A Day at the Barris Shop

 

A DAY AT THE BARRIS SHOP

 

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



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

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

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Unpublished photos.

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

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



Published photos

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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




(This article is made possible by)

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Nick Matranga Mercury

 

NICK MATRANGA MERCURY

 

One of the most Iconic Custom Cars of all time the Barris Kustoms Restyled 1940 Mercury Coupe for Nick Matranga was short lived, but made a huge and lasting impact.



In the past we have shared the in-depth article on the life of Nick Matranga by Michelle M. Yiatras here on the Custom Car Chronicle. It now is time to focus on just the car. The Nick Matranga 1940 Mercury.

The Barris Customs created 1940 Mercury Coupe for Nick Matranga in 1950, is together with the 1951 Mercury created for Bob Hirohata in 1952, perhaps the most iconic traditional Custom Car ever created. If a dictionary would have a visual for the description Custom Car, then a picture if Nick’s and Bob’s Mercury’s would sum it all up. Nick’s 1940 Mercury coupe only excised for a little over a year, before it was destroyed in a car wreck. Because of when it was created, late 1950’s and the lack of all Custom Car publications, the trend setting and inspiring Custom was never part of a full magazine feature in the magazines. Yet the Matranga Mercury has inspired countless of Custom Car enthusiasts all over the world to build cars similar or inspired by this famous Custom Car icon. In 1951 Dan Post published a new edition of his Blue Book of Custom Restyling and included were several photos of the Nick Matranga mercury taken by Marcia Campbell. There was no written info on the car, not even a mentioning of the owner, only that it was created by Barris. These photos must have had a huge impact on the Custom Car community in 1951 and the following years.


Dan Post used no less than 5 photo’s of the Matranga Mercury in his 1951 edition of the Blue Book of Custom Restyling. Iconic photos of an Iconic Custom Car taken by Marcia Campbell. The Post book did mention the car was a Barris Custom, but nothing on Nick as the owner. Later these photos were used again in the Barris Kustom Technique books published in the 1990’s.
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I think it is save to say that no other Custom Car has been copied in clones, or near clones than the Matranga Mercury. The Custom Restyling the Barris Brothers brothers performed, at their Barris Custom Shop, on Nick’s Mercury is pure genius!

When Nick Matranga was still in High School, the John C. Fremont High School in Los Angeles he started dreaming about the Custom Car he wanted to have. He loved the beautiful styling of the ’39 and ’40 Ford’s and Mercury’s with the wide and stylish grille and soft flowing lines of the fenders and body. Nick preferred the coupe body style and after comparing the Fords and the Mercury’s he decided that the longer roof of the Mercury, plus rear bench in the Mercury, compared to the jump seats in the back of  the Ford Coupes made the mercury more attractive to him. Also the fact that the longer wheelbase, and the softer body contours of the Mercury were much nicer than the same year Fords in his eyes. The overall shapes of the Mercury were very appealing to Nick, but that high hat top on the coupe looked so out of place on the very stylish lower portion of the Car.


No matter what angle you look at the Nick Matranga Mercury, everything always blends together and flows beautifully toward the back of the car. The use of the heavier ’46 Ford bumpers add a lot to the visual appeal of the car.
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Nick had seen several chopped 1940 Mercury Coupes on the streets of Los Angeles that had caught his eye. That looked much better than stock, still not as elegant as Nick envisioned for his own Custom, but he knew the ’40 Merc would be just right for him. From the Mercury Customs he knew some had been restyled at the Barris Shop on Compton Ave. including two nearly identical for Al Andril and Johnny Zara. And then there were a few others. But there were a few elements on all those Custom Coupes he saw that figured could be improved on. Around same time GM introduced the all new pillarless hard top models for Buick, Oldsmobile and Cadillac, and the beautiful window lines stunned Nick. He needed to do something with that on his dream custom.

Nick happened to be driving by a used car lot when he spotted a cherry low miles grey-green coupe. He drove his newly acquired Mercury straight to the Barris shop to start discussing the changes he had in mind. Before the bodywork on the Mercury was started the suspension was modified, with a dropped axle in the front and lowering blocks in the back, the rear of the frame was modified to accept the lowered rear axle, and the floor had to be modified with a raised drive shaft tunnel. Lowering the car at this stage made the work on the top easier. Now the top was better to reach, and more importantly the overall proportions when chopping the top could be seen much better than when the car had been left stock height. Very important since Nick’s Mercury would be all about flow, balance and proportions.

Fortunately there are at least two very clear side view images of the Matranga Mercury. Thanks to Marcia Campbell we can still enjoy the breathtaking side profile of the car. This one taken in late 1950 was first published in the Dan Post Blue Book of Custom Restyling in 1951. It must have inspired countless car enthusiasts. (Colorized black and white photo)
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The Chop

The chopped top on the Matranga Merc is what really sets this car apart from everything else restyled during the same period, or even decades later. According to some publications Sam worked over a year on the top, to get it just right. I think it just took a little over a year to get the whole car done. And we have to keep in mind that when these cars were created in the late 1940’s early 1950’s the cars were mostly the only form of transportation these guys had. And so was the case with Nick’s Mercury. So most of time during this year of construction, the car was most likely in partly primer on the road.

I have created an visual using the side view photo of the Matranga Mercury and a stock ’40 Mercury to illustrate what was done to get the top looking this good. After having chopped a few ’39-40 Mercury Coupes before, using mostly the original top metal, Sam used pre-shaped metal created by the California Metal Shaping company to create the unique looking top that makes this car such a big hit. Another key factor for the success of the chop on the Matranga Merc compared to other, is how Sam raised the top of the windshield around 1.5 inches up into the top. This allowed him to get the side profile low enough to be in balance with the rest of the car, and still have enough windshield space to make the car drive-able. If you compare this with the earlier Mercury’s from the Barris Shop, like the Andril and Zaro Merc, those had very small windshields, which were out of proportion with the side windows, and making it hard to drive the car in traffic.



After having discussed the style and looks Nick was after for his Mercury with both George and Sam Barris it was time to get started on the chop. Just as Sam had done previously on the Al Andril and Johnny Zaro Merc’s, he started the process with completely removing the B-pillars on the Merc. Then cut the rear of the top at the lower edge, and the A-pillars at the most straight section. Nick mentioned that the car was chopped 6 inches in the front (some publications mention 5 inches), the top of the windshield was raised into the top, perhaps a bit more than an inch, to make the windshield opening a little larger, and more in proportion with the side windows. This was something Sam had learned from chopping the Al Andril and Johnny Zaro 1940 Mercury’s. At the back they just let is sink in between the body until the side profile of the windows as well as the top look perfect to them. The graphic of the Mercury side views, further down this article, showing how the top was chopped, visualize how much more the rear of the top came down, compared to the front. During this time Sam removed the drip rails, for a more smooth look.

When the rear of the top came down so much, automatically the rear corner of the rear quarter window moved forward. Making the side window opening much shorter than on the stock Mercury. With no B-pillar in place this looked really stunning. While maneuvering the top of the car till the flow of the top was perfect, and enhanced the main body shape as well as rear fenders, Sam tacked it in place. Nick absolutely loved the new pillarless look and told Sam and George they had to come up with a solution to make this work somehow, since the B-pillars were not going back into the car.

This illustration shows how much impact the chop on the Matranga Mercury has on the looks of the ’40 Mercury. Image A) shows how the car, with all the other modifications would have looked if the top had not been chopped. Image B) shows the difference between the stock ’40 Mercury roof and the chopped Matranga top with ghost images and outlines. Image C) shows how the stock top was dropped, and rotated to create a lower in the rear roof line for more pleasing effects. It also shows that dropping the top resulted in the now much shorter quarter windows. (blue vertical lines) The image also shows how much the rear section of the top was reshaped for the best results, and how the stock location of the rear of the roof is now related to the flowing transition from top of the trunk to the actual roof. Image D) shows the finished Matranga Merc profile.
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At that Point George started to bend some steel bars to get a feel of what the best shape would be to replace the vertical B-Pillars on the Mercury. Eventually they came up with a beautiful radius on the B-pillar window channel that flew just right with the shape of the top, mimicked the front section of the door window channel and gave the car that spectacular continues flow front front to rear look and feel. The side window frames was created from 3/8 channel, welded, smoothed and eventually send out to be chrome plated. Its especially this new side window shape that really sets the car apart from everything else created around that time. It made the car look fresh, modern like the newest GM Hard-top models, but even more streamlining than those. It looked even better than Nick had ever hoped it would look. With the side window shape determent, Sam Barris set out to reshape the rear of the roof to fit the new window shape, as well as flow with the rest of the body.

After several tires they finally knew what to do to get it right, and pre-shaped panels were created at the California Metal Shaping company and welded in place. What is so unique about the shape of the rear of the top on Nick’s Mercury is the slight bulge at the back, just above the top of the rear window. Designed almost like if the people in the back needed to have sufficient head room as well. It is that bulge, which we also can see on the Jesse Lopez Ford, as well as a few other Barris Customs, that makes the overall flow of the Matranga Mercury work so well.

On Jesse Lopez Ford this shape was created because Jesse loved the shape of the Carson Topped ’41 Ford so much. So perhaps this idea for the roof shape was also the main inspiration on Nick’s Mercury. In any event, adding the slight bulge shape at the rear of the top helps keeping the roof look like a coupe and adding the needed “kick” for the eye when following the side window shape. Jesse had asked Sam to reduce the height of the rear window on his ’41 Ford, to be better in balance with the side windows. Sam really liked this and he did the same thing on Nick’s ’40 Mercury. He took a few inches out of the height of the rear window before he placed it back into the new lowered roof. This way the rear window fits much better in line with the side windows than the stock unit would have been.

Close up of the window channel the Barris Brothers created. for Nick’s Mercury. The new shape was totally unique, and enhanced the shape of the top, as well as the fenders and main body. After the Matranga mercury was destroyed in an accident in early or mid 1952, the Barris Brothers used the same shape of windows of the 1951 Mercury they created for Bob Hirothata.
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The roof of the stock ’40 Mercury is separated with a small strip of stainless steel, making the top look like a separate unit. On previous Custom Mercury’s like the Al Andril and Johnny Zaro Merc Sam already had  figured out hos much smoother the top looked if that strip was eliminated and the roof section was blended smooth with the turret panel. So that was also so done on Nick’s Mercury, and the blending was done with an even softer radius than the cars Sam had worked on before. The factory rounded top trunk corners helped the flow of the turret panel into the roof even more.

The rest of the body work on Nick’s Mercury was rather straight forward, and something the shop had performed multiple times on other customs cars. Like the nosing, decking and the molding of all four fender. But it perhaps never had looked so good as on Nick’s mercury, where it was balanced out with that super flowing top. Sam had to modify the hood latching mechanism in order to remove the hood ornament. Nick insisted of keeping the stock grille, and even the stock eyebrows mounted at the bottom of the hood front, just above the grille. He also wanted to keep the original heavy hooded chrome headlight bezels. He loved the design on those, and he was so right about that. Nothing would have looked more in place than these original elements. Sam did however shorten the side trim on the hood, which now starts at the center of the front wheel opening. This optically puts a bit more weight on the rear of the car.

To enhance the flowing lines of the top, Nick wanted to removed the taillights from the fender and mount them, just like Jesse Lopez had done before him, in the bumper guards. They chose to use a set of 1946 Ford bumpers for the car. These bumpers are a bit heavier in appearance than the stock Mercury units, giving the car a bit more weight, and the round shape with the small lip at the top really helps with the flow, front to rear. The stock ’46 Ford bumper guards have a beautiful art-deco shape and are absolutely perfect for creating bumper guard taillights. Jesse Lopez showed Nick how to create the taillights. The bumper guards were mounted in such a way that they flow with the lines of the trunk when looked from behind. The rear of the Stock 1939-40 Mercury kind of stops abrupt into this gap that is left between the body and bumpers. It makes the car look short. So to not loose the momentum of the flow from the top to the trunk Sam decided to use a gravel shield to fill the gap. He welded the gravel shield of an ’46 Ford, and molded it nicely into the body with a similar smooth radius as that was used on the rear fenders, making it look like it came from the factory that way. And integrated the rear bumper a d made it part of the overall design of the car


Two 1940 Mercury’s, the top one is the Johnny Zaro Mercury, and the bottom one the Nick Matranga 1940 Mercury. The Zaro Merc has a much more conservative chopped top. Very much styled along the lines of the original car, jts a few inches lower and slightly more streamlined with the rear portion of the top molded to the body to make it 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 stock. 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. On the Matranga Merc this was fixed by raising the windshield up into the top. The rear portion of the Matranga mercury roof was shaped completely different from the Zaro Mercury, making it look much more modern.



To further enhance the flow of the car, Sam reworked a set of teardrop fender skirts to fit the mercury fender, that Nick had bought at one of the after market companies, to fit the mercury fenders. The door handles were removed to help clean up the sides of the car and again help with the flow, front to rear. To open the door Nick installed push buttons, that activated the solenoids to unlatch the doors, in the running boards, to open the doors from the outside. Inside he installed the buttons on the dash. The dash itself is a piece of art as well. Not really that much has been done to it, just cleaned up a little, and smoothed over completely before it was chrome plated. All the factory ribbed plastic components on the dash were copied in clear red Lucite another trick that Jesse Lopez helped Nick with. The red Lucite looked amazing mounted on the chrome plated dash.




Interior

The interior on Nick’s Mercury was upholstered by Bill Gaylord in dark maroon and ivory using DuPont Fabrilite. The maroon sections was outlined with ivory piping, and the all ivory headliner was a mix of rows of tuck and roll running length wise, outlined with maroon piping and plain ivory sections. The lengthwise design helping create more optical length inside. The carpet was done in dark maroon, and Bill made diamond shape floor-mats to protect the carpets. The section below the chrome plated dash was also fully upholstered in Bill Gaylord’s trademark diamond pattern upholstery. Nick bought a brand new 1950 Mercury Monteray steering wheels that Sam modified to fit the ’40 Steering column. Like most of the Customs created in this era Nick also had to have a set of S-552 Appleton Spotlights, were mounted at the Barris Shop. These Spotlights give the car the needed kick, or focus point at the front of the roof, all to help with the optical flow.  set of wide white wall tires were of course needed to help with the elegant lines of the car, and the most perfect hubcaps in the world, the Cadillac Sombrero’s were installed on the front wheels. Nick drove the car like this, in primer for a bit, before the next big decision needed to be made… color.

