History of the Chopped Top part 1

 

CHOP TOP HISTORY part 1

 

The most transforming of all custom body changes, if not the most beautiful, is lowering of the top. Better known as the Chopped Top.


One of the best known, perhaps most desirable Custom techniques of them all is chopping a top. For this CCC-Article I will concentrate on the history of chopping metal-tops from coupe¬†or¬†sedan¬†models of cars typically used for¬†customizing 1933 and up. It is generally accepted that chopping the windshields of convertibles and roadster style bodies ‚Äď with or without a matching padded top ‚Äď was done earlier than chopping¬†the metal topped coupes and sedan’s. The reason the convertible tops were done earlier¬†is obviously, the relative easy modification of removing a few inches from a ¬†straight¬†window pillar compared to removing a few inches from a cone shaped top of a coupe of sedan. But who was the first to tackle the coupe or sedan chop, when and where was it done first on a custom.¬†In this first part we will concentrate on the early beginnings of chopping tops, done mostly on cars from the 1930’s up to 1940, restyled¬†in the period till¬†around 1950.

Influences

I think it is fair to say that we most likely will never find out who actually chopped the first top on a custom. Customs as we see them are based on the 1933 and up cars. And as far as I have found out it took a few years before the first body guy started to experiment with lowering the top on one of these cars. So far the first chopped metal top custom I have been able to find was a 1937 Ford sedan that had a lowered and reshaped top to be a mix between a sedan and coupe. The top portion of the roof was covered with canvas making it looks a bit like a padded top custom, but it was in fact an all metal top. We do not have an exact date when this car was build, but from the things we have found it looks to have been done 1-2 years after it came from the factory. Sadly in those years not many photos were taken. The work done on the early customs was not considered to be very special, worth documenting, or even remembering. Still it is interesting to see how much we can find out, how far we can go back. And perhaps, or hopefully some of our readers will remember more and will fill in some gaps, and add details to the story.

CCC-early-custom-37-ford-sedan-a-drakeOne of the earliest cars with a chopped top we have been able to find was an 1937 Ford sedan with a cut down and vinyl wrapped top. We are not 100% sure when this car was chopped, but it was most likely in either 1937 or ’38. More photos of this car can be seen¬†HERE.
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Coach-building and design studies
There are several direction we can look at that inspired the early custom car builders to start chop the top on cars. One of the directions is the design sketches from designers from the 1930’s. Both¬†independent¬†as well as those working for the big car¬†companies. The design sketches made to find directions the next model was hinting to were often drawn with low stance, long wheel-base, and small size windows with low tops. This way the car looks more sinister, longer, more powerful, faster, and above all more attractive. When the designs were approved the design was mostly adapted to the real life situation and more than often the request was to create an automobile in which the owner could keep his hat on, demanding¬†a tall top. The beautiful design sketches however did have its influence, and the designs¬†on them were often combined with the real life cars¬†for the sales ads, and brochures, to make the cars look more¬†attractive.

CCC-chopped-top-history-art-ross-designsArt Ross created many design sketches for the Duesenberg and other high end automobiles in the mid 1930’s. Many of his sketches show car bodies, coupes and sedans with vary small side windows and raked back windshields giving the designs a what we now would name a chopped look. Many other designers¬†came up with similar chopped top designs in the mid to late 1930’s.
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Cars that did not have to meet public standards were Coach-build cars. These however were mostly based on high end cars, like Duesenberg, Packards and Cadillacs. When these cars were special ordered by the mostly rich clients, the finished looks were often more important that the practical effect of the cars. Designers working with the Coach builders could create new more streamlined roof tops, much lower and more atractive than the production stylist from the bigger car companies. The Coach-builders only had to please one client. In was in the early/mid 1930’s that these coach-builders started to come up with cars with smaller windows, leaned back windshields and more streamlined rear portions of the roof.

Since the car¬†bodies¬†were mostly build from scratch we cannot really call these chopped cars, but they sure had the looks of what we later would call chopped cars. These low roofed streamlined cars looks so wonderful, and must have influenced many young car enthusiast in the mid to late 1930’s. Most of this coachbuilding happened in sunny California where the people were more car loving than in other parts of the US at the time. One of the reasons was of course the great all year round weather, but also the great new roads that did not¬†suffer from strong winters causing many holes and bad surfaces.¬†However the year-round decent weather in California did not make the choice of a coupe or sedan to be your next Coach-build or Custom a logic step. Perhaps financial reason might have played a roll in choosing a sedan or coupe, which were cheaper than the more desirable convertible and roadsters.

CCC-chopped-top-history-b-s-32-duesenburgThis Duesenberg was originally built in 1932 as a short-wheelbase four-door sedan. The owner Dr. Seeley Mudd sent the car to Bohman & Schwartz for a complete new body. it was finished with the new chopped looking top inn 1937. The design of the car employed aerodynamic principles that were only experimental in the 1930s. Body panels were covered with leather-like Zapon cloth.
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CCC-chopped-top-history-LeBaron-LincolnThis is what LeBaron came up with in 1937 when they did coachwork on a Lincoln Model K chassis. It looks very much like an oversized chopped 1935 Р36 Ford 3w coupe. (thanks Per Webb)
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CCC-chopped-top-history-phantom-corsairBohman & Schwartz also created the Phantom Corsair. This very streamlined car finished in 1937 had a wonderful chopped like roof and small windows.
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Sales Illustrations
Another influence for the first chopped tops on customs most likely were¬†the sales ads and car brochures created for the mid/late 1930’s cars. In this period, up to the late 1940’s (and even later) most of the car magazine ads and sales brochures used illustration of the cars rather than actual photos. One of the reasons to do this was that it was easier to slightly alter the cars in the illustrations to make them look longer, lower, more attractive than in a photo. Today all this is done in Photoshop, but back then creating an better than real life illustration was the way to go. Many of the¬†illustrations used back then show cars with a much lower top than the actual production car. The low top gives the car a much longer, and lower appearance, which makes the car look more attractive than when the illustrator showed¬†the actual height of the top. Most likely this lower look must have influenced the young car-builders from the late 1930’s early 1940’s in experimenting with the cut down tops.

