Redemption

REDEMPTION

Together we held a communion, that 1951 Ford coupe and I. I told her of my journeys; she showed me the transformations that had come onto her. Each in our own way had experienced change, some good, some not so good.

 
By Larry Pointer

Across the graveyard of scrapped dreams, I spied a familiar form, a white elephant I had known long ago. Over the mud and through the weeds I picked a path. Tires and rims, motors and more lay in the way to trip, and skin a shin. Always they had called to me, the junkyards, salvage yards, and those castaway rows of “someday I’m gonna” cars. Softly singing their seductive sirens’ songs. But this day I was on a personal quest in search of myself, a Happy Days Me, from before Life kicked the wadding out of me. The white derelict laid away here was my ghost of Christmases past, my not quite Holy Grail. Redemption.

Together we held a communion, that 1951 Ford coupe and I. I told her of my journeys; she showed me the transformations that had come onto her. Each in our own way had experienced change, some good, some not so good. But I was still me, and she always would be Harry Schwartz’s exquisite statement of the restyled custom car.
 
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In high school, Harry Schwartz had been one of a tight group of car guys who emulated the California scene, the Conquistador Car Club of Sheridan, Wyoming. Each earned a nick-name along the way. Schwartz was “Schatzy”. Leroy “Frenchy” Holbert was our own super cool Fonzi. Larger than life Harry Larsen was “Tank”, along with “Slim”, “Bushy”, “Bob”, “Jake”, “Cass”, “Duck”, “Mo”, and still mo’.
I didn’t have a nickname. Or a car at first, only my Dad’s pre-War Chevy pickup. It would take a while before “Forrest Gump” would enter the vernacular, but looking back over a colorful life in sixteen moves, I seem more a caricature of that character. But they let me hang around, and later as the club grew, made me their Secretary.

Almost as soon as Harry became the proud owner of the Glacier Blue stock Ford coupe in 1955, changes began to appear in tell-tale red oxide primer. In the driveway at home, outside the school shops, in rented garages, or in an open bay of any number of gas stations and bodyshops, Harry and Frenchy began a transformation tasteful in design and well executed. Ornaments were stripped from hood and decklid, and the holes filled and leaded over. For that special “look”, the car was lowered all around by cutting a coil out of each front spring, and adding lowering blocks between the rear axles and their spring perches. Flared fender skirts accentuated the “sex appeal”.
Door handles were shaved. To actuate the latches, Harry removed the buttons from the stock handles and ingeniously fabricated mechanical pushbuttons by welding a simple metal washer into location, with only the small round button protruding inconspicuously through the smooth door panel.
 
CCC-harry-schwartz-51-ford-02Harry Schwartz with the ’51 very early in its transformations. Glacier Blue body with red oxide primer spots. 
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Along the way, bemused bodymen would give the boys pointers and an occasional assist. The headlights were frenched, using ’52 Ford rims to create a tunneled recess for the lenses. The rounded grille surround of a 1950 Mercury was adapted, much as was seen on the Canadian Meteor Fords of Harry’s vintage. The grille bar first was replaced by an off the shelf 1954 Pontiac piece, mated to the stock parklight trim. “Slim” Richards suggested the new 1956 Chrysler Windsor set of three bars might look even more at home in the smooth grille opening.

When Frenchy graduated in 1957, to commence a career as a bodyman he sought an “in” with his uncle who worked at the local Buick garage. Challenged to show what he could do, he appropriated Harry’s Ford coupe and under watchful eyes, fabricated a truly unique sculptural formation. Flowing from the Ford windsplits, a pair of 1954 Buick tail lights were tunneled into the rear of each fender. Spacing the lights evenly apart, Frenchy then formed a sheetmetal arch between the deeply inset lenses. A stroke of creative genius, those four frenched lenses really set off the restyled Ford.
 
