The Willis Horn Coupe

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The Willis Horn Coupe

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In 1941 Willis Horn from Marysville California purchased a Custom 1936 Ford Chopped Coupe from a Hot Rod Shop. Since 1973 it is owned by grandson Jeff Boone who is now looking to find out more on the cars history for a full restoration.

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Jeff Boone from Live Oak, California, was given this early Custom Restyled 1936 Ford 5-window coupe as a gift from his grandfather back in 1973. Jeff was just 11 years old when his grandfather gave him the car. Information his grandfather might have told him about the cars history back then has been forgotten over the years. “Just a boy with hotrod dreams…”. At 11-12 years old the fact of owning your own Hot Rod, and getting it ready to drive overshadowed the historical facts. During 1973 and 1974 Jeff and his grandfather worked on the car for a coupe of month before putting it away in a barn. In 2017 Jeff is ready to bring out the car and start putting it back together how it used to look. With the restoration work now started he is looking into the history of the car, finding old family photos and asking family members what they remember about the car. Not much is known about it, so Jeff is hoping that sharing the car here on the Custom Car Chronicle might shed some light on the history of this early Custom Car. We will be adding more material and info to this article when we find it. Including some photos of how the car looks now and it being pulled from the bar is has been stored in since 1974.

Jeff’s grandfather, Willis Horn from Marysville, California (close to Sacramento) purchased the ’36 Ford back in 1941. Jeff was told the car was bought from a Hot Rod Shop, but nobody seems to remember which one, or even where, if it was local, or from further away. (Edit: we now know that the car was bought in Los Angeles in 1941, close to a place called Los Angeles Auto Auction, more about that further on in this article) At the time Willis bought the car it was completely finished as a Custom Car, with a unique chopped top with the rear quarter windows filled it, the b-pillars slanted forward, and the top door corners rounded. The car was painted green, and by the looks of the one black and white photo Jeff has found of this version of the car it was a dark shade of green. Jeff also recalls his grandfather saying he changed the hood sides and put the original louvered hood sides on the car cause the engine would put off too much heat inside the coupe… He never knew what type of sides were on the car when he first bought it?

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When Willis bought the car back in 1941 the car was finished in green. He left it that color and added some advertising for his used car lot on the door.

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Cropped image shows some more details. Appleton Spotlight point pointed forwards position, a typical early 1940’s feature. Flipped door handles, rear quarter windows filled in after the chop and rounded door top corner with angled forward B-Pillars. I think that this is the earliest sample of a round door corner on a Custom Car I have seen so far.

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Stock ’36 Ford 5-window Coupe the Willis Horn coupe started out as.

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Other restyling features on the car are a new grille shell with a 1939 Nash grille installed, double Appleton spotlight facing backwards in the photos we have of the car, a typical 40’s feature. turned around door handles, also a typical 40’s trick to make the door handle look more streamlined. Something discussed in many of the early restyling manuals from Dan Post and others. ’39 Ford tear drop taillights and teardrop bubble skirts, and a chrome plated dash inside. The chop obviously being the most distinctive feature on this car. Very unique, especially for the time it was built, when 3-window coupes much have been relatively easy to find. It was still decided to turn the 5-window coupe into a short door 3-window coupe. Unique about the chop is that the b-pillars are angled forward, and that the top door corners are rounded. Rounded Door Corners on a ’36 Ford are rare, and having them done back in 1941 even rarer. Perhaps the earliest sample of rounded door corners I have come across so far. The belt line fabrication and filled top look to have been done very well, indicating the work was done by a good craftsman.

Willis owned a Used Car lot in Marysville, California, since the 1930’s. He used the ’36 Ford, which always attracted peoples attention because of its unique and good looks, as rolling advertising for his lot. Somewhere in the 1940’s Willis repainted the car in maroon with cream on the main body below the beltline. The car was also used as the lead vehicle in the annual the Bok Kai parade in Marysville.

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“This is my grandmother, Lola Horn standing next to the car after the sign was painted on the door…car was green when grandpa brought it home…”

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The 36 pulling Willis Horn’s race car… This must be around 1949, shortly before the car was repainted.
Close up on the car from the previous photo.

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In the late 1940’s, the car was repainted in maroon with cream on the lower main body.
Willis Horn(right) standing next to the car with one of his salesmen on the left.

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According to Jeff his grandfather Willis Horn alway led the Bok Kai parade in Marysville, California. And ideal opportunity to promote his used Car lot. So far this has been the best photo Jeff has been able to locate of the car. It shows the Nash grille, the single bar hubcaps, and teardrop skirts. Notice the loud speaker on top of the car. Judged on the license plate and tag in the photo this one must have been made between 1948 and 1950.

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Willis posing with one of the three race cars he had.

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Willis (with hat) and a couple of his drivers.

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Willis Horn, ready to race…

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Herman Jenkins remembers

Jeff recently spoke with a good friend of his late grandfathers, Herman Jenkins about the ’36 Ford to see if more info could be found about the cars history. Herman remembered that his grandfather, Willis Horn, used to buy his used cars at the Los Angeles Auction Yard. he could not remember where that place was located in Los Angeles, but he did remember that the Hot Rod Shop where Willis bought the ’36 Ford was very close to this L.A. Auto Auction. So, now we need to find somebody who might remember where this Auto Auction yard was in Los Angeles, perhaps that will help find the Hot Rod Shop who built this ’36 Ford. If any of our readers knows more about this Los Angeles Auction Yard, where it was located, please email Rik Hoving.

Herman was in the US Navy stationed at Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack and remained till 1947. When he was honorably discharged, he came home to Marysville and remembered that he and my Grandpa drove down to Los Angles and picked up the 1936 ford where my grandfather had a shop put a hotrod flathead motor and Three speed transmission which shifted on the column.
(Herman didn’t recall who or where my Grandfather purchased the car)

He said my Grandfather told him the car was originally black, then green, then blue and lastly, it was maroon.  He recalled the 36 had flat hood sides, but at some point, my Grandpa said it was too hot inside the car. He changed the sides to the original 36 ford hood sides so the engine heat could escape.

He also recalled going with my grandfather, on occasion, to North Beale Road, Marysville California   
(The road to Beale Air Force Base) Apparently it was the choice “drag strip” for my Grandfather!

Herman remembered one story vividly… a guy who drove up from Los Angeles in his ’49 Ford 2-door, just to race my Grandfather!  Herman said the LA guy says… I hear you have the fastest car in California!  My Grandfather, a bit modest, said my car’s pretty fast and pointed at the 36 custom. The guy looked, started laughing,(customs aren’t supposed to be fast) and said he had $50 to race that car!  Herman said your Grandpa says give me a minute, I’ll take that bet…  Herman says “your Grandpa blew his doors off” (laughingly)!!!

The guy was so upset he wanted a second chance, double or nothing. My grandfather told the Los Angeles guy he would even give him a head start…”when you leave, I’ll start”!  

Herman said…”I waved at the guy when we drove by”!  Your grandfathers car was fast!  When they pulled over, the LA guy handed my grandfather $100… Herman said they had a great laugh!  Herman had shared so many great memories with my Grandfather, that I couldn’t remember them all!  Unfortunately, On August 7, 2018 Herman Jenkins of Yuba City passed.
Not only was Herman my Grandfathers good friend, but I would like to think he was my good friend as well.
Truly yours
Jeff Boone

Herman also remembered that Willis bought new cars from a good friend in Los Angeles, Les Kelley. Les ran the famous Kelley Kar Company and Les Kelly Ford where Willis bought the cars wholesale and brought them to Marysville to resale at his own lot. Les Kelly Ford later moved to the corner of Figueroa and Pico in Los Angeles and becomes the largest used car dealership in the world.

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Les Kelley Ford where Willis bought new cars at wholesale for his Marysville lot. (Photos from www.kbb.com/company/history)

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In 1975 Jeff’s uncle, Willis Horn JR, helped  put a 327 Chev, a t350 trans and a 10 bolt rear end in the ’36. They did some body repairs with bondo in 1975 and the plan was to have the whole car painted 1936 Ford Maroon, but they got it in red oxide primer. At one point Jeff needed a new engine for his race car, so out when the 327. The the car with the fresh red oxide primer, went back to the barn till 5/25/2017.

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This is how the car has been sitting for many years.

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Clearing the rubble around it.

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All cleaned up.

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Jeff Boone on the left and his uncle, Willis Horn JR. on the right with the disassembled ’36 Ford.

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A good look at the main body with the unique chopped top turned from 5-window to 3-window back around 1940 in Los Angeles, California. The treatment of the belt-line behind the doors and the angled forward B-pillar and rounded door top is really unique.

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The bare frame of the ’36 Ford at the Standley Brothers Hotrod Shop.

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Soda blasting at Standley Brothers Hotrod Shop in Yuba City, California.

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The soda blasting revealed the body Jeff and his uncle added to the car back in 1975.

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You can see the lead at the chop and rear quarters in some of the other photos as well. Back in 1973, when Jeff was 11, he used a rosebud tip on a torch to heat the lead and he removed a good portion of it. You can see where his uncle and Jeff tried doing some body work after the majority of lead was removed. “We know better today than we did in 1974!”

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Over the last couple of years Jeff has been working on and off on the restoration to how it used to look, and hopefully he will come across more photos from the 1940’s how the car looked. Hopefully with the help of the Custom Car Chronicle readers he will be able to find out more on the cars original history from before his grandfather bought the car in 1941. If you know anything more about this ’36 Ford Custom ex-5-window Coupe, from pre 1973, then please email Rik here at the Custom Car Chronicle. We would love to add any new historic info to the article and help Jeff with the history of his car.

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The car in bare metal ready for the Sacramento Autorama 2019.

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Jeff Boone with the Ford at the 2019 Sacramento Autorama.

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The Willis Horn Coupe will debut completely finished at the 2020 Sacramento Autorama.

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(This article is made possible by)






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Thom Metz 1933 Ford Cabriolet

THOM METZ 1933 FORD

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Thom Metz has created a 1933 Ford Cabriolet Hot Rod influenced by it original Hot Rod heritage and inspired by Custom legend Harry Westergard.

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“It was always the intent to preserve the hot rod as it was originally built…”

Just like reading a novel of a different time and wanting to recreate it, Thom Metz’s middle school friends brother worked for a magazine printing company & had access to a free newsstand… Rod & Custom had him hooked, but to everyone in his area a hot rod was a 57 Chevy and mild customs were being restored to their factory glory… Thom’s true quest was a chopped 32-34 Ford like the ones in R&C… but good ones had been used for parts and restorable ones were being built into Resto Rods…

When Thom finally found the 33 Cabriolet in 1973, that was rust free but hacked up beyond easily going back to stock he couldn’t afford it… After parts were sold off, he was finally able to trade his finished 51 Ford for it… He could envision his new Purple Metalflake Rod racing across the pages of Henry Gregor Felton’s novels in black primer and It didn’t matter if no one else understood – the car would go back to the way it had originally been built.

A Cabriolet was a want-a-be roadster in the late forties/fifties… to save embarrassment of a baby carriage top plus weight- the previous owner had discarded the windows and capped and leaded the doors & tossed the top… Repro & original assembly were way out of my price range… So Thom bought a 33/34 Sedan for $50 just to be able to create a new removable top from it…  Thom melted out all the lead that had been used to make the body look more like a roadster. During the stripped the body Thom found out that the car had been purple metalflake and it was painted red, yellow, blue, & black (they didn’t strip the jams)… Plus it had a black roll & pleat interior with padded dash.

Just two of the many sections cut from the 33 Sedan top that would end up creating the Harry Westergard inspired removable hard-top.

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Clamping and tack welding all the parts together and shaping it till the effect was what was needed for the Westergard Style top.

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When the parts were roughly fitted, shaped and cut to fit for the top the paint was removed for final welding.

When Thom removed all the chassis components he noticed that whole frame was twisted, the torque side was three inches higher than the other side. To fix this problem he located stock ’33 cross members and a stock rear end, ’39 toploader with Zephyr gears. These parts were taken to Bill’s Rod & Custom and combined with reproduction Worthington rails on their jig.

The channeling of the body had been done rather crude back in the day, so when the chassis came back the raised floor was cut out completely and the body was positioned over the frame centering the rear wheel wells to the rear tires. Thom had acquired a NOS painted ’33 Ford grille, that had been chrome plated, for a case of beer. And when the frame was away he had found a stock hood, with hood sides. All this was lined up with the body to make sure the new position of the channeled body would fit perfectly, the hood cleared the frame rails and the whole unit had the proper rake

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The front of the Sedan top was heavily reshaped to fit with the new Hard-Top.

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When the cowl position was set and marked a sub-frame was created to support the body. Then a new 12 gauge floor was created and welded in place. While doing this Thom found out why the vertical ’32 Ford grille with no hood (which this Hot Rod originally was) were so popular on channelled ’33/’34 Fords. To be able to use the angled 33 Ford grille, radiator and hood Thom learned that the engine needed to move back 2 inches. Which meant that the torque tube had to be shortened, and that he needed to make new motor and transmission mounts. Originally the car was set up for a flathead but no one had a good Hot Rod motor or wanted to help a kid build one at the time, so an early ‘57 Corvette motor complete with 9 fin valve covers (mold repair changed all covers after April of 57 to 7 fin) filled the bill… The Headman tri-Y headers dump into a van side-pipe mufflers (cone over the front and dump at the rear so it appears as open header pipes…)

The initial build was done by 78 but Thom and his friends who had helped him out, lacked the talent to do the custom metalwork required for the rest of Thom’s plans… After not finding anyone up to the challenge by the mid 80’s, Thom decided to trade or sell the project and just move on… The first person to look at the For Sale project was Harold Duffey… when I showed him the sedan roof I had found during the hunt for ’33 Ford parts, he stated he always wanted to do a Westergard Style removable hardtop… So the project started its second phase..

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Metal top is all welded and ready to be fine tuned. The top of the door line, above the belt-line was slightly angled forward to match the new forward rake of the B-pillar of the Hard-Top.