CCC-chopped-top-history-car-ads-01This sample shows an ad for the 1935 Ford coupe and the 1936 Ford sedan. Both image illustrations show the cars with a much lower top than the actual production car. The low top give the car a much longer, and lower appearance, which makes the car look more attractive in these sales ads than when the illustrator had used the actual height of the top.
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Padded topped convertibles
The Carson Top Shop created the padded Frensh top design in 1935, and around 1937 the first chopped padded top was produced by the Carson top shop. We will come back on the chopped padded top in a separate article at a later time. As mentioned before lowering a convertible top was a lot easier than to lower an all metal top. But the looks of these lowered padded toped customs might have inspired the first person to lower the top on the metal top cars.

Carson Top Shop

Dry lake racing
In the early 1930’s there were a lot of young guys who took their model A’s to the California dry lakes to go racing on the immense lake beds that turned out to be absolutely perfect to go fast, and faster. Some of the cars racing there had cut down windshields to reduce air flow and make the cars faster. Some of these cars even had their convertible tops cut accordingly creating a nice low profile. The lowered windshields gave these cars a whole different, more tougher, longer, powerful look. This looks most likely helped some of the customizers later on when they started to think about lowering the top on their metal top coupes and sedans. Perhaps at first to use them on the dry lakes to increase¬†speed, and later for the looks.

CCC-chopped-top-history-35-ford-ed-hagthropEd¬†Hagthrop’s chopped 1935 Ford Coupe at one of the mid 1940’s dry lake events.¬†
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About chopping tops in early publications

The earliest publications I have been able to find listing the lowering of the top on¬†Custom Cars technique dates back to¬†1944. Dan Post published a series of typed “Mimeographs” in the 1940’s names Remodeler’s Manual for Restyling your car¬†Informal Notes and Observations of Body Alterations to Bring Your Auto Lasting Style. The first one of these was published in 1944. The technique was however not named Chopped Top yet, at least not in the publications. It was named Lowering Hard Tops, meaning metal tops in contrast to lowering convertible tops. The first time the technique was named Chopping Tops¬†was published¬†in 1949 as far as I have been able to find it. Edgar Almquist also produced a series of Custom Styling Manuals, and the first one he did in 1946 has a nice write up on the technique as well. As far as I have been able to find out the name Chopping Tops¬†has been used since around 1946, perhaps even earlier, but the first time it can bee seen used is on the early photos of the Barris Compton Avenue shop from around 1946.

CCC-chopped-top-history-dan-post-1945-01The first time chopping the top on customs was described in a¬†publication was, as far as I have found out, the Dan Post Remodeler’s Manual for Restyling your Car first published in 1944. The above sample comes from the 1945 version of this manual which had a few minor corrections added. The technique was not yet listed as “chopping”.
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CCC-chopped-top-history-Almquist-1946-01Edgar Almquist published a series of Custom Styling Manual’s in the 1940’s. In the 1946 edition of this Manual he described the Lowering Metal Tops technique. The picture 9 mentioned in the text showed a Barris build 1941 Chevy coupe with filled in rear quarter windows. We will discuss this car in part two of this series.
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CCC-chopped-top-history-dan-post-1947-03This written description of cutting down the top comes from the 1947 Dan Post “Master Custom-Restyling Manual”. The “Photo 10 mentioned in the text is shown below.
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CCC-chopped-top-history-dan-post-1947-01Photo 10 in the¬†Dan Post “Master Custom-Restyling Manual” shows a 1934 Ford Vicky with chopped top, an unknown Mopar sedan in the back and an unknown 1939-40 Mercury coupe with chopped top very vague in the foreground. It appears that the Mercury coupe in the foreground has the windshield raked back, a different technique than listed in the text.
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CCC-chopped-top-history-dan-post-illustrationThe Dan Post “Blue book of Custom Restyling from 1949 shows this illustration guiding the reader how to cut the top on a “hard-top” coupe. This is the first time I have found that the technique was named CHOPPED in a publication.
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CCC-chopped-top-history-george-barris-1950George Barris was interviewed for the April 1950 issue of Motor Trend magazine about Custom Restyling. This is what he said about chopping tops.
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CCC-chopped-top-history-barris-40-ford-chop-01A photo of a heavy top chop in progress on a Barris created 1940 Ford coupe was used to illustrate the Chopped Top technique in the April 1950 issue of Motor Trend magazine. The car in the photo has the windshield angled back a lot and looks to be far from finished in the back.
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CCC-chopped-top-history-custom-car-an-1951In 1951 Motor Trend magazine produced the first of the Custom Cars Annuals. Trend book No. 101. To describe chopping the top technique they used the George Barris text from the Motor Trend April 1950 issue, with more explaining added to it.
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CCC-chopped-top-history-dan-post-collageThis photo collage of customs appeared for the first time in the Dan Post Blue Book of Custom Restyling published in 1949. Most of the photos had already been used in his publications from 1947. It shows how few metal topped cars were actually chopped, compared to the convertible chopped and non-chopped cars.
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One of the things I have noticed in my research on the chopped top subject is that in general the chops on the early customs is less radical than those done¬†in later years, more towards the end of the 1940’e and early-mid 1950’s. The main reason for this I believe is because of balance. From the early beginning of customizing, at least customizing with the reason to improve the looks of an automobile, there has been the realization that the customizing needs to be done in balance with the rest of the car.¬†There is a balance between the amount of chop and stance of the car. Early customs usually had a higher stance, so¬†the top was lowered proportional. Later in the 1940′ the cars were often more lowered, which could be done because the roads got better. Therefor to stay in balance with the side view of the car the top needed to be chopped a bit more than before. Of course there are always exceptions to these rules. But over all the chop amount on the early customs was a bit less than later on.