CCC-harry-schwartz-51-ford-04The couple in the picture are Gary “Slim” Richards and his soon to be wife Hazel Livingston.  Gosh, they have been married now for over 50 years!
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Of the myriad custom tail light adaptations applied to the “shoebox” Fords of 1949 to 1951, I have yet to discover a more perfect fit. The comparison that comes most closely to mind from the California scene at that time might be that of LeRoy Goulart’s famed 1951 Ford. There, a single ’55 Olds lense is surrounded by rounded caps molded to the windsplit, in effect almost exactly the reverse of what Frenchy was able to create for Harry’s car.

By this time, Harry Schwartz’s custom car was ready for a paint job to accentuate its styling statement. Harry picked the unique 1955 Dodge Lancer color, Regal Burgundy. Which led Harry’s mom immediately to christen the custom after the immensely popular 1958 hit, “Purple People Eater”.
 
1955 Dodge Regal Burgundy 11An image of the stock ’55 Dodge color, that made Harry’s mom call the car the “Purple People Eater”.
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Understandably, the car was not destined to remain Regal Burgundy for long. Over time, it went through a sequence of blue hues. There was a silver blue, like the 1960 Thunderbird Acapulco Blue, then Pontiac’s Mariner Blue of 1966, and finally under Harry’s ownership, yet another dark blue metallic sprayed by his younger brother John in his own bodyshop. A deep blue also was chosen for the Naugahyde upholstery Harry would have Bud Clark create, in a pattern complimentary to the original bench seats and door panels.
 
CCC-harry-schwartz-51-ford-01The ’51 Ford towing a Conquistadors parade float, in its silver blue form, circa ’61.
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Now, standing beside the retired relic, a moving feast of memories flickered across the screen of my mind. If Frenchy was the Fonzi of our bunch, then to carry the Happy Days analogy further, Harry could have been Richie Cunningham. “Mr. C” certainly could have been typecast from Harry’s long-suffering father. To take off from the popular Beatles lyric, Schatzy could have sung “Henery the Third, I am, I am.” Senator Henry Herman Schwartz…Harry I…had gained prominence through his role in litigation of the Teapot Dome Scandal, through which Secretary Albert B. Fall fell from graces over illicit petroleum extraction from the Naval Oil Reserves in Wyoming’s rich Salt Creek oil fields.

Harry Fletcher Schwartz…Harry II…followed his father at the Bar, and as Justice of the Peace, more than one Conquistador stood before him over varied traffic violations. Penance often was sheepishly served in “go-fer” duties, as our “Mr. C.” built a pair of houses at the edge of town.
Harry and I and this Ford coupe of many colors seemed inseparable back in the Fifties. High school to Junior College, the custom Ford continued to “buzz the drag” from Court House Hill to Hersh’s Drive In at the city limits. “Let’s go for coffee,” was the rallying call to spend winter hours over the coffee cups, bench racing and designing cars on paper napkins.

When the old flathead gave up the ghost, Harry purloined an old barn out of town for shelter while we cleaned up another to get that Purple People Eater back into action. A curious cow inconsiderately left its cloven imprints in the regal burgundy hood before we could button everything back together.

One night in the early Spring, girlfriends beside us, Harry turned the coupe down a country road and sunk her to the rockers in mud. Spying the mercury vapor light of a farmyard, we left the girls in the warm car and slogged off for help. The farmer answered our knock and as we crowded into the cab of his truck, our noses told us this was a pig farm! Soon the girls were ensconced in the warm cab with our rescuer. Harry and I were carried ignobly hanging onto the stock rack in back, ankle deep in pig poop. Ahh, the chivalry of the Conquistador of old.

The next day the man’s tractor would pull the Purple People Eater to solid ground.

The next Christmas, with some back from college, some on Service leave, we revisited old times. Meeting on a back street, Harry and Frenchy pulled alongside to exchange greetings, only for the local beer distributor to plough into the back of Harry’s beautiful coupe. “Custom by crunch”, Harry wryly cracked, and it was back to the bodyshop for rejuvenation.

Then the following Christmas, Harry’s poor car suffered the very same humiliation, this time on Court House Hill, with extensive damage. The car again was renovated, this time at Central Garage, by yet another Conquistador, the talented Ed’rd Lawrence. As it left the shop in another of its ever-darkening progression of blues, Andy Grotz the proprietor just shook his head and suggested to Harry that maybe it would be a good plan to leave his custom Ford coupe safely at home come future Blue Christmases.

