Jesse drove it around for a while. The car had wide white wall tires, single bar flipper hubcaps and beauty rings, and a set of wired and working Appleton Spotlights installed. Even in primer Jesse’s car looked stunning. The car remained in primer all the time he was at basic training because he was driving it back and forth routinely from LA to Fort Roberts. When it came to choose a color for the Ford, Jesse did not want to use what “everybody” else was doing, dark maroon based on GM-Buick colors. Jesse really wanted a light color for the car, his personal favorite was a pale yellow, which would have made the car really stand out between all those dark color painted customs. But in the end he decided to go dark anyway, dark green.

Some of Jesse’s friends in booth camp posing with the ’41 Ford. All the guys loved that car. In 1949 Jesse replaced the Single Bar Flipper hubcaps with Cadillac Sombrero units.
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This snapshot taken at Camp Roberts really shows the beautiful shape of the top and rear quarter windows.
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The first color used on the 41 Ford is a custom mix, but it is based on a 1939 Plymouth green color (Vineyard Green) nitro lacquer. Toners where used to make it darker and deeper. Venus Martin number 9 gold powder was also added. They used a motorcycle tank for test shots of the paint. The tank’s curvatures shows how the paint would look on the car. All the paint that was mixed was used on the car, and no extra paint was made for possible future touch ups. They figured if they scratch the paint, or worse, it was easier to repaint the whole car…. in a different color. The first paint-job was sprayed by Sam Barris. Over the relatively short time Jesse owned the car it was repainted a few times. Always in shades of dark, or darker greens. A later color was based on ’47 Chrysler Adante green Rinshed-Mason again with with fine metallic gold Venus Martin powder highlights, M & H in LA mixed the paint.

“The lacquer paint back then didn’t hold up like today’s. The streets were really bad back then and we’d get chips in the paint and running boards. I was a painter so instead of spotting it I went ahead and repainted the car and refined the color in nicer shades of green/metallic. I gave it the final paint job, a nicer lighter shade of the dark green with more gold flakes, I actually liked that paint color the best. Everything was experimental then, nothing was concrete, always wanting to improve, and they were constantly making things better.”

The car was complete built at the Compton Avenue Barris Shop. The shop was basically a two car garage, but longer. But most of the time the work on the car was performed outside, the weather was always good.

Some small, but very nice photos of Jesse’s Ford appeared in the October 1951 issue of Popular Science. Among the photos used is a nice photo showing Jesse using the “hidden” button the the rocker panels used to activate the door opener.
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Jesse lopez posing with his 1941 Ford in 1949.
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1950 Oakland Roadster Show

Jesse Lopez entered his ’41 Ford in several car shows over the time he owned the car. He also drove it all the way to Oakland to enter the car in the first annual Roadster Show. One of the shows that would turn out to be very Custom Car orientated. Jesse’s Ford was a huge success at the show with a crowd around it all weekend long.


1950 Oakland Roadster showJesse’s 1941 Ford at the 1950 Oakland Roadster Show.
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1950 Oakland Roadster showJesse was a proud member of the Kustoms Los Angeles, and he ran KLA brass plaques both front and rear. This photo was taken during set-up day.
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The interior of Jesse’s Ford was done by Carson Top Shop, and according to Jesse it was done a bit crude. It had 1.5 inch or perhaps wider pleats done in white and green. Jesse smoothed the dash and had it completely chrome plated. He had followed a class how to work with Lucite, when the product was introduced. There he had learned how to shape and glued the material, and during the build of his Ford he realized the material would be perfect for use on his – and later other – Custom Cars. To cut the material they used to drill holes close to each other and cut it apart with a hand saw. Then files and sand paper where used to smooth everything and finally it was polished. Jesse had removed the stock plastic dash panels and hand shaped new units in transparent green Lucite. He also replaced all the factory dash and shifter knobs with hand made units created from green Lucite. This made the interior of Jesse’s Ford look very modern and totally unique.

The new ultra smooth body lines looks fantastic on Jesse’s Ford and it was a big hit in 1948. Everywhere he went it was a crowd pleaser. When he went for a burger, or whatever, there was always a crowd around the car. Jesse’s ’41 Ford was a trend setting Custom that had a lot of first in the field going on. It was as far as we know the first long door coupe that got chopped, had the first bumper guard taillights of this kind, had the first rolled over running boards, and Lucite elements in the interior.

1950 Oakland Roadster showJesse’s Ford parked next to Joe Urritta’s Barris built 1941 Ford convertible at the show.
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Jesse whad his ’41 Ford at the first Oakland Roadster Show in 1950. In the top photo Jesse is standing with Miss CA. holding the trophy he just won with the car.
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Jesse was really into driving fast so the stock engine was replaced by an a 3/8 by 3/8 stroker 59A. Under the hood, it was all business. No polished/chromed anything. During the week he had two Stromberg 97’s on a Edelbrock low boy intake and Edelbrock heads. The heads were also Edelbrock, with headers. The headers had bungs in them so that he could open them at the races.

Jesse also created a set up with a McCullough blower that he used on the car for drag racing. The car was too heavy and low to race, but he wanted to race it so he put the charger on it, and ran it without the hood. Lincoln Zephyr gears in the transmission with the blower. They all used Lincoln gear boxes back then. Jesse also had to have a special made big radiator because it ran so hot, 4” core and 4” tank. One carburetor off a Buick Roadmaster with a large venturi to let more air in, Fritz figured that out. He built the motors for most of the LA guys back then.

1950 Oakland Roadster showThe Appleton 112’s were wired and worked, the spot handles were green Lucite to match the Lucite on the Chrome plated dash. The doors kicked open by buttons hidden under the rocker. Notice the used look of the frame covers, that is because the car was Jesse’s daily driver. Shortly before the Oakland show Jesse replaced the stock steering wheel with a Mercury Monteray Steering wheel.
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Close up of the bumper guard taillights Jesse created for his ’41 Ford. Notice how the Lucite was not only used on the most extended shape of the Art-Deco shaped guard, but also on the side pieces with the tops nicely rounded. This is how several of the early bumper guard taillights were done. This photo also shows the light fixture Jesse created above the license plate.
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When Jesse got drafted he still would drive the car to boot-camp. But after a while he gave the car to his brother Memo. But his brother was not such a good driver, he was not really into cars and found the chopped windows to small to drive safely. So he asked George Barris to find a buyer for the car. Jesse was send overseas to Korea and Japan and Danny Lares showed interest in the car and ended up buying it.

The 1941 Ford was Jesse’s only real custom car. He later owned a 1951 Cadillac that he rebuild as a 1952, with really nice paint as a mild custom, a 1956 Ford Pick-up mildly restyled with his own mix of Candy Red Paint. And a brand new 1958 Ford Thunderbird that he took right of the dealer’s lot to the Barris Shop for a new paint-job in Candy Red Paint mixed from his own formula. George Barris was so impressed with this paint that he bought the confidential mix. But that was it. Jesse was to busy with customer cars to do cars for him-self. Jesse now owns a 1957 T-Bird which is mildly customized with new rear wheel openings matching the front openings, painted in his favorite pale yellow, the color he really wanted to paint his 1941 Ford in as well.

Despite being an early Custom Car, the Jesse Lopez Ford did receive quite a bit of magazine recognition in the early days both Jesse’s as well as Danny’s version. Motor Trend as well as Dan Post featured the car on a full page. Later Dan post used several other photos of the car in newer editions of his Blue Book of Custom Restyling. George Barris also used several photos of the Lopez car (from before and after Jesse owned it) in various How To or Custom Detail articles in the magazines he wrote for.



1951 Danny Lares the New Owner

Danny Lares, an active member of the Road Kings-Wilmington car club, bought the Jesse Lopez ’41Ford coupe for $2300.- in 1951. Danny drove and showed the car from 1951 till 1957, winning numerous awards on the Southern California car show circuit. Danny sold the car in ’57 for $500 to a man named Stan Crabtree from San Pedro. Sadly, shortly after buying the car, the third owner of the car, Stan wrapped it around a tree and ended the life of the Jesse Lopez-41 Ford. As far as we know the remains were wrecked, and nothing of the car was saved.

(Jesse was felt really sick when he got home and heard what happened to his old car. He was always a very carefully driver, even though he drove the car fast. He never had one single scratch on it. And how could the new owner just total it.)

 


1951 photo at the Barris Shop shows the Jack Stewart ’41 Ford next to Jesse’s Ford. Unique is that the belt line trim is missing for Jesse’s car completely. Possibly the car had just been sold to Danny Lares and it had been freshly repainted?
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Ultimate Custom Car photo shows the Jesse Lopez ’41 Ford, then owned by Danny Lares (Road Kings plaque) parked next to the Nick Matranga 1940 Mercury. Notice that the Ford is lacking fender skirts and is dressed up with a Cadillac Sombrero hubcap at the rear in this photo.
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Parked next to Nick Matranga’s ’40 Mercury at another outdoor car show. Danny added the Road Kings plaque on the front and rear of the car.
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Rear quarter view at an outdoor Car Show shows how fantastic the chopped top and molded (sealed) rear fenders look. The lack of body mounted taillights really help with the smooth look.
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Danny Lares in his Road Kings car club jacket standing against the ’41 Ford was taken around 1952.
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Minor Changes

Danny Lares kept the Jesse Lopez ’41 Ford mostly the same during the years he owned the car. There are however a few small changed that were made to the car which always helps us identify the time hen the photos were taken. Especially identifying the car when it was owned by Jesse, or by Danny. The first thing that was changes was the length of the hood side trim. Originally the piece of hood side trim on the car was very short, later a larger section was installed that ran almost to the center of the wheel opening. And some time later a Barris Crest was added to both sides of the car on the cowl. It is really amazing that in a time, the mid 1950’s, when it was so common to make new changes to your Custom Car every few month to gain points at the car show, Danny decided to leave the Jesse Lopez Ford design for what it was. Not make any changes but the few mentioned before. The design was perfect, and fortunately Danny realized that, its what he loved about the car.

Looks like Danny Lares is getting ready to race the ’41 Ford. That is Danny behind the car. Notice the numbers painted on the rear quarter window.
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Photo taken at the Los Angeles Hamilton High School car show. Year unknown, but photos from this event appeared in the December 1954 issue of R&C magazine. That is Danny with the checkered hat cleaning the engine bay.
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Danny receiving another trophy for the ’41 at an unknown car show.
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One thing that has always wondered me is that the car has no rounded trunk corners. The flow of the door line, door windows and rear quarter windows is so right on this car. Jesse and Sam might have spend a lot of time on it, but it all has been worth it.
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Low angle side profile photo with the newly added Barris crested to the cowl. This photo shows that the car might be even lower now than when Jesse owned it.
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Possibly when the Barris Crest were added to the car a “deal” was made that the car also would have the Kustoms Los Angeles plaque added again. George Barris was a businessman and wanted to promote the Barris Shop and Kustoms Los Angeles club as much as possible.
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Thrifty drug store parking lot car show photo from 1954. This photo shows how the chopped rear window fits just right and has the perfect size for the chopped top.
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Unknown outdoor Car Show in 1955. This is one of the very few photos showing a bit of the engine on the ’41 Ford. Notice how many award Danny Lares had won with the car. at least 7 years after it was first created the car still was a head turner.
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Close up of the photo shows the two carburetors. It also shows the slightly recessed headlights, and beautifully molded metal around the ’48 Cadillac grille.
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Beautiful model posing with the ’41 showing of some more trophies. Notice the perfect flow of all the panels with sharp reflections.
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Close up gives us a good look at the custom ’41 Ford front fenders with the extra lip Jesse designed.
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The ’41 Ford at another parking lot photo. This time the show was held in early 1956. Parked next to Danny is the famous ’49 Mercury created by the Ayala’s for Louis Bettancourt and later redone by Barris for Johnny Zupan. Next to that is the Barris Kustoms restyled ’41 Ford for Frank Monteleon.
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Photo taken at the same show as the one above, but from another angle. This photo is dated March 1956. (shared by Paul Kelly)
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This nice lower angle photo taken at Bacon Ford shows the extra air intake Jesse added to the car really well. Also take a look at the super sharp reflections in the glossy paint.
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Closer look at the refrigerator drip pan air intake under the front bumper. Also good visable in this photo are the slightly recessed headlights.
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Small changes over the years that help identify who owned the car and about when the photos were taken.

  • A) Short hood side trim and single bar flipper hubcaps, pre 1949. Owned by Jesse Lopez.
  • B) Short hood trim, Cadillac Sombrero’s, Pre around 1951. Mostly owned by Jesse Lopez.
  • C) Addition of the longer hood trim Post 1951. Owned by Danny Lares.
  • D) Addition of the Barris crest to the cowl, around 1953. Owned by Danny Lares.
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These two photos show perhaps the best what Jesse Lopez meant with a top shaped after the Carson Padded tops he liked so much. Uniquely shaped, and the lines on this car are still considered to be as perfect as they can be.
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The Jesse Lopez 1941 Ford has been a trend setter from the moment it was finished. Jesse and Sam Barris had created the ultimate ’41 Ford coupe using the much harder to chop (according to Sam Barris) long door coupe. The longer doors and side windows created that the chopped coupe looked a mile long, especially with the new roof shaped designed by Jesse based on what he liked from watching chopped padded top convertibles. The combination of the heavy chop with the speed boat stance, heavy lowering of the frame, created an almost cartoonish effect perfectly balanced. The car was an instant hit when Jesse started cruising the streets of Los Angeles. Many photos of the car have appeared in numerous publications of the years and have since then inspired many builders around the globe to create taildragging Customs.


Danny Lares later ran the Lions drag strip track, worked at LADS (Lions Associated Drag Strip) timing association from 1955-65 as tech timer and official starter flagman, and was a founding member of Road Kings Car Club Long Beach. He passed away in 2003.