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Ohio’s fender law/ enforcement led to 55 gallon drums being re-purposed as rear fenders when the car was originally built. Thom kept them on the car. The deck lid originally had 49 Ford hinges when Thom acquired the car, they were retained.

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Taking the project outdoor for an overall look, and see if all the proportions were as intended… Yes.

Harold was influential to maintaining early custom touches, he added the sunken license plate, filled the cowl vent, shortened & flipped the 36 commercial rear bumper, redid the quarter panel lines, and adding a 2” lip to the firewall to allow it to be inset back further in the cowl to clear the motor setback while appearing stock-ish. The Sedan roof was cut up to create the base for the new Westergard style Hard Top. In the mock up stage it became evident that to create more attractive Coupe proportions the windshield would have to be chopped to be able to create side window openings that had similar proportions as the framed frames on a Coupe.

1.5 inches were removed with the windshield posts, and the rear portion of the sedan top was cut down until it fitted the windshield perfect. The sedan reveal and contour of the rear side window opening remained, but were laid forward to create a more elegant feel. The rear window of the Sedan was also used, but was chopped and narrowed to more of the ’32 Ford proportions. With an additional thirty pieces of metal and four 57 Bird latches – Thom now had rain protection.

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Something that isn’t apparent when looking at the car – firewall is inset 2” into the cowl to utilize stock hood… early channeled cars (like Thom’s) typically ran a ’32 vertical shell.

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Mocking up parts including the recessed cowl that had already been painted Washington Blue before the rest of the body was. NOS painted 33 grill that was chromed for a case of beer was considerably cheaper than a rusty ’34!

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Unfortunately, Harold’s health deteriorated and he could not continue to help out on the project. Thom then got the helping hand of Frank Borowicz who ended up hand-forming the lower hood support to frame panels. One item on Thom’s bucket list was having the ’33 in LARS… well the no primer requirement forced him into actually painting the car to meet the criteria for the show. Thom chose a beautiful Washington Blue for the paint, a color that suited the car perfect and gave the car a even more classic appearance.

The 1×2” sub frame is insulated sandwiched between floor and louvered lower panels… Thom also mentioned that the car is pretty roomy inside – Thom is 6’ and he can stretch out his legs… plus the black leather vintage style upholstered seat can be lowered..

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Comparing the finished chopped and narrowed rear window opening with the stock ’33-34 Ford rear window.

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The aftermarket “Hot Rod” headlights were introduced in 58 and didn’t sell well because junkyard one were a lot cheaper… they are smaller than Guide’s and production units. The hood sides were modified and part hand made by Frank Borowicz.

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Attention to detail and fit-finish is immaculate.

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During the course of the build Thom stopped by Butch Tucker’s shop in AZ many times. He kept mentioning that he wanted a “Von Dutch” stripe job when his ’33 was done… He thought it was a simple request since he had Dutch’s original flying eyeball sign in his shop- he must know his work… Thom mentioned it to someone and told me that was an insult to an artist to ask them to copy another artists style (especially since Butch was well know for his own style)… He never mentioned it again… a couple of years later Thom brought the Washington Blue finished ’33 into Butch’s shop for some striping… as Thom started telling Butch what he wanted done – Butch abruptly stopped him & asked “didn’t you want a Von Dutch stripe job?” Thom nodded yes and Butch explained that he could watch if he kept his mouth shut or he had a perfectly good waiting room… then to Thom’s dismay he signed it Von Butchr!

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When Thom bought the car it had a padded dash. He replicated it with a stainless insert with 1882 swirls. This is an old photo but later George Barris Gene Winfield and Jimmy Shine put their signature on it.

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The bright blue Kelsey-Hayes wires were added in the early 90’s when Coker announced the re-manufacture of the Firestone dirt track tire… “K-H well has to have each end of the adjustable spokes welded, lathe cut off the outer rim, roll and weld a band to widen them, lathe cut outer rim from a diner wheel, weld and balance… bet ya didn’t notice the difference from the original wires in the build shots.”

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The rear bumper is a shortened & flipped the 36 commercial rear bumper, taillights are 48 Chevy units.

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Close up of some of Butch Tucker’s beautiful Von Dutch style striping and the recessed license plate created by Harold Duffey.

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Influences…
“late 60’s Rod & Custom Editor Jake Jacobs restoration of the NieKamp roadster & article on chopping the top on his 34 coupe… Sam Foose’s metal work on the 48 Ford full custom… they were the revivalists of trends that were out of vogue – in the early 70’s when I started to resurrect my 33 the Resto Rod movement was the acceptable way to build a car… discarded vintage hot rod parts were cheap and finding support to build the flathead was near impressive – hence the 57 Corvette motor.”

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Made it to LARS, and looking good.

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“I went to Pleasanton, Ca with photos of the car in paint (not finished) and I recognized Jake from Pete & Jakes… he was with a group of friends and I asked him if he would look at the photos since he inspired the direction of the build… I still remember the look, but he said yes as his body language said no… he started shuffling through them, then going back and forth… I started to point and explain a feature and he said “Son – I know what I’m looking at” and shuffled some more… then ask has P-wood seen these? No clue who he was talking about but since no one had seen them – I said no… he told his friends he had to go and abruptly left (with my photos)… I’m dumbfounded and followed… he finally caught up with Pete Eastwood and he shuffles through them and asked if Ron had seen them… thus began my day of seeing faces and meeting my magazine hero’s…

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Pete of Pete & Jakes with Thom’s Ford at the Pleasanton show. Pete & Jake had inspired Thom to build the car as it was found and not build it as a Resto Rod which was the mainstream trend at that time Thom created it.

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Sam Foose was always an idol to Thom… “Sam was with Chip at a show and I stopped and went over to say Hi… we chatted for a few minutes and he seemed distracted… I cut the conversation short and as I went to step away he asked “what do you have in it”… to my dismay my motor idling was the distraction.. so, he followed me back to the car & I opened the hood… I asked if he would mind a photo & his response cracked me up!”
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Tom driving the car topless in the Football HOF parade.

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Thom’s Ford was invited to be part of a select number of  significant ’33-34 Ford Hot Rods at The 2009 Glenmoor Gathering.

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Ken Gross’s description of Thom’s For for the 2009 Glenmoor Gathering event.

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Thom Metz on the left and Harold Duffey on the right with the ’33 Ford at the Gilmore Museum where the car sat for three years as part of the Hot Rod and Custom Car exhibition. Harold traveled from Phoenix to see the car after 25 years

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Looking good at the Gilmore Museum.

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The Ford is now on load to the Canton Classics Car Museum… where it has been for almost three years already.

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Thom has had the ’33 Ford for forty-five years & it was in the Gilmore Museum for three years & was transferred to the Canton Classics Car Museum… where it is now for almost three as well. So for Thom it’s been an “out-of-site out-of-mind” situation… the CCCM is close to Thom’s home and he can take it out at any time… The car is sitting perfectly fine in the museum, but that is not really why he has created the car in the first place. While the ’33 was on loan to the Musea Thom has been created another roadster so now Thom is looking for a new caretaker of his ’33 Ford. If you are interested, get in touch with Thom for more info and get all the details we could not fit into this article. Email Thom Metz



(This article is made possible by)






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37 Cord Mystery Custom

 

37 CORD MYSTERY CUSTOM

 

This Custom 1937 Cord was bought by the previous owner in 1956 and he kept it till 2007. But so far there is no info on who Customized it prior to 1956. We need your help.



In the Summer of 2018 Bill Kile bought the 1937 Cord Custom you can see in this article. He had been very interested in if when he found out it was for sale and had been looking at it for some time and tried to come up with some history on the car to help him decide if he wanted to buy it or now. Even though he was unable to find any history, all the evidence he had seen indicated that the Custom Restyling on the car must date back to at least the early 1950’s and more likely even earlier than that. So in the end he decided to acquire the car and plant to restore it, over time, to how it looked as an original custom, or at least as close as possible, since so far there have not been found any photos of how the car originally looked like.

And here we have one of the reasons why we wanted to do an article on this Cord Custom… To see if we can help Bill find more info, and hopefully some old photos of this unique Custom. Back in the day most Customs were based on the more cheaper production cars, so a Custom Cord is a bit of a rarity. There were done more, and some even made it into the magazines. But with the rather high price on the Cords, they were not just for everybody a good base. If it turns out that the car has been Restyled in the late 1930’s or early 1940’s then most likely the owner who had the work done might have had some good money to spend on it. From what can be seen on the car the workmanship used in Restyling the car was very well.

The vents on the nose of the hood were a Cord dealer installed option to provide additional air flow to the radiator. Most likely these vents were installed when the car was first purchased.
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The 1937 Cord phaeton has been “mildly and tastefully” customized. The top of the doors have been cut down and beautifully reshaped with a “Darrin dip” to help with the roadster look. The cut-down doors are all metal, and there is no evidence of a large amount of fiberglass or lead. The rear seat has been covered by a hand made deck/cover to make the car a two seat roadster. The cover is made over a wood frame. The edge of the metal is nailed to the frame as was the case in many cars in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. The deck lid is attached to the hinges that originally supported the lid that covered the convertible top. The car has no convertible top at this time. The door handles are removed. The license plate is frenched into the trunk.

At one point a two piece custom fiberglass top was made to fit the car. The front portion that mounts to the windshield and that covers the front seat area is still with the car, the rear portion is missing. It looks like it was in two pieces that were hinged together. The missing piece contained the rear window. Possibly the top was designed to fold and fit in the space under the rear deck. The back top corner of the roll up side windows have a large radius, that must have been modified to fit the new top. All the photos of Cords that I have show a square corner.


The license plates currently on the car are California plates with 2007 stickers, indicates that the car still might have seen some road time about a decade ago.
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The side view makes me wonder if the Custom, when originally restyled might have had white wall tires, and perhaps had a padded top that was later replaced with a more practical two piece fiberglass top. This photo shows how the cut down doors help with the streamline and flow of the Cord.
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A friend of the Bill, who has been in the car restoration business for 40+ years looked at the car. The custom work on the doors and the rear deck is very good. He is of the opinion that this work was done in the late 1930’s or early 1940’s. The doors appear to have been reskinned when the “Darrin” dip was added. And most likely the door handles and convertible top hardware were shaved in the early 1950’s. The frenched in license plate was most likely done at that time. One can see the sheet metal patches that were fastened to the underside of the door skin metal to cover the door handle holes. If the handles had been removed when the doors were originally customized, the door handle holes would most likely not been made when the doors were reskinned.

Along with the car came some documentation that shows the car was purchased by a previous owner in 1956 in Burbank, California. Most likely the that the custom work was completed prior to 1956. The car was owned by the same gentleman from 1956 to 2016. Bill has corresponded with the gentleman’s son. He reported that the car was always garaged and mechanically maintained. He believes that all of the custom work had been done prior to his father’s purchase of the car in 1956.

The shaved door handles, custom made seat cover and set-in license-plate make the Cord look very streamlined and smooth.
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The seats may be the original seats from the Cord with new upholstery. The door upholstery is just as the seats not original. At this point Bill thinks the upholstery was done in the 1950’s.
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A closer look at the “Darrin dip” and the front of the custom back seat cover and its wooden frame.
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The banjo steering wheel is probably from a late 1930’s or early 1940’s Studebaker. The large hole in the dash is for the clock which came with the car. The smaller set of holes on the right is for the radio. The small crank on the lower right of the dash is for opening the right head light. There is an identical crank on the left side of the dashboard for raising the left head light. (Stock Cord)
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The engine is the original engine manufactured by Lycoming. 289 cu.in. The engine was originally fitted with a supercharger. The supercharger was removed and the engine is fitted with the non-supercharger intake manifold. The receipts that Bill has lead him to believe the engine was rebuilt in the late 1950’s.
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1937 Cord Model 812 Car serial number and body number indicate that the car was originally a phaeton with a back seat. The engine number stamped on the engine matches the engine number stamped on the car name plate. The engine number indicates that the engine was originally fitted with a supercharger. The supercharger was removed, most likely prior to 1956. Bill heard that the superchargers were problematic and that it was not uncommon to remove the supercharger.

The engine runs and Bill was able to drive the car on to the trailer to haul it home. He is rebuilding the brakes at the moment and will check out the drive train next. The body has some dents, but is in relatively good condition for an eighty year old car. The paint is in poor shape with many chips and scratches. The current plans are to put it back in good operating condition and drive it to local shows. A new paint job is planned after the mechanicals and electrical are sorted out. The good thing is that Bill does not plan to restore the car to original Cord condition. He will maintain the car in its current configuration and represent it for what it is, a Customized Cord.

The front fiberglass top section temporarily stored behind the seats.
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Sunken license plate, and the back portion of the back seat cover.
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The history of the car prior to 1956 remains a mystery. Bill has researched the Antique Automobile Club (AACA) library’s files on Cords and on coach builders in the Los Angeles area. He has found no pictures of customized Cords with the Darrin dip in the doors. Bill believe there were at least four coach shops in the LA area that were doing this kind of custom work in the late 1930’s. He has contacted the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum and they had no information on this particular car.

So, Bill is out of ideas for researching this car’s history, and hopes that perhaps one of the Custom Car Chronicle readers might know more on his Custom Cord’s history. I have checked in all my files, but have not find anything either. Lets hope somebody knows more, if you do, please sens us an email, and we make sure Bill will hear and or see all about it.



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Ohio Early Custom Cars

 

OHIO EARLY CUSTOM CARS

 

Dayton Ohio has been a huge Custom Car scene from the very early beginnings. In the 1940s young guys took trips to California to learn all about the latest Customizing trends.


In the past ten or so years I have talked with Dayton Ohio’s Jim Skonzakes (aka Jim Street) about the Custom Car scene in California, as well as the to him local Dayton Ohio Scene. Jim Explained that he and some of his friends traveled from Dayton to Los Angeles several times a year to absorb the Custom Car scene on the West Coast, and bring back home the original West Coast style of Custom Cars. Some even bought local Californian Custom and drove them home to Dayton, others replicated the style as they had seen it.