Carson MatrangaThis photo of the interior in Nick’s Mercury must have been taken early in 1950. If you look close then you can see that the dash is missing a few dash knobs as well as the radio, which are visible in the other photos of the interior. The simple horseshoe shape of upholstery on the bench seat looks very attractive with the ivory piping. There is no rear view mirror in the car when this photo was taken.
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This photo shows how the dashboard was now finished with the radio and the missing dash knobs in place. The red lucide panels must have looked spectacular on the chrome plated dash.
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Here we can see the specially made window frames, the chrome plated garnish molding, the beautiful Gaylord upholstery, including the diamond pattern on the panel below the dash, and that Nick had installed a rear view mirror by then. The ’50 Mercury Monteray steering wheel looks right at home in the decade older Merc.
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Taken at the 1951 National Roadster Show in Oakland shows how the B-Pillar section had a (rubber) trim section making sure the gap between the door frame and the rear quarter frame was covered in case of rain, or any other bad weather.
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Nick was not only looking for the very best in optical styling, he also wanted to have a powerful engine, that went as well as it sounded. Nick had an 1946 Mercury block modified by Phil Weiand. Who installed Weiand heads, intake and cam. Nick knew Phil very well and he gave Nick a good deal on the motor. Phil treated the engine with all the goodies and made it look really good and made sure it was reliable but also sounded really well.



1950 photos

Even though the Matranga Mercury was only around for a little over a year, there are still plenty of photos of the car. Showing how popular Nick’s car must have been at the time. To help identify the different photos and when they have been made we have split up this section of the article in 1950 photos, 1951 Photos and 1951-52 photos after Nick sold the car.

There are very few photos taken of the rear of the Mercury so these two photos from the Kurt McCormick Collection are very important. These two where taken with some time in between them. The one on the left shows the car without the rear view mirror. And the one on the right shows the car with the mirror installed and with the Kustoms Los Angeles plaque mounted below the rear bumper. These two photos are also giving use the best look at the chopped rear window, with its pleasing teardrop shapes. This last photo also show how nice the bumper guards follow the line of the trunk. Everything on Nick’s mercury was so well designed.
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Close up of the rear bumper in 1950 shows the bumper guard integrated taillights than Nick created with the help of Jesse Lopez. Notice the hole cut into the guard included the ribbed outer section of the stepped Art-Deco shape, and how that was reshaped into the Lucite.
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Nick had seen many of George Barris his beautiful organic paint jobs, using transparent toners, mixed with Venus Martin gold and bronze powders. So he knew George would do a find job on the car. Nick picked a 1941 Buick Titian Maroon as base color. The Titian  maroon base color was a bleeder, it showed somewhat what was underneath. In a similar way as later candy paints worked. George and Nick spend many hours mixing colors, based on the Buick color, adding black, adding gold powders and spraying it over different base colors. The end result of the paint job was a spectacular deep dark maroon with highlights enhanced with added gold powder and sections lower on the body that had more black showing thru the paint. All this was done in a away to enhance the shape of the body of the car. And according to those who have seen the car in person, the paint was spectacular.

After George had finished the paint the still fresh paint job was carefully color sanded with wet sand paper. The it was left alone for about a month. This way the paint had completely set, and all the paint thinners had evaporated and the paint completely shrunk.Then Nick and friends color sanded the paint once more and did a final rub-out for the most perfect paint finish.

Nick estimated he had about $1800.- invested in the car. And the Barris Bill alone could have been much higher if he had not helped out with the built all the time. Usually Nick would go to the Barris Shop after his regular day job, and there he would work on the car, either alone, prepping the car for the next day’s body work, or assisting Sam who was working on the car after shop hours as well. Nick credits Sam Barris for doing most of the work on his Mercury. And how it was a pleasure working with Sam who was a fantastic craftsman and knew exactly how to realize the ideas Nick had in his mind for the Mercury.

1950 snapshots taken at Nick’s girlfriends house.
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Nick Matranga’s trend setting 1940 Mercury Coupe Custom was Restyled mostly at the Barris Bell Shop and later finished Atlantic Blvd Shop in Lynwood. Perhaps the very early work on the car was performed at the Compton Ave. shop, since the car was constructed over a one year period. Sadly so far no in progress photos of the Mercury have surfaced.

Possibly a local parking lot or perhaps high school outdoor car show shows Nick’s Mercury with 1950 license plates. Parked behind the Merc is George Barris’s personal 1942 Cadillac Convertible Custom.
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California Avenue South Gate photo shoot

Marcia Campbell took some of the most important Historic Custom Car photos that we know. Perhaps Dan Post hired her to do a series of photos of a few of the latest Barris Customs at the Hall of Justice located at California Avenue in South Gate. One of the cars included in this photo shoot was Nick Matranga’s ’40 Mercury. Perhaps the most famous series of photos taken from the Matranga Mercury were taken by Marcia Campbell during this photo-shoot. It are the photos taken at this photo-shoot that give us the impression that the paint on the car was not rubbed out completely, giving the paint on the car a sort of semi gloss feel. Perhaps its just an optical illusion, or it could be that George Barris understand the importance of Nick’s Car and insisted that it would be part of the photo-shoot for the Dan Post Blue book, despite the paint not having the desired high gloss. There was no antenna on the drivers front fender on the car when these photos were taken.

3/4 front view with the hall of Justice building in the background.
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Near perfect side view scanned from the original photo proof sheet taken from the original negatives by Marcia Campbell.
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Colorized black and white photo give somewhat an impression how the rear Matranga Merc might have looked in color.
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Nick posing proudly with his 1940 Mercury. Most likely this and the other pictures taken at this location by Marcia Campbell were taken not all that long after Nick’s Mercury was finished.
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Enlarged section of the front 3/4 photo shows the Mercury in all its beauty. Notice that there is no rear view mirror mounted yet, so these photos were taken shortly after the Mercury was done.
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1951 photos

If it hadn’t be for the Korean war, then Nick most likely would have never sold the car, at least not just one year after completion. Nick even had told David Zivot how he had plans to install an all new Cadillac OHV engine in the car. But instead Nick enlisted in the army, and left the car in his mothers Garage. George Barris was able to pick up the car in case he needed it for Custom Car shows, which he did for the 1951 Oakand Roadster Show (Feb, 1951), the Montebello Tent Show (and at the Hot Rod show in the LA Armory most likely in Jan ’51). At one point George Barris informed Nick’s mother that he had a buyer for the mercury, and after initial not wanting to let go of the car, Nick eventually agreed and the car was sold for $2500.- in September / October 1951.

1951 photo taken at the Barris Atlantic Blvd Lynwood shop. This high 3/4 front view shows how right Nick was in to keep the front of the car mostly stock, with only the hood cleaned up to enhance the beautiful Mercury shapes.
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Fremont High School photo shoot

Nick graduated from John C. Fremont High School And not long after that he started the work on his ’40 Mercury. In 1951 He went back to his old High School with his Custom Mercury for an set of historically important photos. We are not 100% sure about the photographer who took these photos at the High School, but most likely it was Marcia Campbell who took them. By then Nick had installed a radio antenna on the drivers side front fender.

The perfect dead on side view photo that has helped many enthusiast create their version of the famous Matranga Mercury. This is the one photo that really shows the beautful shaped roof line on Nick’s Mercury. Marcia Campbell was most likely the photographer.
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The front 3/4 view in front of the school shows that the car now has 1951 plates. From this angle it looks like the roof is flowing so smooth into the trunk area.
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Sadly I was unable to locate a copy of the complete photo taken from the rear 3/4, so we have to do with this zoomed in version.
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Perfection on wheels. Everything about the Matranga Mercury is just right, as this photo shows. The slight speed boat stance, the flow of all the body lines enhanced by the curved hard-top window trim.
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According an interview with Nick, the skirts used were 1941 Buick Skirts which were modified to fit the Mercury fenders. But more likely they used aftermarket skirts commonly used on 1939-40 Fords. The shape of the skirts flow perfectly with the Mercury body, enhancing all the restyled body lines on the car. This photo also shows the the door popper button activating the solenoid to open the the door located in the running board.
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The Shows

George Barris took Nick’s Mercury to the 1951 Oakland Roadster Show. Nick was in the army by then and could not make it to the show. Small funny detail is that the show card in the windshield of the Mercury, which was made by a sign painter at the show, had the name Matranga misspelled. (inset on the left)
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Nick’s Mercury also appeared at the Montebello California Tent Show held in 1951 at the Armory. Nick was already in the military by then, so somebody else had taken the car to the show for him. Parked next to Nick’s Merc is Snooky Janich ’41 Ford (in primer behind the merc) and the Jesse Lopez 1941 Ford. Peaking just behind the Hop Up sign is the nose of the Jack Stewart 1941 Ford.
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The Mystery new owner
It has been written that a nineteen-year-old guy, named Stanley Hannenberg of Artesia, CA, purchased Nick’s Mercury. This is based on an Jun 8, 1952 news paper clipping (included in this article) in which is it listed that the car he drove (a 1939 Coupe) was wrecked on a rainy day January 7th, 1952 against a telephone pole.  The story very much sounds right with the info others have mentioned on how the Matranga Merc came to its end. But the dates on this article do not match the fact that the Matranga Mercury was photographed at an Pasadena event on March 30th, 1952, which was featured in the June 1952 Hot Rod Magazine, three month after it was possibly totaled. At this point we do not know for sure who was the new owner after Nick, and when exactly the car was wrecked and declared “totaled”, and scrapped with only the Appleton Spotlights remaining of the car. But it must have been after March 30th, 1952.



1951-1952 after Nick sold the car

The Falcons and the Gripers Hot Rod Clubs from Pasadena, California organized an Car Show and reliability run in one event on March 30th, 1952. An two page article about this event appeared in the June 1952 issue of Hot Rod magazine. This possibly is the latest event that the Matranga Merc ever entered, and the last time it was photographed. Besides having the one interior photo used in the Hot Rod magazine article, I also believe that a series of photos from the Danny Lares Collection showing the Matranga Mercury were taken at this event.

The flyer for the first Annual Pasadena Auto Show and Reliability Run held on March 30, 1952. This was most likely the last time the Matranga Mercury was entered in an event.
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Danny Lares had bought the Jesse Lopez 1941 Ford around 1951, and more than likely Danny knew the new owner of the Matranga Mercury. Danny was a active member of the Road Kings-Wilmington car club and possibly the new owner of the Matranga Merc was also a member of the Road Kings or perhaps a member of one of the other attending Long Beach car clubs. The snapshots from Danny’s photo album clearly show that the two cars and the two owners stayed close during this event. While there is no photo of Danny’s ’41 Ford in the Hot Rod magazine article, one of the photos shows that Danny was there at the event. Looking at all the details in the Hot Rod magazine article and compare them with Danny’s photos I think that most, if not all these photos were taken at the same event. The last event the Matranga Merc most likely was entered.

The two page Hot Rod magazine article from June 1952 showing the interior of the Mercury. In the photo on the far left (page 20) we can see Danny Lares on the far right collecting a trophy for his ’41 Ford. Who knows… perhaps the new owner of the Matranga Merc is also in this picture?
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One page of the Danny Lares photo album shows Danny’s ’41 Ford and the Matranga Mercury. The one photo with the number 30 painted on the door must have been taken at the reliability run.
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Cleaned up version of the photo taken at the Pasadena reliability run on March 30th, 1952. That must be the new owner behind the wheel of the Mercury.
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Sitting side by side the Matranga 1940 Mercury and the lopez ’41 Ford with 1952 tag’s on the 1951 License plates. Both cars are now owned by new owners. The Lopez ford is missing the fender skirt, possibly removed for the reliability run?
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What a line up, Glen Johnson ’37 Ford (which was the feature car for the event flyer, Danny Lares with his Jesse Lope ’41 Ford (that is Danny with the white cap) and the Matranga Mercury next to it. To bad the fence is blocking so much of the cars. But since this might be the last event the Matranga Mercury was entered I wanted to include it here anyway.
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The Merc parked next to the Danny Lares ’41 Ford.
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Enlarged section of the photo shows the ’52 tag on the ’51 California license plate. It also gives a good look at the ribbed GM or aftermarket rear view mirror that Nick added to the car.
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This photo was taken at the first annual Pasadena Auto Show and Reliability Run on March 30th, 1952, and was featured in the June 1952 Hot Rod Magazine. It might have been one of the last photos taken of the famed Matranga Merc.
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Changes to the Matranga Merc.
The Matranga Merc only excited for a little over a year, so it never underwent many changes, like some other famous Custom Cars had. The only things I have been able to notice that changed are the addition of a GM ribbed rear view mirror towards some where in 1950. And the addition of a driver side front fender mounted radio antenna in 1951. The photos that we have been able to find of the Mercury show that the car had two license plated in its life as Full Custom. The 62B 1 997 plate from 1950 and the 5N75907 plate from 1951, and the addition of the ’52 tag in late 1951, or early 1952. In some of the photos of Nick’s mercury it appears as if the paint was a semi gloss. Possibly these photos were taken shortly after the car had been finished, and the paint had not been rubbed out yet. But it could also be an optical illusion, nobody has been able to confirm the reason why the paint looks semi gloss in some photos.