Danny Lares’s nephew George Lares is now the care taker of the Danny Lares Collection.

Special thanks to:
Jesse Lopez, David E. Zivot, Michelle M. Yiatras, Trace Edwards, George Lares and Jerry Daman.









(This article is made possible by)






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Balboa Beach Rendezvous Ballroom

 

BALBOA BEACH Rendezvous Ballroom

 

From 1948 till 1951 the Kustoms Los Angles Car Club would cruise down to Balboa Beach for Easter Ballweek. Free Custom Car show on the parking lot, and the guys dancing at the Rendezvous Ballroom.



In the later part of the 1940’ George Barris started to organize special events for his friends at the Kustoms Los Angeles Club. Around Easter George would rent a parking lot across the street from a Associated service staion for a week. The parking lot was across the street from the famous Randezvous Ballroom in Balboa. Around this time all the kids had vacation and everybody was in for a good party, including the guys and their girl friends from the Kustoms Los Angeles Club. Most of them would gather at the Barris Shop, first the Compton Ave, Later the one in Bell, and in 1950 the one on Atlantic Blvd. They would then drive in convoy to the Balboa Peninsula.

Along the way people would park their cars just to be able to watch all these beautiful speed boat stanced Customs float by. When they reached Balbo they would parade the cars on the streets of Balboa, cruising up and down to ejoy the huge crowds. Some people remember that there were some aoo to even 150 Custom Cars and Hot Rods to take part of this event. Later all the Kustoms Los Angeles members parked their car in the parking lot that George had rented. And they would stay there for the week. Drawing many visitiors who would walk up and down the parking lot looking at the wonderful cars in the free parking lot show. While the main event took place around Easter, the venue was so attractive for the guys in the club that special trips to Balboa for the weekend were organised several times a year.

Around 1949-50 George Barris would be driving his ’42 Cadillac convertible with Gaylord top to the Balboa event.
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While some of the guys came for the party, drinking bears and having a good time, others came for the dance events at the Rendezvous Ballroom, and of course to chase the girls. According to those who have been to this event it was very spectacular, so its amazing that not more photos have surfaced from these special events. Its almost like it was a no camera zone during these Easter weeks. I hope that with some more coverage here on the Custom Car Chronicle we will be able to gather some more material our readers remember more about this event, have heard more stories, or even have seen some photos from the Barris Parking Lot, or the guy cruising the streets of Balboa.

The July, 1953 issue sped four pages on the Balboa Easter activities. However the article did not mention the Barris rented parking lot, nor did it show any photos taken of the Kustoms Los Angeles parked there. The article included an set free from the background photo of the Hirohata Mercury, but it is hard to tell if the photo was actually taken at Balboa Beach, or used from somewhere else. The RC article is the only article we have found featuring the spectacular Balboa Easter event.
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From the R&C article shows a number of cars at the Associated Gas Station. Hot Rods, Stock and the one in the middle next to the gas pumps looks to be a padded topped with panoramic rear window late ’40’s Custom.
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Hot Rods at the Associated gas station.
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Mildy customized with a nice speed boat stance ’41 Ford short door Coupe cruising at the peninsula.
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One of the drive ins at the peninsula which drew a crowd all night long during the Easter festivities.
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From Wikipedia
The Rendezvous Ballroom was a large dance hall built in 1928, located on the beach of Balboa Peninsula in Southern California, United States. The 1920s were the heyday of public dancing to the music of popular bands and orchestras, and large ballrooms were built in most urban areas, and even on Catalina Island, 26 miles off the California coast.

No expense was spared in the construction of the ballroom, which was a city block long, and half a block wide. It featured reinforced concrete walls, a “floating” hard wood floor and a tile roof. After a fire in 1935 the ballroom was rebuilt with an arched roof supported by sectional girders of wood in a cross pattern, the same as used in the nearby blimp hangers for the Marine Corps.

The Rendezvous Ballroom caught fire again in 1966, and was never rebuilt. The site now has beachfront condominiums.

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I have collected some of the stories that have been told about the trips to Balboa beach, trying to sketch the event as best as possible without any photos taken from these events.

The stories

From Jesse Lopez

Founding members of the 1948 KUSTOMS LOS ANGELES club; George Barris coined the phrase “Kustoms”, Kustoms stood by itself; Sam Barris, Nick Matranga, Bill Ortega, Oren and Loren Breeland, Oren’s mom took care of the boys, Gordo, Fuzzy, Don Nassar, Carl Abajian, Richard Carter, Johnny Zaro, Al Andril, Buzzy. Jack “Fat Boy” Stewart, Paul “Snooky” Janich, Dick “Peep” Jackson, Hershel “Junior” Conway, Bill Taylor were a few years younger and came later, a different era. “Bob Hirohata’s nickname was “Walrus”. He came later, but I was pretty tight with him, he sort of idolized me, very proper Japanese, polite and smart. The guys would all greet me ‘Esele!’”

Jesse Lopez and his ’41 Ford which he created together with Sam Barris.
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It was the history making of hot rods and customs. In 1948-51 the whole gang, Johnny Zaro, Al Andril, Bill DeCarr, Dick Carter, Carl Abajian, George and Sam Barris, Nick Matranga, Jack Stewart and Jesse would getaway in their customs on the holidays to Crestline and Lake Arrowhead by Big Bear Mountain. “Hundreds would watch us drive up in the ’40 Mercs, ’41 Fords, ’41 Merc, ’41 Buick, ’42 Ford coupe, and ’42 Cad. They’d be waiting for us. It was a spectacle!” They would also caravan to the legendary Balboa Beach Rendezvous Ballroom. Together with other custom guys they would caravan in their cars to Balboa Beach and gather in the parking lot that George had rented near by the swingin’ “Rendezvous Ballroom”. These impromptu shows of some of the most fantastic, iconic, and beautiful customs would attract huge crowds. The guys would have a whale of a time drinking, dancing, and chasing skirts. Apparently they did this at least three or four times a year. By 1951 it was off to Korea, and it was all over. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if somebody had photos of any of these gatherings?

“I wouldn’t dance, I watched my car. George would dance the jitterbug though. He could really slap leather. We’d get there late, like ten p.m. We were busy working on our cars all day, and Balboa was an hour out to get there. Looking sharp in our aviator jackets, Kirk Douglas spotted us one night. He was just getting started and he looked so familiar. He was friendly. He wore elevator shoes. If I could get someone to watch the car I’d go into the big ballroom. George always went in.”

The Trade Winds in Inglewood also had jitterbug contests on Tuesday nights. All the guys would go to see Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Louis Prima, the same crowd as the Balboa. “My friend Pete Werrlein shined Mickey Cohen’s shoes. Later Pete got the rights to Mickey’s story.” Pegged pants rolled twice and thick crepe wedged shoes were the So Cal style. Sacramento boys wore their pants pegged and straight down, so the So Cal boys did that too. All the fads; flat top and peroxide hair, t-shirts (undergarments weren’t acceptable in public), pegged Levi’s, tiny waistlines, started as So Cal beach style. (courtesy of Michelle M. Yiatras)



From Nick Matranga

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

Nick Matranga and his Barris Kustoms restyled 1940 Mercury.
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We’d meet and go to Balboa, Crestline, or the Big Bear Mountains. We weren’t kids anymore, we were young men with responsibilities. We’d just plan get-togethers. No official club. Dick Fowler was a squirrel, just weird, he never fit into our clique, he belonged to Fox Florence gang. Not a nice-looking car. Dick Fowler ’38 Ford coupe was a very early Sam and George Barris effort, about 1946-47, when they first came down from San Francisco/Sacramento. I knew him pretty good, he hung out at the Barris shop even before I got there because he lived by the shop. It wasn’t a real custom, not a nice chop, just changed the Packard grill, and kept it kinda black.



From Jack Stewart

There were always a bunch of custom guys hanging out at the Barris shop. Saturday nights were especially famous at the shop. And after working on their cars and talking custom cars, the guys went out to have a good time at a dance, drive-in or party. “We’d get there late, like ten P.M., because we worked late at the shop and Balboa was an hour out to get there. Looking sharp in our aviator jackets with pegged pants rolled twice, and thick crepe wedged shoes was the So Cal style.”

In 1950 George Barris rushes to get Jack Stewart’s 1941 Ford ready for a couple of coats of white primer so that Jack can drive his car to the Balboa Easter Event. Most of Jack’s restyling was done by the Ayala’s But Jack had his friend George Barris do the fine tuning.
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Jack’s good friend Doug Anderson (AKA Dog Face) owned a Barris-built 1939 Ford convertible with a padded top. Jack Gordkil, who helped Jack on his car, owned a chopped 1938 Ford coupe, and another 1938 Ford coupe with Packard grille was owned by another friend, Dick Fowler. This last car has been recovered and is going to be restored as well. Jack also hung out a lot with Bill DeCarr, who built his own 1941 Mercury coupe with fade away fenders in his spare time at the Barris’ Compton Avenue shop. And with Johnny Zaro, who first had his 1940 Mercury and later his 1941 Ford, which was customized similar to Jack’s car, except Johnny’s was a convertible.

With these and other guys, they would get together with their custom Mercurys, Fords and Cadillacs for the holidays and drive together to places like Crestline and Lake Arrowhead, by Big Bear Mountain. They also caravanned to the legendary Balboa Beach Rendezvous Ballroom. “When driving together, people would stop their cars, step out at the roadside, and watch us drive by. Sometimes, hundreds of people where watching us drive by. It must have been a wonderful sight with our rumbling speed boat stance cars floating by.”

This photo of Johnny Zaro’s ’41 Ford with Johnny polishing his car, Jack Stewart leaning on the fender and George Barris kneeling in front of the car was not actually taken at the balboa event. But it sure looks like it could have been. guys drinking a bear, having a good time, getting the cars all ready for the show and then go out for a dance till the morning.
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Jack and George loved to go out, dans and have a few drinks. Jack drank, but not to much, he was never into that. But George drank a bit more, although never a drunk. The used to drive up with all the guys from the LA Kustoms club to go to a dans. They where all driving along, but the closer they cae to the dans the more pretty girls they saw on the streets. They would pop open the doors with the poppers, and in went the girls. Later when they would arrive at the dans the angry boy friends would wait for them. And there was an occasional fight over the girls. But in the end they just all wanted to have a dance and a good time. There was a lot of girl chasing, but the car Jack got from George Barris after the 41 Ford was much more a girl magnet than his Ford. The fact that it was a convertible played a roll in that, but also the fact that Jack modified the front seet so that he could lift it up and slide it back so it would touch the back seat. This way there was a huge amount of space in the front, and although the girls always say that Jack was really bad… but please don’t quit. Jack made out a lot in that car, he kept it for a few years, then bought his MG.




From Jeff Neppl

Jeff owns a 1950 Mercury Custom that was very much styled after the cars built by Sam Barris and the Ayala’s in 1950-51. His car is the last Mercury that Dick Dean would chop. Besides owning this stunning Custom Jeff is a die-hard early Custom Car enthusiast. Living in So California he tires to drive his Mercury as much as possible and loves to cruise to the Custom Car historic places. Photo locations used for the magazine articles from the 50’s, Vintage show locations, and places his Custom Car hero’s visited often, like in this case Balboa Beach. Every year around Easter Jeff tries to make it out to Balboa and day dreams about the good old days. Thinking about the stories his hero’ have shared with him. Guys like Jerry Quesnel, Jack Stewart and others. “Ballweek is what it was called and it was HUGE”.

“Balboa is my favorite beach to go to and everytime I’m down there I just think of all the kustoms that used to cruise around there.”

Jeff’s Mercury at Balbo, it is still a great place to go to.
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Jeff Neppl loves to cruise his perfect 1950 Mercury to the historic Custom Car locations in and around Los Angles. Here Jeff parked his Merc in front of what used to be the Rendezvous Ballroom building. After it was destroyed in a fire in 1966 the location was used for condo’s and apartments, but the building was named the Rendezvous.
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Jeff talked to Jack Stewart about Ballweek; “He was telling me about his ’41 and told me a lot about Balboa. It wasn’t really a cars how, they would just go down there to dance and party for easter. George would rent a parking lot and they would park all the KUSTOMS there and it would kind of turn into a show. Jack said him and George were some of the best dancers there.”

Jeff Neppl standing next to the plaque at the exact location of the Rendezvous Ballroom used to be. This is where Jack Stewart and the Barris gang would caravan all the Customs to from Lynwood every easter to go dancing at the Ballroom. This was Jack’s favorite place to cruise, from what he told Jeff. Jeff’s wearing his new Jack Stewart shirt. Always thinking about custom history!
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A better look at the plaque.
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Some random scenes from gatherings in Balboa in the late 1940’s.
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Dancing at the Rendezvous Ballroom. 
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Zeppelin aerial photo shows the huge parking lot on the beach just behind the Rendezvous Ballroom place.
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Compare this photo that Jeff Neppl took of his ’50 Mercury with the aerial view above. Jeff’s Merc is parked at the parking lot on the bach and behind the Merc you can see the pier.
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Aerial view from the 1940’s shows the Rendezvous Ballroom building in blue, the huge parking lot right on the beach, the Kustom Los Angeles parking lot George Barris rented in green, and the Associated Service station that we can see in the R&C article in red next to the parking lot.
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A closer view of the Associated Service station, the parking lot George Barris rented, now filled with car in front of the “Blue Room” building, and a corner of the Rendezvous Ballroom on the lower right. (Photo from the mid 1940’s, thanks Jeff.)
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Interesting photo from the early 1950’s shows the Ballroom in the far left top with a sign for the upcoming Easter event. Just behind the large building on the left is the parking lot George Barris rented (not visable in this photo) and behind the palm trees on the corner of the street is the Associated service station.
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If you have any stories of your own about the Rendezvous Ballroom, or about the Kustoms Los Angeles, or the special club meetings and trips they made together, and you would like to share them with us. Then please email Rik Hoving here at the Custom Custom Car Chronicle so that we can add them to this article, or share it elsewhere on the site. Thank you.