A recent article in the Rodder’s Journal issue 78 by Curt Iseli around the Jim Walker photo Collection, reminded me about some of the stories Jim Streets had told me. And it especially reminded me about a series of old Dayton Ohio photos of local Custom cars I had come across many years ago on ebay. When I met Jim Street for the first time in 2010 he showed a photo of an 1941 Ford Convertible he build in the mid/late 1940’s. When I saw the beautiful 1948 photo of the car, I told Jim I had seen pictures of his car before. (I never realized it was Jim’s though) Jim looked at me strange and said how, and were? the car had never been shown or features in a magazine. I told him that I had seen it as part of a series of photos on ebay, and shows him the sample I had saved. He remembered quite a few of the cars in the photos of the collection. But since I visited Jim about the Jack Stewart Ford, and we were on a tight time scheduled, we did not discus it any further.


A series of mildly restyled Dayton Ohio based Customs from the late 1940’s, early 1950’s.
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In later conversations Jim always mentioned how much he loved the Custom Car scene in California, and how much he would have loved to move there. But his parents business prevented him for making the step. So he had to settle visiting the Sunny State a few times a year.

When looking at the photos I had saved from the decade old ebay auctions and the photos in the Curt Iseli article on the Rodder’s Journal #78 (highly recommended). I keep wondering about the style of these early Dayton Ohio Customs. How close the style of these 1940’s and very early 1950’s created Customs are. Hoe much the Ohio Customs look like those created in California, where the style was born and developed.




Very nicely done 1940 Ford convertible with chopped windshield and matching padded top. Removed running boards and aftermarket stainless rock shield on the skirted rear fender. Hubcaps is missing.
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Low mounted Lincoln Zephyr taillights and Custom Bumpers look good. Jim Street told me that some guys drove their restyled cars to have the padded top made in California, but others used local upholstery shops for it. Jim preferred to have the work done in California at first.
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This coupe with heavily restyled front end looks to be based on an 1946 Plymouth.
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I have always wondered, and sadly I have never really asked this to Jim when he was still alive, how the Ohio Car enthusiast found out about the Custom Car Scene in California. This was long before the first Car Magazines would start writing about Custom Cars. I have always wondered if perhaps WWII might have had something to do with it. Perhaps some Ohio guys were shipped off to California to do their military or Navy training there. Or perhaps car crazy guys brought photos of their Custom Cars along with them when they were shipped overseas and showed them around. to the other guys. Inspiring guys from all over the US, including Ohio. And when the guys made it back home after the War they would start building cars based on what they had seen in these photos. Or perhaps start making the trips to the West Coast to see the Custom Car scene in person. its just a theory, not sure if it happened that way or not.

It does look like there were quite a few people from other States that made the trip to the California, to check out the Custom Car scene there. And just as it is today the Ohio, and especially the Dayton Ohio has a very strong bond with Custom Cars. These early photo’s show that the California clean Custom Restyling ideas were copied pretty close. I wonder if any of our readers from the Dayton Ohio Are remembers any more stories of the guys making the trips to California. Or perhaps driving up and then returning with a Custom.




Typical Street Custom on the streets of Dayton Ohio… Mildly dressed up.
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’39 Ford Convertible with removed running boards, but without a filler panel under the body, so the frame is now exposed. The spare tire is perhaps more Dayton Style than California. Making this Custom an interesting mix in styles.
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The windshield was chopped and it looks like the working soft top was modified to fit the new lower profile. The headlights appear to be aftermarket sealed beam units. Single bar spinner hubcaps on black wall tires.
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Not all the Customs in Dayton Ohio were influenced by the smooth and clean California Style. As this early 10’s GM Coupe with La Salle grille shows.
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A mix of styled is evident in most of these cars in this set of photos as well.
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1939 Ford looks to have extended down quarter panels and doors after the running boards were eliminated. ’46 Chevy bumpers and again an visible spare tire.
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Mildly restyled Lincoln with Ford bumpers, and simple cleaned up and dressed up ’41 Ford Convertible.
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Just as in California the ‘convertible models were very popular with the custom crowd. 1939-40 Ford convertible with the running boards removed, rock shield on the rear fenders with teardrop skirts. The one of the right has ’41 Ford bumpers and both cars had large mud flaps on the front fenders to keep the paint damage to a minimum.
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Really nice looking with the shaved body, newer bumper, right stance, with wide white wall tires and Custom Hubcaps.
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Classic looking street customs with just the right amount of touches to make them look really interesting. These Dayton Ohio photos could have been taken in California as well.
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1939 Ford Coupe, shave trunk custom hubcaps, teardrop skirts and a bit lowered suspension. Parked in front of Brandy Body Shop. So far no info has come up about this body shop, and if it was responsible for this car, and perhaps more in this series of photos.
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Full Custom 46-48 Ford convertible with chopped windshield, padded top, lowered, smoothed, frenched headlights, grille made from 1951 Pontiac components and ’49-50 mercury bumpers. A very well done Custom looks to be photographed at a local Dayton Ohio race car event.
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The 46-48 Mercury seamed to be rather popular with the Dayton Custom guys as well. Several mildly restyled samples are included in this series of photos. And I have to say these cars do look really great with the right amount of Custom touches.
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’46-48 Ford and mercury Custom Convertibles both have the perfect speed-boat stance.
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Beautiful Californian style Ford Convertible with all the right late 1940’s touches.
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Jim Skonzakes (Street) was fortunately to have a good job at his parents dry-cleaning business, o he always had some money to spend allowing him to have some really cool cars from the mid 1940’s and up. The ’41 Ford Convertible was built in Dayton, but his ’49 Buick was created mostly at the Barris Shop during one of his many trips to California.
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Jim Skonzakes ’41 Ford was both radical and subtle. Extended down doors and rear quarter panels to fill the space from the removed running boards, ’46 Chevy grille and overall smoothing. We will do a full feature on this car at a later date. Jim drive this car several times from Dayton to Los Angeles
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The ’47 Ford sedan convertible on the bottom must have been created from a four door sedan with a convertible cowl. The top two customs show that removing the running boards was very popular in the Dayton area in the later part of the 1940’s. Just as it was in California.
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Oddly restyled 1948 Chevy sedan with the top cut off and a new windshield added. Cut down doors with an unique paint job is far from the typical California look. The Cord on the bottom is nice and subtle.
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A ’41 Ford Sedan mild custom in progress. Notice that the hood trim was cut, but the holes had yet to be filled.
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Close up shows the 1951 Ohio Plates. The half moon chrome headlight covers was an aftermarket product that was especially popular outside California.
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The owner used a smoother 46 Ford bumper at the back. I wonder if it ever was finished with nice gloss paint.
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’48 Ford convertible with some mild restyling. The taillights were removed, and holes filled, ’48 Chevy taillights are now mounted below the trunk. Side trim has been removed and Spotlights added.
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The trip from Dayton Ohio to Los Angeles was around 2500 + miles on mostly two lane roads back in the 1940’s and early 1950’s when these guys took those trips.
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A short drive in the Hirohata Mercury

 

A SPIN IN A CUSTOM CAR ICON

 

Hirohata Mercury owner Jim McNiel, asked me to jump in the passenger seat of his Mercury for a short drive. It put an instant HUGE smile on my face that lasted for days



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This article was original created in 2013, but with the passing of Jim McMiel on May 7, 2018 I thought it would be nice to put this article on Jim and driving the Hirohata Mercury back on top. RIP Jim McNiel.
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In 2010 the plan was developed to gather the very best historical custom cars, that were still around in the US, to be part of a special exhibition at the 2011 GNRS. I was invited to be one of the four organizers of this Customs Then & Now exhibition. The whole experience was mind boggling, something I will never, ever forget in my life. The “road” towards the event was special. In my mind’s eye, I could visualize the building getting filled with all the cars and people we invited from all over the US. When it was time to fly to California, a couple of days before the show, I had a hard time getting any sleep at night. Once arrived in Pomona, I saw the first historical custom cars that had already arrived. Cars like the Barris-built Dick Fowler 1938 Ford coupe, and several others, with more customs arriving every hour. I was in heaven.

On Thursday morning, set-up day before the show, I was walking from my hotel to the AHRF parking lot, towards the Fairplex building, when I spotted a long trailer with the side door opened a few inches. I immediately recognized the ice green color on the car inside: The Hirohata Mercury. So, I walked over and talked to the driver, to see if Jim McNiel was around as well. “They will be here any minute”, he said. And sure that was the case. It was really great to see Jim again, after we had met earlier at the Sacramento Autorama Mercury Gathering in 2009. We talked for a bit, and then he had to unload the car. He parked it in a nice spot at the parking lot, so I could take some photos.

Jim stepped back, and let me alone with the car for some time. I walked around it, followed every line on the car, took as many photos from every possible angle I could think of, and absorbed every little detail about this car. I had seen the iconic Hirohata Merc before in Sacramento, but seeing the car in natural light and being able to walk around it with nobody else to bump into, was an extremely nice and privileged experience.

CCC-Hirohata_Mercury-01-WThe extended front fenders and hood lip create a perfect balance for the long chopped roof line.
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The Hirohata Mercury is the Custom Car that comes to mind when somebody says the word Custom Car. At least it is to me, and I know this is the same for a lot of people. the Hirohate Merc is THE historic Custom Car icon. And the car was sitting there in front of me with nobody else around it. If I close my eyes I could hear Sam Barris and his team hammering away on the body. I could almost feel the excitement in the Barris Shop, when the car was finally assembled, and the team saw what they had created. I could almost see the huge smile on Bob Hirohata’s face, when he took it for the first spin around the block. I was in Custom Car Heaven before the show had started, and I did not even realize that – for me – the best thing that very day, still had to come.


CCC-Hirohata_Mercury-14-WThe rear 3/4 view shows show all the lines from the Buick Side trim, the chopped top, the curved side windows, custom made scoop and reshaped character line flow together .
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CCC-Hirohata_Mercury-03-WThe custom made parking lights add extra width to the front of the car. The hand made lip on the front wheel opening matches the one of the flush fitted fender skirt at the rear.
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Jim had made an appointment with a photographer from Sweden for a photo-shoot. Together they decided the best location for the shoot would be on the other side of area where we were standing. Then Jim asked me if I wanted to take a seat in the car, when he drove to the location…

Eh… Yes please!

Jim McNiel invited me to sit, and drive inside the Hirohata Mercury! Instant smile on my face. I made sure, I put my back-pack and try-pod extremely safely on the floor, in order not to damage anything, and carefully sat on the green and white tuck & roll front seat. Jim got in the car behead the steering wheel, and started the engine. It ran flawless, and the sound of the Cadillac engine was music to my ears. I looked around absorbing every little detail like the hand made laminated dash knobs, (which Bob Hirohate made himself, and which are still in place), the Von Dutch pin-striping on the dash is amazing, extremely fine and detailed, and weird above all. I also noticed the V-butted windshield, the chrome garnish around the windshield, the green hand made fuzzy rear view mirror “warmer” that Jim’s wife Sue, made so many years ago. The green and white headliner- which is still the original that the Carson Top Shop made in 1952, the slightly cracked Monterey steering wheel, and Jim holding it, slowly turning to maneuver the car thru the parking lot. It felt the car was floating, Jim drove slow and seemed to enjoy every second driving his baby.

I tried to imagine how it must have been driving this car back in the early 1950’s. The car probably just stopped traffic, and had people turn to take a second look when it was passing by back then.

CCC-Hirohata_Mercury-05-WNotice the relaxed position Jim has in the car. This photo also shows the slightly cracked -unrestored- Monterey Steering wheel. Jim added the bullet steering wheel center when he was unable to find the original accessory badge.
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CCC-Hirohata_Mercury-06-WEven Jim has a great smile on his face, and he can jump in the car and take it for a spin whenever he can.
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On the short trip on the parking lot, people turned their head when they heard the soft rumble from the Cadillac engine, realizing something special was driving by. And then the large eyes, and instant smile on the faces when they realized what they saw. An experience I will never forget, and the smile it caused on my face never disappeared throughout the duration of the show.

CCC-Hirohata_Mercury-13-WHere we can see the V-butted windshield, Sue’s hand-made mirror warmer, and the unrestored dash with the Von Dutch pin-striping.
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CCC-Hirohata_Mercury-08-WBob Hirohata also created the laminated knobs for the Appleton Spotlights.
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CCC-Hirohata_Mercury-07-WClose up of the intricate Von Dutch pin-striping “this is the City”. Notice the cracked off-white paint on the glove-box lid and dash. This is the original paint that was added in 1952.
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CCC-Hirohata_Mercury-12-WOriginal Carson Top Shop created headliner, and detail work round the curved side windows.
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When Jim parked his car, and we got out, I noticed one other detail I had never seen before on the car. I had never really seen the custom made dark green lucite piece, that Bob Hirohata made for the door garnish moldings. I noticed it, because the sun light made it look really fantastic when I opened the door to get out.
We drove the car for only a small distance, perhaps a little more than half a mile, but this was a trip inside the Hirohata Mercury… an unforgettable experience!

After making some more photos of the car at the new location, I thanked Jim for the unforgettable experience, and went to toward the main building. Jim and I were talking throughout the weekend, whenever we bumped into each other. He seamed to have a great time at the show.

CCC-Hirohata_Mercury-02-WMy own personal favorite angle of the Hirohata Mercury. This photo also shows the sectioned bumper guards at the front only covering the bottom part of the grill.
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I know the short drive was “only” at the parking lot of the GNRS, but to me it was more like a drive in early 1950’s Los Angles…. Very similar to these Photoshopped images I created shown below.










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Golden Sahara Mecum Auction

 

GOLDEN SAHARA MECUM AUCTION

 

Nearly 50 years after the Golden Sahara’s disappearance from the public the Car was unveiled to the Public on May 14, 2018. The Golden Sahara sold for $350,000.



After Jim Street had passed away in November 2017 it as decided to auction off most of his car, boat and bike collection. The Dana Mecum’s 31st Original Spring Classic Auction in Indianapolis would be the event where the Jim Street Estate Collection will be auctioned. The Golden Sahara is the highlight of the collection. and a lot of attention has been paid to create as much buzz as possible around the Golden Sahara. As much buzz perhaps as what the car created in its show time from 1954 till the late 1960’s.