Nick Matranga News Paper Article BarrisThis is the Jan 8, 1952 new paper article mentioning the accident which matches some details of the stories about the accident of the Matranga Mercury. But the year of the car is wrong, ’39, not 40, (which can happen in a none car related news paper). But the January 7, 1952  date of the accident does not match with the fact that the Matranga Merc was photographed at the Pasadena even on March 30th 1952. The mystery of Who was the owner of the ’40 Mercury after Nick Matranga continues…
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In the short life span of the Matranga Merc the car was photographed with two different license plates. These help us identify when the photos were taken. 62B1997 plate from 1950 and the 5N75907 plate from 1951, and on the right it shows the addition of the ’52 tag in late 1951, after Nick had sold the Mercury.
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Time frame Matranga Merc

  • 1949 late 1949 work started at the Barris Bell Shop, Los Angeles.
  • 1950 late 1950 the car was finished at the Barris Atlantic Blvd Shop in Lynwood.
  • 1950 November 16th thru 19th Nick Matranga enters his freshly finished Mercury at the Motorama, held in the convention hall at the L.A. Shrine auditorium.
  • 1951 January Nick Matranga enters the Matranga Merc at the Los Angeles Hot Rod show at the LA Armory.
  • 1951 The Dan Post Blue Book publishes 5 photo of Nick Matranga Mercury.
  • 1951 February (early) Nick deployed for boot camp and leaves the car at his mothers house.
  • 1951 February 20-25 George Barris enters the Matranga Merc at the Oakland Roadster Show.
  • 1951 Date unknown George Barris enters the Matranga Merc at the Montebello Armory Tent Show.
  • 1951 September – October George Barris sells the Mercury on behalf of Nick for $2800.- to an new owner.
  • 1952 March 30th New owner enters the Matranga Merc in the Pasadena first annual Reliability run.
  • 1952 Date unknown the new owner wrecked the car hitting a telephone pole in the rain.
  • 1952 June Interior photo appears in the Pasadena Car Show coverage in Hot Rod Magazine.

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Barris Crest
I often was asked why the Matranga Mercury never had a Barris Crest. If the Matranga Mercury was such a famous Barris Custom, why do none of the known photos of the car show the Barris Crest on the cowl, or elsewhere? Was Nick Matranga perhaps not happy with the the work the Barris Shop did? That he did not want to promote the Barris Shop with a crest?
The answer to that question is very simple. During the very short live span of the Matranga Mercury late 1950 – June 1952, the Barris Crest had not yet been created. The Barris Crest was first used around late summer 1952. and by then the Matranga Mercury had already been wrecked and scrapped.

Just a few samples of many 1939-40 Mercury Coupe Customs that have been inspired by the Matranga Mercury, or were built as clone, or semi clone. The Nick Matranga 1940 Mercury is the most copied Custom Car design ever.
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Nick Matranga was born Nicholas Joseph Matranga, on April 21, 1930 in Los Angeles, CA, He passed away on March 27, 2010, in Torrance, CA.




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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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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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That Illustrious Sanguine 1940 Merc 2

 

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

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Part two

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 full article.
 

David Zivot on Nick and his Merc

So…Why another Matranga Merc? “It isn’t just another one. We don’t need just another one. That automobile was an amalgamation of the thought processes of Nick Matranga, Sam Barris, and George Barris. Nick related to me, while inspired by the J. Zaro and A. Andril Mercury’s, he wanted something more advanced and stylish that would set his ’40 Mercury coupe apart from more common customs he saw around L.A. There were other ’40 Merc coupes running around then and none met Nick’s sense of style. As a high school kid in 1948 L.A. he was influenced by pillarless hardtops like the ’49 Buick Roadmaster Riviera, the ’49 Cad Coupe de Ville, and the ’49 Olds Holiday. I saw enough Matranga-style attempts in mags and at shows, and I was a bit disappointed in the lack of commitment in trying to achieve an accurate rendition. Not that accuracy was necessarily the goal of some of these builders. But Nick was clearly chagrined that no one quite ‘got it right’.

 
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Nick and I discussed the inexhaustible popularity and emulation that his senior year project provided custom car guys through the years. He actually had plans to replicate his most memorable car himself. Nick was very polite to other builders, and often autographed their visors and dashboards, but was let down by the missing verisimilitude of most that he viewed. Then I presented him that with his help and advisement I’d take a shot at it. I took extraordinary efforts and pains to assure it would be as accurate and true to nature as humanly possible. He took an immediate interest because he observed my authenticity for historical and technical concerns.

He’d say, ‘How the hell did you know that? I haven’t thought about that in 50 years!’ Nick was a consummate gentleman, well-mannered and well-informed. If I asked a question and he didn’t know the answer on the spot, a week later I’d get handwritten letters in his perfect penmanship, ‘Now I remember how I did that…’ We talked about more than his iconic car; we talked about J.C. Fremont High School, his neighborhood, the drive-ins, hanging out at George’s and Sam’s place. How it was the best being a teenager in L.A. in the 1940’s. And all the really neat cars you’d see driving around every day, very well done customs and hot rods, and not as well done but sincere efforts. It was fun and the weather permitted. He told me they’d go downtown and see Gary Cooper or Clark Gable coming out of Eastern Auto or Musso & Frank Grill or a men’s clothing store. Also he mentioned some of his relatives in charge of L.A.-based back-east interests, like restaurants and bars. They’d pick up the check for him and his friends so he could act like a big shot.
 

CCC-Nick-High-School-Senior-Autoshop-L-Fremont-48Nick at the High School Senior Autoshop L Fremont ’48.
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CCC-Nick-High-School-Senior-Football-Letterman-Fremont-48Nick High School Senior Football Letterman Fremont ’48 Back Row 2nd fr L from Nick’s 1948 Fremont High School senior yearbook, gifted to David & Michelle.
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I’m a proponent of a high degree of exactitude in representing an automotive artifact. The original car existed a brief couple of years. It’s important to have a representation that would exemplify Nick, as well as Sam and George, and the time period. Nick said if you were a good-looking guy and had a keen car you had no trouble for Fri and Sat night dates, and you could just be driving down the street and girls would jump in your car. As a teen you have a lot less cares and concentrate on the important things like cars, hamburgers, and skirts. Nick said if he hadn’t gone to Korea, he woulda really had a good time in his car, but the time he did have was too short.”
 

George’s Greek aesthetics of color and form were amazing and unfailing,
especially early on.”

 
Technical regards… “He’d seen other Barris lacquer jobs, including George’s own car, that had the deep majestic maroon that George would conjure up by using toners and custom blends that he would supervise at the paint store. George’s Greek aesthetics of color and form were amazing and unfailing, especially early on. Nick thought that patrician maroon stood out and glowed on the street, particularly at night under the street lights. Nick knew what he wanted in his mind, Sam knew what he wanted in his mind, and when they started cutting the roof they arrived at, ‘That’s it!’ Both Sam and Nick agreed that the flow of the roof, at the sail panels, a product of CA metal shaping, the raised windshield header area, and other refinements, and the most important omission of cumbersome B pillars, were much more advanced and pleasing developments than what was done on the Zaro or Andril cars. Nick was adamant about these things. Phil Weiand built and modified Nick’s ’46 Mercury block, with full Weiand racing equipment, and Winfield cam, and took special care in its assembly and cosmetic appearance. Nick wanted it sound with plenty of pep for street reliability.”
 
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Examining the ‘Kustom’s L.A.’ club plaque. “Hmmm…Color photographs of a ‘Kustom’s L.A.’ plaque, that’s neat. And also serves to confirm that they were most likely royal purple, as the contrast between the California black plate and the deteriorating Ektachrome or Kodachrome photographic print would tend to distort the true color. The photo of the aluminum plaque on Jim Skonzakes’ ’49 Buick is clearly purple. Refer to the back of the photo, July 22, 1952, #12, dated.
 
CCC-barris-kustoms-plaque-01Color photo from Jul 22, 1952 of Jim Skonzakes his 1949 Buick shows what looks like an aluminum Kustom’s plaque with a purple painted base.
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CCC-barris-kustoms-plaque-02Color photo from Oct 4, 1951 shows a brass Kustom’s Plaqueon on the Jack Stewart 1941 Ford with what appears to be a black painted base.
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The original plaque that I am in possession of, which was gifted to me from Nick Matranga a few years ago, has a numeral ‘3’ stamped into the back. It measures X” W x X” H x X” thick. The recast that Kurt McCormick makes measures X” x X” and varies in thickness between X” and X”. All early originals, let’s say the first twelve to fifteen, were cast art bronze, and had the telltale large ‘S’ at the end of ‘LoS’. Jesse Lopez was the first President of ‘Kustom’s L.A.’, and was instrumental in its formation in 1948. The plaque that Nick gave me is his original off the ’40. He got an additional plaque when he came back stateside in 1953, when the Korean War ended. He purchased a brand new ’53 Mercury Monterey two-door hard top, on which he attached the plaque. He could not remember who gave it to him, but I have an idea that all the original members were given a number as to when they joined up or when the club was formed. Just a theory.
 
CCC-michelle-nick-matanga-plaque-01Nick’s Original Kustom’s L.A. Plaque; this was Nick’s original that was emblazoned on the ’40 Merc, also ran on the ’53 Mercury Monterey, gifted to David.
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As to the aluminum one at the NHRA museum, I wouldn’t discount it out of hand. I know a fellow in Los Angeles who’s had an aluminum version of this plaque since 1952. George Barris had an affinity for Greek nobility and the trappings of royalty, that’s why he favored purple and the royal coat of arms that he fabricated for the affected Barris crest. It’s a Greek thing. In the realm of small details, notice the pair of ‘Kustom’s L.A.’ club plaques that have been removed from Nick’s car and probably Johnny Zaro’s that are stacked together in Nick’s booth at the 1951 Oakland Show. They are leaned up against the wood divider in front of Nick’s car right by the hacksaw that’s lying on the ground. One of these days one of us will spot an ethereal image of Mother Mary in the ripples of a lacquer paint job.”
 
CCC-barris-kustoms-plaque-03Two Kustom’s plaques are up against the divider wall with Nick’s Mercury on the left. (the full photo can be seen in part one)
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Tony Pisano of the Pisano Brothers, on Nick

Joe and Carmen Pisano, Tony and Frank’s oldest brothers, were family tight with Nick, like Nick was another brother. Tony Pisano, of the Pisano Brothers, who built the Pisano/Ogden ’41 Buick chopped custom with an original Gaylord Carson top, was a drag racer. He owns ‘Worco Powder Coatings’ on Cherry Industrial Circle, in Long Beach, CA. “I was in the scroungy war, when we were all into putting together the cars in different combinations. I was drafted into the Army. Nick was pals with my brother, Carmen. They met at the drive-ins and shops. Carmen hopped up some of his engines. Nick’s dad had a night club, ‘The Mint Tulip’, on Florence near Normandy. The memories are sad because it hurts to remember. Nick had a hot-headed sense of humor. He could be critical. Nick was a good-looking guy, he had all sorts of broads. Nick was a fun guy, he could walk by a woman and say, ‘Wow, what a great ass!’, and they would say, ‘Thanks for the compliment.’ He was likeable and could get away with it.”
 
 
 

Frank Pisano of the Pisano Brothers, on Nick

Born in 1939, and native to L.A., owns ‘Venolia Pistons and Rods’ on Cherry Industrial Circle, in L.B., CA. “Nick came over to Tony’s ‘Worco Powder Coatings’ every Saturday to have his ’37 Chevy powder coated. We all hung out and ate at ‘Curley’s Cafe’ for hamburgers. When I first started driving my funny car ’67 Camaro at Lion’s Drags in 1968, Nick made sure I was seat belted tight in before I got to the starting line. He’d close the door and pat me on my head. He had the side windows made right specially for me out of plastic. He hung out with my older brothers, Joe, Carmen, Tony, Sammy, and me the brat. He’d always go to the races with us to make sure everything was OK. Nick was that type of guy, loving. More than a friend. We were there for each other and helped in each other’s businesses. Carmen supervised setting up the car racks at Nick’s transmission shop. Tony painted and powder coated for Nick. If we needed a transmission done he took care of it. When you’re Italian you trade. We didn’t exchange money.
 

Nick in his days was a good-looking guy, always well dressed. And he didn’t like to get dirty

 
I first met Nick about 10 years old. My brothers brought him over to the shop, on 52nd and Western in L.A., ‘Bigelo & Pisano’. Carmen was the smart one, our leader. Joe was the car salesman. Tony was the painter. Sammy was a general contractor. I was the mechanic helper. I helped with the race cars. Nick in his days was a good-looking guy, always well dressed. And he didn’t like to get dirty. You look at him and he would talk to you, and he was very nice looking and very nice person, and you wondered if he was a gigolo. When I got to know more of him I learned he was a very true and honest man. If he didn’t like you he’d let you know about it. If he did like you he’d give his heart to you.
 
CCC-Nick-James-Mahaffey-R-1947Nick in the middle and good friend James Mahaffey on the right in 1947.
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CCC_James-Mahaffey-at-Catalina-Island-1947-Fremont-High-48James Mahaffey at Catalina Island 1947 & Fremont High Senior Grad ‘48”; Jim Mahaffey got killed making a pass and upset in his ’32 coupe at Russetta sanctioned El Mirage dry lakes in 1947 at 17 years old, erased but not to be forgotten on the speed record chalkboards; from Nick’s personal collection, including an insert from Nick’s 1948 Fremont High School senior yearbook, gifted to David & Michelle.
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They all allowed me to hang out with them. They’d say, See you at the drive-in, ‘Scrivener’s’ in Inglewood. We’d have coffee and hook up to race. We’d park in the back and talk about our cars, motors, and chops. I started driving at 13, not supposed to without a license. ’53 Studebaker trucks with Cad motors. After Korea in the ‘Screwdrivers’ club of Culver City, with my brother, Joe, and Don Rackemann and Nick. I rode with my brothers while street racing between Culver City and Inglewood. On 190th in Inglewood was a root beer drive-in that we met at to race. As fast as you could go, and whoever was way ahead would shut off because the other guys couldn’t catch him. There was no measured stretch. We had so many cars that we moved around and changed around, ’32 roadsters, Model A coupes, and Chevy coupes, 32’s-33’s-34’s, and later ’55 and ’57 Chevy’s. Before Korea we mostly worked at our race shop. It was a gathering and BS place. We always had black cars. Nick said it was important to keep it clean and polished.

He always hugged me and said I was doing the right thing by keeping ‘Venolia Pistons’ going when Joe died. Joe died in my arms at the races from a heart blockage. I took care of my mother and father when they were sick, like Nick took care of his wife and son. We always stuck together. We all had our shops on the same street on the Cherry Industrial Circle in L.B., and that was our later hang out.”
 