Another thing that I noticed is that in most cases the cars that have been chopped have remained the drip rails. In some cases the drip rails were shortened and ended just after the door openings. But they were rarely completely shaped as we are so familiar with from the late 1940’s early 1950s. Another thing that I have noticed is that the early chops appear to be a bit more boxy, less streamlined than how they were done in the later part of the 1940’s and early 1950’s.



The 1936 Fords

From all the photos of the early chopped custom cars I have come across it looks like the first chopped metal topped body must have been a 1936 Ford. There are early samples of the 5-window coupes as well as the two door sedan bodies as chopped customs. It looks like, and I’m not sure why this is, that the now more popular 3-window coupe was not amongst the first body styled that were cut.


Santa Monica ’36 Ford 5-window Coupe
The earliest chopped Custom Car I have been able to find that can be dated with a license plate is an beautiful restyled 1936 Ford 5-window coupe build in the late 1930. I know of two photos of this car, and both show the car with 1940 California license plates. According Dean Bachelor who took one of these photos of this car has mentioned in the past that the car had been restyled by the Santa Monica Body Works company. We have not been able to find out anything about this shop, but most likely it was a regular body shop and the owner of the Ford might have requested the shop to perform the custom body work. A common practice on early customs. The car has the top lowered a few inches, well balanced with the stance of the car, not to much, just perfect.

CCC-36-ford-5-window-1941-02Santa Monica Body works restyled this 1936 Ford 5-window coupe in late 1930’s or early 1940 with a chopped top, removed running boards, smooth hood sides, narrowed grille and separate grilles in the front fenders. One of the most beautiful ’36 ever done.
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CCC-36-ford-sedan-mark-murray-00Mark Murray shared this photo of a¬†1936 Ford Sedan from his grandfathers photo albums. Mark always heard his grandfather say that this one might have been the first 1936 Ford sedan to be chopped. This side profile shows how much the top was chopped.Sadly we cannot see a license plate or date on the photo to help us identify it. It does look to have been done in either the late 1930’s or early 1940’s.
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CCC-chopped-top-history-murray-chop-progressMark Murray also shared these two photos of an 1936 Ford coupe getting chopped. Pretty rare photos, since there are not to many early photos of these cars getting worked on. These two photos were taken around 1948.
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Tommy Jamieson ’36 Ford 5-window Coupe
Howard Fall restyled this 1936 Ford 5-window coupe (below) for Tommy Jamieson in 1939-1940. The car is much more radical than most of the custom from this period. The body has been channeled over the frame and 1937 Ford front fenders raised so that the bottom edge would be level with the lower parts of the main body. The hood was replaced with an modified 1938 Ford hood, top chopped with vertical pillars and rather upright rear of the top. Custom made grille and sollid hood sides. The rear fenders are stock and use 1938 Ford teardrop taillights, the license plate is set in in the rear valance and the bumpers are replaced by 1940 Mercury units. Howard Fall painted the car two-tone green.

CCC-chopped-top-history-tommy-jamiesson-01Tommy Jamieson heavily restyled 1936 Ford 5-window coupe with chopped top in 1941.
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CCC-chopped-top-history-tommy-jamiesson-02Tommy’s ’36 Ford is an unique custom with a lot of restyling going on, especially for the time it was created. Notice how upright the rear of the top is. This was done before the streamlined¬†style would be favored.¬†
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Bob Fairman / Jimmy Summers ’36 Ford coupe
Bob’s ’36 Ford 3-window coupes with the full fade away fenders is one of the first chopped coupes I have been able to locate. Together with George Barris his ’36 Ford 3-window they both appear to have been build in 1941. We are not sure if it was Jimmy Summers who chopped the top on Bob’s Ford, or if he perhaps did it himself¬†or together with Jimmy while he worked in his shop. The chop on Bob’s coupe was a relatively mild chop, especially if you compare it with some of the others¬†like George Barris or Bob Pierson’s coupes.

CCC-fadeaway-fenders-summers-03Bob Fairman’s 1936 Ford chopped 3-window coupe with full fade away fenders was created when Bob worked for Jimmy Summers. The earliest¬†plates we have seen on this car are from 1941.
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CCC-chopped-top-history-36-ford-filled-windowEven thought these photos were taken in 1949, the car in the photos very much appears to have been restyled in the early 1940’s. The chopped top is rather square, with is further enhanced by the filled in rear quarter windows. From what I can see no part on the car is newer than 1941.
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George Barris ’36 Ford Coupe
The first real full custom George Barris created for himself was a 1936 Ford Coupe in 1941. It shows a typical Nor Cal style we often associate with as the Harry Westergard Style. Long, sleek, high small nose and a speed boat stance. However I do not think we have ever seen a early chopped coupe of sedan done by Harry Westergard. George chopped the top on his personal ’36 Ford a few inches, nothing really radical, but from the photos we do have of the car it looks to be very well balance. with the highpoint in the center of the door.


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Jack Calori Ford
One of the most influential chopped ’36 Ford’s ever is the the chopped coupe Herb Reneau created for his friend Jack Calori. It is another car done in the typical Harry Westergard style, but on this car we are not even sure if the owner, or builder have actually ever been in contact with Harry, nor any of the customs he has created. The Calori Coupe did however have a huge impact, and one of the reasons was because it was featured on the cover of the November 1949 issue if the Hot Rod magazine. A very popular magazine at the time. Inside the car had a massive three pages including an incredible x-ray drawing by Rex Burnett. The one thing a bit odd for a custom around this time were the black wall tires, but that was how Jack liked it, he was a Hot Rodder, not so much a Custom Car guy. ¬†The car was restyled in Long Beach California in 1948 by body man and good friend of Jack Calori Herb Reneau. ¬†As far as we know this was Herb’s first chopped top on n all metal top. Most likely the picture in this issue of Hot Rod magazine has inspired many young guy to start working on a chopped 36 Ford Custom all over the US.