For the first time in decades, the Custom Car Icon will be available for public viewing just as how it had been found in Jim Street’s Garage.

The Golden Sahara as advertised on the Mucum Auctions site. Main Atraction with No Reserve.
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On Saturday May 19, 2018 at around 2 PM (14:00) EST the Golden Sahara will be taking place at the Auction hall, and the bidding will start. The Internet has been buzzing for week already about how much the Golden Sahara (and the Kookie Kar) will sell for. We know that there are several very serious possible buyers who want to have the Unique Golden Sahara in their Collection. What it will be sold for we have to wait till the auction has ended in a little over a day.

SOLD

The Golden Sahara was sold for $350,000 ($385,000 including auction fees) to Larry Klairmont who was bidding on the phone. Larry Klairmont is the owner of the amazing Klairmont Kollection in Chicago, and the car will be either on display as it it for the public to see, or will be undergoing a full restoration first and then will be on display. This is fantastic news since then the Golden Sahara will be available for people to see at all time. The kookie Kar, which sold for $440,000 was sold to somebody at the event, so the two cars will be separated.








The Mecum Presentation Team

The Mecum Presentation Team has been working overtime with the Jim Street Estate Collection, and especially with the Golden Sahara. The Team created a special booklet with a lot of historic images of the Golden Sahara from Jim Street’s Peronal Collection including a brief story on the car’s history. The Team also developed a really nicely made, huge display at the Indianapolis Mecum building were the Golden Sahara was unveiled to the publish for the first time on May 14, 2018. The Display consist  of a nice selection of historic photos printed at huge formats. Hand made 3D signs and video displays.

The Display before the curtains were opened to show the Golden Sahara to the public for the first time in 50 years

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The unveiling at Mecum filmed by the Rodders Journal.
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The Complete Golden Sahara Display. Quite spectacular work by the Mecum Presentation Team.
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Above the lower wall of static large images two large video screens showed a selection of historic images as well as some Historic video Footage.
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This was also the first time that the cars hubcaps were visible. The Bob Metz created units were removed when the original series of promotional photos were taken in March.
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This was also the first time that the car was displayed with the trunk open. When the team at Mecum opened the trunk for the first time they could not believe hos good everything looked inside… after all these years.
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All the electronics in the truck that were needed to make all the special features on the Golden Sahara work. This will be fun to restore… ore perhaps it all is still working. We hope to hear about this in the near future.
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The Golden Sahara back on the podium where it spend so many years in the 50’s and 1960’s. In its natural element.
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First time the audience could take a close up look at the interior. I wonder what the interior will look like if the plastic covers are removed.
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Opened refrigerator box in the back on the cocktail seat center section.
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The Golden Sahara booklet created by the Mecum Presentation Team.
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“There is nothing like it in the world, and there will never be another like it again.”




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Jim Street Golden Sahara I

 

JIM STREET GOLDEN SAHARA I

 

The Amazing Golden Sahara I. The Futuristic Car designed by Jim Street that was the perfect combination between Custom and Show Car.


Special thanks to Jim Street for his stories on the car and how it was created.


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(Special note; Jim Skonzakes and Jim Street are the same person. In the early 1960’s Jim Skonzakes officially changed his name from Skonzakes to Street hoping his new last name would be easier to spell for others)
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In the late 1940’s early 1950’s there is a young guy from Dayton, Ohio, Jim Skonzakes, who dreams about living in warm, sunny and dry Los Angeles, California. He sees himself driving there in the most fantastic Custom Cars. But being needed in his parents successful Dry Cleaning business prevents him from actually making the move to the West-Coast. Instead he started building his own Custom Cars and Custom Bikes in Dayton, and when time allowed it he jumped in his Custom Car and drove the 2200 miles to California. There he spend some good quality time looking for Custom Cars, visiting the shops he has heard about, going to shows, and making new car friends.

Jim Skonzakes (Street) always said he had Customizing in his blood, he just could not help it. Everything he had needed to be Customized. So the industrial dry cleaning machines in his parents business were not save for Jim’s urge to customize either. All the machines were detail painted and parts send out to be chrome plated, for that extra special Skonzakes look and touch.
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One of his California trips in the late 1940’s, perhaps early 1950, Jim meets George Barris and starts to hang out at the Barris Kustom Shop. At one of Jim’s longer stays Jim even rented a part of the Barris shop where he could built his own custom, a 1949 Buick, with the help of some Barris employees. In the meantime Jim drives from LA to Dayton several times a year, mostly in the Custom Cars he owned at the time. On one of his LA visits he buys the Jack Stewart 1941 Ford, and a few years later when he is back in LA again he heard about George having had an accident in his personal mildly customized 1952 Lincoln. The wrecked car was in bad shape, however the cars engine and drive train appeared to be intact and was low mileage since George had not used it a lot. This would be the ideal base for a project Jim had on his mind for some time and started to discuss it with George Barris.

George Barris took this photo shortly after having the accident with his 1952 Lincoln. George was towing the Dan Landon 1949 Chevy behind the Lincoln when out of nowhere a hay truck appeared on a very foggy day. George his Lincoln was totaled, and Dan’s Chevy had some damage as well, but not too bad. Fortunately nobody was really hurt in the accident, and the totaled Lincoln would later become the base for the Golden Sahara.
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Some sketches of a very futuristic car where made and further plans discussed and Jim’s Dream Custom plans slowly took shape. In the end it was decided that the car would be built at the Barris Shop as a Barris Custom, and that Jim would be the owner and financier of this futuristic project. A project both people involved already assumed would have a big impact on the scene even before the project was started. But they never realized how popular the Golden Sahara would become, and how much impact the car would have in the history of the Custom Car. Jim also could not have assumed at that time, that the Golden Sahara would set the path for the rest of his career…. But more on that in Part II.

Plans called for a heavily restyled body with a very futuristic bubble top design, some characteristic parts from other cars, and a lot of scratch built details. Something never before seen done on a Custom Car back then. The whole idea had more the vibes of a factory design study, which was exactly what Jim loved to see in a Custom Car.

Due to the busy work schedule at his parents Dry Cleaning business Jim could only visit LA a few times during the built, and was not able to see if the work done on the project would meet his standards. Several people worked on the car during the time it was build. But Bill DeCarr (Ortega) was the one who did most of the work, and could be considered the head of project. Jim always liked Bill very much, and thinks he is a really great craftsman. But due to different aspects the work done on the Golden Sahara was nerve really up to Jim’s Standards.

Under construction photos from the work done at the Barris Shop. The project was a major undertaking, first deciding what should go, replaced with new body panel, reshaped panels and all new body work. Bill DeCarr is credited for doing most of the work on the original version of the Golden Sahara.
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Bill DeCarr lifting the top of the firewall/cowl after cutting it apart for the body sectioning.
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Customizing the 1952 Lincoln

The top of the car, the top of the rear fenders and the trunk were removed completely. When the project started there were no wrap around windshields available from production cars. But Bill DeCarr, who worked a day job at the Lincoln Mercury dealer parts department, had seen samples of these wrap around windshield and knew they would become available in the very near future. So the cowl on the Lincoln was sectioned, and would later be reshaped to accept a pre-production test windshield for a 1955 Lincoln. The Lincoln doors where sectioned and the door tops were reshaped to flow down toward the back of the car, where they curved into a custom made scoop that would later be filled with gold colored mesh. The door opening she was reshaped with more grace. Most upper parts of the body were completely rebuilt out of sheet metal, shaped over a handmade wire frame, and welded to the body to create the desired body shape.

The completely reshaped rear fenders used 1954 Kaiser Manhattan taillights. Jim had bought a lot of parts from the Kaiser-Frazier dealers that were closing down in Dayton. He always loved those parts, and figured sooner or later he would be able to use those parts on his projects. The Bumperettes at the back – which also act as exhaust outlets – were created from leftover Kaiser bumper ends. The section below the gold colored side trim on the rear fender was made as a removable section, a huge fender skirt. The panel itself was gold anodized and clear coated strips of semi gloss were added – which gave it a beautiful effect with vertical gloss and semi gloss stripes. The fender skirt panel was surrounded by hand made trim which was later gold coated. A steel spare tire cover from an unknown 1930’s car was welded to the new trunk at a near-horizontal angle, but would never actually hold a spare tire. It was added for good looks and created some extra trunk space, which was very welcome in later years when the car was further modified for the Golden Sahara II, but more on that in the next issue.

Freshly finished Golden Sahara photo taken at the Ford plant in Pico Rivera, CA where Bill DeCarr worked a day-job at the time. Jim Skonzakes can be seen behind the steering wheel, George Barris standing next to the car, with Bill DeCarr to the right of George.
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The Golden Sahara looked stunning in color with its refrigerator white painted body and gold coated parts. Not only the design of the GS must have looked totally out of this world, even the gold colored parts in an era where Chrome plating was hot must have turned heads everywhere. The “Targa Top” and rear window could be removed to create a full convertible.
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Wonderful color print of the Golden Sahara shows how the top panels could open up.
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Nice bird eye view of the Golden Sahara I. This is also one of the few rare photos I have seen so far that shows the GS with a license plate mounted at the back. This high angle give a good look at the huge plexiglass rear window that had to be created for the car.
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The front-end had been completely cut off and a new handmade nose was made with an oval shaped grille opening. This grille opening would later be fitted with a with gold plated extruded metal. The fenders were extended at the top and completely reshaped, the wheel openings were reduced downwards, compared to stock. The front of the new front fender has a large opening from top to bottom, which holds a vertically mounted gold pcolored metal mesh panel which serves as the base for the bullet-shaped bumperettes, created from part-box 1930’s headlights buckets the headlights and parking lights. The inside of the front fender top section was covered with the same gold plated metal mesh.

“The Golden Sahara was one of the most complex customs the Barris shop had produced at that point in time.”

With most of the car now roughly shaped it was time to create the top. When Jim had the car designed he wanted to have a car that could have the top on, but he also wanted to convert it easily to a full convertible.  The wrap around windshield had been arrived and installed and Bill DeCarr shaped a new panel that would be fitted as a large and wide B-pillar just behind the doors from side to side. Bill also made a thin roof panel that would fit between this B-pillar and the windshield header. On either side of this, Plexiglas was shaped to form the “Targa Style” T-top. At the rear, a local Los Angeles company, create a huge rear window from plexiglass to match the wrap around windshield. All these panels were incorporated in such a way that they could be removed to create a full convertible.



The styling on the Golden Sahara I was so far ahead of its time, and as these color photos show every body line worked together to enhance the overall look.
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While the Barris Shop had performed most of the work on the Golden Sahara, Jim Skonzakes hired John Getz to do some final detail work and get the car up to the Factory Design Car Standards he was looking for. The work done at the Barris shop was really fine, but done in the typical Custom fashion, looking good from a few feet (which was sort of the standard back then). The Car lacked a bit in details Jim thought where very important to the car. When all the body work was finished and in primer. The parts to be plated were sent out for gold color plating, which would set the car even more apart from the rest, where chrome plating was the standard. For paint Jim chose a solid refrigerator white to be the perfect color for this amazing Custom Car, the white would create a good contrast with the gold colored metal. It was George Barris who came up with the name for the car. “The Golden Sahara“. Exotic and mysterious… just as the car.

One of the very few photos that show the Ohio 1954 License plate mounted on the Golden Sahara. This photo was used in the May 1955 issue of Motor Trend magazine.
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A good look at the beautiful lines of the Golden Share with this rear 3/4 photo. The ’54 Kaiser Manhattan taillights look right at place on the car. The rear bumperettes/exhaust tips were created using Kaiser bumper ends. This low angle photo also shows that the T-Roof panel is relatively this. It had to be lightweight so it could be removed with ease.
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Photo showing the beautiful lines of the Golden Sahara. Notice how the angle of the front of the front fenders is identical to the scoop/leading edge of the rear fenders.
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A wonderful experimental interior was created by Glen Hauser of the Carson Top Shop. Glen used gold brocade cloth and white leatherette to stitch up the unique interior. The dashboard was hand built, completely upholstered, and held a TV in the center and a tape recorder in the console. There was also a telephone, radio, and a loudspeaker system installed. In the back of the car, a full bar, with mini-fridge was installed in the center and a comfortable half round bench wraps around it. The floor was covered in plush white and beige mink carpeting. All the electronic equipment was the installed and incorporated by Jim Skonzakes himself.

The Golden Sahara was a unique custom in its first form, and it won the Sweepstakes at the 1954 Motor Revue, held in the Los Angeles Pan Pacific Auditorium. And would later win many more trophies. The total cost for building the Golden Sahara I was estimated to be $25,000. – a substantial amount of money in 1954. Jim really enjoyed his new Custom Car and all the attention it got at the shows, but Jim was never completely happy with it. Jim mentioned the car was very nice from a distance, its design overwhelmed you, but when you got up close, he saw all kinds of flaws which he loved to fix at one point. When he drove the car for the first time he discovered that the frame of the car was never fixed properly after it was (slightly) bent in the George Barris accident. This made the car rather hard to drive. But since Jim had spend a small fortune on the car he decided to make it all work and showed the car all around the U.S.

Close up look of the plexiglass semi gull-wing roof panels.
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The interior of the Golden Sahara I was state of the art in 1954, this photo nicely shows the huge tape recorder in the center console. Notice that this photo shows white rubber mats on the floor, to protect the white and beige carpeting.
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1954 Motorama Debut

The big debut for the Golden Sahara was at the 1954 Petersen Motorama / Motor Revue. The Golden Sahara was a unique custom in its first form, drawing a huge crowd where ever it went. In the previous year Barris always had a huge wall side display at the Petersen Show at the Pan Pacificc Auditorium. But with the Golden Sahara they realized this car could have a huge impact on the  Barris Shop. So they went all out and The Barris crew and Jim Street created a large display with the Golden Sahara on a turntable. The car won the Sweepstakes at the show an was enjoyed by a huge crowd, of which many were especially drawn to the show to see the well announced Golden Sahara. The show was held November 5-14, 1954, more info and photos of the show can be found in this CCC-Article.