CCC-Russell-Lenarz-High-School-Senior-Fremont-'48Russell Lenarz High School Senior Fremont ’48”; the elusive hot rod racing photog in composite from Nick’s 1948 Fremont High School senior yearbook, gifted to David & Michelle. Russell Lenarz took the ‘Jesse & ’41 Ford 1949 Turf Club’ photo, and so many others.
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Herschel ‘Junior’ Conway, ‘Junior’s House of Color’, of Florence Av, Bell Gardens, CA, on Nick

“I was the youngest kid working at Barris’. I met Jesse in 1955. Jesse came around a lot more than Nick did. Nick already got rid of his Merc and was back from Korea by the time I met him. Even the 1960’s had passed by the time I really got to know him, even though in the early 60’s he talked to me about painting a ’57 Chevy Nomad black. I was wary, I had plenty of business, and knew he was very particular. I knew Jesse and Hirohata well. Nick and I didn’t hook up until the 1970’s. He took the Nomad to Barris’ to have Tubs paint it. And he wasn’t happy that the job wasn’t detailed enough for him. He called to tell me about it. I passed. Then he sold the Nomad, and later in the 1970’s went to build a ’32 Ford coupe.
 


CCC-Nicks-57-Chevy-Nomad-Barris-Paint-bNick’s Barris shop painted 1957 Chevy Nomad.
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He had Barris’ doing body work, his guy Dick Dean. One day he called me up to inspect some parts and redo some body work. Next I was doing all the rest of the bodywork on it. I was doing high end sports car work (Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Rolls), and he liked how I finished, fit, and detailed cars. We’re in the process of bringing it to paint. It cost a lot, so he had Boyd Coddington paint his ’32 in the early 1980’s.
 
CCC-cover-street-rodder-nikcs-32-fordNick’s black 1932 Ford coupe, painted by Hot Rods by Boyds made it onto the cover of the April 1984 issue of Street Rodder magazine.
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I’d go visit him and have him do transmission work and he’d visit me. He’d say, ‘You are the best painter, at everything you do, your detail finish work, you’re just too expensive.’ I had too much work to do, and Nick always wanted a deal. To do the custom work today to my level is very expensive. I can’t give a guy that kind of work and keep it affordable. A lot of guys are running into that. In the early days, I didn’t plan it. I made the car and we all traded out. That is the only way those cars got done. Jesse and Nick both worked two, three jobs to afford their cars, materials alone.

Today’s kids read a magazine or see a TV show and think it’s easy. I was a young boy that came from Kentucky in 1952, and I too read the mags and wondered how they afforded to do this. I questioned how Jesse and Nick had the money to spend. When I got here I realized it was a lot of bargaining and horse trading to get it done. I had Sam black out my bumpers so the bolts didn’t show through, and he leaded the hood so it didn’t have chrome molding anymore. It took him two full nights. It took me two weeks of painting his house trim to work off that trade. George wanted to include my car in a car show with others. He needed it finished so he took money out of my paycheck to pay for the labor a whole year after George and I finished my car, my senior year of high school, 1956-57. Had it not been for people like George and Sam Barris, at any shop, if not for being able to work on your car in the facilities that they had, and shared with you, the expense would not have been possible. I was very young, younger than the rest. Seventeen when that car was finished and in shows, thanks to them. I worked for Barris until 1961. By 1960 Jesse and I did ‘House of Color’, until I took it entirely over in 1961, ‘Junior’s House of Color’.” Junior’s ’50 Ford business coupe custom, painted ‘Sam Bronze’, went away by 1970, and was accurately rebuilt by Jerry Daman of Dallas, TX, who is also rebuilding the Jesse Lopez ’41 Ford club coupe custom.
 
 
 

Don Rackemann of San Pedro, CA, on Nick

Lifelong best friend of Nick’s. Ran Saugus Dragstrip. Lou Baney and Lou Senter owned Saugus, Don ran as manager and starter 1951-55. Owned ‘Don’s Speed Shop’ 1950-52, with partner Lou Baney, running at lakes and building hot engines. Changed to ‘Lou Baney Automotive’ when he sold him his share. From 1952-55 went on as ‘Ansen Automotive’ representing after-market hot rod parts to speed shops. Now owns ‘Fuel Savers Group’ MPG3 fuel enhancer. “I knew Nick since junior high. We went to different junior highs, and then later went to John C. Fremont High School. We were both small guys in the 10th grade, 15 years old, maybe 100 lbs, 5’2”. But we thought we were cool. We got in an argument and a fist fight in the quad. We were hitting each other and not doing any damage because of our small size. The other kids looking on were stunned. We weren’t even aware until the coach pulled us apart and told us we were making a spectacle of ourselves. We stayed friends. At 16 on California nights all year round us hot rodders went to the drive-ins: ‘The Wich Stand’ on Slauson by W. LA and Inglewood; ‘Scrivener’s’ on Manchester Blvd in Inglewood; ‘DeMay’s’ on Slauson in Culver City. We’d cross paths. Then for a year we didn’t.
 
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In the meantime I built a ’32 three-window coupe in stock brown-black, sitting on the corner of Hoover, and the car next to me is the primered Merc, and it’s Nick smiling at me. ‘Nick! What are doing on that lead barge?’ At that time Jesse was building his car at Barris’, I was a hot rodder, not a customizer, and I had to show him how the cookie crumbles. I revved the engine to let him know I had the horsepower. He scrunched his head and declined because he had a stock engine in it still. So I hit the throttle and went on down the road, 60-80-100 mph, in 1949. Nick’s car took a lot longer to complete than my coupe. I put my car in the hot rod show at the L.A. Armory 2nd show 1951. I took first place in the competition coupe class they put me in. A man came into the show on Saturday with his son. They went gaga and wanted to buy it. I hesitated because I just finished the paint and upholstery. Next day on Sunday he came back and offered me $100, so I took it and sold it at the show. A Merc bore, stock stroke, Offenhauser heads and manifold, three Strom 97 carbs, stock ignition, Iskenderian ground cams. Stock good street machine. Only engine I ran in it. It taught me a big lesson.
 
CCC-Don-Rackemann-32-FordDon Rackemann’s 1932 Ford Coupe at an early 1950’s Motorama show. The photo was taken by Walter Wyss and is part of the Jimmy Barter Collection (Thank you for sharing it with us Jimmy).
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CCC-Nick-Pals-in-25-T-Track-Roadster-1947Nick (rear L) & Pals in ’25 T Track Roadster 1947.
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Some guys had exotic stroker engines. My car ran so strong. It had Lincoln gears in the transmission, a longer 25 tooth cluster gear, 4:11’s rear end, 6.00 x 16 on the front. Without planning it, that combination with the compression, and the cam, and the carburetion, ran really fast with the gear ratios. I sold that car and opened up a first shop with that money, ‘Don’s Automotive’, located kitty corner from ‘Scrivener’s’ on Slauson and Western in S.W. L.A., 1951. I built engines for my friends who wanted to go fast. The first drag race at Santa Ana, 1950, before the Armory show, I raced that ’32 coupe, rolling start quarter mile, and won first place coupe and sedan class. Beat Joe Reath in the semifinals, and Dean Moon in the finals.
 

CCC-Clark-Gable-1949-Jaguar-XK120-Roadster-'Gable-Grey'Clark Gable & his 1949 Jaguar XK120 Roadster ‘Gable Grey.
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I still had the ’32 coupe and my wife was still pregnant. We were driving out to Malibu. I just finished the engine and it was all clean and chromed, putting some miles on it. Winding along the 101, on our way back through Encino, I glanced to the left and going opposite I noticed the new green Jaguar go by, and realized it was Clark Gable. I whipped a U-turn and caught up with him at a signal. He glanced over at my engine and raised his eyebrows. I revved my engine a couple times. So he smiled. He reached over to put his in low gear and then the signal changed. He jumped on it. My car with those gears I could run 70 mph in low gear. I just stayed right beside. He bangs his shift into second and I still stayed right beside him. He smacked it into third gear, I jumped on the throttle, put mine into second, and smoked his ass. I had to shut it off for the next signal. Then he pulled up next to me at the signal, and smiled and said, ‘Pretty fast, son, pretty fast.’ I was twenty years old. Sue, my first wife, just giggled. Nick and I were the same age, born the same year.

After the ’32 three-window was sold and I opened my shop, 1951, Nick went into the Army. When he came home, the first thing he did was call me and said, ‘I hear you have a really, really hot coupe!’ I said, ‘I’ll pick you up at 7 o’clock!’ He looks it over and says, ‘Aw, this is bitchin’.’ We went to ‘DeMay’s’ drive-in. There were a couple guys and cars we didn’t know. He says, ‘Is there anything here you can’t beat?’ I said, ‘No.’ So he says ‘How about that guy that just pulled in?’ A ’32 roadster. Nick walks over to him and says, ‘You wanna try it?’ ‘Yeah sure,’ thought his roadster could beat my coupe. We went to Lincoln Blvd, behind L.A. International Airport. The runways were so long and Lincoln stretched diagonally across that back of the airport. Nick said, ‘Where do you want me to get out?’ to drop him off while I ran the race. I said I can’t because the floorboards that were angled had screw down bolts. Mine fit real tight so I didn’t put the screw in, and I put carpet over them. So I would have someone sit next to me and put their feet down on them and hold them when the car went over 100-110 mph. So he had to ride the race with me a lot to hold the floor boards down, at least three times a week going street racing. He already sold the Merc.

From the late 1940’s-50’s, to the early 1960’s, Nick’s dad, Nick Sr, had a family Italian restaurant named ‘Nick’s’, on Florence Av in L.A. I ate dinner, mostaccioli and spaghetti, many times. We’d end up there before racing. Later in 1958, after I got Nick to quit laying bricks and come be the vice-president of my company, ‘National Bonded Cars’, the first company to ever put out a mechanical failure warranty on used cars. Jack Hershey also worked for me in sales. Nick’s first wife, Gayleen, and my wife of 60+ years, Jo, were friends. Nick’s brother-in-law Larry, and my wife’s brother Jon, were also real good friends. They figured out a system to make money in Las Vegas. They showed it to us, and we acted like it was nothing. Jack Hershey, who was our pal, got me and Nick to practice this dice rolling system on the living room floor, and it worked! We said, ‘Let’s go to Vegas,’ and the three of us went. Jack writing the pad, I’m working the money, and Nick’s watching the action. The first weekend we went we each put up $150 in the pot for the bankroll. At the end of the weekend we came home with $3600 each. We stayed at the Sahara Hotel because Louis Prima and Keely Smith were headlining. We really thought we were hot stuff, big time gamblers. We drove a white 1957 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. Next week we flew and did the same. It started out ahead, and then it turned and we lost everything. We called our wives to wire another $450. We lost again. They’re mad, we’re mad. On the plane home we’re not even talking to each other. I had just purchased, as the owner, the company ‘National Bonded Cars’. So we got home Sunday night. On Thursday I got my first commission check $2000+. We took that check and got back on the plane to Vegas. Hershey had the paperwork from the other runs, I put up the money. This time we won $36,000 ($12,000 apiece). This time we had a bankroll that kept us going to win. Our system worked.

 
CCC-Bonneville-1955-bThe ’29 roadster on a ’32 frame was painted Iris Blue, and striped and flamed by Von Dutch.
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At 1955 Bonneville, the ‘Iris’ light blue color, it was very subtle and really stood out with the Von Dutch red, yellow, and orange flames. Lou Baney was service manager over all three Yeakel Brothers; Cadillac, Olds, and Chrysler-Plymouth. We were sponsored by Yeakel Cad. That year of 1955 the ‘Iris Blue’ Cadillac was their prime chip color. I had all the embroidered shirts and painted vehicles in that color. Nick put up the money for the second engine that we built and won the records, that was Nick’s engine. Us hot dogs (Nick Arias Jr, Lou Baney, Teddy Evosavich, Bill Likes, Nick Matranga, Danny O’Brien, Don & Rich Rackemann, Don’s wife Jo) had Nick Arias’ Jimmy in the car the first couple days. Nick M.’s stroker in the car for the last three days that we went the fast 189 mph in 1955. We came in second. Art Chrisman’s roadster with a Chrysler, beat us that weekend by 3 mph, he got first place.”
 
CCC-Nick-Yeakel-Crew-Autographed-Aug-2001-rc-magNick & Yeakel Crew Autographed Aug 2001 Rod & Custom. As personally autographed from Nick & the guys to Dennis Loehr, gifted to David & Michelle.
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Inspecting a blurry ghost I titled ‘Drag Races 1956’ from Nick’s personal photo collection, Don comments, “Fran Hernandez was a drag race icon. At the beginning was three or four people that made the dual and three and four carb manifolds for the Ford flathead. The most popular was Edelbrock (my first was a two carb), and the first I ever saw was Eddie Meyer. Just after the War, Fran H. and Fred Offenhauser (nephew of Offy Indy engines) made a deal for Fran’s designs of a set of heads and manifolds. Fran was the machinist, and was promised 25%. Fran got the idea that the Offenhauser name carried weight. He was young and without paperwork, it wasn’t called a ‘Fran’, it was called an ‘Offenhauser’. Fran’s designs were very popular and sales were great. A few years later Fred told Fran he wasn’t getting his 25%. When Vic Edelbrock heard Fran was leaving Offy, he offered and hired him on the spot. When Fran came over to Edelbrock in 1949, the cemented guys, Bobby Meeks and Don Towle, got a little bent out of shape. Because when Fran came in he was a made dude, because he was so smart, and the lead guy in lakes and drag racing. Fran became the main man at Edelbrock. It worked out well.
 
CCC-Drag-Races-1956LF. –Bill Likes getting it fired up, LB. –Fran Hernandez legendary hot rod racer and mechanic bending over engine compartment, C. –Don Rackemann driver putting on helmet, RF. –Lou Baney, RB. -Ted Evosavich; from Nick’s personal collection, gifted to David & Michelle.
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That’s Danny O’Brien’s ’29 roadster on a ’32 frame with a ’55 Olds Hydra. Fran built the Hydra-Matic we put in that car at the drag strip. Fran did the hydramatic modifications before B & M did, Fran was one of the first, way before. I quit driving the car because it ran very well on gas or alcohol, but when we ran nitro I couldn’t control the transmission, it didn’t have enough stall speed. Even though we had the record at seven drag strips, we never lost. Fran was working on solving that. Fran was liked by everyone. Very abrupt and so bright, everyone wanted him to tell them what to do. He knew everything. An extra good guy that everyone loved.”
 