CCC-chopped-top-history-calori-1949-01

CCC-chopped-top-history-calori-1949-02The set free photos and the X-Ray drawing show the real beauty of the car very well and how much impact the chopped top has on the ’36 Ford coupes.¬†
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Bob Pierson ’36 Ford Coupe
Another very famous 1936 chopped Ford Coupe was the one owned by Bob Pierson. The car was originally build as a mildly restyled street custom in 1947 But in 1949 it was decided to chop the top to enter it in a different category at the dry lake races. However the car was not only build to race, everything was made to look really good as well. Bob and Dick Pierson and Harry Jones chopped the top on the car. Harry was a body man from Inglewood who also painted their 2D coupe. The chopped top coupe was well traveled in SoCal in the late 1940’s early 1950’s.

CCC-chopped-top-history-pierson-bros-36-ford-01Bob Pierson’s 1936 Ford how it was originally restyled in¬†’47.¬†DeSoto bumpers, Appleton spots, a bull-nose, ripple disc hubcaps, and solid hood sides and teardrop skirts. (This photo was given to the current, 2016, owner of the car by Dick Pierson.)
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CCC-chopped-top-history-pierson-bros-36-ford-02By 1949 Bob drove the car around with a wonderful chopped top.¬† (photo from the Bob Pierson’s personal scrapbook)
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CCC-chopped-top-history-michican-36-ford-02We do not know when this photo was taken, most likely in the early to mid 1940’s. It shows a rather badly chopped ’36 Ford 5-window coupe with the rear quarter windows and roof top filled in from Michigan. The engine was replaced by a Cadillac flathead engine1
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Other early chopped customs

The 1936 Fords might have been the first coupes and sedans from which the tops were cut and lowered. But they sure were not the only ones. In the early years the FoMoCo cars however were dominating the custom scene. But from early one all year models ended up with chopped tops. Some model years turned out to be more popular than others. The 1939 and 40 Mercury coupes have been very popular candidates for the chopped top from around them mid 1940’s. The almost hard-topped looking top was extremely high on the coupes, making it look very odd, and a prime candidate for a haircut.

We have noticed that quite a few of the early chopped cars had kept the drip-rails in place. In some cases the drip rails were shortened, especially on the cars that had the rear quarter windows closed, which was another popular custom style in the early years. Most likely the closing of the rear quarter windows was inspired by the padded tops created for the chopped convertibles.

CCC-barris-dick-fowler-38-ford-01Dick Fowler’s 1938 Ford Coupe was another early chop done at the Barris Shop. The shop was done most likely around 1946. The amount¬†removed from the top was more than on most in this period. The car was also lowered a little more than other. And Barris shaved the drip rails on this one for an ultimate smooth look.
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Earl Bruce 1940 Ford Coupe
Earl Bruce bought his 1940 Ford DeLuxe business coupe on September 15, 1939 at Al Stuebing Ford on Cahuenga Blvd in L.A. According the story in American Rodder magazine he drove it straight from the dealer to the northwet corner of Melrose Avenue and Fairfax where Jimmy Summers had his shop. He ordered a full chop and filled quarter windows from Jimmy. There are also stories that Roy Hagy chopped the top on Earl’s Coupe for first owner Tommy Winship, not sure which story is right. The fact is that the car was chopped in late 1939 and the first images we have found of it are from¬†October 4th 1940 when the car was¬†filmed¬†at an scta event.

CCC-chopped-top-history-earl-bruce-01Movie clips from the October 4th 1940 SCTA event show the Earl Bruce 1940 Ford with the fresh chopped top and fog lights used as taillights. Notice that Bruce used a set of 1939 Ford headlights on the car early on.
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CCC-chopped-top-history-earl-bruce-02These two photos were take a little later in the 1940’s. It shows that the car was now outfitted with rear fender mounted Buick taillights. The headlights are now replaced with 1940 Ford units. Notice how small¬†and high located¬†the rear window is.
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CCC-chopped-top-history-earl-bruce-03This side view taken a little later, gives us a good look at this early chopped coupe top. The whole top has taken on a quite different shape than the stock top, and appears to have been stretched in the center. The rear quarter windows are filled in and the door top corners have been rounded. The drip rail was shortened to a few inches behind the door.
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Another early chopped coupe styled in a similar way as the Earl Bruce coupe was the Bob Creasman 1940 Ford coupe. Bob’s coupe was chopped in 1943 by Bob¬†Creasman and¬†the Brand Brothers Body Shop in Los Angeles. Four inches were removed from the top. The top was extend four inches to make sure the A-pillars and the rear of the top would line up after the top was lowered. The rear quarter windows were filled in, just as on Earl Bruce his coupe. Later in the 1940’s the car was outfitted with a set of full fade away fenders.



John Williams ’40 Ford Coupe
The Olive Hill Garage on Sunset and Vermond in Hollywood, which was run by Art Lellis and Jerry Moffatt created some very fine restyled customs in the early years. One of those cars was¬†John Williams 1940 Ford coupe that was chopped in either late 1939, or early 1940. The car was done really beautifull with some very nice well designed restyling including peaked hood, Lincoln bumpers, smoother body and a very good looking chopped top. Two photos of the car appeared in the first Custom Car annual from 1951, and show the chopped and finished car with 1940 California license plates. One other photo was used on the February 1949 issue of Hot Rod Magazine. Unlike several others John’s coupe was chopped with the rear quarter windows still in place.

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CCC-chopped-top-history-40-ford-coupe-01Unidentified 1940 Ford chopped Coupe from the Bart Bartoni collection (Don Montgomery books) is very interesting. The car appears to be mostly stock, except for 1946-48 Ford bumpers, a bit lower suspension, and a wonderful proportioned chop. It looks like it just rolled out of an 1940’s magazine ad illustration.
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Don Lee ’40 LaSalle
Don Lee created a few restyled cars for his clients. They do not really fit the Custom theme we discuss here per-see, but I feel they need to be mentioned here anyway. These were also done very early. The 1940 LaSalle shown here was done in 1940, and shows how the windshield remained stock height, but leaned back to create a lower roof prifile. The rear quarter windows had been filled in and the whole top smoothed. Don Lee also created a similar styled Cadillac based on a 1941 Cadillac Series 62 Coupe for Clark Gable and Carole Lombard.