Color slide taken by Walter Wyss shows the amazing display they had created for the Golden Sahara. Both George Barris and Jim Skonzakes knew how much impact this car would have on the audience, and they also knew how to get the best publicity out of this all.
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The Golden Sahara I was a huge hit at the Motorama Show, and soon Jim received phone calls and letters from other show promoters in other States asking for the Golden Sahara to be present at their shows. During the 1954 to 1956 Car show season, Jim Street took the GS-I touring around the US to all the big and not so big shows enjoying the crowd that was always gathered around the car.

This wonderful color slide was made by Ina-Mae Overman and gives us a good look at the wonderful interior created by the Carson Top Shop. At most indoor shows the complete top was removed to show of the incredible interior.
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The Golden Sahara I was displayed at the ’54 show without the top. This way the beautiful futuristic Carson Top Shop created interior could be shown better. downside was that the audience could not be in awe over the huge bubble top rear window. Which must have been spectacular in 1954.
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The 1954 Motorama Sign

Jim and Barris had a beautifully hand lettered sign made for the debut of the Golden Sahara. Ina Mae Overman had most of the sign in one of her color photos of the car. With some sharpening and adding contrast I was able to read most of it.

Golden Sahara Designed and build by
Barris Custom Autos
For Mr Jim Skonzakes Dayton Ohio

This body was formed on 1954 Lincoln
Chassis from power hammered panels
taken from design sketches and patterns

• Upholstery by Carson Tops
• Bar By G & C Bar Specialist
• Solid 24 K Gold by Artistic Platers
• 300 HP Super Charged Engine
• Elec. Push Button Controlled
• Refrigerator Ice Cube Unit
• Front & Rear air conditioning
• 2-way wire recorder
• 3 mile Telephone system
• Loud Speaker Dash Unit
• Selector push type Radio

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During most of the show the passenger door was left open so that the audience was able to take a better look inside the Dream Custom. The Drivers door remained shut so the overall profile could be enjoyed as well.
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The Interior was filled with the latest gadget’s as a TV, telephone, fancy radio, speaker etc. The back had a beautiful wrap around cocktail bar seating arrangement with full bar.
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Walter Wyss captured Jim Skonzakes talking to George Barris at the ’54 Motorama Show. We have no idea who the other people are in the photo, but since they are inside the display, they must know either George or Jim.
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George and Sam Barris proudly showed Aunt Edith around at the Barris Display during the 1954 Peters Motorama Show. And the highlight was the recently finished trend setting Golden Sahara.
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The February 1955 issue of Rod & Custom magazine announced the Golden Sahara. It was all part of a marketing plan to promote the car as good as the Barris shop and Jim Skonzakes could do.
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On the cover of the 1955 Sacramento Autorama Show Program, and the May 1955 issue of Motor Trend Magazine where Jim’s Golden Sahara I was named “The $25,000 Custom Car”.
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Announcement newspaper ad for the Saramento Autorama with the Golden Sahara I as the main attraction.
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Displayed at Car Dealers

When Jim and George Barris developed the Golden Sahara it became clear that it was going to be an unique automobile. And that with the proper marketing the money invested in the project could be made back, and the Barris shop name could receive a huge boost. Show promoters saw the potential of this crowd pleasing custom and started to offer money for its display at their shows around the US. And soon Jim came up with a plan to rent out the Golden Sahara to car dealers for promotional of the dealers products. Jim provided the car, photo material and text which could be used in advertising the dealer events in local news papers and flyers to be spread around town.

The Golden Sahara-I being displayed at one of the numerous Car dealers around the US.
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The Golden Sahara I proved to be the excellent tool for drawing a huge crowd, and dealers who had rented the Golden Sahara for a weekend or week soon were flooded with extra orders. The news spread quickly and soon it became a full time job to drive the Golden Sahara to dealer locations all over the US. Jim had to hire people to make it all happen. In the end everybody was happy Barris, with getting all the exposure of the Golden Sahara being build at their shop, which has undoubtedly led to new clients, Jim Skonzakes for all the exposure of his dream Custom, and the money made by renting out the GS-I to earn back the $25,000 bill for creating it, and saving up for the next phase. And all the dealers who rented the car who all had multiple new cars sales because of it.

Jim had special note-books printed to make renting out the Golden Sahara as easy as possible.
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Car Dealers, but also other business could rent the Golden Sahara for a certain amount of time to help promote their business. The Golden Sahara was extremely successful in drawing a crowd, especially if the dealer had made flyer, or local newspaper announcements. On the left is just one of the many flyers that Jim saved, and two of the many Thank You notes from very happy car dealers, who had the Golden Sahara on display.
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Another sample of a very happy car dealer from Atlanta, Georgia, who had the Golden Sahara on display in their showroom. News like this spread around quick, and the was a huge demand to have the Golden Sahara on display to attract new customers.
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The face of a tire company
Another way of promoting the Golden Sahara was making a deal with Seiberling Tire Company. The Golden Sahara would be used in a special series of magazine ads promoting the Seiberling Sealed-Air The Tire of Tomorrow Here Today campaign. Photo shoots with the Golden Sahara were organized, even a shoot at Daytona Beach in Florida where the Golden Sahara can be seen racing at the beach with the new Seiberling tires was done. In 1956 when the car had paid for itself and more Jim decided it was time for the next phase. With all he had learned and all he had experienced with the Golden Sahara I he was confident that the plans he had in mind for the Golden Sahara II would make it en even bigger success.







One of several ads that were created for the Seiberling Tire company. For this ad the Golden Sahara was photographed racing the Daytona Beach. On the right a snapshot of the Golden Sahara at the Dayton Beach set for the Seiberling ad campaign
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The Golden Sahara I on display to promote the tire of tomorrow today for the Seiberling tire company.
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Many people absolutely adored the Golden Sahara I, and many tried to buy it from Jim, including Liberace, who according to Jim, desperately wanted to have the car in hi garage. However the GS was not for sale. This photo of Liberace in the Golden Sahara was develop in December 14, 1956. Can you imagine what the impact of the GS I was, if you compare it with the cars in the street in the background.
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Jim showing some of the details of the Golden Sahara to Liberace.
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As wild as this first version of the Golden Sahara was, it was still relatively mild, compared with the plans Jim Street had in mind for the Golden Sahara II, which he began building in 1956, and which will be in PART TWO of this article.










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Jim Street Golden Sahara II

 

JIM STREET GOLDEN SAHARA II

 

Around 1956 Jim Street sets out to improve on the first version of his Iconic Golden Sahara dream Custom. Jim and his team created the legendary Laboratory on Wheels, the Golden Sahara II.


Special thanks to Jim Street for his stories on the car and how it was created.


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(Special note; Jim Skonzakes and Jim Street are the same person. In the early 1960’s Jim Skonzakes officially changed his name from Skonzakes to Street hoping his new last name would be easier to spell for others)
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In Part One on Jim Street’s Golden Sahara we shared the story on how the accident that George Barris had with his personal 1953 Lincoln, eventually led to the creation of one of the best known Custom Cars in the world, the Golden Sahara. We also mentioned that the owner of the car, Jim Skonzakes (aka Jim Street) was not overall happy with the quality of the car. After showing the car around for some time Jim decided in 1956 that it was time to redo the things he did not care for, and add all the other features he had been dreaming about, but never had been able to incorporate into the first version of the Golden Sahara.

Jim also had not enjoyed that the first version of the Golden Sahara was created on the other side of the country from where he lived, which prevented him from having full control over the project. So this time around, the car would be build closer to his home in Dayton Ohio. Jim had planned the new version with his good friend Henry Meyer. Jim was a visionary guy with a photographic eye, and saw all things in his head before they were created. Henry was the engineer who could realize all of Jim’s wild ideas in three dimensions. Together they formed the perfect team for the job. Henry Meyer worked at a shop called Delphos Machine & Tool Co. in Dayton, Ohio.

In 1956 Jim saw the double fins Bob Metz had created on a 1955 Buick, and decided that he wanted to have that feature on his Golden Sahara II as well. Jim had worked with Bob Metz before, and knew Bob would be the perfect guy to handle most of the body changed he had in mind. The rest of the job on the GS-II would be handled at the Delphos Machine & Tool shop in Dayton, Ohio.
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Delphos Machine and Tool Co. frontman Ray Teague liked the idea to work on “things that can’t be done”. Delphos Machine engineer Henry Meyer had been accomplishing the “impossible” with race cars and other vehicles for many years. Similarly, Joe Rote electronic specialists, refuses to take “No” for an answer on any project and Bud West, an automobile painter of high repute on the local scene, turned his perfectionist eye on the problem when told: “You’ll NEVER make these pulverized Oriental fish scales into paint that will adhere to metal.” This team under guidance of Jim Street did wonders on the new version of the Golden Sahara. Ray’s younger brother Kenny Teague also assisted in a lot of the work on the Golden Sahara.

Jim Skonzakes’s plan for the new Golden Sahara was to create a functional car which combined show quality with all kind of state of the art electronic gadgets. This would created as Jim called it a “laboratory on wheels”. The end result would be something the car show audience would have never before seen in their live.




This is how the Delphos Machine & Tool shop looks like in 2018. It is the shop where a lot of work on the Golden Sahara II was done around 1957-58.
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Building the Golden Sahara II

To make sure the Golden Sahara II would become Jim’s dream car he realized he had to deal with the project in a different way that how he did it with the first version of the car. Jim needed to be in control at all time. And the best way to do it was to start creating many design sketches of the ideas he had in his mind for so many years. The old Lincoln frame, which was still bend from the accident, was removed and replace by a stretched FoMoCo frame found at a local junkyard.

Many Changes needed to be made to the chassis and suspension to allow for all the state of the art electronic features Jim had planned. Jim wanted to hide as many of the electronic components as possible and to be able to do this a double floor was constructed. When it was time for the body modifications, Jim took the car to Bob Metz‘s Custom Shop in Shelbyville, Indiana. Jim had known Bob for many years and had relied on his handy work on several older project. Bob created new body panels for about half of the car, and modified most of the rest.

An rare early image of the Golden Sahara, before the rear portion of the top was added.
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The original rear fender scoop design from the GS-I would remain on the second version, but the rest of the rear fenders was reshaped with a double fin by Bob Metz, Henry Meyer created a set of hand-made taillights (formed in the kitchen oven) to be fitted to them. The front fenders were reshaped with a new added panel that would create a functional scoop on top of the headlights and that would flow into the front fender character line. At the doors, this character line was also reshaped and now curved down to the bottom of the body, creating a cove. This cove would later be filled with a shaped steel insert fitted with many gold plated 1957 Chrysler radio push button ornaments. One of these “ornaments” was used as a push button to open the car’s doors.

New quad headlight where created. A set of frosted Plexiglass sheets with gold plated “G” and “S” monograms added to them, were used as covers. Below the headlights, bullet-shaped housings cover the electronic eyes that would automatically brake the car when needed. This was all set on gold plated mesh and set in a reshaped and extended headlight opening. The grille shape design remained very similar to the GSI version. The hood on the original version was rather poorly done and rather thin making it to flex when opened. So this time the shape was modified and round bar stock was added to make the new hood much stiffer, and a new smaller than before scoop was added to the front. At this time the body was put in primer and the team started to concentrate on the details. Jim considered the 1955 FoMoCo wrap around windshield too old for the updated car, and nothing from a production car would fit his ideas. Jim designed a new windshield as well as a much larger bubble rear window … next problem… how to create it for the car.


Miss Arizona (in the late 1950’s) Joanne Adams posing with the Golden Sahara II at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
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During one trip to California in 1959 Jim took his Golden Cobra with him as well. He took it to Eddie Martinez for an alligator type black vinyl upholstery job. On the way back they stopped at Lake mead for some time off and met there with George Barris for a Photo shoot. George wanted to shoot the GS with the boat behind it, so it was set up like that. This photo shows that there was never a hitch on the GS, it was just faked for the photo shoot. The Cobra Boat and trailer were still part of Jim’s Collection and will auctioned at the Jim Street Estate Collection Mecum Auction.
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The shape for the windows was created by building a metal frame to fit the cars interior. This was covered with chicken wire, this wire mesh was covered with plaster and sanded till the perfect shape was created. This mold was carefully removed from the car and used to create new Plexiglass windows. The very expensive plexiglass sheets were heated in a huge oven and shaped over the plaster dies. Not an easy thing to do, and it took them several tries to make it work. All this was something nobody had done before at the time. The shaped plexiglass pieces were place on the new Golden Sahara body and marked where the overlap material needed to be cut, and then this was very carefully removed and the glass shaped to fit the body perfectly, and the needed channels and rubber molding where created as well.

Close up of the Bob Metz created double finned rear fenders. Henry Meyer hand made the taillights and the ornaments on the rear fender skirt are 1957 Chrysler radio push buttons.
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Jim designed a new V-shaped “roll-bar” that Henry created with a solid piece of shaped metal as base. The bar itself was cut, shaped and welded by Henry, while Jim assisted with cold wet rags to prevent the metal from warping, later this was metal finished till it was perfect for the gold plating. Jim also made a Plexiglass top section to be fitted in between the windshield and the roll bar, but once finished he barely used it. “The car just looked so much better without it”.