CCC-Nick-Rich-Don-RackemannL.-R. –Rich Rackemann, Don Rackemann, Nick Matranga; as taken by Dennis Loehr in Nick’s office at Advanced Transmission.
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Rich Rackemann of San Pedro, CA, on Nick

Don’s younger brother, a partner and executive of automotive marketing, advertising, and promotions, for ‘Beaumont Design Group’. “I was a tag along. My brother and Nick were eight years older and brought me with them. I started hanging out when I was 12-13. Started going to drag racing, Bonneville, the lakes, all that. Nick grew up a little more affluent than the rest. His folks owned the Italian restaurant. Some of the guys went in the kitchen to eat. Nick always had nice equipment, all his stuff was very detailed. The way he dressed, carried himself, his hair, his cars, that was very important. He goes and buys a ’40 Merc, the club coupe. His Mother said it was the ugliest car she had ever seen! He told her, ‘Ma, I have a vision. Then it will be the most beautiful car you ever seen!’ And he worked on the Merc and when it was done she agreed with him, ‘Nick, it IS the most beautiful car I have ever seen!’ He’d say, ‘Richie, it’s all in the top, the way the top chop was cut and fitted. The other guys always get that wrong, and the bumper guards in the back placed wrong. Heck, they even get the color wrong.’ He said he was enjoying himself working on the last car because the guy’s (David) head is in the right direction. Junior Conway and I went to Lynwood High School together, same grade Class of 1957. In 1955-56, Nick was building a ’41 Ford pickup at Bob Grossie’s garage on 48th St, L.A., a very nice truck with a very hot Cadillac motor. Just finished it. I told him I had a date and needed a nice set of wheels to go out in. I had the date, and also had a street drag race set up. He said, ‘Sure, come and get it.’ When I got the truck his parting words to me, ‘Richie, don’t break it!’ I told him I’d bring it back sometime Saturday at Grossie’s. Which I did, on the back of a tow truck. His only comment was, ‘Did you win?’ And I said ‘Yes, three times.’

In 1981-82, before he started the black ’32 Ford coupe, he had a line on getting the car. I had built a chopped ’32 Tudor sedan, and I finished the car and was really proud of it, and wanted to take it over to show him. He had been very busy building his business, ‘Crown Transmission’ (before ‘Advanced Transmission’) on Redondo Beach Blvd in Gardena, CA. When I took the car to him, he was very impressed, and very jazzed about getting and building another car. And just after that, the gentleman who had the ’32 coupe passed away, and the wife called Nick and asked if he still wanted the car. He immediately went and got it and started to build it. My ’32 gave him the press to get his, and make it so nice.

In 1955 we went to Bonneville. He had built a Cad motor. We put it in a ’29 hi-boy roadster on ’32 rails. Lou Baney, Don Rackemann, Danny O’Brien, owned and rebuilt the car in 1954. We were gonna run it in three different classes. We had two Cad motors, one owned by Nick, one by Lou Baney. The other built and owned by Nick Arias Jr was a GMC 302 ci 6-cylinder motor. That car won ‘Best Appearing Car and Crew’ at Bonneville, Aug 1955. Hot Rod Magazine published a great pic of the car and crew. The paint, the dress, all the support vehicles (Don Rackemann’s F-100 pickup, Lou Baney’s Cadillac, + the Baney-Rackemann-O’Brien roadster, was considered a rock-around-the-clock lakes, salt, strip, and street quadruple threat!) matched. Theme color ‘Iris’ (light blue iris) with Von Dutch flames and custom pinstriping and painting was Don Rackemann’s idea. Our uniform was white narrow legged pegger pants, special short-sleeved bowling shirts made ‘Iris’ color with the sponsors names (Yeakel Bros Cadillac). Nick always treated me with respect and as an older brother. I was part of their group event though I was younger. Frank Pisano and I were younger, we were the tag alongs.”


 

CCC-Bonneville-1955-c-at-CA-ShowLined-up at a California Hot Rod show.
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Continue reading about Nick Matranga in the NEXT PART
 
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Go back to part ONE
 
 
 
 
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That Illustrious Sanguine 1940 Merc 3

 

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

 

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Part three

Due to the length of this article from Michelle, we have split it up in three parts. Be sure to see part one and two which are linked at the end of this article.
 
 

Karpo Murkijanian, ‘Deuce Week’ Chairman of the Petersen Museum, CA, on Nick

“Nick and I were friends for 27 years. We met in 1983 when his ’32 three-window was getting painted at Jarmo Pulkinen’s shop next door to Terry Hegmen’s shop, where my ’32 three-window was getting chopped, in Stanton, CA. Their shops were around the corner from Boyd Coddington’s shop. These guys did a lot of work for Boyd at the time. In my spare time I’d meander over to Jarmo’s and we’d all go to lunch together.” Karpo growing up in Montebello next to Whittier and East LA, was surrounded by hot rodder and low rider car culture in the 1960’s-70’s. “We hit it off right away. He was naturally drawn to my Armenian nature. He was my father’s age, and he taught me about customs as my mentor. He was like a father I never had. He always encouraged and pushed me.” In business and life he was very motivating, not just with cars.
 

CCC-nick-matranga-32-ford-1984Nick Matranga and his 1932 Ford three window coupe.
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He spent time with me at his shop and on the phone.” Karpo was like the son Nick couldn’t have because his own son was handicapped with MS.
“Nick just sold his ’40 Ford in 1949. He was driving down the street. He saw the Merc on a used car lot. He stopped and checked it out, 8000 miles on it. He bought it then and there. He brought it home, and his mom came outside and said in her Italian accent, ‘Nicky, that’s the ugliest car I ever saw in my life!’ When it was all finished, his mother and father said it was the prettiest car they ever saw in their life!

He told me a story about the Korean War. He left the car in the garage. He got a letter from his mom saying George Barris inquired to sell the car. He and some fellows were in a fox hole getting bombarded. He was literally shaking recounting the story 25 years later. They were getting hit left and right, and the next thing he knew, he was the only one left alive. And so he saw all his friends die, and he realized he wasn’t coming home. He loved his mother and wanted her to have the money. So he wrote her back and said, ‘Sell the car!’ So when he got back home, the first thing he did was go to Barris’ to buy the car back. Then he found out it got totaled. He was very disappointed, but realized it was time to move on.
 He told me early on, ‘You’re never gonna make big money working for someone else, or by yourself. You’ll make money having other good people working for you, and treat them well. Because of the volume. One man can’t do it all. With a crew you can work in volume. Treat people and your workers with respect, and kindly, because they’ve been through it. Listen to the successful older guys, and listen well. They know a lot and you’ll get way ahead by paying attention to them.’
 

CCC-Horse-Races-Family-Shauna-AnthonyHorse Races Family Shauna & Anthony.
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In 1986 at the Los Angeles Race Track, Nick had several Sulky thoroughbred harnessed race horses with painted and pinstriped buggies. He loved to talk about and show his race horses, he had box seating. He would recommend what horse to bet on and we were winning. Once I wanted to bet on one of his horses and he said, ‘No, no, no, bet on this other one…’ Another time I wanted to bet on one of his horses and again he said, ‘No, no, no, bet on this other one…’ Then I realized he personally knew all the horses racing, and their owners, and he could evaluate who would likely win a race. He would be sure to tell me when to bet on one of his horses. If I listened to him I always won.
 When Shauna, his wife, died from MS, he did change. He didn’t want to go out as much. He sold his ’32 three-window that Jarmo painted and Boyd worked on. He hadn’t even put on a couple hundred miles. The medical bills ran up and he needed quick money to pay it, and sold it in 1989. As it was on the cover of Street Rodder magazine April 1984. And then later in 2006 I’m on Ebay looking at ’32 Fords. I scroll down and see this black three-window. I recognized it immediately. A performance car dealer, Brian Burnett, from Los Gatos up north, was selling it, and in the description didn’t even know what it was. He could tell it was a high quality build. I called to let Nick know and he shat. So I called Brian and informed him that it was Nick and Boyd built. He remembered Nick and me from Boyd’s. Whoever buys it, we asked that it be displayed at the Petersen’s ‘Deuce Week’ 75th Anniversary of the Deuce, of 380 Fords. A super nice Canadian, Mike Seelbinder, bought it, and obliged.
 

CCC-Nicks-Office-1966Nick in his office 1966.
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I was co-chairing and organizing the event, and when Mike and his wife showed up I directed them to park it in the exclusive ‘Cover Car Row’ for the weekend. The black lacquer still looked brand new. It was the first show in twenty years that Nick attended any event, and the last time. The big day Saturday was hectic. Nick tapped me on the shoulder. I was surprised to see him because he rarely turned out for a car show. He loved that car. We went over to see it, and it looked so good. He wanted to meet the new owners. Nick and Don Rackemann walked around and found out that the new owners were at the hospital because they got hit by a car, walking from their hotel on Wilshire Blvd, Friday night. They were seriously hurt. Nick was winded, so he didn’t stay long. And that was the last Nick ever saw it. We sent them copies of Nick’s pictures of the car and a ‘Deuce Week’ poster. They still have the car and are in good shape. Nick really didn’t build another car until the ’37 Chevy coupe he started in 2005. He got to drive it a bit before he died, just needed final interior.
 

CCC-Nick-37-Chevrolet-Coupe-aNick Matranga with his 1937 Chevy.
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CCC-Nick-37-Chevrolet-Coupe-cNick’s Chevy at Nick’s Advanded Transmission Shop in in Torrance, Ca.
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Another major thing Nick taught me, is that when you’re building a car that has a lot of custom trick stuff done to it, put it in primer, and then drive it to get the bugs out of it. Then blow it apart and paint and chrome. That’s how he did the Merc. He drove it out to the Santa Monica beach one day. When he pulled in and parked the car, people gathered around. He went to eat. When he got back, there was a swarm of people around the car, and he couldn’t even get to it. When Hirohata’s was getting chopped at Barris’, he asked Nick if he could use his side windows to copy the design. Nick said, ‘Yeah!’ George Barris wanted him to use the LaSalle grill and Nick refused, so he used the stock ’40 grill.”
 
David says one beautiful thing about the stock ’40 Merc is the stock grill.
 
“The first ten years I knew him, in the 1980’s, traditional customs were not popular. It was all about hot rods for me, growing up in the 1960’s-70’s. Nick had a really bitchin’ three-window. I didn’t even know he had a Merc until the 1990’s, when I started coming around the transmission shop, and I saw all the Merc and Bonneville pictures on the wall, I had no idea. Now that was bitchin’, and he told me the stories. I didn’t even know he was a Bonneville competitor. I really looked up to him. The last time I talked to him he said he loved me, right as we were hanging up. I was shocked because it was the first time he spoke like that. He usually spoke no holds barred, but it was, ‘MF this or MF that.’ A week later he was in the hospital and couldn’t talk. Nick was blunt and to the point.
Either he liked you or didn’t like you. Very opinionated. Once I didn’t call him for a bit, and I called and said, ‘Eh?’, and Nick said, ‘Where the f–k have you been! Who are you banging?’ I said, ‘A Sicilian!’
 

CCC-to-nick-from-george-barris-bTo Nick From George Barris.
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CCC-to-nick-from-george-barris-aBatmobile promo-photo to Nick From George Barris.
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Frank Baney, Lou Baney’s son, of Inglewood and Huntington Beach, CA, on Nick

A finish carpenter by trade, a race dragster restorer by hobby, owns the ‘Yeakel Plymouth Special’ ’64 top fueled dragster, fellow ‘Screwdrivers’. Father, Lou Baney, General Manager of the ‘Yeakel Plymouth Center’, S. California car dealership, sponsored the top fuel dragster. “In 1963 I was 8. My father, Nick, Joe Pisano, Nick Arias, Don Rackemann, and all their families went on a big vacation weekend on the Colorado River at River Shore Resorts at the CA/AZ border, in the town of Earp, CA. They all had boats. Don was the ringleader. Everyone was waterskiing, and I had never skied before. So I was left sitting in a cabana on the beach. Nick had a broken hand because he hit a wall, and he was stuck on the beach with me. So he sat with me and talked to me a couple hours about how I could do it, ‘It’s so much fun. I know you can do it. I’ve seen you ride your bike and skateboard. You’ll pop right up.’ He went and wrapped his hand in a plastic bag and silver taped it up. He said, ‘Sit in my lap, and I’ll hold your knees with the skis sticking up from the water.’ He hooked us to the boat and said to them, ‘Hit it!’ The ski rope tightened and pulled us up, and Nick stood me up and let me go, and off I went skiing. After that first run I wasn’t afraid anymore, and from then on you couldn’t get me out of the water. I’ve taught both my kids and their friends how to water ski in the same way and in the same place. We’ll teach my grandkids that way too.

He along with the other guys were big heroes and racers. He was always so down to earth and nice to bother with me and talk and listen to me. When I was 17 and broke a transmission in my truck, I took it to him at ‘Advanced Transmission’. Just a kid and he told them to take care of me. Then we went for a ride in his black ’57 Nomad fully restored and customized. When we got around the block he asked me if I wanted to drive it. When I got behind the wheel he directed me to a big open street and then he said, ‘Hammer it!’, and it took off, a big block 396 Chevy engine. That was the fastest I ever went, it wasn’t how fast we went, it was how quick we got there. The first time I ever got pushed back into the seat. I thought mine (’61 Chevy pickup with a small block 327 Chevy), and my buddies cars were badassed hot rods. It was a real racer’s car with all the expensive good stuff in it that I wanted. Here’s a grown up that can have anything he wants and he took time with me to drive in his car. I looked up to him and he was a kid at heart.
 

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Nick knew my dad before my dad knew me. My relationship with Nick was in the moment of the 1960’s. In the 1970’s he told me to stay away from horses, both as a hobby or betting, because it’s just a place to throw money, you’ll go broke. Although he loved them. He would walk me around his shop and go over his latest cars with me. He treated me like I was somebody even though I was a kid with big eyes and my tongue hanging out. As far as he was concerned business stopped when I came in and we talked about race cars. I collect dragsters, boats, motorcycles, pretty much anything with a motor in it.”
 