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Edison Photo Location

 

EDISON Photo Location

 

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



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

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

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



Vic Grace 1941 Buick Special

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



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

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






Dick Carter 1941 Ford

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







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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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



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Custom Plastic Details

 

CUSTOM PLASTIC DETAILS

 

Around 1947 Jesse Lopez experimented with the use of clear green Lucite to Custom Restyle the interior of his 1941 Ford Coupe. The start of a new trend Custom Plastic Details.



The first mass produced plastics was bakelite, its invention made it possible to cast small parts for whatever use. The automotive industry used a lot of bakelite products, like dash decorations, door knobs and some emblems. In the 1930’s other plastics evolved from it some of these were easier, and cheaper to produce, and could be created in a wider variety of colors etc than Bakelite. The aircraft industry saw the potential of this new crystal clear plastics to shape canopy’s for new faster airplanes. Before, but mostly after WWII the plastic products and raw material as sheets and rods in all sizes became readily available all over the US. The new plastic materials were manufactured by several companies, but two of them DuPont and Röhm & Haas were the leaders in the field. DuPont marketing their product as Lucite, and Röhm & Haas had Plexiglas.

CCC-custom-plastic-details-dupont-lucitePossibly your Customizers were inspired by the handsomely shaped household products made available in the new plastics in the early 1940’s. This together with shop classes using the actual material might have been the start of the new Customizing trend.
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Developed in the 1930s, the clear acrylic plastic branded as Lucite became a wildly popular material for costume jewelry starting in the 1950s. Less expensive to produce than Bakelite, Galalith, and Catalin and more chemically stable than celluloid, Lucite made these earlier jewelry plastics obsolete.

In its pure form, Lucite is translucent, resembling glass or rock crystal, but it can be dyed in a wide range of colors and opacity, making it the perfect material for bold blocks of Mid-century Modern colors. Hard, water-resistant, and lightweight, Lucite can be carved and polished, and it is easy to wear.

The scientists at two rival chemical companies, DuPont and Rohm & Haas, spent the 1930’s working on glass-like acrylic resins (a.k.a. polymethyl methacrylate). Rohm & Haas launched its version, the clear and nearly unbreakable Plexiglass, first in 1935. DuPont brought Lucite to the market in 1937.

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Both companies realized the future importance of their plastic products and started to promote Lucite and Plexiglas on a huge scale. Users manuals were produced and advertising campaigns were set up. They also sponsored the schools and set up shop classes using the new plastic materials. Lucite and Plexiglass became readily available in a selection of colors, both solid as well as transparent, in sheets stock and as round on square stock. The possibilities for using the new plastics was endless. And most likely the kids in school who were using plastics and studying the manuals provided by DuPont and Röhm & Haas as study material, started to think about possible use of this new products for their Hot Rods and Custom Cars.

Lucite and Plexiglas was not hard to get, the general hardware store carried some of the materials, and if you wanted something special, like the green or red transparent sheets, you could go to the special Plastic houses, or order the material thru several mail order companies. Although the plastics were not really advertised in the Hot Rod and Custom Car magazines, other more generic technical publications as Popular Mechanics had multiple ads for plastic products from the mid 1940’s and up.


CCC-custom-plastic-details-plex-instructions-01Röhm & Haas created several manuals for the use of their plexiglas products. These manuals come from the late 1930’s early 1940’s.
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-plex-instructions-02DuPont did the same thing for their Lucite products.
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-plex-instructions-03The manuals explained how the new products could be shaped, heated, bended, drilled, scraped, machined, sanded, buffed etc. The possibilities for the material were endless.
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Memo Ortega about the plastics he used back in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s.

“Back in the ’40, ’50s we had hardware stores that some of them carried plastic sheets for a quick fix replacement if you broke a window in your house. Those sheets were only available in clear, but we did you them sometimes. In Pomona there used to a store that that sold nothing but plastic products they sold round tubes, square plastic and sheets in different thickness and colors. What ever you needed you could buy it there. Its been a long time, and sadly I can’t remember the name of the store. We did visit the shop a lot and bought all the plastic stuff what ever we wanted to do with it for our kustom cars.”

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CCC-custom-plastic-details-plexiglass-colorsSheet Lucite and Plexiglass was and still is available in many different colors, both solid as well as transparent. 
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-pm-ad-01 CCC-custom-plastic-details-pm46-ad-02Generic Technical publication as Popular Mechanics and Popular Science had often ads for Plastic supplied from the mid 1940’s and up. Plastic products as sheets, rods in different colors as well as special adhesives could be ordered by mail.
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-dan-post-01The early Custom Restyling publications did not mention much about the use of plastics for Custom Restyling. The Dan Post Blue Book of Custom Restyling 1949 edition was possibly the first publication to mention the use of custom shaped Plastic for interior customizing. 
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Jesse Lopez

In the later part of the 1940’s Young Customizers started to see the possibilities of using these new plastics for their Custom Car creations. One of the first to use a clear colored plastic in his Custom Car was a young Jesse Lopez who had created a stunning trend setting 1941 Ford long door coupe together with his friend Sam Barris. Jesse took the dash from his 1941 Ford had it completely chrome plated and replaced the factory plastic components with hand shaped green transparent lucite. Jesse also shaped the radio knob from green and clear lucite and replaced the factory plastic handles on his Appleton Spotlight with hand shaped clear green handles.

The Appleton 112’s were wired and worked, the spot handles were green Lucite to match the Lucite on the dash. (Jesse Lopez)

The use of clear colored Lucite or Plexiglass in Jesse Lopez’s ’41 Ford is known to be the first of its kind to be used. Jesse’s Ford was finished in 1948. After Jesse had finished the plastic work on his car he helped out several of his friends and Kustoms of Los Angeles club members to create similar parts for their Barris created Custom cars. And the use of clear and clear colored Lucite or Plexiglass became a trend and was used on many custom cars from the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. The fact that the Barris created Custom Cars were so well published in the magazines during this period made sure the trend was spread about the US really fast.

CCC-custom-plastic-details-41-ford-dashStock 1941 Ford dash with bone color plastic on a painted dash as it came from the factory.
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-lopez-ford-01Rare photo of the Jesse Lopez 1941 Ford shows the chrome plated dash with clear green Lucite details. Notice the radio knobs on the top of the dash were done in green and clear laminated style. 
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-lopez-clone-01Jerry Daman duplicated the clear plexiglas details on Jesse Lopez’s Ford for his recreation of the ’41 Ford. This photo shows the finished part to cover the chrome plated dash. The cut holes are for the main instruments on the left, and the clock on the right. (photo courtesy of Jerry Daman)
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-lopez-clone-02The finished dash in Jerry Daman’s Jesse Lopez ’41 Ford recreation. Chrome plated dash with hand shaped clear green plexiglass details. (photo courtesy of Jerry Daman)
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-lopez-clone-03Not shown in the full dash photo are the Appleton Spotlight handles. Jesse also hand shaped a set of those in clear green lucite. So Jerry did the same thing for his recreation. Using clear green plexiglass laminated together and shaped by hand. (photo courtesy of Jerry Daman)
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Jesse Lopez on using Plastics



On July 28, David E. Zivot had a nice conversation with his friend Jesse Lopez, and one of the subjects he discussed was the use of plastics on Jesse’s 1941 Ford.

By David E. Zivot.
“I had a nice conversation with Jesse yesterday, and I specifically kept him on the subject of his early artistry in plastic.
He related to me how he and Sam were doing the finishing touches on the ‘41 Ford top chop, when it became apparent that they would have to use a plastic rear window.

Jesse knew of a hobby shop in Gardena on Avalon St. that had a generous supply of plastic sheet stock and other small shapes that local hobbyists would use to make jewelry, toys, and other knick knacks. While looking through the assorted clear Lucite selections he overheard a conversation between the gal that ran the shop and a gentleman that wanted to make multi-colored laminated small table legs.

Jesse was intrigued that you could glue different color Lucite as well as combinations of clear and colored pieces, and turn them on a wood lathe using files and sand paper.

It then occurred to him that using the wonderful color palette that was available in the fairly new technology of plastics could make an outstanding custom effect on the chromed automobile dashboards, assorted knobs, and spotlight handles.

Jesse purchased some flat stock clear for his rear window, as well as some translucent green smaller pieces, and took them back to the Barris shop.
He proceeded to cut, glue, file, and sand the Lucite into very attractive replacements for the stock pieces that came out of the ‘41 Ford.
Jesse had to use the somewhat primitive buffing and grinding equipment at the Barris shop, including a two-speed body grinder sitting on the shop floor, but turned out very nice examples, and even taught some of the other guys how to do it.

This learning curve occurred at the same time that Jesse had developed the technique of using translucent red Lucite to make custom bumper guard taillight lenses. George and Sam were immediately impressed.

All the fellows wanted Jesse to fabricate their dash trim, knobs, taillight lenses, spotlight handles, etc, which he gladly did for Dick Carter’s ‘41 Ford, Matranga’s ‘40 Mercury, Al Andril’s and Johnny Zaro’s cars, and many others.
The one fellow that really took it to heart and ran with it was Bob Hirohata, and Jesse self-taught in the art, showed Bob the ropes.
It’s interesting that this craft, and a few others that Jesse had developed, were later taken up and marketed by Eastern Auto and Cal Custom.
The sincerest form of flattery is always imitation.”

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Johnny Zaro

Johnny Zaro had two Barris restyled Custom Cars that both used clear red plastic details. Johnny first had a 1940 Mercury Coupe that was restyled by Barris with a chopped top and molded fenders, similar styled as one they did for Johnny’s good friend Al Andril. Only Al’s was blue and Johnny’s was maroon. We have never been able to find out if Al’s Mercury had a similar dash board treatment as Johhny had, and if it had, if the details were done in clear blue or not. Most likely it was since both cars were known to be near identical except for the color. Johnny had the help of Jesse Lopez when he created the clear red lucite dash inserts to replace the factory ribbed plastic units.

“I had a special panel on the dashboard, made of plastic, kind of a wine color, or dark maroon. We cut the plastic, ground it down, and polished it. We had screws coming into the back side. We did the same for the radio knobs and all of that.”

Latter johnny did the same thing on his ’41 Ford convertible custom created by George Barris. The ’41 Ford is also still around today, and the plastic parts created back in the late 1940’s are still inside the car today.

CCC-custom-plastic-details-40-merc-dashStock 1940 Mercury dash is painted and has ribbed plastic inserts.
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-johnny-zaro-40-01This photo shows the clear red plastic parts of the Johnny Zaro 1940 Mercury. Kurt McCormick, the current caretaker of the car, had to recreate all the original plastic components during the restoration.
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-johnny-zaro-40-02The 1940 Mercury dash in the Zaro Merc, was chrome plated and the clear red plexiglass sheets hand shaped to fit. The radio face was also created from clear red plexiglass and so are the shifter and Appleton Spotlight handles. (the vintage Los Angles background is digitally added to the recent taken photo)
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CCC-johnny-zaro-collection-new-04Johnny also had the dash of his ’41 Ford chrome plated and together with Jesse Lopez he created the clear red lucite details for it. (late 1940’s photo from the Johnny Zaro Collection)
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-johnny-zaro-01Close up showing the “Kustom” letters in the center and the radio knobs on the top. The shifter handle and Appleton handles were also replaced with clear red Lucite pieces.
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-johnny-zaro-41-01The restored version of the car still has the original chrome plated dash with the original Jesse Lopez/Johnny Zaro created plastic insert on the dash. The radio face and knobs seams to have been removed. The Shifter knob has been replaced with a laminated (white and red) tear drop shaped unit, but the Appleton handles are still the original hand crafted parts.
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-johnny-zaro-41-02Even the “KUSTOM” letters are still mounted on the center portion of the clear red Lucite insert.
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Bob Hirohata

Next to Jesse Lopez, Bob Hirohata is also credited for his pioneering custom plastic work. Bob created a set of green and white laminated tear drop shaped dash, shifter and Appleton Spotlight knobs for his famous Hirohata Merc. The laminated knobs were shown in several magazine features on the Barris Kustoms created ’51 Mercury. Soon thereafter similar shaped knobs were created all over the US. The November ’53 issue of Rod & Custom magazine did a four page How-To article on Bob Hirohata showing how you can create the laminated dash knobs at home. Later Bob sold his idea of the laminated dash knobs to the Cal Custom company who ended up in producing them in a large scale in the later part of the 1950’s. The laminated dash knobs were a big success for the company, and similar products are still being produced and sold today. The great thing is that most of the dash knobs that Bob created for his mercury in 1952, are still around today and are still inside the completely restored Hirohata Mercury.

The Laminated dash knobs on Bob’s personal ’51 Mercury were however not the first set of knobs Bob created. We know of at least one car for which Bob created a laminated shift knob, and several other dash knobs, as well as a set of hand made taillights (which we will cover in our part 2 on Custom Plastic Details) for Jack Stewart’s 1941 Ford. Bob created these parts for Jack from clear and clear orange Lucite in 1951. And fortunately these parts have also survived and are still with the ’41 Ford today.