“It did not seem like History at the time, but then history never does.”

That line spoken in passing at the 2014 Lincoln Center Honors was a profound observation. And profoundly applicable to the creative genius that blossomed into full flower following World War II. We were a Nation being carried by streamlined cars into a Dr. Suess Future of Possibilities, when the War stopped us in suspended animation. As Detroit returned to civilian production, the facelifts to pre-War tooling seemed stodgy. The demand for newer and better was insatiable. California crafters of one-off custom car design found a niche with a ready market. Annual car show competitions sprang up, and to ensure continued attraction, soon were requiring revisions to returning entrants.

From those humble beginnings grew a Golden Age of car culture. But as in Nature, success brings its own downfall, replaced in succession by yet another better, newer future. Detroit was listening, and not a few custom stylists moved on to bring their fresh ideas to the studios of Ford, General Motors or Chrysler. By the end of the Fifties decade and into the early Sixties, a person could enter a showroom anywhere and order a personalized car to be delivered to Hometown, U.S.A.
 
CCC-harry-schwartz-51-ford-03Larry made this sketch of the ’51, in about 1960. It shows the car with the 56 Chrysler Windsor grille, and silver blue paint.
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Bitten by the same bug, Harry Schwartz also succumbed to the newer is better epidemic. For the Ford coupe, its Christmas present came as a Buick engine, of 401 cubic inches. Delivered in boxes of parts ready for reassembly, the “nailhead” came together on the linoleum kitchen floor. Conquistadors were severally conscripted to muscle the mill to the humble garage, where it was hoisted into the engine bay. There it was coupled to a rare and highly desirable Cadillac LaSalle spring-loaded, floorshift transmission. Harry’s coupe sprang to new life and carried us to the 1965 Denver car show. Though parked inconspicuously outside the exposition hall, I believe that custom Ford could have held its own on the exhibition floor.

Sheridan even had its own car show at that time. Held in the old Skaar Studebaker Agency building on Main Street, it featured a spate of Conquistador cars, including Harry’s ’51 Ford. When the blind piano tuner came in, he made a request: could he touch the cars he couldn’t see? Of course. He ran his hands over Harry’s custom. “This is a 1951 Ford,” he announced to the crowd that had gathered around him. “Only something is different. This car has been changed.”

For Harry Schwartz, that would become his best memory of the car show.

The old saw says all good things come to an end. Life changes carried Harry in turn to college, and a twenty year career as a school shop teacher. Brother John was enlisted to aid in continued updates to the Ford coupe, to reflect the trends of the times. Rust-outs had appeared above the rear wheels. “Self-made racing wheel wells”, Harry called them. The affected sheetmetal was cut out, the openings then enlarged and finished in flared fairings. Rocker panels were re-installed, concave instead of convex to create coves for full-length Lakes pipes. The Ford side trim was removed at this time and, the car received its final dark blue coat of color, as John recalls a late 60’s or early 70’s Chevy pickup Royal Blue color. The guys used to say Harry Schwartz probably would one day be buried in that car. But along in the 1970s, Harry traded his custom coupe in exchange for a 1967 Buick Riviera.

Jack Norwood became its new owner. Of a younger generation, Jack had looked up in admiration and envy at old Conquistadors. To his credit, Jack did little to change this piece of rolling sculpture that Harry Schwartz had created. In the inexorable march of Time, however, Jack’s interests in the car flagged, and it was traded to fellow enthusiast Joe Buskirk, “for a ’40 or ’41 Studebaker coupe with a perfect body.”
Under Joe Buskirk’s watch, the Ford again was updated. The interior was replaced with white bucket seats and upholstery and the exterior was painted to match. The engine bay next would house a Chevrolet V8, with automatic transmission. From that point to where I now stood beside the old white charger, her downward spiral from grace was a little hard to reconstruct. From Joe Buskirk, it seems it passed through the hands of Larry Adams, then Corky Belus, and back to Joe’s brother Sonny Buskirk, in whose back pasture it was resting.