 
 

Nick Arias, “Nick Arias Jr Racing” piston and engine shop, of Normandie Av, Gardena, CA, on Nick

“Later on I got to be better friends. The Yeakel Brothers sponsored us at Bonneville 1955. Don drove it. And Danny O’Brien. I built the 6 cylinder GMC engine, I ran it in the B class. We ran pretty good. Horning 12 port head. Alcohol-nitro 50-50 blend. Hilborn fuel injection. ’29 Model A on ’32 frame. All painted powder blue. Three cars, the ’55 Cad 4-door sedan for the crew; Danny’s F-100 Ford pickup; and the roadster, Cad engine A by Nick M., and GMC engine B by Nick A. Lou Baney ran the whole crew. Nick was a good guy and worked hard. He had a job as a bricklayer mason before he got into his transmission shop. We were part of the crew. We all got along. We all pitched in. We ran the Yeakel car that won. I used to stop by and say hello at his transmission shop while he was working on the ’32.”
 
CCC-Bonneville-1955-aBonneville 1955. Don Rackemann’s F-100 pickup, Lou Baney’s 1955 Cadillac, and the Danny O’Brien, Rackemann, and Baney highboy. All cars  were painted the same Iris Blue, then striped and flamed by Von Dutch. From left to right. Nick Arias Jr, Bill Likes, Danny O’Brien, Don Rackemann, Jo Rackemann, Rich Rackemann, Nick Matranga, Lou Baney, Ted Evosavich; famous shot by Hot Rod magazine, from Nick’s personal collection.
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Dennis Loehr, financial advisor, of Torrance, CA, on Nick

“I knew Nick well the last eight years of his life. Nick has not changed one iota since his youth. A feisty tailed dart, more energy than he knew what to do with, a dynamo. A guy came into his office at ‘Advanced Transmission’ in Torrance, a foot taller than Nick’s 5’5”, said something smart alecky that inflamed Nick, and Nick knocked him down and out with one punch. He was very strong for his size. He was a very proud and private Sicilian. If he didn’t like you, that was it. His arms were severely burned in Korea, and he was a very patriotic guy.” 
Dennis composed the video for Nick’s (& his lovely sister, Connie’s) obituary.
 
 
 

David Zivot, of Las Vegas, NV, on Nick’s ’40 Merc

“I can tell you that using photographs to scale anything from can be a tricky business. Case in point, the famous Marcia Campbell photograph of the almost dead on side view of Nick’s car in front of John C. Fremont High School. When I started my project, I produced a 1:1 scale blowup on a vinyl banner from a fellow’s computer that had the hard drive space to process a life size (apprx 14’ x 5’) hi res digital file of this. I lined up the door and the stainless trim, for a horizontal starting point, matching it with an actual piece of stainless off my ’40 Merc. I also used the known diameter of the Cadillac sombrero hubcaps for both horizontal and vertical measurements as well. Proceeding to chop the top from this blowup or any templates made from it, were not to the degree of accuracy that I was after. I threw away all templates, blowups, etc., and used my own eye. In fact, using any of the photographs for precise measurements is asking for trouble, because of the distortion factors involved. The metal man that finished the chop had something the others didn’t…an eye!

In the final analysis, the compound curves that are demonstrated on those wonderful creations, especially after they are chopped, are best replicated by getting as close as you can in the ballpark with measurements, but finalizing it with your eye from every angle possible, from multiple distances, and knowing the documented data of the car. There are many little tricks and details on how I think I finally captured this chop on Nick’s car that I’ll relate to you at a later moment.

 
CCC-matranga-merc-colororized-01Marcia Campbell photo of Nick’s Mercury in front of John C. Fremont High School.
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CCC_Matranga-Merc-by-Marcia-Campbell-early-1951-aTwo photos of Nick’s 1940 Mercury at the Hall of Justice on California Avenue in South Gate, Ca. more on this photo shoot can be seen in the Line-Up Photo Shoot article. These were gifted to David & Michelle by Jesse Lopez from his personal collection of never before seen originals of Nick’s car taken by Marcia Campbell, bearing her stamp on the back.
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I’ve experienced in the past that sometimes the most unreliable sources can be the original owner/builder because memories fade with age. Not so in this case with Nick, he was acute.
Some observations on early paint jobs, including Barris Maroon. My initial plans were to find a meticulous match to what was known as Barris Maroon circa 1946-52, that was based on ‘41 Buick #º«@! $@#%^. My researches indicated through discussions with George Barris, Junior Conway, Nick Matranga, Jesse Lopez, and Dick Bertolucci, boiled down to this. You can only get so close, and barring finding an untouched never been in the sun 60 yr old example of an original Barris paint job would have told me only, that particular paint job only looked like that. In other words, Barris Maroon could vary from car to car, depending on amount of >>>>> powder used, what time of the morning George Barris sprayed it, and who was bugging him that day. Plainly put, numerous variables. So to get as reasonably close as possible, I personally mixed ’41 Buick #º«@! & #¤¿« $@#%^, using toners only, with no <<<<< powder added, put in differing amounts of fine >>>>> powder (in this case a 65 yr old can of Crescent brand), dipped each shade in a light bulb, sent them off to Nick, and said, ‘Nick, when I hit it on the nail, tell me.’ Five or six light bulbs later he said, ‘You got it, kid!’ All of this is to illustrate that you have to use as close as possible the available materials at the time, talk to the original owner if he is still alive, and in the final analysis, go with your gut and understanding. You also have to satisfy yourself. The most important thing is not the quality of the paint job and the accuracy of the color, but does it look ‘1949-50’ or not?!
 
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Guys that have original color photos to extrapolate from are lucky…No base coat-clear coat, just plain old fashioned lacquer. One pint tin can Crescent >>>>> powder, late 1940’s, from John Carambia’s collection of NOS. ’41 Buick #º«@! $@#%^ modern acrylic lacquer. An original can of nitrocellulose was too deteriorated so had to use modern. All the constituent parts had separated and the solvents and binders smelled funny like stagnant turpentine. George Barris confirmed my suspicion that it was #º«@! $@#%^, rather than just the very close #¤¿« $@#%^. I tested a can of #¤¿« $@#%^ and it was too brown. The #º«@! $@#%^ was very rich with some purple like blue blood. When you buy the #º«@! $@#%^ it commonly comes mixed with <<<<>>>> powder. Trial and error determined the degree of >>>>> highlights just enough so it glowed in the sun like 24 carat, not copper, bronze, nor Roman. In those days, M & H mixed the Rinshed-Mason base and George added the >>>>>. I got a dealer of authentic vintage lacquers to mix my base and I added the >>>>> touch. Nick verified the result.
 
CCC-marcia-campbell-29A-08Marcia Campbell with the Model A Pick-Up built with the help of the Barris shop.
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I knew of Nick since I was a youngster from his outstanding custom cars. When I finally got to meet him later on he offered encouragement and advice, and a friendship developed that not only encompassed our mutual interests, also in seeing the world as it really is as well as how it really was. His reminiscences brought the days of the early hot rod and custom era to life, and perhaps more importantly what it was like to be young when it was good to be young in Los Angeles, USA.”

Nick was a paisan whose family matriculated from a neighboring village in Palermo, Sicily. His mother knew all the families and their folklores. So he knew by your family name what calibre of people you were. When I told him my family name from Detroit, he said, ‘They are good guys but formidable guys, don’t mess with one.’ Nick was very steadfast and straight forward. He was Proud to Serve both his family and his country in their times of need.

Godspeed, my good fellow, on uplifted wings. He was a hot number in a hot custom – That Illustrious Sanguine ’40 Merc!
 
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Nick & Custom US Postage Stamps, made for Nick by David as a surprise gift.
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Jesse Lopez of Bell-Riverside-Downey, CA, on Johnny Zaro, Fritz Voigt, and Gary Wise

“I just got back from Fritz Voigt’s 90th birthday party at Fritz’ house in Downey, CA, on Saturday, March 22, 2014. Quite a few of the old guys I hadn’t seen in a while, and his family and kids, all of Fritz’ buddies. I went with Pete Werrlein and my nephew, JohnBeanieAcosta. We all went and looked at Beanie’s chop of my car, and I critiqued the rear window cut, like I critiqued Jerry’s. My club coupe was ugly like a turtle before it was chopped, but it had the slope to make the right cut. Isky was at the party with his unlit cigar and English racer cap, he has a pretty sharp smart memory. We liked to wear those butcher caps, white cotton. They’d get dirty from messin’ with cars, so at night we wore a clean one, but they’d get grease anyway. I had half a dozen myself. Mickey Thompson’s ex-old lady, Dixie, was there. Fritz ran around with her for quite a few years after her and Mickey broke up. She still looks good and takes care of herself.
 Fritz looked pretty good even though he’s in a wheelchair to get around. His wife is a nice lady and helps him get around. His memory’s good.

We sat and bullshitted about street racing. He tells the story when he was testing the dragster on gas right on Slauson Av in Maywood by Fritz’ shop, west over the L.A. bridge. On the other side was wide open at Bell Gardens by the Ford/Mercury plant. We all took turns. Finally a cop came along and wanted to know who was doing the driving so he could write them up. I said, ‘Give it to me, I’m going in the Army!’ It was a couple weeks before boot camp in 1950. So he wrote me up. Bill Ortega and a bunch of guys got jobs at that big new Ford/Mercury plant. I even thought about it.
 An hour after Pete, Beanie, and I went home, Pete got a call at his house from Johnny’s son that he passed away that day, peacefully. He had heart and nerves health problems the past few years, that’s why he wasn’t hangin’ around much. Johnny’s son was trying to reach me, but I wasn’t home yet. They’ll let us know the details. I called Al Andril and some others and let them know. Al and Johnny were neighbors growing up in Maywood and built cars after they were in the Navy together.
 Craig Wise was at Fritz’ party. Craig’s older brother, Gary was a good friend of mine. He was a nice guy, worked for Hampton’s in Downey, they built blower setups for engines in their small speed shop. Building manifolds to set the 471 hemi blowers on, Chrysler, Ford. Gary was a machinist.

Fritz wasn’t the easiest guy to get to be friends with. He was one of a kind. He was my mentor. I first loved drag racing before customs. That’s why my custom hauled ass. Fritz advised me and built the 3/8 strokers I ran on my car. I’d hurry out of his shop and tore them old flatheads apart and put them back together again in one day. Fritz always made sure we kids were doing it right, my 15-16 to his 20-21, those five years made a difference. Walter was his two years older brother, was walking without a cane at the party lookin’ good, he was even taller 6’3” than Fritz’ 6’. They were good sized Germans. Art the younger brother and I were in the same grade and ran around in high school, he died young in his 50’s from cancer. He wasn’t into cars like Fritz, Walt, and me. That’s how I got to be more friends with Fritz and Walt. Us Germans and Mexicans got along. In Catholic grammar school I learned formal English and math from the nuns, so my siblings and I were the smart ones by the time I went to public school. They’d kid me that my handwriting was like a woman’s it was so neat and beautiful.

Fritz said he didn’t wear shoes until eighth grade in Cudahy, CA, at Bell High School, we were all so poor after the Depression, War, and all.
 My friend, RogelioRoy’, recommends and is driving me over to a new kind of therapeutic hospital at Mexicali, Baja, for a couple weeks, to get a full checkup and get off the meds for PTSD. I’m so healthy that I don’t need the anti- anxiety/depression drugs the VA put me on. At the old Veterans Hospital, all they know you by is your last four and serial numbers. This new treatment hospital gives advanced and personal attention. Other folks that went there were greatly improved. PTSD is a big issue for soldiers. The great American Army forgets about the soldiers when it’s done with them.”
By the way, Jesse’s keeping his ranch land in Riverside County, even though he sold most all of the roosters, because he needs the breadth of country fresh air and landscape to get away. The city life of Downey is too dense for him full time.
 
CCC-johnny-zaro-41-ford-walter-wyssJohnny Zaro ’41 Ford 1951 Oakland or L.A. Roadster Show Walter Wyss Collection Custom Car Chronicle. Possibly John Manok (who worked for George with his brother Ralph at the Lynwood shop) polishing the hood, George Barris polishing the bumper guard, Jack Stewart leaning on the driver’s front fender, possibly Gene Simmons (who hung around the shop as George’s Hollywood buddy and first brought over Jesse’s gal, Flo, on his motorcycle) on the far left. Zaro’s car when it was Barris Maroon, had more metal work on it than any other car in the shop, the darker and iridescent colors showing the imperfections.
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Craig Wise of Downey, CA, on Gary Wise, and Fritz Voigt

“Early in Gary’s career as a machinist he worked for Stricker Engineering in Maywood, CA, a few doors west of Fritz Voigt’s Shop. Gary made precision aircraft parts for the government. Rich Stricker owned and drove the ol’ SoCal Coupe for a few years with a front mount blower on a Caddy motor. When I was 15-16 years old I to work in that machine shop as a clean-up boy, sweeping the floor & cleaning the machines. When I was finished with my cleaning duties, I would go to the back room where the ‘34 coupe was stored, I would pull the old WWII canvas drop cloth off the coupe then get in and make like I was racing at ElMo and B-ville! I even talked to Rich about selling it to me. He told me he could not do that; said if anything bad ever happened to me in the coupe it would be very hard for him to deal with.
 Gary worked for 25 years with the Stricker’s, then he moved on to Don Hampton’s shop ‘Hampton Blowers’ in Downey. Gary & Don knew each other from Bell High School. Don started drag racing back in the 1950’s while he was still in high school. Don started from the bottom and raced his way up to the top. If I remember right, he was top eliminator at the 1965 Winter Nationals in Pomona driving his beautiful front engine blown Chrysler dragster. Don had a very successful career with his blower business, he’s still in the shop 6 days a week. He was elected into the Dragster Racing Hall of Fame a couple years ago.”

 

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Go back to part One, part TWO
 
 
 

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(this article is sponsored by)

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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
Jesse Lopez Lo! & Behold story.



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Jesse Lopez – Lo! & Behold part 2

 

Continued from part ONE of the Jesse Lopez Lo! & Behold story.