CCC-custom-plastic-details-jack-stewart-shiftThe beautiful hand shaped shifter knob for Jack Stewart’s 1941 Ford was created from a think piece of clear and two thinner sheets of clear orange lucite. Laminated together and hand shaped to Bob Hirohata’s own design. Thanks to Bob Drake this rare piece of Custom Car history remains still with the Jack Stewart Ford today. The current photos of the shifter knob are taken by Palle Johansen the current Jack Stewart Ford caretaker.
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-jack-stewart-dashBob Hirothata also create a few more dash knobs for Jack Stewart’s ’41 Ford. For these he used only clear Lucite cut and hand shaped and polished to the desired shape.
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-hirohata-articleThe four page article on how to create Laminated Dash Knob’s by Bob Hirohata for the November 1953 issue of Rod & Custom. The article is still used today as reference for creating these laminated dash knobs.
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-hirohata-dash-knobsThe dash knobs in the Hirohata Mercury are the originals Bob Hirohata created back in 1952. The Appleton Spotlight units (not shown here) where gone and had to be replaced with new units created by Jim McNiel.
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-hirohata-trunkBob’s 1951 Mercury was completely customized and detailed, so he also created a set of laminated handles for the tools stored in the trunk of his Custom.
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-hirohata-doorBob also replaced the Mercury emblem on the door window garnish molding (see inset) with a simple beautifully shaped piece of clear green Lucite. Notice how the screws holding the parts are mounted from behind.
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Some of the Generic Technical magazines advertised with many plastic products, including mold making materials. But as far as we have been able to find not much of this was used in the golden years of Custom Restyling. The use of sheet and rod Lucite or Plexiglass remained the most populate use for Customs. There is one sample we did find that was an exception. This was the clear plastic steering wheel in the Don Vaughn Barris Kustoms restyled 1948 Buick convertible. The car was featured in the April 1953 issue of Hop Up magazine and showed the rather heavy clear plastic steering wheel. The article does not mention how the steering wheel has been created, and so far we also have not been able to get it confirmed, but possibly the steering wheel was cast from a clear resin using a home made mold. Another unique use of Custom Plastic detail. I do not recall seeing this done in other cars during the Golden Years of Customizing.


CCC-custom-plastic-details-don-vaughn-buickDon Vaughan’s 1948 Barris Buick with clear plastic steering wheel.
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-couchbuilt-steeringClear resin steering wheels can also be found in some coachbuilt cars. These samples here show clear resin wheels in a 1949 Delahaye 175S with Saoutchik bodywork on the top left, and one in a 1949 Delahaye 125M Cabriolet with Guilloré bodywork on the bottom and right. Notice that also all the dash knobs on these cars were done in the same clear plastic.
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Mass produced Plastic Custom Parts

In the early part of the 1950’s several aftermarket companies started to produce some plastic parts especially for the Hot Rod and Custom Car crowd. One of the products was the Steering wheel Spinners. The steering wheel knob that allowed the driver to “safely” use only one hand to steer the car. The other hand could, depending on which side the knob was attached to the steering wheel, be used to hold the girl next to the driver, or hang cool outside the window. In the later part of the 1950’s Cal Custom started to produce the Laminated dash and shifter knobs patterned after Bob Hirohata’s original design. These dash knobs have been in production off and on ever since. And today there are still several small companies who create custom ordered dash knobs in a great variety of colors and special effect plastics. The use of the custom made laminated dash and shifter knobs has been very popular in the last couple of years, and I have even seen a few nice samples of custom created clear plexiglass details on chrome or painted dash boards.


CCC-custom-plastic-details-steering-knobsSome Customs used a custom Steering wheel spinner allowing for better single hand steering wheel control. Several companies offered different color plastic options for this. The ad comes from and 1951 Eastern Auto Supply Co. catalog.
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-dash-knobs-oldI saved this image from an eBay auction several years ago. It is an old set, possibly Cal Custom units. Notice the screws in the side to mount the knobs to the rods. 
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-shift-knobs-1964The Car Craft January 1964 issue did a special article on Custom Knobs.
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CCC-custom-plastic-details-shift-knobsIn the 1960’s up to the 1980’s several aftermarket companies produced pearl and swirl kind of plastic shift and dash knobs that could be used for cars, boats, trucks and bikes.
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In Part 2 on the Custom Plastic Details we focus on the use of plastic on the outside of custom cars.

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Bumper mounted taillights

 

BUMPER MOUNTED TAILLIGHTS

 

Bumper mounted taillights developed in a time when the trend was to shave and mold car bodies into a smooth sculptured piece of Automotive Art.



Removing the factory stock taillights from the fenders and creating new, usually smaller taillights units in or on the rear bumper is a Custom Restyling technique done a lot. Especially in the later part of the ’40 and early 1950’s this technique was very popular. It started very early in the history of Custom Restyling. The So Calif. Plating Co. trucks had very minimal taillights. Some cars only carried one single taillight. I’m not quite sure if this in fact was legal at the time or not, but running only one taillight was something several early cars had from the factory, so more than lickely this was legal at least in the 1930’s till a point. The So Calif Plating Truck was driven after dark for sure. A lot of the races where the car was used as pull truck happened during in the evenings, and the team needed to head home after the races. Of coarse the traffic was a lot lighter back then, but using only one taillight could not be called safe.

However the So Calif Plating Co. cars might have been an exception, most other early customs from the 1930’s and early 1940’s we have seen photos of use mostly stock taillights, or units swapped from other cars that looked better than the stock units. There are a few samples of customs from the early 1940’s that have the factory taillights shaved of completely, and new taillights created in modified bumper guards, but this style did not become very popular this early. Shortly after WWII the Custom Cars became smoother. Towards 1947-48 it became common to shave all the handles on the car, removed side trim and perhaps more important weld the fenders to the body and lead them in to create one smooth body shape. As part of this smoothing style the taillights were completely removed as well. So now the body shops had to find a good alternative for good looking taillights that did not interfere with the smooth body.

CCC-bumper-mounted-taillights-socalplating-03A very early Custom Car, the 1935 Ford designed by George DuVall for the the So. Calif. Plating Co. had very minimal lights, both front and rear. The rear fenders were shaved of the original lights, and the large photo above shows the car with the unfinished rear bumper. The photo does not show any taillight at all. The inset photo shows most likely a single center mounted taillight in the center, just below the license plate.
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CCC-bumper-mounted-taillights-socalplating-01The other So. Calif. Plating Co. car based on a late 1936 Ford also has the stock taillights removed for that much smoother look designer George DuVall and the builder were after.
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CCC-bumper-mounted-taillights-socalplating-02I’m not 100% sure, but it does look like there is one, perhaps two (one on each side) motor cycle or other small lights mounted behind the tubular bumper, just below the left side of the license plate.
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From the late 1930’s the bike aftermarket was offering small teardrop shaped chrome plated marker lights with orange, green, blue and red glass. Several different brands offered these lights. Dixie, and Guide created some that looked really good. Somebody, and we do not know who was the first one, tried to use these small teardrop shaped motorcycle lights on the rear of a car. The lights looked really good mounted on the rear bumper, on the splash pan, or on the sides of the bumper guards. The only problem was the motorcycle lights were marker lights with only one bulb. Memo Ortega remembered that to make them work with the car they would find the smallest car taillights they could find, take it apart and modify the double bulb set up to fit inside the motorcycle teardrop light. It was always a very tight fit, but it could be done, and this way they could convert the lights for running and brake light.

As far as we have found out the use of these Motorcycle marker lights as taillights on Custom Cars was never written about in the early Restyling publications. It was just one of those restyling techniques you saw on another car, loved the look of that super smooth rear and adapted it to your own car.

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Memo Ortega Flashback
I do remember the motorcycle taillight becoming really popular around ’47-48. Some of the Vagabonds ran them, that the car club I was a member of in La Verne Ca. Some of the guys used them on the gravel pan, and some bolted them to the bumper guards. At the time this did not go to well with the law. The cops always came out with “they are to small“, “its not legal to run them“, “its not a factory taillight“, just to bust you. But guys still ran them cause they were so cool looking. It also depended which cop you ran into. My friend Papitas brother ran them in his ’41 Ford, and my cousin Panya on his ’41. and also Enchilada used them on his ’37 Chevy kustom. I think the Pep boys Vagabond ’40 Merc allso ran them in my home town.

At one time I ran four of them right under the rear end of my 37 Chevy. It looked really kool untill one night. I was going to my sisters house, and this cop followed me right into her drive way… red lite on! He tells me “I’m gonna give you a ticket for those lites under your car” he said they were illegal! I knew better at the time, since I was studying the California vehicle code book. You see I was thinking of joyining the California Highway Patrol, so I knew it was not illegal to run the motorcycle taillights. I told him to show me in the book where it said I could run these taillights. He looked, and looked… he could not find anything there! I told the cop… next time you better read your book before you stop somebody! For that he got really pissed… he got in his car and left.

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Documentation

The early Custom Car publications date back to around 1944. Dan Post’s publications describe a lot of different restyling techniques, but the bumper mounted taillight is a technique not mentioned until 1947. The motor cycle taillights which started to be used around 1947-48 is not mentioned in any of the Post publications. In 1947 the use of 1946-47 Olds bumper guard  lights is the first time this technique is mentioned. From the 1949 Blue book Dan Post includes an illustration of the Olds bumper guard set up to show how this technique can be adapted. The Motor Cycle lights are mentioned in the Trend Book Customs Cars No. 101 publication from July 1951. Only as photo caption, even though the caption mentioned the style was Popular, it was not revered to in the main text. The main text did mention the home made Bumper guard taillights, and the booklet showed photos of several good samples of the bumper guard taillights.

When the main Custom Car and Hot Rod magazine started their publications from 1951 the bumper guard taillights were shown and mentioned quite frequently. In the September 1951 issue of Hop Up magazine George Barris did a nice How To article showing how these great looking bumper guard taillights could be fabricated. Of course he hoped that the people would rather come to the Barris shop to have the shops expertise do them with much better quality.

CCC-bumper-guard-taillights-post-manual-47Dan Post Master Custom – Restyling Manual published in 1947.
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CCC-bumper-guard-taillights-post-blue-bookDan Post Blue Book of Custom Restyling published in 1949. (this scan comes from the 1951 edition.)
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CCC-bumper-guard-taillights-trend-book-101From the Trend Book No. 101 Custom Cars first published in July 1951.
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CCC-bumper-mounted-taillights-hop-up-9-51In the September 1951  issue of Hop Up magazine, George Barris showed in a two page article how the Bumper guard taillights were created. Most likely this article helped a lot of home customizers to create a set of bumper guard taillights for their own cars in the early 1950’s
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CCC-bumper-mounted-taillights-summers-merc-01Jimmy summers used an 1941 Lincoln rear bumper on his famous dark maroon 1940 Mercury. He removed the center section of the bumper and created his own which would incorporate the license plate and two ’41 Ford taillights mounted next to the plate in ’46.
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CCC-bumper-mounted-taillights-summers-merc-02In 1949 Jimmy still used the same set up on his car which was now painted green.
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CCC-bumper-mounted-taillights-guide-R8-50-1The GUIDE R8-50-1 was a very popular motorcycle marker light amongst car customizers. The shape was just perfect for the custom, and even mimic the shape of the Appleton Spotlights up front!
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CCC-bumper-mounted-taillights-catalogThese marker lights were advertised in the motorcycle brochures from the late 1930’s and 1940’s (this sample is a little less old) The marker lights only came with a single light bulb, and needed to be modified to work as driver and brake light.
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CCC-bumper-guard-taillights-eastern-1951The teardrop taillights could also be bought from the car accessory shops. The 1951 Eastern Auto Supply Co. listed a set of chrome plated teardrop lights in their catalog. Sorry, but I was only able to find a very poor copy, the text reads; TEARDROP LIGHTS A real gem for use as tail light, back up light or exterior ligh. Rich chrome finish. Available with red or white lens. Specify color. 3″ long, 21/4″ diam. $3.95 pr.
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CCC-bumper-mounted-taillights-sam-barris-01Early photo of the Sam Barris 1940 Mercury shows that Sam used only one single motorcycle taillight on the driver side only.
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Sam Barris 1940 MercurySam Barris later removed the bumper guards, located the license plate behind the bumper, and mounted two motorcycle taillights on the bumper. Perhaps Sam had been ticketed for running only one taillight?
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CCC-bumper-mounted-taillights-johnny-zaro-M02Johnny Zaro’s 1940 Mercury in 1948 uses two teardrop shaped motorcycle lights. Looks at the clean lines without the factory fender mounted taillights.
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CCC-bumper-mounted-taillights-johnny-zaro-M01Close up of the Johnny Zaro 1940 Mercury taillight set-up.
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CCC-bumper-mounted-taillights-zaro-41-02In 1948 Johnny Zaro used motor cycle taillights on his George Barris created 1941 Ford convertible. The car was super smooth and everything was shaved and molded in. To keep these smooth lines they had decided to move the taillights to the bumpers. And to make them look as good as possible, they were mounted as low as possible. Later Johnny changed the taillights on his car, scroll down to see the update.
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CCC-bumper-mounted-taillights-40-ford-sedanWhile most of the cars used the motor cycle taillights close to the bumper guards, there are also some who preferred them more towards the outside of the bumper, in line with the fenders. Like we can see on his nicely smoothed and molded 1940 Ford sedan. 
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CCC-bumper-mounted-taillights-hal-baud-oldsHal Baud’s 1950 looked super slick from behind, with molded fenders, shaved trunk and the taillights removed. However it was very unique to still use the motorcycle taillights on this brand new car in 1950. Especially since the big trend was bumper guard lights.
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CCC-bumper-guard-taillights-ohanesianNot all bumper mounted taillights were of the small motorcycle type. We have found a few samples of Custom Cars that used some largerversions of a round, most likely teardrop shaped taillights. Perhaps pirated from a late ’30’s car or something similar. The Buddy Ohanesian Westergard/bertolucci 1940 Mercury is a good ample of these larger bumper mounted taillights.
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There are also a couple of samples known where other small or thin type taillights are being used on the bumpers of Custom Cars. From the amount of photos we have been able to find this never became a real popular Custom Restyling Trick though. For this some factory stock taillights, ’46-48 Chevy and Ford units were used mostly for this, were mounted on the bumpers. Holed were  drilled in the bumper to allow the light fixtures to sit inside the bumper. The taillight would then mount nicely on top of the bumper. One of the best know sample of this style is the set up of the ’46 Chevy taillights mounted close to the bumper guards of the ’47 Buick rear bumper of the Anne De Valle ’42 Barris built Ford Coupe. This car was originally created for Marcia Campbell.