“Leave it lay,” was all I could tell myself. We had a good run, Harry, this old custom car and me. As did the entire old school acetylene era of car crafting. It’s done. Pick up and move on. Goodbye, old friend.

I had a time seeing my way back to the gate.
 
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Here is a photo of the ’51 as a derelict, in the sad shape Larry had discovered it in 1997.
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CCC-harry-schwartz-51-ford-05The wonderfully restyled Taillights with Buick lenses were still on the car.
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But, in the words of that wise old sage Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” A revival of passion in all things “old school” was sweeping the Nation. Baby boomers were becoming empty nesters; envious dreams of youth now were do-able. Everyone needs a hobby, and a new age of technology in metal working opened exciting possibilities. Clones of old classics were being built in tribute. More Fifties customs were appearing on the scene than ever had existed back in the day. And every now and then an old survivor was discovered, to have new life lovingly breathed into it. Redemption.

A year or so after my pilgrimage to Sonny Buskirk’s back pasture, my son and his wife invited me back to the old hometown to join in a pig roast put on by her cousin. I knew Larry Douglas was a car guy, too, and looked forward to seeing old friends. Old acquaintances were renewed, stories of the old days were revisited, and the conversation turned to our cars of the past.

“C’mere,” Chuck Lloyd motioned to me, “I think you might like to see this.” We stepped inside Larry Douglas’s expansive shop, and my heart skipped a beat. There in the dim light stood Harry Schwartz’s 1951 Ford coupe. It turns out Larry Douglas had only recently retrieved the old custom from Sonny Buskirk’s backyard. We looked her over, pointing out all her changes, and the misfortunes that befell her along the way. But now, Chuck and his friend Danny Bilyeau excitedly told me, a full restoration was in store for the old girl. Larry Douglas confirmed it; he was going to bring Harry’s Ford back to her former glory. Tender mercies!
 
CCC-harry-schwartz-51-ford-06Another derelict photo, this with the Hemi engine that didn’t wind up in it.
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A few more years would pass before I would get the rest of the story. Customizing by its very definition is change to make something expressly your own. Larry Douglas approached the old Ford in that manner. First, he placed a vintage DeSoto Hemi between the framehorns. To no avail, the huge Hemi would require extensive reworking of inner body panels. Following the axiom of “Ford in a Ford”, he settled for a 302 cubic inch Ford V8 with a C4 automatic transmission. Ford also followed Ford in updating the tired steering with a modern rack and pinion mechanism. Bodywork approximated the form in which Harry Schwartz and brother John had left it, when it was first passed on to Jack Norwood. With notable exceptions: Harry’s unique door pushbuttons were shaved, Larry opting for electric solenoids. The handsome ’56 Chrysler Windsor three-bar grille had come up missing; Larry replaced with an aftermarket tubular grille arrangement.
 
CCC-harry-schwartz-51-ford-10The car as “restored” by Larry Douglas.
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Bench seats were located and Larry re-did the interior with an E-Z after-market upholstery kit. Along the way, the stock ’51 dashboard had been compromised, and Larry replaced it with a somewhat different ’49 model. As close a color match as he could resurrect was a Ford Royal Blue from the turn of the 21st Century.
 
CCC-harry-schwartz-51-ford-08This photo shows the enlarged rear wheel opening that was made after the sheet metal around the rear wheel was rusted to bad to be repaired. At the same time in the 1970’s they also removed the stock Ford side trim.
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CCC-harry-schwartz-51-ford-09When Larry re-did the taillights he installed blue dots in all four lenses. 
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CCC-harry-schwartz-51-ford-11Larry replaced the missing ’56 Chrysler Windsor three-bar grille with an aftermarket tubular grille arrangement.
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Then Larry Douglas, too, sold the car. Someone in North Dakota bought it. It next went to someone else in Minnesota, a man who periodically would call Larry to ask questions or to update him on the coupe’s status. Then the car was sold again…Larry thought to someone in Oklahoma…and dropped out of sight.