CCC-chopped-top-history-don-lee-40-lasalleDon Lee’s 1940 LaSalle Coupe with chopped top and leaned back windshield. Chrome rock shields and teardrop shaped skirts. Created in 1940.
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Chopped sedans

The majority of the early chopped metal top cars were based on coupes, or coupe turned cars. The coupes and convertible body style was always a more¬†preferable¬†style, if you could afford it. These styles were a bit more expensive than the family 2- and 4-door sedans.¬†Overall the coupes and convertible had better lines, longer doors and a wonderful flowing top design, making them the number one choice for customizers as well. But there were also a number of good looking¬†custom sedans. I’m not sure if these cars were based on sedans because the owner wanted it specifically to be a sedan, or if that was all the budget allowed at the time. Either way, quite a few sedans were chopped in the golden years of customizing, and with great success.

There are a great number of samples of chopped sedans that have really great improved lines and have become stunning looking customs. And the plus of course is a lot of space inside, a comfortable ride for four or more. Chopping a custom sedan was most of the time a bit harder to do that a coupe. Especially if the rear of the body was slanted forward. Then often the whole rear of the car needed to be reshaped to flow with the new roof shape. But the end result, when performed right, looked stunning.

CCC-chopped-top-history-38-ford-sedan-barrisBarris Customs restyled this 1938 Ford Standard sedan with a heavy, beautiful flowing chop, smooth hood sides and Packard Clipper grille. The rear of the body had to be reshaped, angled forward to make it flow with the new roof shape. The work was done in 1946-47. These photos appeared in a 1947 published Dan Post booklet.
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CCC-39-40-fomoco-sedan-customs-02This great photo from the Bart Bartoni Collection (courtesy of the Don Montgomery books) shows a 1939 Ford 2-door sedan in the mid 1940‚Äôs. Wonderful early style custom with a heavy chop. The chop on this one appears to be a bit more “boxy” than the 38 Ford above. Most likely indicating that the roof on this one was actually¬†lengthened¬†with an added “band”.
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Eldon Gibson 1940 Oldsmobile
Eldon Gibson 1940 Oldsmobile 4-door sedan had been damaged in a fire when it was still brand new. Modern Motors, a Glendale, Ca. a Cadillac/Oldsmobile dealer, repaired the damage and lowered the top at the same time. To make this work on the sedan body the top was dropped with the B-pillars lined up. The top was not streched, and to make it all work, the stock height windshield was leaned back, and the rear window leaned forward, and the A- and B-pillars reshaped to make it all looks like it belonged there in the first place. The photos below were taken in 1941 in Downtown Burbank and shows how radical the car was compared to the other cars in the street. It was very unusual then, and still is today to perform a chop like this on a 4-door sedan.


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CCC-chopped-top-history-eldon-gibson-olds-02The Oldsmobile was finished in medium blue with dark blue on the top. The hood and truck where shaved and a set of teardrop fender skirts, stainless rock shields, and single bar flipper hubcaps added. 
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1939-40¬†Mercury’s
The Barris shop has played a huge role in the development of the chopped top. Early attempts sometimes worked fine, but we also know about quite a few of early chopped cars that just had odd proportions and could hardly be called an improvements over the stock look. However the Barris shop managed to get the looks of their tops always on the money. Sam and George did learn a lot from the work they did, and you can see a clear learning curve if you compare the early chops with the later one.

Supposedly¬†Sam Barris¬†chopped the first one around 1946 on¬†Jim Kirstead‘s 1939 Mercury. There are several photos of this car in progress, and the work done on the top looks pretty rough in the early stage, indicating the Barris Shop was experimenting and learning how to deal with the Mercury coupe top shape. In the early days the shops did not use pre-shaped panels like they would do in the later parts of the 1940’s. We know that sometimes the body man¬†would use spare body parts and shape those to fit the new lower c-pillars.

CCC-chopped-top-history-Kirstead-39-barrisJim Kirstead’s 1939 Mercury coupe is said to be one of the first, or perhaps the first 39-40 Mercury’s ever chopped at the Barris Shop. These in progress photos show how the c-pillars received a lot of cuts to be able to form¬†the metal into the right shape. This was clearly done before the Barris shop worked with the California Metal Shaping’s preformed panels to redo theC-Pillars after the chop. Notice how small the windshield was after the roof came down.
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CCC-chopped-top-history-bill-spurgeon-barris-01In 1946 the Barris shop restyled another ’39 Mercury, this time for owner Bill Spurgeon. The top was chopped, but far less extreme as on Jim Kirstead. The windshield looks to have been chopped just mildly, or perhaps it was even raised into the top. The rear of the top shows a very much factory line, just lower, and a bit more streamlined. But not blended in as much as would be done later on.
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CCC-chopped-top-history-bill-spurgeon-barris-02The back of the photo on Bill’s ’39 Mercury gives us a bit more info on the car, build in 1946, finished in 1947.
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Comparing the ’40 Mercury chop
On the 1940 Mercury’s we can do a good comparing using the 1940 Mercury of Johnny Zaro build around 1948 and the late 1940’s, early 1950 chopped 1940 Mercury of Nick Matranga. Both cars are based on the same 1940 Mercury Coupe, but have a completely different look and feel, and have been built only two years apart from each other.

CCC-chopped-top-history-40-merc-zaroIn progress photo of the Johnny Zaro 1940 Mercury. The work has all been done and the car is in primer around 1948.
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Below is an image of two 1940 Mercury’s, the top one is the Johnny Zaro Mercury, and the bottom one the Nick Matranga 1940 Mercury. The Johnny Zaro Mercury has a much more conservative chopped top. Very much styled along the lines of the original car, but then with a lower top and sliglty more streamlined with the rear portion of the top molded to the body to make the body and top a one piece affair. The chopped top done like this gave the car a completely new more aggressive look and with a low stance the proportions looked a lot better than original. To be able to get the side windows the right proportional size, the top needs to be chopped quite a bit, leaving the windshield very small.