CCC-bumper-mounted-taillights-anne-devalle-01Anne De Valle ’42 Ford (Originally owned by Marcia Campbell) was restyled with an ’47 Buick Special rear bumper. A set of ’46 Chevy taillights was mounted on the top portion of the new bumper. 
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CCC-bumper-mounted-taillights-anne-devalle-02The only close up photo I was able to find to showing the Anne De Valle / Marcia Campbell taillight set up was this side view. This set up sure cleaned of the rear fenders, but it lacked the finesse of a custom made bumper guard set up.
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Bumper Guard Taillights

Around 1947-48 there is a shift in Custom taillight design. The motorcycle teardrop taillights are still being used. But if you wanted the latest trend you needed to create custom made bumper guard taillight. The ’46 Oldsmobile front bumper guards had integrated parking lights. This set up had clear glass, but everything else was already there from the factory. Somebody came with the idea to use this whole unit as bumper guard on the rear of a car, replace the clear glass with red glass and modify the lights for running and brake lights. This set up most likely was the first bumper guard taillight set up. We have no idea who was the first to do this, but 1940’s photos show many cars using this set up, so it became very popular.

CCC-bumper-mounted-taillights-skonzakes-01Jim Street was a very creative Custom Car enthusiast from Dayton Ohio. In 1948 Jim used 1946-48 Oldsmobile front bumper guards on his ’41 Ford convertible custom. Jim replaced the stock white glass with clear red plastic cut and shaped to fit, to create his first set of bumper guard taillights.
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CCC-bumper-mounted-taillights-skonzakes-02Jim Street’s 1941 Ford was a very nice ride in 1948. Californian style in Dayton Ohio.
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CCC-bumper-guard-taillights-nicholas_schlouchNicholas Schlouch 1939 Ford was created in the late 1940’s. We do not have very good photos of the car from that period. But this photo taken in 1956 shows how the sluts in the bumper guards were cut out and filled with shaped clear red lucite. A light fixture was installed inside the guard. The orange bumper mounted lights are a later addition.
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The first real bumper guard taillights

In 1948 Jesse Lopez develops what we now see as the first ever Custom made bumper guard taillight. Together with Sam Barris he had customized his 1941 Ford long door coupe including a very smooth chop, shave trunk and molded in smoothed fenders. They had also removed the taillights and Jesse came up with the idea to incorporate the taillights in the 1946 Ford bumper guards they had just installed on the car. Jesse and Sam were very familiar with the motorcycle taillights and liked the look of them, but Jesse wanted the rear of his car to be even smoother than done ever before.


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Jesse Lopez on Taillights
“Yes, I was the first to build the taillights into the bumper guards, “I was good at doing plastic work and I got the bright idea to set them in the indentation of the bumper guard, about 1 3/4” x 3 3/4”, a small light fit into the back of the guard. I made the plastic formed and recessed to the shape with 1/8” grooves cut inside with a triangle file to reflect. It’s easier working with plastic than metal.”

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Jesse was already experimenting with working with plastics during that time, and he knew the materials that were available at the time very well. He used clear red lucite and laminated several layers together to create one block. He cut out a section of the bumper guards that he wanted to become the actual light. He cleaned up the guard with files and and paper. He then carved the block of lucite in the same stepped art-deco shape as the Ford guard, and made it to fit flush with the metal guard. With the two parts not fitting perfect, he created a light fixture to fit inside the guard from behind.

He made a set up for running and brake lights, then the back side of the red lucite was cut, and cross hatch marking filed into it to make sure it would reflect the light from the bulbs better. Once ready the plastic was glued into the guard, and the lights installed from behind and the whole unit added the bumper. The whole set up looks dynamite, and soon the Barris shop would create dozens of custom made bumper guard taillights for their clients. The style would be used nation wide soon after the first cars had appeared in the magazine with this taillight set up.

CCC-bumper-mounted-taillights-jesse-lopez-02Jesse Lopez 1941 Ford (the car belonged to Danny Lares when this photo was take) shows a wonderfully cleaned up body with molded fenders and removal of all handles and most of the trim. This photo shows how super smooth the rear end looks with the clean trunk and taillight less fenders. 
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CCC-bumper-mounted-taillights-jesse-lopez-01Close up photo of the Jesse Lopez bumper guard taillights taken in 1950. It shows how the shape of the plastic follows the original stepped shape of the metal guard. This is a detail that is often overlooked when the style is replicated. Jesse really did a wonderful job on these back in 1948.
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The bumper guard taillights did become one of the Barris Kustom Shop trademarks. As far as I know none of the Ayala Customs that I’m aware of used this type of taillight set up. But there were other shops in California, and across the Country who would create this type of taillight. Over the years the texhnique developed and more and more different style of guards were used for this set up.

 

CCC-bumper-mounted-taillights-zaro-41-03In 1949 Johnny Zaro had removed the motor cycle taillights from his car and the crew at BarrisKustoms had created a set of bumper guard taillights for his ’41 Ford. The style is slightly different than what was done on the Lopez Ford. The lights were slightly wider using the whole width of the guard, and they started more towards the top. This created a very nice stepped art-deco look.
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CCC-bumper-mounted-taillights-g-barris-caddy-49George Barris cut off the tips of the 1947 Cadillac bumper guards used on his 1942 Cadillac and replaced them with bullet shaped clear red lucite sections with light bulbs inside the guards. This photo from the Bill Gaylord collection was taken in 1949. More of George his Cadillac can be seen in the CCC-Article.
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CCC-bumper-mounted-taillights-matranga-mercAnother very famous custom with bumper guard taillight was Nick Matranga’s ’40 Mercury. The Barrises used ’46 Ford bumpers and guards on Nick’s Mercury and created similar taillights as those on the Jesse Lopez 1941 Ford.
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CCC-bumper-guard-taillights-barris-hocker-01George Barris took step by step photos of Sam Barris and Frank Sonzogni creating the bumper guard taillights for Tom Hocker’s 1940 Ford. How they cut the guards, the clear and red lucite, make the fixtures and install the units in the bumper. The photos above show the work done on the clear front units, the ones at the rear were done in clear red lucite.
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CCC-bumper-guard-taillights-barris-hocker-02Although this photo of the Tom Hocker bumper guard taillights was taken after 1956, the set up was created a few years prior. Tom’s ’40 Ford had a similar set up on the front, but then using a hand shaped clear lucite insert.
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CCC-bumper-mounted-taillights-ogden-buickThese taillights were created using ’50 Chevy guards on a Lincoln bumper on the Pisano/Barris Herb Ogden 1941 Buick.
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CCC-bumper-mounted-taillights-ogden-buick-02When Barry Mazza and friends redid/restored the Ogden Buick the original bumper guard taillights were long gone. Barry recreated the Barris look using sectioned ’50 guards and clear red plexiglass hand shaped just like it was done in the ’50’s.
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CCC-bumper-guard-taillights-barris-listIn the Barris Hollywood Accessories Catalog from around ’53 the bumper guard taillight could be ordered as a kit. Since the note mentions that the price of the guard is extra we assume that the client either send in his own guards, or asked Barris to find a set specific for the clients car.
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CCC-bumper-guard-taillights-barris-quesnel-01Before Jerry Quesnel started to chop the top together with Sam Barris he already had started to customize his 1949 Mercury. One of the things he had done was removing the stock rear fender mounted taillights and create new units in the bumper guards.
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CCC-bumper-guard-taillights-barris-quesnel-02Jerry Quesnel’s 1949 Mercury in white primer after Sam Barris and Jerry had finished the chop. Notice how super clean the rear looks with no handles, emblem nor taillights on the body.
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CCC-bumper-guard-taillights-pete-brockA totally unique taillight treatment was created by the Olive Hill Garage on Peter Brock’s 1941 Ford. A bumper created from Oldsmobile and Buick components had a set of small taillight tunneled into the license plate guard. The work was done in the early 1950’s
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Current State

The bumper guard and bumper mounted taillights had their peak in popularity in the later part of the 1940’s and first couple of years in the 1950’s. The increasing interest in period customs from the 1940’s in the last decade, has made this Custom Restyling technique popular once again. People all over the world are duplicating the bumper guard taillights. The most popular bumper are still the ’46-48 Ford bumpers with their wonderful art-deco style guards. They are perhaps the “easiest” to be converted to this great looking taillight. But we do see many more guards being used, both to duplicate what we have seen from the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, and  new very creative solutions.

CCC-bumper-guard-taillights-recent-01A few samples from recent created bumper guard taillights from left to right: Bob Creasman 1940 Ford (restoration), Snooky Janich 1941 Ford (restoration), Jesse Lopez 1941 Ford (clone), Jeff Neppl 1950 Mercury.


The “modern” technique of creating new taillights using resin casting from silicon rubber based molds has made it possible to create some very creative and beautiful new bumper guard taillight designs. The method is pretty simple in theory. You basically make a rubber mold of the outside portion of the bumper guard, cast a duplicate in clear red resin, cut a desired taillight shape hole in the metal guard, cut the clear red resin copy to shape and the basic lights are there. Of course the resin needs to be shaped on the inside and reflective material needs to be added, and the light fixture needs to be fabricated just like in the old days. But the resin, rubber mold technique makes it possible to be much more creative. And if needed you can cast replacement taillight lenses as well. Matt Townsend did a really great how to on this technique on the HAMBPalle Johansen created a beautiful set of home made bumper guard taillights for his 1947 Cadillac Custom Convertible and explained how he did it here on the CCC-Forum.


CCC-bumper-guard-taillights-recent-matt-01Matt Townsend from Townsends Customs & Hot Rods Riverside Ca has specialized himself in custom casted bumper guard taillights. A few samples of his work.
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CCC-bumper-guard-taillights-stardustBumper guard taillights at night (Stardust 1940 Mercury)
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Resources and more info

  • Barris Kustom Technique of the 50’s, books, (especially No.3)
  • Master Custom – Restyling Manual, Dan Post book, 1947
  • Blue Book of Custom Restyling, Dan Post, 1944-52
  • Custom Cars, Tend book published in 1951
  • Hop Up, magazine September 1951

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Barris Bell Shop

 

BARRIS BELL SHOP

 

After establishing a name in the Custom world in the Barris Compton Ave shop in Los Angeles, the shop was relocated in Bell for a short period. Very little is known about this shop, lets take a look at what we know.


The Barris name had become famous in Los Angeles, California and even in the whole USA when the shop was located on Compton Ave in Los Angeles from 1946 to late 1948, perhaps early 1949. In this CCC-Article we have shared all the details about this famous and well known Barris shop. We know that getting well known in the business lead to a lot more customers for Barris in 1948, and how the shop needed to be expended. So a new larger location was much needed, and found at the East Florence Avenue in Bell, a suburb from Los Angeles. The new shop could house 4 cars easy in the main shop and there was another building that could house another two cars. And besides the larger shop space there was a huge parking lot that came with it. And with the perfect SoCal weather that was ideal since most of the heavy work on the cars was done outside.


CCC-barris-business-card-42-caddyGeorge Barris his personal 1942-47 Cadillac convertible was used on the E. Florance Ave Bell address business card. From the David E.Zivot collection. On the top the names Barris, Hector and John are listed in similar size fonts. The business name is KUSTOM AUTOMOBILES
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For George and Sam it was going back to Bell, since it all had started in Bell in 1944 when George Barris opened his first body shop on Imperial Highway in Bell. So far we have not been able to find anything out about this first shop. No photos, not even the actual address. There is a lot of mystery around this first shop where George Started and Where Sam joined him in 1946. It is strange that the second shop in Bell where the Barris were located from late 1948 till 1950 also has a lot of mystery’s while there is a lot more known about the shop in between the two Bell shops, the one on Compton Ave. According to the Business Card from the Bell shop the official name for the shop was “KUSTOM AUTOMOBILES”. The business cars listed the Barris name only very small. The ads that were created during the Bell Shop period, showed the Barris name a little larger than how it was used on the business cards.

CCC-george-barris-42-cadillac-05Barris ran this ad in the November 1949 issue of Motor Trend. It was a joint ad with Gaylords. The car used in the ad is George’s his personal 42-47 Cadillac convertible with Gaylord padded top photographed at the Forence Ave Bell shop.
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CCC-barris-2nd-bell-shop-ad-02Jesse Lopez’s 1941 Ford was used for another Bell shop ad. The same photo also had been used in an ad for the previous shop on Compton Ave. Both Bell address ads have the Hector and John name very prominent at the top. This ad comes from the October ’49 issue of Motor Trend magazine.
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Photo most likely taken at the 1950 Hot Rod Expposition Show in Los Angles. Ben Mario’s 1947 Buick was displayed at the show wit the Barris Kustom Shop Bell sign on the wall behind it.
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There are very few photos of the Florence Ave Bell Barris shop, most of the photos we have been able to find were taken outside next to the C.B. Mullins Meat Market in front of the shop. Apparently the Barris shop used most of this parking lot as their outdoor shop space. We know that during the period the Barris Shop was located here in Bell, a lot of cars were started, built and completed at this shop. Yet there is very little evidence – as in actual photos – of the work done at this shop.  The Barris shop was located in the Bell Shop during the first portion of the “golden years” of customizing, and as far as we have been able to find out the shop was very productive in this shop.

Dick Carter 1941 Ford, Marcia Campbell 1942 Ford, Joe Urritta 1941 FordBen Mario 1947 Buick, Nick Matranga 1940 Mercury, Vic Grace 1941 Buick, Dick Arkline 1941 Chevy, Paul Janich 1941 Ford, and most likely many more famous and not so famous Barris Customs were created partly or complete at the Florence Bell shop.