Funny, Life. Everyone I contacted who owned that 1951 Ford custom at one time or another wished he had the car back. Hind-sight being what it is, each now realizes just what a piece of automotive history that car represented. Invariably the next thing said was, “I’d do it different this time. I’d restore it to how it used to be!”

So, whoever you are, wherever you may be, if you recognize these modifications in that 1951 Ford coupe you purchased, this is not a modern day street rod. The stewardship of a very special original custom car with pedigree and personality is in your hands.
Please treat it with care. You’re looking at Redemption.
 
Larry Pointer
 
 
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Something About A Mercury

SOMETHING ABOUT A MERCURY

Frenchy’s Mercury was a rare Monterey, these were the deluxe models of the voluptuous 1949-51 Mercury’s rolling off the line. He bought it in 1956 and almost immediately he began to restyle his Mercury.

 
By Larry Pointer

Alan Jackson sang it. Mercury had that Something. The very essence of Sex. When those voluptuous 1949 models of the marque rolled off the line, America fell in love. But hardly had we caught our breath, than California craftsmen took a good song and made it better. And no Mercury, before or since, captured that Something better than the Bob Hirohata 1951 Merc, transformed by brothers Sam and George Barris into exquisitely excellent sculpture.

In 1955, James Dean cruised into our lives in a nosed and decked black ’49 Mercury. “Rebel Without a Cause” left us restless, and lusting after a long, low Mercury.

 

Yes! There is Something about a Mercury.

It only follows that this series of Conquistador Car Club reminiscences would turn to Frenchy Holbert’s 1950 Mercury. This Wyoming custom didn’t even start out as just any Mercury coupe off the backlot. Frenchy’s Merc was a rare Monterey. These were the deluxe models, dressed up to steal the show from the classy hardtops General Motors had released. The Monterey had a vinyl covered roof set off with chrome trim. Their interiors sported leather seats, color coordinated to match the special Monterey paint options. And then there were those highly coveted chrome window garnish moldings and special steering wheel.
 
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Frenchy picked up his low mileage Monterey in 1956. It was gorgeous to start with, Cortaro Red Metallic, with a black vinyl top covering. But almost immediately he began to transform his Merc, not far behind fellow Conquistador Jack Bushmaker in the remake of his ’47 Chevy coupe.

First on his list of alterations, was to drop the Merc “in da’ weeds”. A coil was cut from each front spring, and lowering blocks dropped the rear. At the risk of expressing sacrilege, I have to say the Mercury those days before power steering, took some power to steer them. And when the front springs were torched, they would bottom out against the rubber bumpers mounted on the lower A-frames. Even when you hack-sawed the tops off of the bumpers. A choppy ride resulted, and you could tell a lowered car in the Fifties from some distance, by the bounce in the ride. Bless the man who created the dropped spindle.

 

CCC-frenchy-holbert-mercury-01Black primer spots show where Frenchy had started with the restyling of his Merc.
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As can be seen in the photographs of Jack and Frenchy’s cars in 1957, sitting side-by-side in the low light of late afternoon, areas of black primer draw the eye to the early body alterations to the Merc. People always are looking for “firsts” to set their world in order, and in the customizing world it is no different. The “little pages” of Honk!, Car Craft, Hot Rod and Rod & Custom passed along new styling cues back in the day, and those pages are key to us today in tracing innovations. “First in our town,” Frenchy frenched 1953 Buick headlight rims onto this 1950 Mercury Monterey. Right after that, he trimmed down a ’50 Mercury grille shell and flipped it upside down to create a full oval grille opening. Looking at the car head-on, an integrated sculptural theme is realized. And strongly emphasized by the rounded contours of that incomparable Mercury hood.
 
CCC-frenchy-holbert-mercury-02Frenchy standing with his 1950 Mercury parked next to Jack Bushmaker’s 1947 chopped Chevy coupe.
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I have to confess here that I spent countless misspent Chemistry classes doodling drawings of Frenchy’s Merc with its horizontal oval grille flanked by vertical headlight ovals, and topped by curvaceous fender caps and hood.

Something about a Mercury!