A rare photo of the Golden Sahara II with the Plexiglass top section in place. (photo courtesy of Jim Street Collection/Mecum/Rodder’s Journal)
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During the process on the car Jim often wondered about the color and paint type he would use for the car. It needed to be something special. Jim had found a fake pearl necklace in a dollar store and he really like the pearl finish on them. After a lot of experimenting Jim was able to create his own unique pearl paint, and Bud West was responsible for painting the pearl mixture over refrigerator white and created the amazing finish. People who saw this car in the 1950’s and 60’s mentioned the paint was “out of this world”, Something they had never sen before. I have been told that these old pearl paints, as used on the GS-II had a completely different look and feel than the modern pearl paints. More on the Pearl Paint on the Golden Sahara II can be read in this CCC-Article


Jim wanted to have single stick drive in the GS-II and asked if Henry Meyer could create it. Henry came up with two ways to do it and they picked what they thought was the best way, and it came out working perfectly. Then the electronics guy Joe Rote said that he could do a voice control system for the car, (remember this is in 1958) which even impressed Henry Meyer.
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Jim demonstrating how the lever could be used to steer the car, but also as accelerator and brake. Notice the steering wheel had been removed to make this demonstration even more dramatic.
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Jim also had many new plans for the interior of the Golden Sahara II. The dash was heavily modified to fit the new style of the car, and to house all the controls needed for the new electronic features. At the top center of the new dash, Jim installed a 1958 Ford hood scoop ornament to house some of the controls. The steering wheel was created from a cut down 1957 Chrysler Imperial. This steering wheel was just one of the multiple ways to steer (five!). There was also a center control joystick, made from gold plated rod with a brass base and topped with a laminated shaped plastic knob. This rod could steer the car, but also acted as the accelerator and brake. Then there was a push button steering on either side of the dash, and also a voice control unit to steer the car. And yet another method was a complete remote control unit that you could use to steer as well as control everything else in the car. One of the features of the car was that it would automatically stop if an object came to close to the front of the car.

A good look at the bubble top that was created for the Golden Sahara II. Bob Settles Melrose fabrications in Dayton Ohio was hired to made the plexiglass windows over the chicken wire and plaster molds Jim had created. The company could not get it right, so in the end Jim and Henry had to create the bubbles them selves.
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The interior also had a TV, a telephone, 8-track recorder, and special massage units inside the seats. The trunk of the car was loaded with electronic control systems and batteries needed for all the electronic features as we can see in one of the photos. You have to remember that this car was built in the later part of the 1950’s, before anyone had ever heard of transistors or printed circuits, let alone Silicon or microchips. It was all done with hand soldered chassis and vacuum tubes – bulky and heavy. The interior for the car was done by a guy in Indianapolis. Sadly Jim forgot the name of the guy. Henry Meyer knew his work, since this guy also did a lot of work on the interiors of the Indy cars. Jim had found the upholstery material that had gold colored wire woven into it. The material was fantastic back then, and even today, it is amazing. To protect the interior Jim had special plastic covers custom made, those covers are still on the car today in 2018. The total cost for this version of the Golden Sahara was estimated to be over $75,000. A substantial amount of money now, but an incredible amount in 1959, when the car was finished.

From the day the Golden Sahara debuted back in 1954 up until today, the car has amazed and inspired many people all around the globe. The cars design and technical features have been incorporated into many cars created since. And several Custom builders have created vehicles that were inspired by the looks of the Golden Sahara. More on that in a later article on the Custom Car Chronicle.

The later version of the Golden Sahara had transparent Good-Year tires and illuminating custom hubs on handmade, by Bob Metz, hubcaps that weighted 20 pounds each.
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A good look at all the electronics that were needed to control the car. No place for groceries here.
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Close up for a better look.
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Dealer Displays

When show promoters heard about the GS-II and how many people it attracted Jim was invited to many shows and even offered money to bring his car to the shows. Besides doing the shows Jim promoted the car any way he could, including magazine ads, and which turned out to be very lucrative displaying it at new car dealers. The car always drew a crowd, and because the car was so far ahead of its time it would remain “new” year after year.The dealer owners knew how to draw a crowd with the car. They advertised the display of the car at the local papers, and then placed the car in the showroom for everybody to see. The car sales during these displays went up a lot. People were very inspired to buy the latest car after seeing the Golden Sahara II.

Some of the special flyers created to promote the Golden Sahara at car dealers.
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Jim saved as many news paper ads and articles as he could find. This is just one of the promotional ads from a car dealer who was going to have the Golden Sahara II and the Kookie T on display.
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On the GS the front fenders where so low that the overhang almost acted like fender skirts. To be able to turn the front wheels the wheels had to be offset to the inside. The wheel centers where cut out and placed further out wards, this way the tires would fit closer to the center of the car, all that was needed to be able to steer the car.
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Just a few of the many newspaper articles devoted to the Golden Sahara II from all around the US. At nearly every town that had the Golden Sahara on display the local newspaper would write a story on the car.
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The dealers used the Golden Sahara to promote their business, but also as backdrop for other promotional photos.
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One of the dealer employees demonstrating the remote control unit Jim had later developed for the last version of the Golden Sahara. If you look careful you can see the Kookie-T on the far right of the photo, and its seat on the window reflection on the left.
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The Golden Sahara at yet another car dealer showroom.
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One of the things Jim often did when demonstrating the Golden Sahara II was let some people of the audience work the many features including the voice operated door openers. Notice the stainless steel band in the center of the tires tread.
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Jim demonstrating the GS II at a San Antonio dealer. When and where ever Jim was doing these demonstrations there was always a crowd. The beautiful painting on the wall was done by a very talented Mexican guy Jim knew.
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Traveling across the US

After having showed the Golden Sahara I at many shows Jim realized there was some good money in touring his cars. He decided to take it all very serious, the only way for him. So he decided to create a customized hauler for the Golden Sahara that matched the car, and had a cargo bay that would be custom suited to fit the Golden Sahara and carry all the needed tools equipment etc that they would ever need while on the road. The cargo bay was designed in a way that once the GS-II was inside, Extensions of the truck frame would be raised and meet with the frame of the GS-II and would be raised further so that the wheels of the GS-II would be in the air. This made sure that whatever happened to the truck the GS would not hit the walls front, rear or sides. The Custom restyling on the cab was done by Bill DeCarr in California, but the cargo area was done close to Dayton Ohio.

The first version of the Golden Sahara Hauler was restyled by Bill DeCarr and painted pearl white with gold ad candy red by Larry Watson. The GS Hauler can be seen here leaving the Larry Watson Bill DeCarr Artesia Blvd shop in Bellflower Ca.
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Later the car was further restyled and repainted metalflake gold and silver. The black and white photo shows the hauler with the special Kookie-T trailer, this is how the Golden Sahara and Kookie-T toured the US for many years. (Inset color photo from the Denny/Trent Knight Collection)
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The Kookie T getting unloaded from the special trailer created by Don Mann at Creative Metals in New Carlisle, Ohio.
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The Golden Sahara getting unloaded from the truck. The inset photo shows the car getting unloaded at Lake Mead.
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Becoming World Famous

The Golden Sahara II made it into the Cinderfella movie because the movie prop manager of Paramount had seen the car in a Good Year magazine ad and liked the looks of it. He contacted Good-Year and they contacted Jim about it. When Jim called the movie prop manager, who was a super nice guy, he and the GS were at a car show in Denver Colorado. The movie prop manager asked if they could see the car in person. Sure no problem. After the show is over I will drive to the Paramount studio’s to show the car.

The prop manager explained that they needed the car for a movie kind of like the well known Cinderrella story, but then based around a guy. The car they had in mind  would change into a bike and a chauffeur driving the car would be changed into a gold fish. And that for the car they needed a sort of magical futuristic car and they though the Golden Sahara might be the perfect car for them. When Jim arrived at the gates of the studio he got escorted to the office where the prop manager was having a meeting. Jim was introduced and asked to show the car. Jim asked if he could use the parking lot next to the building to unload the GS from the truck. Sure those are all our cars parked there and we can move them.

Jim Street, on the right showing Jerry Lewis all the high tech features of the Golden Sahara II.
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The parking lot was in between two studio’s and in one the Bonanza series was being filmed at the that moment. Tony Curtis was there as well. Jim opened the truck and was taking the ramps out. Ones he got into the car and started to back up a crowd of people started to gather around the Golden Sahara.

And soon after that the whole cast of Bonanza got out of the studio to look at the car. Jim had the car out of the truck but still on the ramp and figured he leave it there since there were to many people around it and he was afraid to damage it. It seemed like everybody at Paramount had stopped doing what they were doing to look at this amazing car. The movie Prop manager said that Jim could put the car back in the truck again and if he wanted to get inside with him. Inside he was asked to sign the contract. The GS-II was EXACTLY what they had in mind and needed for the movie. So Jim signed the contract. The shooting on the movie would start soon after that so the car had to stay at Paramount. Which would fit perfect with Jim’s other plans for the car.

Jerry Lewis and a lucky kid in the GS-II at the Paramount Studios. Wherever Jim took the Golden Sahara, there was always a crowd.
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Goofing around at the movie set
During the move shooting of Cinderfella Jim was pleasantly surprised  that everybody, and especially the actors were goofing around all the time, joking and trying to pull pranks on everybody. So one time, when they were shooting close ups of Jerry Lewis in the Golden Sahara while on a big screen behind the car some moving images made it appear Jerry was driving the car, Jim came up with a great idea. The seats in the Golden Sahara had heavy duty massage units build into them. And they could, just as every other electronic feature, be remote controlled. So when the camera’s were running and Jerry doing his lines Jim, out of sight, starts the massage unit. Jerry stops acting, puts his head in the cushion, moans and completely relaxes… “I want this car” he yells. Guys at the set had warned Jim not to do it since he was not supposed to interfere with the actors, but Jim, stubborn as he was did it anyway, and Jerry loved it.
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Jerry Lewis was very impressed with the Golden Sahara and used every opportunity to get in, and even drive it around at the movie studio.
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Accident at the Movie Shoot
To be able to shoot the driving scenes of the Golden Sahara for the Cinderfella movie Hollywood Boulevard had been closed down partly for the public. The shooting took place at 2 o clock in the morning. After the shots were taken, the movie people told Jim to wait for his police escort to take the car back to where the Golden Sahara truck was parked. The escort bike was there, but nobody to drive it. While Jim was waiting for his police escort, the police at the road block on Hollywood Boulevard thought they could open the road to the public again. By then Jim’s motor-cycle cop escort had arrived but could not get his bike to start. Then all of the sudden Jim was hit in the drivers side by 1955 T-Bird. Jim heard the gold plated ornaments drop all over the street.

Jim jumped out of the Golden Sahara, and forgot he had just gotten back from the hospital and had metal clamps in his leg from surgery. The metal clamps ripped off, lots of pain, but Jim was just to upset to think about that right now. He could see the front hubcaps being damaged, some of the pearl paint was badly chipped and many of the buttons on the cove front panel were torn off. Since the motor-cycle cop could not get his bike to start Jim jumped into the GSII and chased the guy in the ’55 T-bird. When the guy had to stop for a red light Jim jumped out stumbled to the car, pulls the door open and punched the guy in the face, preventing him from getting away. Later the polices arrested the guy and Jim pressed charges against him at the police station. The Golden Sahara was needed for promotions while in California, so he asked if he could use the facilities from the Paramount studio’s. Jim’s GS hauler truck had every tool and supplies in it he needed, but he needed some space to get the damage fixed and the pearl white sprayed. The truck had a compressor, and Jim had brought paint guns, extra pearl paint, white base, and spare gold plated ornaments.

Movie stills from the 1960 Paramount Pictures movie Cinderfella in which the Golden Sahara II stars next to Jerry Lewis. Gold painted actor Norman Leavit is the chauffeur in the close ups, but it was Jim Street who did the driving scenes in the movie.
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Once the movie shooting for Cinderfella was done with and the contract ended Jim was asked to keep the car for another month at Paramout studios. The car had left such an impact there that people from all over asked to see the car. The studio happily paid Jim an substantial amount of money for another month. “Not a problem,” Jim said.

After that month Jim drove the truck with the GSII inside back home to Dayton while on the road for quite some time, he was pulled over by a cop. “What did I do officer” Jim said knowing he did not do anything wrong. “are you mr Jim Street sir” the officer asked. “Yes I’m” Well here is a number you need to call! Paramout studio’s had another movie roll for the Golden Sahara and wanted Jim to come back. Remember, this was the time way before there were any cell phone’s but the connections Paramout had made the police cooperate in this. The new movie planned for the Golden Sahara to be in was going to be with Elvis Presley as lead actor. Although the movie never happened. Jim did drove back to the Movie Studio, and was introduced to Elvis Presley, who totally loved the Golden Sahara, and even tried to buy it from Jim.

The Cinderfella movie was shown world wide, and made the Golden Sahara II World Wide popular. Car enthusiasts outside of the US, who might have heard, or had read about the Golden Sahara, were now able to see it in color, and moving in the film footage.


The Golden Sahara II was also used for several TV commercials, both local as well as national. Walter Cronkite shot the Golden Sahara at Miami beach, and it was used in several local Ohio commercials. In 1962 Jim appeared with the car on the very popular TV show I’ve Got a Secret, which made a huge impact on a very wide audience. A YouTube clip of the I’ve Got a Secret can be viewed HERE. Another TV show appearance on YouTube can be seen HERE.

Jim demonstrating the Golden Sahara II early version at a local TV studio.
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Jim demonstrating the latest Golden Sahara features for one of the many TV shows it appeared in.
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Radio interview for Jim Street about the Golden Sahara.
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Jim Street and his Golden Sahara II as seen on a June 25, 1962 broadcast of I’ve Got a Secret.
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The Golden Sahara II appeared on magazine covers and was featured inside. It also appeared on the cover of several car show programs, helping to attract more visitors to the show.
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An illustration of a mix between the Golden Sahara I with GSII double finned rear fenders was used at several car shows and award plaques.
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The Golden Sahara II appeared on at least two trading cards in the early 1960’s.
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The Golden Sahara also made it into the Guinness World Records Book as the most expensive non-production car.
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Henry Meyer

Henry Meyer worked at the Delphos Machine Shop, but he also had his own shop. Jim and Henry became very close friends and their friendship lasted until Henry passed away in 1994. They worked on the Golden Sahara very closely and together came up with a huge amount of inventions they used on the car. Together with Henry Meyer Jim spend countless hours at the junkyard finding the right parts to create the Golden Sahara. Jim is a visionary and sees things with his on-board camera, as he says it. With Henry he had this special relation that he was able to tell him what he wanted, and Henry came up with the ideas how to create it. This was how they created the items on the Golden Sahara as the stick steering, the push button steering and many other special features. Jim met Henry for the first time in 1947, and have always remained friends.