CCC-barris-2nd-bell-shop-larry-robbins-merc-00This is perhaps the most used E. Florance Ave Bell Barris shop photo. It shows the guys working on an 1948 Mercury, which most likely was one created for Larry Robbins. The people in the photo are: On the right George Barris with Goggles with Bill DeCarr (Ortega) behind him. And the left are Hector Savedra, Gene Simmons and Bob Ruble. The building behind the car and guys is the meat market. The actual shop was further to the back on the right of this photo.
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The shop sign

In all the photos I have been able to find from the E. Florence Bell Barris shop none show a Barris sign or the Barris name on a wall or anything. It does seam to be a bid odd that there was no sign stating the Barris name, especially since george had been so busy promoting the Barris name at the Compton Ave shop. However the Barris shop did run a couple of ads during the time the shop was located in Bell. And in the ads the Barris name was used. The only shop sign I have been able to find at this shop was an no name sign “Bell Body & Fender Shop, Free estimate and in large vertical letters GARAGE. A second sign on top of this sign was a General Auto-repairs sign. perhaps this was an old sign for another body shop that might have been located in the building before Barris

CCC-barris-2nd-bell-shop-larry-robbins-merc-02Another photo of the 48 Mercury coupe show the car now with the top completely removed. In the background we can see Don’s Cocktail bar on E. Florance street on the other side of the parking lot. Just above the nose we can see the Bell Body & Fender Shop sign.
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CCC-barris-2nd-bell-shop-sign-01Here is a close up of the shop sign located at the entrance of the parking lot of the Barris Bell shop on E. Florance Ave. We are not 100% sure, but most likely this was the only shop sign at that location. For unknown reasons the Barris name was not listed. 
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The ads as well as the business card used for the Bell shop all have the names John and Hector, (John Manok and Hector Savedra) very prominently listed at the top.  From Jesse Lopez we have learned that both these guys were employees at the Barris shop, but we have not been able to find out why they were listed so prominent, and if it has any connection with the absence of the Barris name on the shop sign at the entrance of the shop on Florence Ave. Mysteries about the Bell Shopwe hopefully one day will be able to solve.

Perhaps the shop sign on Florence Ave was an old sign that was already there when the Barris shop moved there, and they never replaced it, or it was, but it was never actually photographed. Even Jesse Lopez could not remember a Barris shop sign. So perhaps there was never one… which still is odd since George had spend much time putting out the Barris name.


CCC-barris-2nd-bell-shop-George-04More work was done on the 48 Mercury, outside in the parking lot in front of the shop and next to the meat market. Here George is working on the removed running boards and extending the doors down.
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CCC-barris-2nd-bell-shop-George-03Raising the drive shaft tunnel on the  1948 Mercury. The back ground most likely shows the back portion or building behind Don’s Cocktail bar.
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CCC-barris-2nd-bell-shop-George-01Staged photo of George “leading” the rear fender on the 48 Mercury that has already been primered. In the background we can see Don’s Cocktail bar. The sign just above George shoulder is at the Florence Ave. side of the building.
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CCC-barris-2nd-bell-shop-George-02Close up of the cocktail bar building.
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Jesse Lopez conversation

In April 2016 David E. Zivot had an phone conversation with Jesse Lopez who owned a 1941 Ford Coupe back in the late 1940’s that he restyled together with Sam Barris at the Compton Ave shop. David asked Jesse about the East Florence Ave Bell Barris shop and what Jesse remembered about this shop. Below is the conversation that gives us some more insight about the Barris Bell shop.


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DZ- “Jesse said he was in walking distance from his home in Bell to this shop. He chuckled when he related to me how he and Johnny Zaro and a couple of the other guys went to a local Army surplus store and purchased WWII foldable paratrooper bicycles and rode them like madmen all around the bell shop.
In fact, as was usual for Johnny Zaro, he crashed on his bike and broke his hip.
Here in conversational style are the questions.
Keep in mind this over 65 years ago, and Jesse told me everything he could remember about the Bell shop.”

(DZ = David E. Zivot   JL = Jesse Lopez)

DZ- “How long were the Barris’ at the E Florence location? I understand it was for less than a year?”

JL- “No, it was more like a year and a half, two years.”

DZ- “Did you do any work or painting at that shop?”

JL- “No I was busy working at an auto parts store, and didn’t spend much time at that shop.”

DZ- “The location on E Florence Av, can you describe it?”

JL- “Yeah, it was located on the corner of Florence Av & Otis St, by a Shell gas station, and behind a meat market, where Gordo worked. That’s why the address is 4120 1/2, because it was behind another building.”

DZ- “Was it physically larger or nicer than the Compton Av shop?”

JL- “Oh yeah, it was quite a bit larger, had nice parking, lots of room. There was a roomy four-car stall, and another two-car stall as well.”

DZ- “What can you tell me about John and Hector?”

JL- “Well John was John Manok, who along with his brother Ralph, worked there. Their work was just OK. And Hector Savedra did stuff around the shop. No great skills. All of this is in Michelley’s articles. Gordo did work around the shop as well.”

DZ- “Was there a Barris Kustom sign anywhere outside the shop, or was there an office in the building?”

JL- “I don’t remember any particular sign with their name, and there was a small little makeshift office in one corner of the building.”

DZ- “What about some of the cars that were either started, completed, or worked on at the E Florence Av location?”

JL- “I can’t remember exactly, but I know for sure that a ’48 Mercury coupe that belonged to a fellow named Zhakov was started and completed there. It was a pretty nice car. I’m also pretty sure that Dick Carter’s ’41 Ford convertible was begun and finished there. Bill Ortega may have had some work done on his car, as well as Jack Stewart.
It’s hard for me to recall. Because Dick Fowler lived in Bell he may have had his car worked on and painted there as well.”

DZ- “Jesse, is there anything else you can recall from that shop that sticks in your mind?”

JL- “No, not really, as I said I was working the counter of a parts and paint store and had my hands full with that.”

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CCC-barris-bell-shop-02-41-chevy-01Dick Arkline’s 1941 Chevy mildy restyled custom was created and photographed at the Bell Shop. The car was painted a deep organic purple.
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CCC-barris-bell-shop-02-41-chevy-02These two photos of Dick Arkline’s Chevy appeared in the May 1950 issue of Motor Trend for the first time, one of them was later also used in the first Custom Car annual published in 1951.
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CCC-barris-2nd-bell-shop-DeCarr-mercury-01Bill DeCarr (Ortega) already worked with Barris at the Compton Ave shop, where he had build his 1941 Mercury business coupe with Fade Away fenders. Possibly the car was finished and painted at the Bell Shop, in any event this photo of the finished car was taken at the bell show with the Meat Market building in the background.
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Motor Trend April 1950

In the Motor Trend April 1950 issue there was an article by George Finneran named “What is Restyling?“. The George Finneran interviewed a couple of major Customizers from 1950 about their opinion on the subject. He interviewed George Barris at Barris Kustoms, Gil Ayala at Gil’s Auto Body Works and Jerry Moffatt at the Olive Hill Garage. The interview with George Barris took place at the E. Florence Ave. Bell Barris Shop, Thomas J. Medley was the photographer accompanying the interviewer who took several photos at the Bell during the visit at the Bell shop. Sadly there is noting written about the Bell shop in the article, but there are a few nice photos that have helped us identify a couple of things.


CCC-barris-2nd-bell-shop-larry-robbins-merc-01The 1948 Mercury that we have seen in several in progress photos at the Bell shop is identified as the Larry Robbins Mercury in the Motor Trend article. It now does make me wonder if this is the same car that Jesse Lopez mentioned, in his phone interview, belonging to a guy named Zhakov. Or if there were possibly two 48 Merc coupes done at the Bell shop in 1949.
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CCC-barris-2nd-bell-shop-zaro-ford-01The John Vara / Johnny Zaro 1941 with a new grille at the Bell shop. Just behind the back of the car we can see the “Bell Body & Fender Shop” sign. Notice the window divided in 16 small windows just above the steering wheel, we can also see that same window in the photo above of Larry Robbins 48 Merc. The four door chevy on the right is parked head on towards the meat market.
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CCC-barris-2nd-bell-shop-motor-trend-04-1950-01We have no info on this Dodge photographed at the Bell Shop. Notice the padded topped convertible in the back ground. Looks to be a Ford from the late 1930’s.
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CCC-barris-2nd-bell-shop-motor-trend-04-1950-02Another Mercury that was done at the Bell shop was this unidentified ’47 convertible. In the background we can see Don’s Cocktail bar on the right.
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Barris 40 Ford chopped topThis heavily chopped 1940 Ford coupe was most likely also photographed at the Bell shop, but so far I have not been able to see this background in any of the other photos I have found. Most likely it was in the back of the lot.
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The Shop Building

So far the only photo(s) that possibly show something about the actual Barris Bell Shop building are these two photos (below) showing a stock 1941 Ford convertible. These photos were used to show the difference of the stock compared to a custom version with Dick Carter’s 1941 Ford that was created at the Bell shop in the 1951 Trend Books first annual Custom Cars #101 book. The same photos, but then with the background removed were also used to compare with the Johnny Zaro 1941 Ford in an Restyling article in Motor Trend magazine. We are not 100% sure these photos are taken at the Bell shop, but most likely they are, and are so far the only photos showing a portion of this “mystery” Barris shop. Hopefully the future will bring us some better photos showing this shop.

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4120 1/2 East Florence Ave Bell address

The Barris shop was actually located behind the C.B. Mullins Meat Market which was located at 4120 East Florence Ave in Bell. There was a large parking area next to the Meat Market, and behind it, and at the far back the was a 4 car garage located. That was where the Barris Bell shop was located And that is why the address location was 4120 1/2. We have not been able to locate any clear photos of the actual shop building, not from ground level, nor from the skye. But we have been able to find an aerial photo from 1952 and 1980 that show the actual shop building. The actual shop building was later torn down, so its completely gone now. A new larger building was build at its place, and in 2016 a laundry company was located in this building.

  • A = Don’s Cocktail bar
  • B = Barris Kustoms, Bell shop
  • C = C.B. Mullins Meat Market
  • D = Building across the street visible in a few photos.

CCC-barris-2nd-bell-shop-aerial-viewThese aerial views shows the Barris shop “B” in the 1952 and 1980 photos, and how it was replaced by a larger building around 2010 and how it looks today in the bottom Google image.
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CCC-barris-2nd-bell-shop-location-2015-01Street view taken from Florence Ave showing the former C.B. Mullins Meats building (C) on the left which is now Cliff’s Liquor store at 4120. The large building in the back is placed where the Barris Bell Shop (B) used to be in the late 1940’s.
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CCC-barris-2nd-bell-shop-location-2015-02When turning to the right at the same location as the previous photo you can see the former Don’s Cocktail Bar (A). It is the yellow building with red lower wall and roof behind the tree).
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CCC-barris-2nd-bell-shop-across-streetAcross the street from the Meat Market we can see another shop (D) 4127 E Florence Ave. In some of the photos taken in the late 1940’s. This building is still there in 2016. (this google screen shot was taken in 2010)
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CCC-barris-2nd-bell-shop-across-street-1949Building (D) across the street from the Meet Market on East Florence Ave can be seen in this late 1940’s photo.
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Moving to Lynnwood

The Barris shop most likely left the Bell shop and moved to the new Atlantic Blvd shop in Lynnwood at the end of March 1950. There is a business license dated for the period April 1, 1950 till January 1, 1951. The name on the Business License in now Barris Kustom Shop. We have not been able to find any business licenses or other official papers from the Bell period to see what the official name was back then.


CCC-barris-business-license-50-51Business license for the first period of the shop after the Bell shop, Atlantic Blvd in Lynwood. The business is listed as Body + Fender Shop. The license starts at April the first, 1950.
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The Barris shop Addresses

For everybody who has been able to visit the former Barris shops in Los Angeles and Lynwood they all know how the shops location relate to each other, but for those who have never been able to visit the former shops I have created this map to show where the shops are located.
The Barris Shop had 4 different addresses before it moved to its last North Hollywood location in 1961. From the first shop in Bell, Ca we have not been able to find an actual address. If anybody of our readers know the actual address of this first shop George Barris had in 1944, please let us know.



Barris Compton Ave

  • 1944 – 1946 – George Barris first shop in Bell (The shop was most likely named: Barris Custom Shop in Bell, but we do not have an full address)
  • 1946 – 1949 – Barris Customs 7674 Compton Avenue, Los Angeles.
  • 1949 – 1950 – Kustom Automobiles 4120 1/2 E. Florence Avenue, Bell.
  • 1950 – 1960 – Barris Kustoms 11054 Atlantic Blvd, Lynwood

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I have tried to gather as much information about the Barris East Florence Ave shop location as I could found, and the research has clarified a few of the mysteries this shop has. But there are still a lot of things we do not know about this Barris Bell shop where Custom Car magic happened in a relatively short period during the golden years of Custom Restyling. Many of the Famous early Barris Custom creations have been created, started or finished in this shop, but there have been very few photo evidence about this. The connection of the names John and Hector and the lack of a Barris Shop sign are just a few of the mysteries we really would have loved to solve. Hopefully some of the CCC-Readers will have some more info about the Barris Bell Shop and would be willing to share their info with us. So if you know more about the Barris E. Florence Ave, then please email Rik here at the Custom Car Chronicle, so that we can share it here with the CCC-Readers. Thank you.

Special thanks to David E. Zivot and Jesse Lopez for their help on this article.


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That Illustrious Sanguine 1940 Merc

 

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


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

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Part one

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

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

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


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



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

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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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


Continue reading about Nick Matranga in the NEXT PART


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Jesse Lopez – Lo! & Behold

 

© by Michelle M. Yiatras Timechanic ™
(Jesse Lopez – Lo! & Behold – original written in august, 2011)

 

“And shall bring forth a rod from the stem of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.”
~Isaiah;11:1



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Due to the length of this article from Michelle, 5 chapters, we have split it up in two parts. Be sure to click “part two” at the end of this article to see the full article.