The Barris shop learned from this, and when they did the 1940 Mercury for Nick Matranga Sam Barris cut the windshield less than the top itself, moving the windshield up into the top a bit. This way the windshield was now in line with the side windows. When Nick’s Mercury was restyled, it was the late 1950’s and the styles had changed and the urge for more streamlining made Sam experiment with the chop.¬†Sam wanted to make the top flow much nicer on Nick’s car than what he had done on previous merc’s. He used pre-shaped metal panels from California Metal shaping to create the right curves to make the top flow much nicer into the catwalk. The new shape of the top made it look like a one piece body, while the original top was a separate component separated with a small chrome trim piece. The low top with flowing lines gave the car a very modern look.¬†The Barris Shop¬†made it look even better when they replaced the straight side window posts with elegantly curved hand made chrome plated channels. ¬†The Nick Matranga Mercury is considered the ultimate chop for the 1940 Mercury, although in more recent years some of the high end builders have even improved on the looks of this. We will get back to that in the next part on the history of the chopped top.

CCC-chopped-top-history-40-merc-coupeThe stock 1940 Mercury Coupe had a hard-top looking rather high top.
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CCC-chopped-top-history-40-merc-compared-01Johnny Zaro’a concervative chopped 1940 Mercury on top, and the Nick Matranga streamlined ultimate chopped 1940 Mercury on the bottom. Both were chopped by Sam Barris at the Barris shop.
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Here ends the first part of the History of the Chopped Top article. We are far from done, there is a lot more to tell and share. The next article will cover the cars from 1941 and up that have played an important part in the history of the Chopped Top. In the meantime, please comment with any additional information you have on the subject, and if you have any more proof of early chopped top customs pre 1940. Please let us know and email Rik at the CCC.
Stay tuned for part two…


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36 Ford Sedan Customs

 

36 FORD SEDAN CUSTOMS

 

When you think about a 1936 Ford Custom you usually think about a coupe, a roadster, or convertible. But what about a 36 Ford Sedan¬†Custom? They make very nice Customs as well, and were already done back in the 1940’s



Don’t get me wrong, I love the 1936 Ford Coupes, Convertibles, Roadsters and Phaeton’s done as full or mild customs very much. But I also have had a soft spot for the 1936 Ford Sedans done as custom cars. I just love the shape of those long roofs and long side windows. And even the 4-door models look very nice as mild custom, and as we can see in this article as chopped top full customs. The popular body styles of the 1936 Ford have become harder and harder to find, and if you find one, the prices are showing how rare these models are becoming. I have seen several sedan’s, both 2- and 4-doors getting converted to the more desirable coupe and convertible models.

At the photo reports of the 2016 GNRS I was pleasantly surprised to see a brand¬†new full custom 1936 Ford based on an 2-door sedan model. And it looked really great. At the end of this article I have included several photos of this ’36 Ford sedan custom owned by Tattoo artist¬†Britton McFetridge. But first lets take a look at the history of the 1936 Ford Sedan as Custom Car.

CCC-36-ford-sedan-mark-murray-00Mark Murray shared a series of really great photos of a 1936 Ford Sedan from his grandfathers photo albums. There is not much info known about this heavy chopped sedan, but Mark always heard his grandfather say that this one might have been the first 1936 Ford sedan to be chopped. This side profile shows how much the top was chopped. It appears that the early version might have had a padded top section.
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Today the price difference between a 1936 Ford coupe, roadster or a sedan is significant, this difference was also there in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Perhaps not as extreme, but for a young kid trying to get his first car to customize it was cheaper to find a sedan than the other body styles.¬†These Sedans, the 2 doors were more popular than the 4 doors, especially when you wanted to customize them, were quite popular. They had the advantage of being cheaper, but also to haul a bunch of friends. Coupes usually had comfortable place for two, but with the sedans you could take at least three passenger, more fun. Most of the times these early customs started out as every day drivers. The owners would dress them up with parts for the local junk-yard, and some aftermarket parts like the fender skirts, spotlights, hubcaps, and smooth hood sides. A lot of these early customs had little of no real body work done to them. With the aftermarket parts and the junk-yard update parts, lowered suspension these cars became very attractive. Some of these sedans looked so good that at one point the owner decided to update them further with a chopped top, grille swap, sunken headlights, molded splash pans etc.