Henry J. Meyer, good friends with Jim Street from back in 1947, was the engineer behind many of the special features on the Golden Sahara. Henry was the guy that made sure it all worked.
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Radar Security and Retiring the Golden Sahara

When Jim Street showed the Golden Sahara around the country during the 1960’s he had plenty of time to think about possible future updates, a Golden Sahara III. While he was making plans for the GSIII he also thought about ways to use the technology Henry Meyer and him had developed. One of the interesting techniques they used to have the car stop automatically when it was approaching objects was especially interesting. The system they used would detect any motions of living creatures even thru walls, and Jim figured that would be ideal for a burglar alarm. Jim went ahead and explored the possibilities to use the technique for security, a burgular security system. It turned out to be the perfect start for a state-of-the art movement security system.

In fact it was so good that Jim decided to start producing the security system, and build a complete business around the system. RADAR Security was born, and became a very successful security business in and around Dayton Ohio. The business grew fast, and would stay in business for the next 30 plus years with Jim leading it. Even though the business part of it was very nice, it did prevent Jim from creating the Golden Sahara III.

In 1966, the Radar Security. Business took up most of Jim’s time. The Golden Sahara II had been traveling the US for almost ten years and was in need of freshening up at the least. The car was not up to the ever evolving standards Jim had, and especially the wear on the car from all the traveling had become hard for Jim to look at. Since Jim spend most of his time at the Radar company he decided to retire it and store it at his climate controlled garage ,all wrapped up. Jim was asked multiple times to take out the GS and enter it at special event, but Jim knew the ones brilliant pearl white paint had turned golden brown, and the plating on many of the exterior parts needed to be redone.


Jim Street behind his office in the Radar Security office building in the 1970’s. Notice the GSII, Kookie-T and GS Hauler photos on the wall behind him.
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So there was no way Jim would show the GS if it was not up to his high standards. In the last 10 years when I talked to Jim about the GS we often talked about restoration of the GS which Jim seriously considered from time to time, but always realized he just did not have the time which was occupied mostly with his passion for vintage wooden boats etc, and other car projects. The Golden Sahara Would remain in storage as how it was stored back in 1966 until Jim passed away on November 29th 2017 and was not uncovered until March, 2018, when it was photographed for the May, 2018 Jim Street Estate Auction at Mecum Indianapolis Auctions. Read more about the uncovering of the Golden Sahara and the Kookie-T in the CCC-Article.



Golden Sahara III
Jim had plans for a GSIII based on the current car. But this time it would become an amphibious vehicle. Boat and car in one, based on the same car… perhaps, or perhaps all new. Jim often mentioned that especially the interior would be something really special, he has some great plans for that in his head. Many of those plans were discussed with Henry Meyer and both were looking forward to start on the project which was about 30 years ago from now. But since Jim was in the 24-7 business of his Radar Security he never found the time to start the project. Henry always regretted that since he really looked forward to start working on the car that could be used both on land and in the water. And knowing what both people could create this would have been one spectacular vehicle.

The Golden Sahara in March 2018 after the covers had been removed for the first time in decades.
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Larry Watson T-Bird Vino Paisano

 

LARRY WATSON T-BIRD

 

Larry Watson Personal car based on a brand new 1958 Thunderbird with only minimal amount of body work. It was the unique paint design and use of color that made it a Trend Setter.



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This article shows a selection of photos of Larry Watson’s 1958 T-Bird. Most of these photos come from the Larry Watson Personal Photo Collection. More on Larry’s personal collection can be found in the Larry Watson section on the CCC-Site. Or on the Custom Car Photo Archive. Special thanks to Roger O’Dell for scanning this amazing material and sharing them with us on the Custom Car Chronicle.
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In the summer of 1958, shortly after Larry Watson had sold his 1950 Chevy “Grapevine” Larry went shopping for a new car. In the past years he had come up with some new paint ideas, and he wanted to try them out on a new car. The original plan was to find a slightly used ’57 Cadillac, but when he arrived at the Cadillac dealer his eyes were drawn to a one year older Cadillac Eldorado brougham, it was love at first sight. But Larry did not have the $11,000.- the limited production Brougham cost. After the initial disappointment, he later decided he wanted to have an ’58 Ford Hard-top and try out his paint ideas. When he arrived at the Ford dealer he spotted a brand new 1958 Ford T-Bird, and ones again he fell in love with a new car. He had to loan some money to make the deal happen, and told the dealer he would get the first one they would get in with an black and white factory tuck & roll interior.

A few weeks later the a black and white interior T-Bird had arrived at the dealer, and Larry was called to come and pick it up. The car turned out to be factory pink… but Larry did not mind that at all, since that color would not stay visible for very long. Soon after all arrangements had been made and Larry drove it off the dealer’s lot he drove it to have the suspension lowered at Lindy’s Muffler Shop. They also added dual pipes with mufflers and stock chrome tailpipes. But with the car now so low, the tailpipes scraped the road so much that soon the bottom half of them was pushed in and something needed to be done. They then added new tailpipes from chrome plated ’36 Ford drive shafts, mounted as high as they could and extra skid plates were welded to the bottom of the pipes.

The pink factory paint is covered in platinum silver by Larry Watson at the Barris Shop.
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Next Larry took the car to the Barris Shop where he rented shop space, and had Bill Hines and his good friend Bill DeCarr shave the handles and the trim on the bulge on the doors shave the emblems and ad push buttons to open the door. They then finished the body work with some primer. The de-chromed body looked already really amazing with all the emblems and handles removed, but Larry had something in mind that would make it look even better, and make the car look longer and lower. Larry added a set of Appleton Spotlights, 1957 Dodge Lancer four bar hubcaps which he bought brand new from the Dodge dealer, and lake pipes with unique Dave’s Home of Chrome finned end caps.

Then it was time for Larry to do his magic, all this was done at the Barris Atlantic Ave shop in Lynwood, where Larry rented a booth from Barris. Larry wanted to try out an idea he had to create an ultra fine platinum pearl. He ordered 2 gallons of pre-mixed, according his own specifications, platinum pearl nitrocellulose lacquer. Larry first covered the car in a few coats of fine metallic silver and followed that with a few coats of the translucent platinum pearl. After the car had dried overnight he took it out of the shop, and parked it across the street, where he could view it good from the shop. The already huge ’58 T-Bird looked enormous with the new light bright paint. It was just too loud, and too bright. People were actually honking their horn letting them know the reflecting sun in the bright paint, acting like a mirror, was hurting their eyes. So Larry decided to get the Bird back in the shop and do another, his second, panel paint job.


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The First Larry Watson panel Paint-job

Larry’s very first panel paint job he developed was after he was asked by Renegades member Zeno Stephen’s, who owned a mildly customized pure white 1956 Mercury. To paint his car with something different than flames or scallops. Zeno’s Mercury looked so great already, and Larry really loved the lines on the car, so he came up with the idea to highlight these body lines. He masked off all the body lines, side trim, belt line, door handles, basically all the main body lines that your eyes capture first when you look at a car. He used 1 1/2 inch masking tape to make sure the outlining was even all around. He then pained the the inside panels in GM Tahitian Red. When he had removed the masking tape it looks totally amazing. Larry striped the panels in gold, and Zeno took off, cruising to the Bellflower Clock where everybody was staring at his brand new Larry Watson outline paint job. A new trend was born.

Zeno’s Stephen’s 1955 Mercury with Larry’s first ever panel / outline paint job in GM Tahitian Red over factory white.
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Polaroid Insta-Matic photos of Larry’s Vino Paisano in front of the Barris shop at Atlantic Blvd. The photos were taken shortly after the car was finished by by Bob Seiger, and given to Larry. In the background on the first photo we can see Lyle Lake’s 1952 Buick “Blue Danube” sitting in the shop window. This part of the Barris shop was rented by Larry as his shop space for some time. The T-Bird was painted at this shop.
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James Potter had urged  Larry to hurry up with the T-Bird, since he wanted to use it on the cover of the 1959 Custom Cars Annual he was putting together. Larry just made the deadline for the photo-shoot at a new bank building on Willshire Blvd. The color photo above was used on the cover of the book, and so was an color photo of Larry’s ’50 Chevy. Two Watson Customs on the cover, that made Larry very happy.
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From the James Potter 1959 Custom Cars Annual photo-shoot.
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Larry figured that the bright platinum paint could do fine as outlines, as long as the majority of the body would be covered in a darker color. Larry carefully laid out his masking tape (1 3/4 inch wide), following all the major body lines on the T-Bird. Even thought Larry had paneled Zeno Stephen’s ’55 mercury before, on his T-Bird he wanted to do things a little different. The ’58 T-Bird had very distinct body lines, and he wanted to highlight those, and wanted to see how much effect on the overall looks his new design/technique would have. Making sure the platinum pearl outlines would later highlight the beautiful body contours and enhance the low look of the car. Ones Larry was happy with the tape lay-out he show the panels in a beautiful deep candy burgundy wine, mixed by Joe Sheline, straight over the fine platinum pearl. Which created the most amazing sparkle for the Candy paint when the sunlight hit it.

The Vino Paisano parked on the curb at the Barris Shop. This photo shows how the paneling Larry designed enhances the shapes of the Thunderbird body lines. This photo also shows how much difference the car is compared to anything else on the road. Imagine how much impact this had on people who saw it on the road.
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Notice that the Spotlights do not have the scallops added at this point.
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When the tape and paper were removed the result looks spectacular. After the paint had been rubbed by Dayton “Darkie Bob” Randolph and his crew in Huntington Park, Larry added some bold striping in imitation gold. But he did not like the effect and redid it the same day in a lavender with had the just perfect result, slightly softening the edge from burgundy to silver. The Watson paint design made the T-Bird look longer and lower, it really was customizing by nothing but paint.

Larry also painted the grille mesh and the mesh around the taillights in the Candy burgundy. All four taillight lenses were detailed with chrome plated bullets. And on the front Larry removed the stock bumper/grille guards and modified a set of chrome bullets and mounted those over the holes left from the bumper guards. The bullets were bought at Dave’s Home of Chrome.

As soon as Larry was finished with the car James Potter shot it for the cover of the 1959 Custom Cars Annual. And soon s that book hit the book stores everybody in the US was going wild over the incredible new style paint job Larry had done on his T-Bird. Larry used the car on the road, cruising down to all his favorite places, and in the weekends entered it in many Car Shows, where it won many Best Paint Awards. Since the car was so extremely low the cops really loved Larry’s T-Bird as well, and they awarded Larry with many tickets as well. Later Larry would add a license plate to the front, and remove the lakes pipes in the hope the cops would pull him over less than before.

Shortly after finishing the -T-Bird Larry Watson showed the car on a aluminum foil covered turn table at the Renegades Car Club Rod and Custom Motorama at the Long Beach Municipal Auditorium in 1958. The car had been named “The Burgundy Bird”. The Renegades club had honored Larry with a large top location at the entrance of the building.
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The Candy burgundy and platinum silver on Larry’s T-Bird looked amazing on the rock salt round display at the Renegades show. The car was a huge success with the crowd, and another Watson trend had been born. Notice that prior to the show Larry had added scallops and pin striping to the Spotlights.
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George Barris photo of Larry’s T-Bird at the Renegades Show in 1958. According the signs at the bottom the turntable was created by Gary McNaught.
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Larry painted the inside of the engine bay white and added chrome valve covers and air-cleaner. Notice the scalloped and pin-striped Appleton Spotlights.
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Second version

The custom paint that was available back in the later part of the 1950’s and early 1960’s was very bright, colorful, and the hues very brilliant, but most of these products were experimental and not tested very good. In fact Larry helped develop a lot of new custom paint products, and was testing material for his suppliers. It turned out that a lot of these early custom paints started to fade or crack after just a few month in the sun. This also happened with Larry’s ’58 T-Bird, so after half a year he the candy burgundy had faded so badly that he really needed to re-paint the whole car.


Karen Beach, Larry’s girlfriend at the time is posing with the T-Bird for this night shot at the Long Beach Circle. The photo was taken by Lowell Helms and according the stories two police car were using their headlights to dd some extra light for the photo. It worked pretty good to me. Notice that Larry also added a license plate to the front of the car, being sick of getting too many tickets for not having one.
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After having studied the paint and how it had faded on his car he noticed that the panels looked still good on the outside, but the further into the panel, the worst the fading became. He decided he could fix the paint with another round of paneling. He taped of the panels with 2 inch tape, making sure the outlines would be even all around. He then sprayed the inside panel with silver, let it dry and taped off the outside of the silver panel. He then fogged in the inside of the panel in Candy grape. When he removed the tape the new panels had a nice silver outline, and the inside was candy grape fading to silver. Larry covered it all with many clear coats before having Dayton “Darkie Bob” Randolph do the complete polishing on it. Another new, trend setting Watson Paint Technique. Larry would later create many paint designs based on this T-Bird paint.

Larry drove and showed the car like this for some time and then he updated the car with a set of chrome revere wheels detailed with shallow moon hubcaps, which possible are 1950 Mercury units, detailed with another chrome bullet. And later Larry decided to remove the lakes pipes. The car was extrmely low already, and the pipes, which were mounted below the body, made it even lower, and often hard to drive. After having owned and enjoyed the car for about a year Larry decided to sell his T-Bird to a young Bob Finley of Long Beach, who absolutely loved the car. Bob needed his father to finance the car. Larry moved on and bought an 1959 Cadillac which he customized again right after he got it to his shop. Bob owned and really enjoyed the car until late 1961, when he sold it to a principal of Long Beach Poly High School.