Chapter 1

Born August 3, 1929, in Monrovia, CA, to Henry and Frances Lopez, the third oldest child, first born boy of eight siblings. Sisters Mary, Angie, Rose, Margaret, Cecilia. Brothers Memo & Henry. Daughters Debi and Juliette. Sons Jesse Jr & Jeffrey. Longevity with several family members 100+ yrs old, the Lopez’ are movie star handsome and university smart. As a child Jesse spoke Spanish at home, one of only four Mexican families in Bell.

CCC-jesse-lopez-michelle-09Jesse at age 11 with his first pony.
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We talked several occasions at his rooster ranch in Riverside County, CA sitting on stacks of fifty pound chicken feed bags with hundreds of roosters crowing in the ambient background. This farm is virtually pristine and ordinate due to Jesse’s lifelong conscientious and rigorous work schedule. He’s built many cars, homes, businesses, and farms.

“When I was eleven years old I was already into cars. I’d pump my bike and hang out at Bell Auto Parts. You can imagine the sensation when here comes Pop Evans, Connie Weidell, Phil Cook, Phil Weiand, Vic Edelbrock, Clay Smith, Jack Kukura, all these guys pulling in, and they’d be in A V-8’s and T V-8’s and I’d be on my bike. Right where I grew up in Bell. That’s how I got started. ‘Richard’ is the guy that taught me how to drive after I bought my first ’29 roadster pickup without the bed, so it’s my son’s middle name.” 


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Johnny Zaro, Dick Carter, and Jesse all went to Bell High School those days. Nick Matranga and Marcia Campbell went to John C. Fremont. “Huntington Park used to be the cleanest safest town, now it’s bad. We were the tough guys then and we were the champs on our high school sports companies. Back then people were honest, you didn’t worry about locking your car or your house.” In high school he was steadily in gymnastics, football, and track. He weighed 141 lbs at 6’, the slimmest in the varsity line of 200 lb+.

CCC-jesse-lopez-michelle-10Jesse was very active in High School Gymnastics.
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CCC-jesse-lopez-michelle-11Jesse with his High School Football tam. Jesse is on the far left with number 59.
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CCC-jesse-lopez-michelle-12Jesse in action during High School Football team practice.
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CCC-JL-High-School-Graduation-1947Jesse’s 1947 High-School Graduation photo.
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“Us guys got together three, four times a week with our cars at the Lynwood Clock drive-in at Atlantic and Imperial. George liked to ride shotgun with Buzzy, a street racer, in his ’29 with a Cad engine, a hell of a runner. Sam was the craftsman and painter. George mostly handled the business administrations, and kept everyone straight. I wish I had the lead paddle today. Everyone’s car was worked with that.”

He met George Barris at the first ever SCTA Hot Rod Exposition show at the Los Angeles Armory in January 1948, featuring George’s ’41 Buick. The hood on the Buick was opened and he had the door open on the left side revealing the interior, all roped off. In line straight eight with chromed valve cover and dual carbs hanging on to it. He says, testing young George, “How much to paint a ’32 roadster? It’s pretty cherry.” “Well, it’s probably pretty cherry in your eyes, but I have to see it.” “OK…Maybe one of these days I’ll come down to see you…” “You do that…” So Jesse turns away with his high lakes speed embroidered on the back of his jacket. Then he feels someone poke him, “Say, are you a racer? You into speed?” “Yeah.” “You do mechanical work?” “Yeah.” “You see that Buick? It’s not running now. We had to push it in. We can exchange work, whatever. Be sure to come down and see me.”


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A case of the contractor’s house doesn’t get done, because everyone else demands first. So he did. He drove the ’41 Ford over to Compton for George and Sam to customize how he wanted it. “George was always respectful with me, not so to Nick or Zaro. And nobody better mouth off with him. We hung out at the Barris shop every day after work when I was doing a car, after work for hours working on the car, Sam would help. And at the drive-ins. The Wich Stand west side LA, the original Bob’s Big Boy Pasadena, so many in those days. I crashed with Sam a lot at his place a couple blocks from the shop. None of us ever drank beer nor booze. Most of us didn’t even smoke cigarettes. No pot. We were all pretty clean cut. We were dedicated to cars. And pretty ladies. We competed for both.”


CCC-jesse-lopez-barris-shop-earlyJesse’s Ford at the Back of the Barris Compton Avenue shop. Parked in front of Sam’s 1940 Mercury. Johnny Zaro’s ’41 Ford is in the background. This is an early photo when Jesse ran a set of single bar flipper hubcaps.
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CCC-jesse-lopez-michelle-02Russell Lenarz took this picture of Jesse and the Ford in front of Hollywood Track Turf Club in black and white, Rik Hoving later added the colors digitally.
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He started his ’41 Ford himself in 1947 when he got out of high school, stock original and cherry as could be, and it was finished at the Compton and 77th shop in 1948. Jesse decided on a club coupe over the short door, business coupe. He knew he was going to chop it before he bought it. He spent a few hours determining that the business coupe had two fold down opera seats, and the club coupe had a regular seat in back, and even though he preferred the business coupe he couldn’t make the top chop contour look right. That’s why Snooky’s and the others look different from his, because they have the business coupe. Fritz Voigt, AHRF Pioneer, built the motor in his ’41 Ford.

“I actually added the McCullough blower after the car was chopped and I decided to start drag racing with it. The car was too heavy and low to race, but I wanted to race it so I put the charger on it. I always had a large engine in it. I pulled out the stock ’41 Ford engine and put a 59AB block 3/8” x 3/8” stroker, Edelbrock manifold, Edelbrock heads. I raced in the street with this. I put the blower on for the drag strip, and ran it without the hood. Lincoln Zephyr gears in the transmission with the blower, we all used Lincoln gear boxes. I had to have a special made big radiator because it ran so hot, 4” core and 4” tank. One carb off a Buick Roadmaster with a large venturi to let more air in, Fritz figured that out. He built the motors for most of us back then. He did most of my engine work. He built engines for me well into the 50’s when I got away from flatheads into bigger engines, a Chrysler that was identical to one he put in his world record gas dragster. A ’56 Chrysler 354 cid hemi, I put it in a brand new ’56 Ford pickup, I was street racing it. Everybody went to Fritz, he was the big man for speed. Then we all quit because we didn’t want to go into the hi-tech fuel racing, not like our daily driver street racers.”


CCC-jesse-lopez-michelle-08This photo was taken just before one of the repaints. The rear of the car and the running board covers are in primer, possibly due to some repair work. If you look carefully you can see the McCullough blower on the engine.
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His car was painted ’47 Chrysler adante green Rinshed-Mason with fine metallic gold highlights, M & H in LA mixed it. At Barris’ they test shot a motorcycle tank for the curvature. “Sam sprayed it. Sam, George, and I developed the color together. I picked the chip and the guy at R-M mixed it.” Jesse stripped it and kept it in primer all the time he was at basic training because he was driving it back and forth routinely from LA to Fort Roberts.

“The lacquer paint back then didn’t hold up like today’s. The streets were really bad back then and we’d get chips in the paint and running boards. I was a painter so instead of spotting it I went ahead and repainted it and refined the color in nicer shades of green/metallic. I gave it the final paint job, a nicer lighter shade of the dark green with more gold flakes, I actually liked that paint color the best. Everything was experimental then, nothing was concrete, always wanting to improve, and they were constantly making things better.” 



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CCC-jesse-lopez-michelle-05Jesse and a pal at Basic Training in Camp Roberts in 1951.
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Yes, he was the first to build the taillights into the bumper guards, “I was good at doing plastic work and I got the bright idea to set them in the indentation of the bumper guard, about 1 3/4” x 3 3/4”, a small light fit into the back of the guard. I made the plastic formed and recessed to the shape with 1/8” grooves cut inside with a triangle file to reflect. It’s easier working with plastic than metal. I was the first one with that car with a lot of things, the chopping of a big coupe, the rolled running boards, the ’48 Cad grill had a custom curve to it since I took the bottom row out and dropped it down lower and smaller and made it a little smaller than the stock.” He was friends with the son of the Cadillac dealership owner, and they special ordered at cost a brand new ’48 Caddy grill. Again his idea to customize with this grill type.


CCC-jesse-lopez-front-close-upClose up of the front end gives us a good look at the front edge of the fender line, and the cut down 1948 Cadillac grille.
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He designed the front fenders by removing the chrome strips from the creases and filled them in with lead and made the fenders loop around at the end kind of ’46 style. “Sam helped me with the grill and taillights. I was a speed guy, Sam was the metal guy, so I got to be a pretty good metal man with what he taught me, it was my ideas but Sam did most of the work.” The Appleton 112’s were wired and worked, the spot handles were green Lucite to match the Lucite on the dash. The doors kicked open by buttons hidden under the rocker. He had a shut off switch to turn the juice off by putting his hand through the grill on the left, he always hid a little key there so the juice could be shut down. A stock latch unlatched the hood. He didn’t run casters, he just hit the driveway sideways.

“My dual exhaust stock mufflers got me pulled over by a motorbike cop. Dual exhaust was illegal even though I had stock mufflers. When he found out I had a custom car the judge gave me four days in jail. My dad said ‘No’ and bailed me out.”



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He put the Cad sombreros on later in 1949. Founding members of the 1948 KoLA club; George coined the phrase “Kustoms”, Kustoms stood by itself; Sam, Nick, Bill Ortega, Oren and Loren Breeland, Oren’s mom took care of the boys, Gordo, Fuzzy, Don Nassar, Carl Abajian, Richard Carter, Johnny Zaro, Al Andril, Buzzy. Jack “Fat Boy” Stewart, Paul “Snooky” Janich, Dick “Peep” Jackson, Hershel “Junior” Conway, Bill Taylor were a few years younger and came later, a different era. “Bob Hirohata’s nickname was “Walrus”. He came later, but I was pretty tight with him, he sort of idolized me, very proper Japanese, polite and smart. The guys would all greet me ‘Esele!’” It was the history making of hot rods and customs. In 1948-51 the whole gang, Johnny Zaro, Al Andril, Bill DeCarr, Dick Carter, Carl Abajian, George and Sam Barris, Nick Matranga, and Jesse would getaway in their customs on the holidays to Crestline and Lake Arrowhead by Big Bear Mountain. “Hundreds would watch us drive up in the ’40 Mercs, ’41 Fords, ’41 Merc, ’41 Buick, ’42 Ford coupe, and ’42 Cad. They’d be waiting for us. It was a spectacle!” They would also caravan to the legendary Balboa Beach Rendezvous Ballroom.

CCC-jesse-lopez-rendezvous-ballroomDifferent views of the legendary Balboa Beach Rendezvous Ballroom.
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“I wouldn’t dance, I watched my car. George would dance the jitterbug though. He could really slap leather. We’d get there late, like ten p.m. We were busy working on our cars all day, and Balboa was an hour out to get there. Looking sharp in our aviator jackets, Kirk Douglas spotted us one night. He was just getting started and he looked so familiar. He was friendly. He wore elevator shoes. If I could get someone to watch the car I’d go into the big ballroom. George always went in.”

The Trade Winds in Inglewood also had jitterbug contests on Tuesday nights. All the guys would go to see Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Louis Prima, the same crowd as the Balboa. “My friend Pete Werrlein shined Mickey Cohen’s shoes. Later Pete got the rights to Mickey’s story.” Pegged pants rolled twice and thick crepe wedged shoes were the So Cal style. Sacramento boys wore their pants pegged and straight down, so the So Cal boys did that too. All the fads; flat top and peroxide hair, t-shirts (undergarments weren’t acceptable in public), pegged Levi’s, tiny waistlines, started as So Cal beach style.

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“A lot of winning NASCAR Southern hotdogs had their cars built by the Drake Bros in Haywood. They got their speed parts from Bell Auto Parts.” “Me and Nick and all of us, we didn’t know, we didn’t take pictures. The only ones really taking pictures was Marcia and Russell Lenarz. His brother Dick worked at Bell Auto Parts for a long time. George got into it especially after he saw our cars on the cover of Motor Trend. Then he realized them pictures were worth something. Russell took the pictures of mine and all the cars in front of Hollywood Track Turf Club background. He’s the one that wrecked George’s ’41 Buick. That’s the guy that ran into the railroad ties.

Lenarz pulled the Buick out of the driveway and George got out. These envious guys kicked the side of the car in. That’s what started it. At the Lynwood Clock drive-in. (There was also one at Huntington Park, and the Bell Clock, my hangout, where everyone came to race. The last one built was at Lynwood. It was pretty big.) So anyways, George pulled in and these guys from Fox Florence kicked the side in. So George got out and tussled with the guys. I came over from the Bell Clock. Russell got inside the Buick to pull it out and drive around the back street across Imperial and turn left. He wanted to come back and didn’t know it was a dead end, and he plowed into it. He just wanted to get back in the drive-in loop. So they got me and my group to come over from the Bell Clock to get in a fight with those guys. But by that time the cops were there. Russ hit a telephone pole and stack of railroad ties laid long ways so they didn’t move when he hit them. George’s Buick was wasted. I’d say 1948.”


CCC-barris-buick-wreck-01George Barris 1941 Buick after the accident. George did however rebuild it, and updated the front at while at it.
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The Buick was George’s first notoriety car. The Cad was a ’42 Cad with a Carson top and had a ’47 grill. That Cad was a 1940’s GM Buick royal maroon color. This was George’s car after the Buick. He didn’t have the Cad long. After that he got the ’53 Lincoln Capri. Russell Lenarz’ widow Jacqueline informed me that before Russell & his brother Richard both passed in 2003, in a fit of Alzheimer’s Russell trashed every scrapping photograph of the cars, the kids, family holidays, vacations, & the house docs. He thought he was helping her clean up. “Russell worked for the company that made DMV cameras, & he worked at a photo lab. He was a professional camera technician.”