CCC-36-ford-sedan-mark-murray-02¬†Some time later in the 1940’s the car was updated with a new filled in roof, and the padding was removed. The stock grille was removed and replaced with an aftermarket Pines Winter-grille to which custom made horizontal bars were added. This front 3/4 view shows how mean the heavy chopped sedan looked.
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CCC-36-ford-sedan-mark-murray-03When the top was chopped it was lengthened to make sure all the pillars still lined up. Theroof insert was filled in and it looks like the rear window was not only chopped, but also narrowed. The wheels had a set of Calnevar Doll-Ups whitesides added. Those are large white painted beauty rings to mimic the effect of a white wall tire. These were particular popular in the mid 1940’s where white wall tires were hard to get.
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CCC-36-ford-sedan-mark-murray-04Later the sedan was repainted black, and a set of Lyon aftermarket hubcaps where mounts. The front bumper appears to be 1946 Chevy.
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CCC-36-ford-mark-murray-treeA later photo shows again different hubcaps and with a set of bumper guards added to the front bumper. The car was used for daily transportation, including vacation trips.
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CCC-36-ford-sedan-with-guyWho said 1936 Ford sedans don’t make cool Custom Cars? Great photo of this cool guy and his 1936 Ford sedan Custom. Most of the Customizing are bolt-ons, but they were all done nice and¬†tastefully. The stock grille was replace with a new metal shaped unit to which a 1939-40 Nash grille was added. Solid hood sides¬†and¬†1940 Chevy headlights were added. Appleton spotlights and teardrop shaped fender skirts are a must for a cool 1936 Ford Custom. The car rides on wide whites and ripple disk single bar flipper hubcaps and 1941 Ford bumpers with fog lights mounted on the front units.
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CCC-36-ford-sedan-1945-01Typical photo of a Street Custom 1936 Ford Sedan from 1945. Lowered, skirted, spotlights added, flipper hubcaps and updated with bumpers from a 1940 Mercury.
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CCC-36-ford-sedan-bill-gaylordBill Gaylord’s personal ride in the 1940’s was this nicely done1936 Ford 4-door sedan. Bill updated it with ’37 DeSoto bumpers, smooth hood sides, flipper hubcaps and beauty rings on black wall tires, twin antenna’s and dual spotlights.
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CCC-36-ford-sedan-with-guysI wish we had more photos of this nicely chopped 1936 Ford 2-door sedan to show. It appears to be perfectly balanced with a really nice chop, lowering, later model¬†Ford bumpers and single bar flipper hubcaps and white wall tires in the mid 1940’s. The guys in the photo make this one really special, but it would have been nice if there was a second photo showing only the car, so that we could see the nice chopped top profile… perhaps one day it will surface.
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CCC-36-ford-sedan-eddie-hemryAnother, very nicely done chopped 936 Ford 2-door sedan  was one owned by Ramblers of Long Beach club member Eddie Hemry in 1949. Eddie had traded his 1940 Ford coupe for this chopped sedan in 1949 originally owned by Bobby DeMarco. After Ed sold it a few years later he never saw it back.
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CCC-36-ford-sedan-chopped-4-doorIt was rather common to see mildly restyled 1936 Ford 2 and 4-door sedan’s back in the 1940’s, but it was rather rare to see a heavy chopped four door. This one as photographed by Gene Winfield around 1949. The car was beautifully chopped, lowered, skirted and dressed up with aftermarket Sombrero hubcaps.
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CCC-36-ford-sedan-Jay-EverettAnother chopped four door sedan was created by Jay Everett in the later part of the 1940’s. The body customizing on this one was more extreme than on the one pictured above. Jay filled in the rear quarter windows, and most likely used a second set of front doors to reshape the rear portion of the rear doors. The B-pillars were moved inboard for a more hard-top or convertible look. Running boards removed and fenders reshaped. Molded in splash pans, solid hood sides and a Packard clipper grille and 1946 Chevy bumpers. Quite a radical custom for its days, especially based on a four door sedan. (photo courtesy of Rod & Custom magazines)
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A few more samples of 1936 Ford sedan customs from the 1940’s.¬†
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CCC-36-ford-sedan-art-chrismanWell known Art Chrisman customized his 19364-door sedan in the late 1940’s and used a 1940 Ford grille, 1948 Ford bumpers and a molded in splash pan for his daily driven cruiser. He made it into the March 1951 issue of Hot Rod magazine with the ’36.
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CCC-36-ford-sedans-jack-cooper-01Jack Cooper’s 1936 Ford was created in 1950 and was entered in the first Detroit Autorama in 1951. Beautiful mild restyled with molded splash-pan, 1948 Ford bumpers, smooth hood-sides and a spectacular (for 1951) plexiglass roof insert.
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CCC-36-ford-sedans-jack-cooper-02Jack Cooper’s Ford at the Detroit Autorama.
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CCC-36-ford-sedan-Jack-CooperThe great thing is that Jack Cooper’s old 1936 Ford 4-door sedan custom is still around today. Now completely restored. Somewhere along the line a set of lake pipes was added, I think it looked better in the early version without the pipes.
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CCC-36-ford-sedan-1956-rotenJim Roten photographed this nice 1936 4-door around 1957 at a local (Chico California area) drag-strip parking. 1940 Oldsmobile bumpers, wide white wall tires and four bar lancer hubcaps are not the most usual combination, but in this case it works well.
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CCC-36-ford-sedan-80s-sedanButch Tucker from Mesa, Arizona had Ken Gartman transfor his 1936 Ford humpback sedan to his dream custom. The car was based on a Dave Bell illustration, who was inspired by Harry Westergard. The car was chopped 4 inches, used Chevy headlights molded to the front fenders and was finished in 1984. It was a big hit wherever it went.
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CCC-36-ford-sedan-bo-huffA recently created 1936 Ford Sedan custom is one that the late Bo Huff created for himself. Nice body work with molded in plash pan’s, sunken Chevy headlighs, Olsmobile bumpers and flush fit skirts, make this an very nice cruiser.
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One of my personal favorite cars at the 2016 GNRS was a 1936 Ford sedan owned by Britton McFetridge. The car was based on humpback sedan Britton had inherited from his father. Phil Cannon from Sacramento was responsible for the custom body work on this interesting 1936 Ford. Britton did not care much for the trunk section on the humpback sedan, so that was removed and the spare tire cover was recessed in the new smooth and angled forward rear of the car. One thing that makes this sedan really stand out is that when the top was chopped, slightly more in the rear than the front, it was not lengthened, like most others of this type are. Instead it was decided to lean the whole rear of the car forward, and especially the the back of the top above the beltline to meet with the lowered top. This created a new very interesting line on this 1936 Ford, nice and streamlined.


CCC-36-ford-sedan-mcfetridge-progressA few in progress photos show how much work had to be done to make the top flow this nice.
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CCC-36-ford-sedan-mcfetridge-02The reshaped trunk with recessed spare tire cover and slight angle chopped top create some very nice lines on this sedan.
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CCC-36-ford-sedan-mcfetridge-01Even though the car is bagged in the rear it has a really nice 1940’s vibe that I really like.
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CCC-36-ford-sedan-mcfetridge-gnrs-01This profile photo shows the nice flowing lines of the chop  with slightly more taken out of the rear than the front. The rear of the body was angled forward and the rear of the top, above the belt-line angled and reshaped to meet the new lower, therefor shorter top. All these body modifications made this body flow really nice.
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CCC-36-ford-sedan-mcfetridge-gnrs-04Tom Davison captured the great forward angle of the rear of the car. 
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CCC-36-ford-sedan-mcfetridge-gnrs-02The headlights on Britton’s Ford Sedan were dropped and molded into the front fenders, nice tough.
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CCC-36-ford-sedan-mcfetridge-gnrs-03Handmade flush fit skirts were created. The set in spare tire cover gives the car a really unique, almost coachbuilt feel to it.
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I hope that this CCC-Article about vintage looking 1936 Ford Sedans as custom might inspire more people to use these great looking sedans as customs. They look especially great as 1940’s styled custom cars. Both the 2 and 4 doors work very well, but the 2-door sedans have the best options I think. And Britton’s sedan with angle chop has shows that these sedans can look extremely sleek with the right body modifications. The perfect family cruiser in 1940’s style.