The T-Bird at the Compton Drive in photographed most likely by George Barris.
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Closer look at the panel, outline and fogged in paint on Larry’s T-Bird in front of the famous Watson’s shop wall.
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Every time I see one of the photos taken in front of the Larry Watson Rosecrans Blvd shop wall I wonder if Larry had this in mind when he designed the wall.  Posing his creations in front of the wall was a genius promotional action.
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Low angle photo shows the white painted under carriage, and it also shows how extremely low the car really was. No wonder Larry later removed the lakes pipes making driving the car a bit easier.
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Larry mounted chrome plated bullets on the stock T-Bird taillights. The exhaust tops are ’36 Ford drive shafts cut to size and chrome plated, they created a very nice mellow sound. The gas tank was painted white.
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This photo from the Larry Watson Personal Collection has seen better days, but I wanted to include here anyway since is has a nice birds eye view showing the panel work on the top and hood so nice.
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Great black and white photo taken late in the day creating long shadows.
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We could not find a clear photo  of the interior in Larry’s T-Bird, so here are two cropped images that show a little bit of the factory stock black and white tuck & roll interior.
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Larry proudly posing with his T-Bird in front of his Rosecrans Blvd shop in Artesia. The photo shows that not to long after Larry had done his personal T-Bird many customers had requested similar panel and outline paint jobs.
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James Potter made a few close ups of Larry posting with his T-Bird.
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Another George Barris photo-shoot at an unknown location that George used several times. By now Larry had removed the lakes pipes, which make the car look a little less lowered.
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Larry pointing out where the push buttons for the door solenoids was hidden.
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Two close ups photos showing the different wheel/hubcap set up used on Larry’s T-Bird. 1957 Dodge Lancer four bar hubcaps detailed with burgundy paint on burgundy painted steel wheels on the early version. And later after the car had received the paint update, Larry mounted chrome reverse wheels with shallow moon hubcaps (possible 1950 Mercury units?) with Bullet centers. The wheel wells were painted flat white, a big trend back then. As these photos show the white did not stay clean very long. Note the missing lakes pipes on the right photo.
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Larry’s T-Bird made it onto the cover and inside the magazines many times back then, and it is still used a lot these days. Larry had a lot of frames (even more than captured in this photo by Roger O’Dell) devoted to his ’58 T-Bird on his Museum wall.
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Survived

The story of the T-Bird after that is very vague (so far) we know that it has changed hands some more before ending in the hands of Mark Mohoney from Hollywood. In the early 1980’s Mark offered the car for sale in the Recycler and it was bought by Beach Collision Body Shop in Huntington Beach owner Rick Randall. Bill DeCarr had found out about the car being owned by Rick, and had mentioned it to Larry. Larry traced down Rick and looked up the car at his body shop. He sure recognized his old T-Bird which made him very happy to know the car was still around, and in good shape. Rick had started to take apart the car, have all the chrome redone and the car was in primer at the time.

I captured the restored Larry Watson 1958 T-Bird in 2011 outside of the Pomona GNRS buildings. The car was part of a huge Larry Watson display at the Customs Then & Now exhibit.
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The rear quarter view of Larry’s T-Bird is my personal favorite view. Here all the outlined panels make the car look so perfect.
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Several years later Larry’s good friend Gary Niemie asked Larry about the T-Bird, and contact was made with Rick to see if the project was for sale. Which it was, since Rick had been to busy working on the project since Larry last saw it. Larry helped out Gary restoring the car to its first version, how it was first seen by the world on the cover of the 1959 Custom Cars Annual.

Danny Hull at Corona Custom Shop in Norco, Ca was chosen to do the final paint work. Larry helped mixing the pearl silver and the candy burgundy. Danny spayed the silver, after which Larry did the panel tape work for the burgundy paint. Danny also added the Candy burgundy, but let Larry add one coat as well. Later Larry pinstriped the panels in lavender, just as he had done back in 1958.

Gary Niemie later sold the car to Ralph Whitworth who was putting together a huge Hot Rod and Custom Car museum. When the plans for the museum were canceled the T-Bird ended up at the Icons of Speed & Style Auction where the near entire collection of the museum was auctioned on September 26th, 2009. Roger and Marie O’dell, close friends of Larry Watson ended up buying the car for $55,000. After Roger had purchased Larry’s T-Bird he stored it in Larry’s personal museum, the absolute best place for the car to be displayed.

Detail showing the Thunderbird emblem on the rear of the top. The emblem can be pushed to operate the door solenoids. This photo also shows the fine pearl silver paint, candy burgundy and Larry Watson lavender pin-striping.
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Chrome bullets from Dave’s Home of Chrome covering the holes for the factory bumper guards. The grille mesh was painted candy burgundy by Larry back in 1958, the same thing was done on the restoration.
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The chrome bullets used on the taillights are restored originals Larry used back in 1958. Notice the Candy burgundy painted mesh.
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Appleton Spotlights and candy burgundy paint details.
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Watson panel – outline paint

Larry painted a large number of cars with the outline paneling technique he had developed for his personal T-Bird. In fact Larry did at least half a dozen 58 T-Birds in a similar – but slightly different in design and color – outline-panel style as his own T-Bird. The outline and paneling paint technique was a huge success for Larry from 1958 up into the early 1960’s. During this time Larry operating from his Artesia and Rosecrans shop, both in Bellflower California. Cars from totally stock, just lowered cars where he would accent all the body details, to smoothed customs where he would outline just the main body lines.

Larry was a true master when it came to this technique. He started by looking at the car for some time, and finding all the key lines that really mattered for the look of the car. Those where the lines than needed the extra color accents. Or he would choose the widest panels and found ways to make those look longer and thinner, by masking a little more, or less space around the edges. Larry’s designers eye allowed him to do custom work with nothing but paint. The result were cars that not only looked spectacular, they looked longer, lower and thinner. Something that could done only with very expensive metal body work as chopping and sectioning before. And now Larry was able to do this in a matter of hours and days, for just a fraction of the costs.

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Porterville 1950 Mercury

PORTERVILLE 1950 MERC

Who knows more about this mystery 1950 Mercury that was photographed in 1958 in Porterville California. The car was later found in San Diego.


UPDATED April – 11 – 2018



In July 2017 Derby Ahlstone from California send me some photos of an vintage 1950 Custom Mercury that a friend of his father considered to sell. He asked is I had seen this Mercury before, and knew more about its history. At the time I did remember seeing a few photos of a similar Mercury sitting in a garage with some boxes on top of it, but I could not find it in my archives. So I send a message to Anthony White, (the best source to go to if you have a Custom 49-51 Mercury that you like to know more about the history), asking if he knew more about the car.

Anthony sure knew more about the car, he recently had found an old High-School Yearbook photo showing the same Mercury in the late 1950’s that was shared by 46-to-64 on Instagram. It turned out to be a photo of a Del Simpson’s Service Station in Porterville Ca (between Fresno and Bakersfield) that showed a few cars, most likely of friends and or from the owners of the service station. One of the cars sure was the chopped Mercury from the photos Derby had send. The photo was shared by 46-to-64 on Instagram and came out of a 1958 Porterville High Shool yearbook.

46to64 Intagram post.
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Derby was very excited about the new information that the photo showed that the car was at least from 1958, and more likely even older than that. And that he now had a location the 1958 owner was located. Derby decided to buy the car from his late fathers friend, and shared some more information with us to see if we can find out some more info on the car’s history. Derby plans to restore the car back to how it used to be, but would like to know a bit more about it. All he has right now is the one photo from 1958, and of course everything on the car itself. So far we have not been able to find out more about who owned the car, and who was the original builder From what we can see in the photos it appears to have been restyled in the early to mid 1950’s, and was perhaps updated a bit here and there over the years.

The photo as it appeared in the 1958 Porterville High-School Yearbook.
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Close up of the Merc shows a little more of the details, and also the primer spots on the doors. The other dark sections is shadow from the late or very early in the day photo.
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This is all we know about the car.
The car was purchased by the previous owner (friend of Derby’s father) in 1971 in San Diego. From what has been told then the car had sit outside from 1967 till the moment it was sold. The guy, who is a Mercury guru stored it inside a barn where the photos in this article are taken at as well. Derby remembered seeing the Mercury every time him and his father went to visit the friend. And each time Derby asked his father to see if he could buy the Merc, but the friend never wanted to sell the car, until 2017. The previous owner has never been able to find any history of the car from before the time he bought it, only that it had been stored outside from 1967. The car came without an engine and there is still no engine in the car as it is today. The former owner figured all the work on the car was done in the late 1950’s.

This is how the car sat in the summer of 2017 in the garage of the previous owner.
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Frenched stock headlights, molded grille surround and splash pan and rounded hood corners. Lavender and light metallic blue paint are the colors the car was painted last. But we do not know when. It appears the car might have been painted white when it left the factory. And most likely it was primer white in the 1958 photo.
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The car was very dusty after having sit in the garage since 1971. But it was all there the same as how it was put in there.
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Narrowed 1955 DeSoto grille.
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Spotlight mounting brackets on the chopped A-pillars.
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The top was chopped, with the drip rails removed, a technique often used in the early to mid 1950’s. The sharp body line below the rear window was retained after the chop, most of the times this line was smoothed in the early years. The B-pillars were angled forward during the chop and the door rear top and bottom corners are rounded. All handles were removed (in the ’58 photo we can see primer spots were the handles used to be), the hood was nosed and the trunk decked. The grille shell was molded to the fenders and the hood corners are rounded. The stock grille was replaced by an narrowed 1955 DeSoto grille. The headlights are frenched, most likely using the stock Mercury headlights. The taillights of the Mercury were removed, the holes filled and the stock lenses placed lower on the rear fenders and molded in using hand made molded in surrounds for a smooth frenched look.




The chop on the car looks to be expertly done with all the fit and finish work done very well, including the chopped working vent windows.
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A look at the back shows the lowered taillights, straight corners on the trunk, nice flowing roof after the chop, with the character line below the rear window still in place.
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Close up of the nicely molded in and lower mounted stock 1950 Mercury taillights.
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A better look at the flow of the chopped top, the nice shape of the rear quarter window, angled forward B-pillar and rounded door corners. The rear quarter panels are not molded to the body. Notice the location of the door push button.
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Close up of the rear quarter windows, which are still pivoting, and the shaved drip rails.
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Quarter window at the passenger side.
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An very unique feature on this Mercury is that the body was actually channeled over the frame. Something we often read in the old magazine, but was actually very seldom done on the car. But this Mercury really was channeled. Not an easy task on the Mercury. The interior was done in pink and white and has some characteristics that indicate it could have been done in Tijuana, Mexico. Especially the rear bench is shaped unique and upholstered in a very particular way. The steering wheel, or what is left of it, is most likely added later, and so are the extra gauges below the stock dash.  The car had Dual Spotlights with interior handles (not the Dummy kind). The side trim appears to be 1955 Buick, and on both sides of the car a bush button to open the doors was located between the top of the side trim and the door character-line, a rather unusual spot for this, since most of the time these buttons were hidden as much as possible. At this point it looks like the car might have been painted a lavender, as well as a light metallic blue.

Interior photo showing the amount the body was channeled over the frame.
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Pink/lavender painted dash with later added steering wheel and extra gauges. Notice the unique upholstery on the engine and drive shaft tunnel.
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Custom rear seat with unique upholstery… what is left of it.
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Pink upholstery.
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Rear quarter interior panel.
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Closer look at the pink upholstery.
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White or perhaps light gray carpet with pink piping.
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We, and especially Derby would love to know more about the history of this Mercury, where was this car restyled, and by whom? And who was the owner of the car, originally, or when the 1958 photo was taken, and what happened to the car after that. How did it end up in San Diego? If any of our readers has seen this car before, or knows more about it, please email Rik here at the Custom Car Chronicle. We would love to know and share the information with the Derby, the car owner, and add it to this article.



UPDATE April 2018

From Derby

“First I want to thank many of you that spent the time to help me search for the history about this car.
I was able to correspond with Barry Simpson Sr. who is 2nd from the right in the old B&W photo, he was the son of the owner of the gas station. He owned the Corvette next to him (not bad at the age of 20!). Anyway, the gentleman next to him is Audie Galloway who owned the Mercury in 1958. He worked at the Gas Station and is the one standing next to Mercury. He did pass away in 98. Barry also mentioned that there was a “The Mad Russian” in the area who used wire hangers for welding rod and no bondo/lead… (implying that he was quite the craftsman), but did not know if this “The Mad Russian” worked on the car or not.

The Mad Russian” or “The Russian” did the body work in Strathmore, California. Apparently he was quite the craftsman and was known to hammer weld the seams. As a side note, William John Vukovich Sr was a Serbian American automobile racing driver who lived in nearby in Fresno. He was also referred to as “The Mad Russian” although he was actually Serbian. Unfortunately, he passed away racing at Indy in 1955. Perhaps a relative of his had a body shop… So if anyone knows the name of this person or shop he worked at would be much appreciated.

For now, Barry does not remember much more. Unfortunately, it looks like Audie passed away in 1998. I have tried to reach out to Linda/Lynda Galloway (either his daughter or wife), but no luck yet…

I believe that the Owner between Audie Galloway and the person I purchased from (Merle Fourez) is Louis Anthony LaVorin Sr. from Spring Valley, CA (San Diego area). Unfortunately, he passed away in 2013 at the age of 95 (and his wife as well). I have reached out to his relatives, but no returned phone calls… My guess he purchased in early 1960s then sold in 1977

So the question is does anyone know of Audi Galloway or a Russian Body Man based in the Porterville area in the 1950-60s? It would seem like Barry and the Russian (if he did the body work) would have gotten some attention at car shows back in the day…


Derby found this photo in the 1957 Porterville High School Yearbook which states that Marty’s Upholstery (Marty Martin) did the interior work. It appears that Marty’s is in business today being run as a side business by a son of one of Marty’s employees from the 1950s. Still waiting to hear back, in case he has any additional new information about the car.
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The owner I purchased the car from found the inside front door panels. Pretty cool, even has the letter “A” sewn in and electric window switches still in tact. Also matches the photo from the yearbook.
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“My Plans For the Car – Now that I have this car (along with other projects), I need to find the time, space, and money (like all of us car guys) to move forward. My initial thought is to get it running as-is (keeping the dust/dirt on the car as long as possible). Then eventually do a full restoration back to how it was done originally (I am hoping, eventually, I figure that out).
Thanks Again Everyone!”

Map of California highlighting Porterville where the car was photographed in 1958 and San Diego where the car was found in the early 1970’s.
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Derby Ahlstone is no stranger when it comes to restoring historic Custom Cars, Derby owns and restored the Coachcraft created Paul Plannette 1939-40 Mercury Roadster.
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