 

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

 

Chapter 3

Jesse didn’t attend Trace’s Motorama this weekend (2011) because he just got home a few days ago from a week in the Veteran’s Hospital. I didn’t either because I was taking care of family business. So we spent Saturday night talking on the phone like homebodies. “Just so you know, when you fight a war on the frontlines, it’s not like in the movies when a guy gets shot and just falls down. In real life the guys get shot up and blown up, and they are torn apart in pieces, and you hear them make cries like you never heard any human make. And you can’t run out and get your buddies like they do in the movies because you’re next. Sometimes you can get them, but most times you have to stay put. You remember that your entire life. It affects your sleep. I talk with other veterans from WW2 to Viet Nam to Afghanistan. Post traumatic stress happens to us all.”

He reveres Fritz Voigt since childhood friendship. “Fritz was my main man. I was into speed before I was into custom cars. Before drag racing was legal there was a lot of speed racing. Fritz was five years older so he got a head start. After the Second World War socially they didn’t like Germans, and they didn’t like Mexicans, even though Germans and Mexicans fought for America and the Allies, so we sorta teamed up. I ran with Fritz’ younger brother, Art, we were on the same football team together in high school. We tagged along with Fritz. When you’re young 5 years older is quite a bit, but Fritz was good to me. Fritz was at the beginning of everything, along with Cook and Edelbrock. Bob Rufi had the pre-War record in the sand at Muroc with his 4-cylinder Chevy motor in a rail frame. We didn’t like the name ‘hot rod’. We liked A-V8’s, T-V8’s, roadsters, or buckets. A lot of guys ran buckets without the beds or tops, just the windshield. They ran better without the weight. In 2009 Fritz got inducted in the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame, with Don Garlits and Snake Prudhomme.”
 

CCC-santa-ana-drags-early1950sSanta Ana Drag Strip in the early 1950’s.
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“The Santa Ana Drag Strip at Orange County Airport was the first legal drag strip. They gave it to us in 1950 to keep us off the streets. It was slightly downhill, wasn’t entirely flat. The cars got a rolling start before they gave you the flag. The rear ends, axles, and trans would come apart at a standstill start, we’d blow them. They weren’t built like they are now. That’s why there was a rolling start. Fritz’ first records came about 1950. He was already turning 133-136 mph with his Chrysler hemi in a rail frame. A lot happened after I was away in Korea. Man, the speed went up.”

“Fritz did so much for Mickey Thompson. He oversaw the design and engine build on Mickey’s car, the 1960 ‘Fastest Man on Earth’ record for him, exceeding 400 mph at Bonneville. Four Pontiac motors in the Challenger 1 streamliner. Fritz set them up to run simultaneously. GM approved them brand new Pontiacs for Fritz. GM wanted the advertisement for their Pontiacs. Fritz preferred Chevys and thought they could have gotten ten more mph out of them, but GM insisted on the Pontiacs. Thompson was a fast talker and made the deal with GM to push the Pontiacs. Fritz went through and redid them to crank them up. Fritz didn’t get the credit he deserved. Mickey didn’t like to get his hands dirty, he was the driver. Fritz was our mentor.”
 

CCC-fritz-voight-dragster-craig-wiseFritz Voigt in one of his dragsters on the left.
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Jesse was very attached to his father and his mother. Henry worked at a cast iron foundry and as a truck driver. Frances was an angel who never hollered at the eight kids. She wore her hair in a lovely braid wrap, and prepared handmade tortillas and pinto beans for their sustenance. “In 1937, my Dad went to buy a lot in Bell Gardens, the LA River separates Bell on the west bank and Bell Gardens on the east. We kids learned to speak English in Monrovia Catholic School in the first and second grades. We were so far ahead of the public schools, I have really nice handwriting and penmanship and spelling as a result. I get teased, ‘Man, you write like a broad’. My Dad put the money down payment on the lot. His best friend who also worked at the foundry, another Mexican named Cordero, went to buy the lot next to my Dad’s. They told him they ‘don’t sell to Mexicans’. He said, ‘You sold to Mr. Lopez.’ My Dad was fair complexioned like me and they didn’t know. When they found out they gave his money back. That was tough how they treated Mexicans then. Joseph Cordero’s son Richard taught me how to drive. So my Dad and Mr. Cordero bought a couple lots next to each other in Cudahy, and built our houses and farms. Fresh milk and eggs and produce are why all of us kids have our own teeth today.”

Jesse’s Mother passed away in 1957 at age forty-nine, from a botched goiter operation, when she was starting to enjoy some leisure after raising all the kids. He took it hard, he was her “consentido” favorite. Regarding the fraternity with George Barris and Hershel Conway, “In those days it was so different, as friends a handshake would do it, you didn’t need paperwork. We didn’t sign receipts, your word was bond. People were so decent then compared to now. I gave George the formula for ‘Kandy Lak’ as a gift to his wife, Shirley. She was all for him. I gave the formula to Junior because he was doing the painting. That was for Shirley’s ’58 T-Bird, just like mine. We wouldn’t ask each other for money, as friends we didn’t owe each other anything. Sam and George didn’t make any money doing my car. I worked on everyone’s cars in exchange for the work on my car. I worked on Nick’s, Hirohata’s, Snooky’s, George’s, Sam’s, Fuzzy’s, Shorty Brown’s, Pete Morrison’s, many different cars in and out of the shop, doing dashes, engines, stretched Diego axles, metal, paint, anything that needed to be done.
 
CCC-shirley-barris-t-birdGeorge and Shirley Barris in front of Shirley’s 1958 T-Bird whcih was painted with Jesse’s “Kandy Lak” formula.
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In 1961 I gave Junior my shop. Junior is a Kentucky country boy born in a log cabin with a dirt floor. He didn’t want to go to Hollywood with George. He came to me to run my shop during the day. I was working at night in the shop. I had a day job selling for an auto parts store. I was ‘bookkeeping’ during the day and running the shop at night. The heyday of custom cars was a tight ten years. We didn’t know there could be money in it. ‘House of Color’ I named it. It was my shop originally. In ’62 I was doing so well at my day job, I said, ‘Junior, if you ever get ahead, you owe me.’ I walked out and left the business, customers, and tools what we had to him. It wasn’t a big time shop, you didn’t need much to do custom cars and even drag boats then. He laughed and said, ‘OK’. As friends we looked out for each other, just like Barris. We were different than people today.”
 

Jesse-hersey-photo-by-michelley-2011Jesse and Junior at the 2011 GNRS Customs Then & Now exhibit.
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Getting sleepy, “Right after the 1950’s it was the end of the custom car. Even we didn’t change the cars much after that. It was over. A lot of work went into those customs. Now the guys are coming back with it copying what we did. Today they put a lot of money into restoring a car to original, but generally they don’t customize them. Winfield’s chopping a few, not radical though. At the GNRS Fairplex in the winter of 2011, I really liked so many nice ones, Hirohata’s, Junior’s, a couple Birds cause I like Birds, ’34 coupes, the ’36 roadster. Wished I held on to a few of my roadsters and customs. I went to keep Junior and his wife company. The dinner was fun at the Hyatt with Greg Sharp, Blackie, Dean Jeffries, Peep. I was a bit shy and embarrassed. I left after a half hour of signing my name the next day. I left cars for roosters because they’re alive, and it’s a bigger challenge to make a strain of thoroughbred families. We all quit when the dragsters went to fuel, and when they stopped customizing. By the end of the 50’s. Then it spread from California to every State in the Union!”

 
 
 

Chapter 4

Jesse’s brother-in-law, Bill Weiser, married forever to his sister Marge, was reading the Lo! & Behold thread, and exclaimed to Jesse, “Man, you could really see the puffer on it!” Referring to the Photoshopped macro of the tiny snapshot that is the only evidence of the mythic McCulloch blower set up on the legendary ’41 Ford. Sez Bill, “Memo & I were in heaven driving that car while you were in the Army!” Marge has printed copies of the thread for the relatives. Jesse will at last get to read it live for himself when he gets over to Marge’s computer next weekend. “Marge wants to buy a ’41 Ford and wants me to rebuild it for her. Heh heh, she’s all into it. I’m very close with Marge and Bill. She’s a retired corporate accountant. She used to date Tarzan, Mike Henry, another Bell HS alumini, before she met Bill. Mike worked with John Wayne in the film, “The Green Berets”. They both played football at USC, different decades.”
 
CCC-jesse-lopez-lo-motorama-legends-handThe wall of Legends 2011 hand for Jesse Lopez “the Mix Master” at the Motorama show organized by Trace Edwards.
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“I got my hand from Trace, holding my paint mixing paddle dipped in “Kandy Lak”. We used R & M more than DuPont. “Kandy Lak” was pure DuPont though. It was so nice of him to do that for me.” Referring to Trace Edwards’ multidimensional “Wall of Legends”, he designed for his Long Beach Motorama 2011 show, which he cast the working hands of 25 first-generation car kustomizers each holding one of their actual vintage trade tools honed from their prime. Based on a concrete mold forming the envelope for the glass cast hand in repose, and mounted on a walnut shelf with an archetypal photo plus bio background, the original castings are kept in separate time capsule vaults, and then are all together stored in a master vault for future generations. Trace produced a first-class five-star act, demonstrating his brrrilliant artiste, and his reverent devotion to his elders. The artifice stirs up genuine tears. The Kreation of Kar.
 
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The Hula Hut, a restaurant drive-in located in Whittier was one of their favorite hangouts, “Across from Ak Miller’s automotive repair and speed shop, on Whittier Blvd, he had one of the first Dyno Tune’s. Where Presidents Nixon and Reagan grew up around there. The HH was a little beach hut style burger stand covered with palm leaves that we loved to go to. We drove about twenty miles from any direction driving and racing those very same cars. We didn’t have second cars until later. L.A. was central. George’s first shop on Compton and Nick were west side Fox Florence. The Ayala’s were east L.A. Carl and I were from the southeast, Maywood, Bell, Cudahy, Huntington Park. So Fritz was my engine guy. I didn’t know Ak that well because he was a different area from the east side Whittier. We’d go to the drive-ins to choose each other off. Ak had a real nice shop though with nice equipment. We had a lot of respect for Ak. A lot of guys went to Edelbrock, Weiand, Cook, to build their engines. By the time I got back from the service I was building engines of my own. At that point I was in contention with Fritz. It didn’t affect our friendship. We went on to work together.”
 
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The Hula Hut matriculated Dean MOONEYE’s “Hutters Car Club”. The “Hutters” of Whittier were not known to have a club plaque, and generally painted “Hutters” in large white letters on the deck lid of their dry lakes cars, and also used this seldom seen original circa 1949-50 water slide decal (from my personal collection) on their windshield or back glass. “Fritz always liked for me to beat Ak’s boys, like the Ayala’s were in competition with the Barris’. We all competed and street raced. You have no idea how much fun we had. Turkey Flats was a turkey ranch right on the outskirts of Whittier by the avocado orchards. There was a level asphalt half mile ideal for racing. We’d meet at the HH and choose each other off and head out to TF. A well known hangout because the cops were more lenient. Cars would be lined up on the weekend trying to get in. We drove twenty miles to get there from Bell. And East L.A. drove to get there also, ten miles from Gil Ayala’s. No freeways. All surface streets with lots of stop signs. Also Fritz’ shop, “Voigt’s Place”, in Maywood on Slauson Av, it’s still there. We used to race on Slauson going out. If it got hot at HH we went to Slauson. The Russian cemetery is still there. It was a halfway point, so all the spectators would meet up at this halfway point and you could pretty well see by then who was winning.”

“It was fun when the cops was chasin’ us. We’d laugh like hell when it was over. Sometimes they’d get us though. I got turned loose ten times to the three, four times they booked me. They would chew us out because they didn’t want us to crash. We didn’t have disk brakes so the cars didn’t stop that quick. It was lucky that no one hurt themselves. They’d fine us $50-100, and hopefully the judge was lenient so they didn’t take your license away. Working for $1.50 an hour that was a lot of money. Couldn’t complain about the cops, they’d chase us, and except for one badass, they understood. All the people were a lot different then, nicer and cleaner. Everybody knew and respected each other. Not like all about the money now.”
 
CCC-jesse-lopez-michelle-04Jesse with his 1941 Ford at Camp Roberts in 1951. The car in primer the whole time he stayed there, waiting for another paint job with another hue of green.
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CCC-jesse-lopez-michelle-06One of Jesse’s pals in the army posing with Jesse’s coupe.
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“Bell, Maywood, and Cudahy was a hub. So many of us car guys went to school together, we grew up in the Bell area and went to Bell High School. We went to Bell Auto Parts, used to be called “Cragar”, because they licensed the parts. Guys from San Diego, San Fernando, Bakersfield, they came to Cragar-Bell. My heroes would come pulling in, so many fellows that made names for themselves. Young people today have no idea what good times we had with cars, then in 1945-47, while I was still in high school, and after in ’48-50. There was a lot of street racing. We drove our race cars on the street during those days. Full speed was 95-100 mph. At the opening of Lions Drag Strip the rails started to go over 113 mph.”

“Later in the 1950’s, in Maywood near Fritz’ shop, a guy named Wally Gerdes’ renown ’32 roadster was stolen. Forty something years later I found out who stole it. Man, oh man, it was an Italian friend of mine from the east side. The Gerdes family sold weekend newspapers on the corner of Slauson and Atlantic across from the Clock drive-in. We hung out there on that corner. Wally had a fast ’32. He never got it back. The guy who stole it was joking with me about cars and he bragged about it. I shocked him when I told him Wally and his brother Joe were my good friends. I loved that ’32 and it influenced me because I was still a kid before I drove. Wally was a few years older. Joe was in my grade. It broke Wally’s heart. After Wally Gerdes’ car was stole, he quit. They stole a hell of a car; clean, factory black, fenderless, ’32 grill and hood intact, with a 59AB block that Fritz built. Never heard from Wally again, that was it for him. A guy had to work his ass off for a car. Wally’d usually win if he got chose off. The guy that stole it was a good guy, just a stupid kid, and didn’t realize the harm he done. If you had a fast car you had to watch it, because you couldn’t lock it and if you left it unattended it could get hot wired.”
 