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1949 D & B Auto Sales lot photos

 

D & B AUTO SALES

 

Stan Baker visited the D & B Auto Sales car lot in 1949. He brought his camera with him and shot some of the amazing cars that were for sale that day.


In the later part of the 1940’s and early part of the 1950’s there were several car dealers who were specializing in selling used Custom Cars and Hot Rods. One of those places was owned by Don Britton and located on 8221 Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood California. Don advertised his Auto Sales lot in the early years of Hot Rod Magazine, and also in the weekly Motor Sports World in the early 1950’s among other places. Don ran an large ad in the November 1948 issue of Hot Rod Magazine. He had Tom Medley do a nice cartoon for it. The later ads were much smaller and only had text to advertise the Hot Rod and Custom Cars he had for sale.


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[box_light]Most of the photos shown here come from the Mark Murray Collection. Mark inherited these amazing photos from his grandfather Stan Baker. See more articles we did on the Mark Murray Collection here on the Custom Car Chronicle.[/box_light]


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This photo taken by Strother Mac Minn is included in the article because it shows the small wooden D & B office really well. We can also see in this photo that the whole lot was covered with colorful flags hanging from the telephone poles to the office building.
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In 1949 Stan Baker visited the D & B Auto Sales lot and took a dozen or so photo of the car he thought were most interesting. And interesting they are. This was 1949, and the car at the lot were a bit older Custom Cars and Hot Rods at the time. We see some very creative cars in these photos. Perhaps not all as attractive as some of the more famous one we know from the magazines. But we have to remember that most of these cars were built before any major car magazine featured Custom Cars. Most of these cars were build by builders inventing the style back then.  Stan Baker loved Custom Cars, as we sure can tell from these amazing photos.


CCC-mark-murray-db-lot-06-WChopped 1936 Ford 5-window coupe with blanked out rear windows. The side pieces of the grille were widened to make the actual grille much smaller, creating a much taller looking front end. The fenders ere reshaped to fit a pair of 1940 Ford headlights placed just above the 1941 Ford bumper. The rear of the front fender was also reshaped after the running boards were removed. The painted wheels with small hubcaps give this car an real early 1940’s feel. When was it originally built?
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CCC-mark-murray-db-lot-05-WThe rear of the 1936 Ford shows the reshaped front fender and the body extension to hide the frame after the running boards were removed. Interesting is that this extension is molded to the body, and not done as a separate piece as we normally see with this modification. Keeping the drip rail in place after the side window was filled in seems and odd choice.
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CCC-mark-murray-db-lot-04-W1938-39 Ford sedan with the running board removed and reshaped fenders. The hood sides were reshaped and welded into one single unit. The grille looks to be hand made from round tubing or stock. Early sealed beam headlights are painted body color and the 1941 Ford bumper sits on a custom molded in splash pan. The car sits rather high, like most of the early Custom Cars. Sitting next to is on the let is a near stock 1940 Mercury with small spotlights.
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CCC-mark-murray-db-lot-07-W(top and bottom) 1941 Chevy coupe full Custom with a rather heavy chop. The chop has a typical early style bulge shape at the back, and not the more pleasing flowing shape that came after the Matranga Mercury. All fenders were molded in, the taillights replaced with small round units.  The grille opening was reshaped and the top section towards the hood removed and replaced with shaped metal to be part of the body. It looks like the grille bars are from the original grille and the surround was hand made or reshaped from other material.
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CCC-mark-murray-db-lot-03-WWe already did an CCC-Article on this very nicely done 1936 Ford Sedan some time ago, but figured these two photos needed to be included in this article as well.
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Two ads from a series of ads that D & B used in Motor Sport World magazine (Newspaper format)
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CCC-mark-murray-db-lot-08-W(Top and bottom) 1941 Cadillac sixty-one mild Custom. Mostly stock, but with the hood emblems and ornaments removed for a much cleaner look. Appleton Spotlights and a new paint job. The top photo gives us a nice look at some other cars in the lot.
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CCC-mark-murray-db-lot-09-WThis one is hard to identify. It looks like a 1939 or 1940 Buick could have been the base for this custom convertible. A cut down grille from a 1946-47 Cadillac was used. Combined with a 1941 Oldsmobile front bumper. If this started out as a 1940 Buick then the headlights were repositioned., more outwards and lower thanstock. The interesting thing is that there seems to be a lot of work done on this car, but the windshield appears to be stock height.
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In the early 1950’s D&B owner Don Britten owned this Sam Foose sectioned 1950 Ford. The car was featured in several early magazine, although Don was not always listed as the owner. So most likely he sold his own car on the D & B lot as well.
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CCC-mark-murray-db-lot-12-WAnother photo taken by Strother MacMinn shows more of the colorful flags covering the lot.
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CCC-WesCollins1934FordRoadsterTRJ01This interesting color photo from the late 1940’s comes from the Pat Ganahl Collection. The Rodder’s Journal published his article on this car, the Wes Collin’s 1934 Ford in RJ issue 51. This and two more taken of the same car at the same time are the only color photos from the D & B Auto Sales lot I have ever seen.
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CCC-mark-murray-db-lot-16-WD & B Auto Sales had this half page ad in the November, 1948 issue of Hot Rod magazine. Tom Medley did the cartoon for it. (Thanks to Jamie Barter for the scan.)
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Resources / more info

  • Hot Rods & Custom Cars, Rare photographs by Strother MacMinn, ISBN 978-0-9661017-1-3
  • Rodder’s Journal, Issue #51
  • Hot Rod Magazine, November 1948
  • Motor Sport World, 1951 issues

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