The Lenarz brothers attended John C. Fremont High School, same as Nick & Marcia. Russell & Marica, as well as accredited Hot Rod July 1950 Russetta dry lakes photog, Joe Lingrey, matriculated from the Smith-Hughes Vocational Technical Act photojournalism school at John C. Fremont, that resulted in many world class photographers (Life, UP, NBC, military, Hollywood). Joe reveals, “Taking pictures afforded me the cars I was into. I was using a Speed Graphic 4 x 5 format, that’s what I shot all the 1948-50 El Mirage posters with while still in high school. When I was sixteen my first deal was a ’36 Fordor humpback, then a ’34 three-window coupe, and then a ’48 Cadillac belden blue ’32 Ford roadster similar to Nitti’s that all the girls loved. I also drag raced my roadsters at the dry lakes and Saugus airstrip. Later at twenty-two in 1953 I shipped off to Pusan, Korea as a U.S. Army 507th Signal Corp photographer for sixteen months.”



Chapter 2

Jesse’s girlfriend from 1949-51, Florence, who was so beautiful that Lana and Janet had nothing on her, drove Jesse’s coupe around town. He wrote her a dear mary when he was drafted. She ran around with his sister Rose and waited for him. Alas, it was the late 1950’s before he settled down with Wanda and then again married Marlene. After Jesse’s car got sold he wasn’t into the shows. The only show that Jesse took his car to was the first Oakland show in 1950. Nick and Jesse missed the Oakland show in 1951 while in Korea, but George chaperoned their cars on the date, Nick’s in the official line up.

“Nick got drafted a few months after I did, I was finished with basic training and shipped overseas before he got in. I did infantry at rattlesnake infested Camp Roberts, CA. They sent us in to clean it up, sixteen weeks basic training. During training I drove my ’41 Ford coupe back and forth on furlough passes. I lost contact with all the rest of the guys when I got drafted. I was in the army and they were out having a good time. If I got to come home at all it was to visit my family or girlfriend. Us guys never wrote when we were separated. Nick’s mother was the only one who kept in touch and she’d send me letters, goodies, long johns, a very gracious lady Josephine.”


CCC-jesse-lopez-motor-trend-sept-49The September 1949 issue of Motor Trend magazine has a full page feature on Jesse’s Ford. Comparing it with a stock long door coupe showed the reader how much was done, and how incredibly nice the car had become compared to the stock Ford.
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“I was in Korea from December 1950 – February 1952, for a whole year. I made all my points (4 points a month) on the front line. So I got rotated in nine months and then stationed in Japan for a few months at Camp Youngans near Sendai our main headquarters. We were occupation forces. I started as first sergeant and finished master sergeant. Nick was wounded in 1952. I left Camp Y to go to Yokohama. Nick was already there a sergeant.”


 

CCC-jesse-lopez-1950-oakland-showJesse at the 1950 Oakland (National) Roadster Show.
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I was in the first Oakland Roadster Show in 1950. I’m standing with Miss CA and the trophy. So later I’m in Korea. The big So Cal DJ Peter Potter was a cocky young blood there, and it was his girlfriend after all. He was jealous of that picture. He’d ask me if I put the make on her. I’d say, ‘Aw man, she wasn’t very good looking.’ Small world. She had even sent me a letter saying, ‘Hello handsome guy!’ I showed it to him. Also the full bird colonel was a car freak and recognized my car from the Motor Trend article. I got pretty good privileges especially when I got to Japan. He’d call me up and says, ‘Sergeant Lopez, I want you to be here at 0600 with a jeep. We’re going into Sendai,’ all business like. I’d pick him up and off we went, hey hey. That’s also why I made so much rank, too.”


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Nick Matranga’s 1940 Mercury and Jesse’s 1941 Ford side by side. We can see the Road Kings plaque on the front, so we know Danny Lares was the new owner at the time this photo was taken. The side trim on the hood is still the short version, the way Jesse created it, later Danny added a longer trim piece on the hood. This must have been 1951, possibly not to long before Nick’s Mercury was totaled.
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CCC-danny-lares-1941-ford-01Danny Lares in his Road Kings car club jacket standing against the cherished ’41 Ford was forensically circa 1952.
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Jesse left the ’41 Ford to Memo when he went to Korea with instructions to sell it. George sold it in summer 1951 for $2300 to Danny Lares who later ran the Lions drag strip track. Dannny Lares worked at LADS (Lions Associated Drag Strip) timing association from 1955-65 as tech timer and official starter flagman, and was a founding member of Road Kings Car Club Long Beach. He went to post-Korea as an air support flier. He also passed away in 2003. A time capsule of relics belonging to Danny Lares has surfaced via his nephew George Lares into the dependable custody of Trace Edwards to be unveiled at his Long Beach Motorama Car Show this September 30, 2011, among other surprises Trace is diligently preparing. Danny’s not the one who wrecked it. He adored the car and chivalrously squired it at car shows and races, seen in his personal photographs in the good company of Matranga’s Merc. He sold the car for $500 to another guy named Stan Crabtree in the San Pedro area and Stan less than two months after wrecked the car into a tree totaling it.


CCC-danny-lares-1941-ford-03Danny Lares (with cap on) showed the 1941 Ford at many car shows in the early 1950’s. By now Danny had added the longer side trim on the hood sides, but the Barris crest had not been added yet.
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CCC-danny-lares-1941-ford-04Danny Lares winning another trophy, still no Barris crests.
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CCC-danny-lares-1941-ford-trophiesDanny won quite a few trophies with the 1941 Ford. No wonder, it was as stunning car.
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“Isn’t that funny though that Nick’s car and my car, among the best, and they both got totaled?” Both sold while their creators were sergeants in the Army and stationed in Japan after braving the Korean front lines. Although Jesse had other concerns when he returned from Korea and Japan, he is adamant that his car was totally wrecked soon after he got home. Jesse never met nor knew the guys Lares nor Crabtree. Lares probably avoided Jesse in case he would want his prize car back. “I would have heard about it if it was still around much after I got back fall 1952, so not too long past the mid 50’s. You’d think I would have known about it if it lasted into the later 50’s. We would have heard about it if it was fixed up. George would have known before me. He was into that car. It helped Kustoms get noticed. Many of us would have heard about it, nobody could have hid the fact that it was rebuilt, there were too many people involved.”


CCC-danny-lares-41-ford-1953This photo (scanned by Paul Kelly) has a 1956 development date stamped on it. But more than likely the photo was taken before 1955. The Barris crest was added on the cowl, by the time this photo was taken.
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The photograph of Danny Lares in his Road Kings car club jacket standing against the cherished ’41 Ford was forensically circa 1952, right with the three other photos from Danny’s scrapbook that show it flanked by the Matranga Merc and others. Perhaps the ’53 Ford pickup truck that is seen in the background of another outdoor show photograph was purchased in late ’52 or into ’53, and the date stamp was a tardy developing date, and the ’54 Olds seen in the upper right corner of the Thrifty drug store photograph had an introduction date Oct ’53 in CA? One can surmise that this last photographic evidence of the car would be late ’53 or early ’54, or in other words wintertime during the transition of those two years. The Thrifty car show was clearly in the wintertime as the folks are dressed for cold weather CA style. In any case I don’t think there is substantial evidence of Jesse’s car being around in So California much past the mid 50’s. Any allusions to it beyond that is a Jim Morrison sighting or Elvis buying Sno Balls in 7-11, or at least suspicious.


CCC-danny-lares-1941-ford-02From the Danny Lares collection comes this photo showing the Ford with the Road Kings plaque hanging from the rear bumper.
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Those cars had soul, and not just anyone can own one properly. It seems as if these cars, like certain cowboys’ horses, didn’t want to be owned by anyone else. Both Nick and Jesse had moments thinking they might not be coming back, and gave it all. “I did 75% of the work on my car, and I did a lot of work on Nick’s car too, I showed him a lot about engines and customizing. I helped his interest in racing and mechanical work. Who knew that cars were going to be what they are?! If I’d a known, Corvettes and ’Birds…” George Barris gets a lot of heat for taking credit where credit is not due, and some of that heat is justified. However, I can tell you that he was a skilled craftsman in numerous ways with myriad great ideas. Just one example would be his work on Nick’s car in addition to Sam’s, and his idea for the “pillarless” hardtop side window treatment on Nick’s Mercury. There are other examples we won’t go into here. George Barris was the maestro.

CCC-jesse-lopez-girl-friend-acapulco-02Jesse and his girlfriend Joyce in Acapulco 1954.
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After Korea, Jesse could be found lying on the beach in Acapulco 1954-55, “Like King Farouk, with Don Rackemann and Hershey (Hershel Conway). We made a trip like you wouldn’t believe. I ran with Joyce for on and off seventeen years, she was a good lady and I should have married her. In the beach pictures I was twenty-five and Joyce was twenty.”

Jesse and his brother, Memo, owned a Mobile gas station in the mid-50’s in Vernon outlier LA, “Lo’s”, they used to call him Lo. “George called me “Chili” or “Beaner”, I called him “Beaky Buzzard”. Jack Stewart said to me last week, ‘Remember old Beaky Buzzard, tee hee?’ I learned to rebuild racing engines and deliver parts after high school, and I memorized Ford parts numbers like a computer.” “Carl, X, and me were inseparable. We went to Mexico together, we went to Catalina, Crestline, and everything. But Carl and X got into a deal. X married Carl’s cousin, and X was mayor of Bell. So he got the license to build the first casino in Gardena and Bell. He got the Y involved and I told X, ‘Don’t get them Y into your love life, man, hey you got a problem.’ So he did. His cousin-in-law, Z, rolled over on X and X done two years for fraud. He had the casino 51%, he had it in his lawyer’s name. Z got tapes and turned it over to the feds. That’s how I got involved in X’s casino deal. He wasn’t supposed to go near the place.


CCC-los-gas-station-bell-ca-mid-50sLo’s Gas Station in Bell, CA in the mid 1950’s. The Gas Station Jesse and his brother Memo ran for some time. 
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CCC-jesse-lopez-wife-mid-1950s2A well dressed Jesse with his wife in the mid 1950’s.
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My name got involved so the feds come to me, they thought I was on the Y side. I was out in the chicken yard feeding and these two FBI’s come up in suits. But one guy was wearing cowboy boots, ‘Hey man, you got some beautiful roosters!’ They were coming up and I sez, ‘Whoo…I got problems.’ They hung the badge on me and said they wanted to talk. Real calm. Real nice. ‘Hey, you know what, I grew up with the Y. Carl and I went to grade school and high school and ran around. I don’t like what they done to X and I want nothing to do with it. You do what you have to. But you’re in my house.’ And I had this big house, a mansion that I built in Azuza. And I had my dinner/night club in Azuza by Hwy 39 with live music, the Canyon Inn. They made some movies on location there. This was from 1980-early 90’s. A natural rock foundation and fireplace. I had the rooster ranch on a couple acres there. I sold it to Buddhists who made a monastery of it. They put a retreat in the chicken yard, right against the mountain with deer. The guy with the boots was sympathetic and they went away and left me be. But they had me on tape with that Y…”



CCC-jesse-lopez-56-ford-pickup-hemiJesse’s 1956 Ford pickup with Hemi engine. This 1957 dated photo shows the car how it was painted with the Candy Lacquer finish he had developed himself. Sadly this photo has faded and does not show the color to well.
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Carl Abajian died in 1986. He had the ’42 Ford coupe that Marcia Campbell traded her powder blue ’49 Chevrolet convertible for. Gaylord ruined the first interior on Jesse’s maroon ’51 Cad, Carson redid it. “Everyone said it was the most beautiful upholstery ever done. Imported German mohair, maroon and crème. I changed it with dual exhaust fishmouth bumpers and put a ’52 grill on it. The guy at Rinshed-Mason doctored it up with gold metallic. So many did our plush cars in that popular color. We didn’t have a lot of colors to go by then, and that showed up nice in the light.” The 1956 Ford pickup truck was first painted “Sam’s Maroon”, the 1940 GM ruby and Buick royal maroons dazzled with gold dust, the same color tricked for Nick’s and Johnny’s Mercs, George’s Buick, Richard Carter’s ’41 Ford convertible, Oren Breeland’s ’34 Ford chopped three-window coupe, and several others.

While Jesse worked at the Huntington Park Chanslor & Lyon auto parts and paint store, and built engines for his friends in the machine shop in back, in 1955-56 he developed a stabilized formula, involving DuPont toner red and viscous amber clear (measuring one small Minute Maid lemonade can of red to one gallon clear, the paint codes differ today), of candy lacquer to spray his 1958 T-Bird, and actually advanced the science of automotive paint. He gave the formula to George Barris who named it “Kandy Lak” in his line.


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“The first perfect candy went on my ’58 Bird. It was a perfect beauty. Simply customized, not like a too made-up woman. That car color drew more attention because the car style was brand new and the paint style was brand new. Nobody ever saw that before. A lot of others came after with that patent paint. I sold the Bird in late 1958 to Don Rackemann for his wife.”

What a doll. Content and forever young on his ranch home by a streaming lake, “I also built this house in Riverside County from the ground up. No contractors. I had to relocate because of the zoning on the chickens. I’d love to be at the ocean. We were body surfers. I don’t enjoy fishing, though, because after Korea I never liked to shoot or hunt. It did something to me. My car, Snooky’s car, Hirohata’s car had a lot done to them, so much more complicated work customizing and chopping than even Nick’s superb custom chop. Metal work, hard top chops, channeling, different grills and bumpers, fade away fenders, finessed chrome, stylish pleats and paints, a lot of work defines a custom. Engines define the speed.”

There is more…. much more, so…

Continue reading in PART TWO of the
Jesse Lopez Lo! & Behold story.

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Continue reading on PART TWO of the
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