CCC-jesse-lopez-popular-science-01The October 1951 issue of Popular Science magazine did an article on some Barris Custom Cars. One of the cars used for the feature was Jesse’s 1941 Ford.
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“Our cars were our whole life, and if it was a special car, you were really something. Times were hard back then and going to the drive-in was a big deal. I went to work just so I could afford a car. Now look at all the entertainment they got. Back then everyone was poor. It was simpler then. People don’t realize that we didn’t have TV’s, let alone computers. Me, Zaro, Matranga, Ortega, we all regretted that we didn’t take pictures. We didn’t even own a camera, except for George. I wish I had pictures of Nick and me, or Johnny and me, or Sam and me, or George and me, or Carl and me. Imagine that. All those pictures we could have taken of all we would do, Balboa, the Hula Hut and the Clock, Big Bear, with our cars. An era gone by…drive-ins, cruises, races. No TV. Now everyone has a camera on their phone.”

A friend of mine who is a grade/high school photographer told me that when the kids sit for their yearbook photos they are clinging to their cell phones and can hardly get them to look away from the gadget for the shutter release. Media is hypnotizing our youth and adults. Opposable thumbs were designed for wielding instruments besides texting. Parts were designed for finished assembly besides collecting rust in hog troughs. Spend time with your sons or fathers or grandfathers in the garage, and drive the frontiers for a panoramic view of the terra firma. Living imparts its meaning and purpose.
 

CCC-jesse-relaxing-photo-by-michelleyJesse relaxing for a moment at his rooster farm.
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CCC-tippi-photo-by-michelleyBest pal Tippy in and around the rooster farm.
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Chapter 5

Chatting with Jesse after all the record hot and rainy summer, “How’s tricks?” He explained that he’s been relaxing with Margie in Downey. Sold off most of his thousand birds. Packing and shipping them in 14” x 14” customized wood veneer and metal screen crates, one chicken per crate. Too much to do and don’t like others doing for him. Also perfectionism is hard when you get older and don’t want to rely on others. “Crooked Face (pet fightin’ rooster) passed away a couple years ago from 15 years old age. He dropped all his feathers and they didn’t come back. He ain’t the only one going through a hard molt.” He’s selling the four acres farm and moving to Downey with sisters, Margie and Rose. “Still have friends around there, Al Andril. Still get together with Johnny Zaro, Oren Breeland, Richard Carter. George (Barris) don’t drive no more, has a live-in housekeeper. But he sounds good. Still cognizant, yet feeble, memory fading. He’s been talking to Margie about it. They want to operate (his brain tumor), it’s optional, his decision. He don’t want to get operated on. Every year we meet in Hemet. Losing memory of the shop on Compton and 77th, the start of Barris Shop. He couldn’t remember, and this was a few years ago. Oren and I had to straighten him out.
 

CCC-jesse-roosters-photo-by-michelleyJesse on his rooster farm holding “Crooked Face” his pet fightin’ rooster in his hans.
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‘Remember Oren and his brother (Loren)?’ George lived with them at Oren’s place and Oren’s mom took care of them all like brothers. Had chemo and radiation on his left side behind his ear. He recognizes my voice –“Chili!” But he doesn’t remember the stories of the past, so I talk to him about the present, how he’s feeling and who’s running the business. George and I had a good run together. He didn’t yell at me the way he yelled at the other guys. George said, ‘I always respected you, you weren’t like the other guys. You’re the main one that did the mechanical work on the cars. Everyone always said I treated you different, it was because you were more real. You were into it all before we were.’”
 
CCC-jesse-lopez-55-t-birdJesse with his mildly updated T-Bird from a few years ago. Jesse once told me he really wanted to paint his 1941 Ford in the color he now has on his T-Bird, but dark colors were big back then, so he never got the nerves to paint his 1941 Ford his favorite light yellow.
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“I was always strung out on fast cars and speed. The others wanted pretty cars. I was putting in Dago axles on ‘em. Bill Ortega did his own work too. I was a combat soldier in the Korean War, the Forgotten War. Fifty-five thousand soldiers killed in two years, 8000 MIA still over there. I go to the shrink at the Vet’s Hospital because I’ve got War Trauma. The age is catching up with me, and I got freaked out with anxiety and depression. Eighty-four years old, and I’m deficient in B12. No other problems. Little eleven-year-old girls know more about facts-of-life than we did at twenty-one. The youngsters don’t want to work like we did. They move too fast with their computers and cell phones, and don’t know the real world.” Or they think they’re in a reality show, with microprocessors faster than S.Co.T. blowers. “Jerry (Daman) calls and checks in with Margie and Bill when he can’t get me on the phone. They got to be friends. He’s come a long way and is doing pretty good. I encouraged him that even though he’s doing a car like mine, to do it how he likes. But he wants it exact. Even Junior (Conway) told him the metal work that went into my car was so much more than what went into Junior’s mostly stock car. People didn’t get it when he did recreate Junior’s car, I hope he gets more attention and appreciation for my car. Getting the color right then, I shot a curved motorcycle tank so the highlights would bend. ’46-47 Dodge Chrysler color, and I messed around with gold and silver metallic…”
 
CCC-jerry-daman-lopez-recreation-may-2015In early May 2015 Jerry Daman was almost finished with his recreation of Jesse’s 1941 Ford. Appletons are missing and so are a few other details.
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Oh, Tavo, by 1953 Jesse was long home from Korea/Japan since September ’52, working at the parts store (Huntington Park Chanslor & Lyon auto parts and paint store). And then he got his “Lo’s” Mobile gas station (in Vernon) later in ’53. He didn’t look back at Camp Roberts since that first sixteen weeks of training. “Camp Roberts was literally a rattlesnake and cow shit junction. Until they reopened it and drafted us early to clean it up. It was closed since WW2. The first few weeks we had to do clean up detail and then 16 weeks of basic training.” So when they busted loose they didn’t look back. He didn’t get a chance to meet your Pa.
 

CCC-jesse-lopez-michelle-07Two of Jesse’s pals while staying at Camp Roberts.
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The H.A.M.B.’s Bad Bob PM’ed me: “I really liked Dick a lot. We talked all the time about when he was a teenager, cruising Lynwood, Tweedy Blvd in Southgate, Harvey’s in Downey, etc. He was such a cool cat. We would hand out Cragar (Wheels) pamphlets at OCIR (Orange County International Raceway), Irwindale (Speedway), Riverside (International Raceway), Ontario (Motor Speedway), when we were kids, for him. He also worked at Centerline [Wheels] for years. Everybody knew him.” Thanks, Bob!
 

CCC-beradini-bros-and-richBerardini Bros and Dick with the Berardini Bros ’29 Model A Roadster.
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I believe that is about the only photo left of Dick Lenarz, with the Berardini Bros, and their ’29 Ford Model A roadster (#7) with their signature seaweed flames. Do you know what year (1950?) or place (Santa Ana Drags?) this was taken? Even though his brother Russell was a professional scenester photographer. (Richard “Dick” & his brother Russell Lenarz both passed in 2003). Dick and Russ were part of the Berardini Bros pit crew. I appreciate you posting it on the thread for historical purposes. Did you get it from his son, Mike? He told me he had one. Jesse sighs, “Junior’s shop is within walking distance of Margie and Bill. You gotta do what you gotta do. The time has come.”
 
 
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Matranga Mercury Show Photo

MATRANGA MERCURY SHOW PHOTO

Identifying the display photos on the wall behind the Matranga Merc at the 1951 Oakland Roadster Show

[dropcap]In[/dropcap] 2001 Pat Ganahl published his book The American Custom Car. In this book, on page 59, there is this small photo of the Nick Matranga Barris built 1940 Mercury. Ever since I saw this photo in this book for the first time,  I have been fascinated by it. Not only because of the Matranga Mercury with the trophies in front of it, but perhaps even more because of what happens on the display wall behind the car. The photo is taken at the 1951 National Roadster Show held in Oakland.

CCC-matranga-oakland-51-13-wPage 59 of Pat Ganahl’s The American Custom Car book that showed a small version of the photo of the Matranga Mercury at the 1951 Roadster Show, that intrigued me so much.
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The Quest

The photo in Pat’s book was used rather small, and it was a bit hard to see the 11 photos that where displayed on the wall behind the Merc. I really liked the way those photos were used to promote the Barris Customs at the show. I visualized having exactly the same photos framed in a nice simple wooden photo frame hanging on a wall in my home. Before I could realize that I needed to identify the cars in the photos, and to see if I could locate the original photos, or similar once from the same car. I enlarged the photos using my scanner, looked at them with a magnifying glass. Some of the cars in the photos on the wall could be identified because similar or the same photos were used in the Barris Technique books. But no matter what I tried I could not get the back round clear and sharp enough to identify them all.

In 2010 Palle Johansen and me went on our Jack Stewart Ford research trip and we visited Pat Ganahl to ask interview him about the Jack Stewart Ford. During our visit Pat showed us some material from his HUGE Collection of old photos. And one of the photos he showed was this very same photo taken at the 1951 Oakland Roadster Show. And now I was able to take a very good and close look at the cars in the photos displayed on the back wall. I was very excited to be able to identify a few more. Sadly we were on a tight schedule and had to leave before there was time to scan the photo. I did make notes about the cars I had not been able to identify from the book, but now could, being able to looking at the original photo.

In the meantime I had collected several other photos taken from the car at the same show. Pat had used two photos of the Matrange Merc at the show, in his book, but at the time he thought one was taken at the 1951 and the other at the 1952 Show. I had already found out that both photos were taken at the 1951 show, but one photo was taken before the display wall was finished. A few other photos from that show also showed the photos in the background, but none were better than what I already had, and could not be used to identify the cars. One thing I did notice on one of the photos is that the hand painted show card showed a miss spelled name on it. Mantranga instead if Matranga. Some of the other photos also showed that the Mercury was situated in the outer ring of the show, and the wall behind it was actually the building outer wall.

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Some time after that I came across a much larger print of the same photo than what was used in Pat’s book. And then I realized it was time to finish what I had started in 2001. I now needed to identify the all the cars in those photos displayed on the wall. I emailed Pat and asked if he could scan the back ground portion of that photo. He knew immediately which photo I was talking about, and the next day Pat emailed me the the back ground section of this photo in a nice high resolution. There were basically two photos that I could not positively identify right then. (Photos “B” and “I”). But with the help of some friends I was able to identify those for 99.9% as well. I marked the photos in the background A-K.

During the time I was doing the research on this photo I was also working on the story about Marcia Campbell for the Rodder’s Journal (issue #51). I knew that Marcia took a lot of photos of Barris Customs in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. I also found out then, that Marcia always handed out large prints to the car owners to take home, as well as to George Barris to display in the Barris shop.
So most likely it was Marcia Campbell who supplied the photos for this small photo exhibition behind the Matranga Mercury at the 1951 Roadster Show, or at least most of them.

If you look at the photos on the wall you can see that 3 of the 11 photos have different dimensions C,D and F. These photos where most likely taken by another photographer. All the other photos are all neatly positioned with the same amount of white, most likely developed by Marcia in here own dark room from here own photos and negatives.
Photos A, E and H are taken by Marcia during a photo shoot that also included the most famous line up photo. (see the CCC-Article about this particular photo shoot).

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CCC-matranga-oakland-51-05-wThe two photos above are the scans that Pat Ganahl made. They are as clear and sharp as possible and provided me with enough info that I was able to identify the cars in the photos on the wall.
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CCC-matranga-oakland-51-03-wA small scan shows the complete photo taken in February 1951. 
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It is really interesting to see which Customs George Barris picked out to display in the booth. Some of them were already a few years old at the time they were displayed, like the Jesse Lopez and John Vara 1941 Fords. It is also interesting to see that the John Vara / Johnny Zaro 1941 Ford was used twice in the display. Once in its original version, and once with the new grille and paint job. The 1951 Oakland Roadster show was held from 20 to 25th February of that year. One thing that I noticed from the photos on the wall is that the 1949 Chevy of Carl Abajian and Bill Taylor are the only two rather new cars. There was no photo of a 1949 Mercury custom on the wall. The Barris show was working on at least two 1949 Mercury’s Sam’s and jerry Quesnel’s. One of these, the Sam Barris mercury was actually at this 1951 National Roadster show. The fact that there are no photos of it on the display wall most likely means that the Sam Barris 1949 Mercury was finished just in time for the show, perhaps even the night before the show. There simply had been no time to make a proper photo for the display wall. I think George would have added a photo of Sam’s Mercury to this display wall, if he had them.

The identification

Below are the photos from the display wall on the left side and the same, similar or other photo shown on the right to proof the identification. We have found that some of the photos used on the display wall are still around today. From a few others we have not been able to locate original prints… so far.

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CCC-matranga-oakland-51-photo-i-wThis is the only car in the series that I’m not 100% sure it is actually Harrold Larsen’s 1941 Ford. I know the Barris Shop created several similarly styled 1941 Ford convertibles in the late 1940’s early 1950’s.
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CCC-matranga-oakland-51-08-wThis photo was also taken at the 1951 Roadster Show, but before the photos where put up on the wall behind the car. All the way on the left side of the photo we can see a jack stand. Possebly this unit was later used to raise the drivers side. Notice that Barris took a lot more trophies to the show than where displayed with the car eventually. Perhaps the others were used with different Barris cars at the show.
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CCC-matranga-oakland-51-12-wThis photo shows how they opened the door on the Matranga Merc from time to time, so show off the Carson Top Shop created interior. In the background we can see the displayed photos peaking out over the rood of the car.
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The three photos below are provided by Jamie Barter. They are scanned by George Zaft from his personal collection. These photos give us a good look how the Matranga Merc was situated inside the Oakland building. The photos also show that the car was put on an angle.

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CCC-matranga-oakland-51-07-wThis enlarged section of the photo shows the miss-spelled name on the show-card. 
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The identification of the cars in the photos used on the 1951 Display wall sure helped me in my goal to one day recreate this display wall in my own office. I guess I first need to get a bigger office, since right now my small office is wall to wall covered with book shelfs to hold my collection of books and magazines. But one day I will realize this long lasting dream. Perhaps not with exactly the same photos, but at least with photos of the same cars.

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