Keeping to the oval theme, front to rear, 1952 Buick tail lights were molded into the rear fenders where the original Merc lenses had ridden. (Frenchy was working in the Buick dealership right out of high school.)
Frenchy next replaced the flat Mercury side trim with a 1952 Chevrolet spear, extending from over the front wheel opening, back across the door. At a lower level, just above the Merc fender skirts, he added the ’52 Chevy rear fender spear. As things progressed, Frenchy would add a guidecoat of black lacquer to cover the primered work until the entire car — including the roof that had been covered in vinyl — now stood out in black. Finally, a unique double-curve chrome trim piece lifted from a 1955 Oldsmobile was placed upside down and backwards on the bodyside below the forward Chevrolet spear. Then, with a custom mixed lavender, he painted the lower panel that had been partitioned off by the Olds trim.
 
CCC-frenchy-holbert-mercury-03Late afternoon photos with long casting shadows. Frenchy’s Merc was the first to use the oveal 1953 Buick headlights in our town. They looked so like they belonged there.
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CCC-frenchy-holbert-mercury-04Both cars had a Conquistador plaque hanging from the rear bumper.
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CCC-frenchy-holbert-Larry-05The taller fellow on the left is Jack Bushmaker. The shorter one on the right, with the “lowrider” jeans, is Leroy “Frenchy” Holbert (our “Fonzi”).
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While work developed in a piece-meal fashion, there was nothing hap-hazard in Frenchy Holbert’s approach. Every change integrated into a well-thought-out plan of design. Looking back, I fully believe that LeRoy “Frenchy” Holbert possessed true artistic genius.

I haven’t been able to locate photographs taken of Frenchy’s Mercury Monterey in later progressions of its transformation into a custom car of the mild class, but I did save my sketchbook from back in the daydream days. It’s a pretty accurate amateur rendering, save for the Larry Watson Grapevine ’53 Chevy grillebar with added teeth. That was, well, artistic license on my part.
 
CCC-frenchy-holbert-mercury-06One of Larry’s sketches of Frenchy’s Mercury Monterey pretty much how it looked in its final version. Larry changed the grille in his drawing to look more like Larry Watson’s Grapevine… a very popular custom from the time the drawing was created.
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Frenchy did add a grillework to fill the oval void. By this time, he had moved from the Buick bodyshop to the Cook Ford shop, where Jack Bushmaker’s ’47 Chevy had been transformed. There, he trimmed a 1958 Ford grille of expanded metal meshwork to fit.
When the old flathead gave up the ghost to leave Frenchy afoot, fellow Conquistadors came to the rescue. A 1953 Dodge donated its “baby Hemi” to the cause. Club President Bob Prill, learning the business at his father’s sheetmetal shop, fabricated an adapter plate to mate the Hemi to the Mercury 3-speed with overdrive. In the driveway of a local fireman (Harry Schwartz’s then-girlfriend’s dad), a tripod was set up with a chain hoist and the huge Hemi was nestled into its new home. Frenchy came away with two more “town firsts”, a Hemi in a Merc and with that heavy Hemi, a slight “California rake” at the same once.

All good things come to an end. Frenchy came to covet his father’s ’55 Thunderbird, and sold the Merc to fellow Conquistador Larry “Mo” Frazier. In turn, Mo sold it to Calvin Lawrence, older brother of our Conquistador Ed’rd. Calvin, the custom Mercury Monterey, and Frenchy’s old girlfriend all left town together.
Something about a Mercury.
 
 
 
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47 Chevy Purple Burp

REQUIEM FOR PURPLE BURP

The Purple Burp, a story about Jack Bushmaker’s chopped ’47 Chevy coupe, done in 1956, and sadly destroyed in a collision with a tree just a couple of years later.

 
By Larry Pointer

[dropcap]At[/dropcap] the shoulder of a Wyoming county road, a stately cottonwood stands. In its time, this greyed monarch has seen cavalry and Indians; horsemen and homesteaders; dudes, dreamers, and sight-seers. Daily viewed but seldom seen in the passing, this old tree carries a special story of its own. A huge scar marks its roadside bark, and therein lies the tale of the Purple Burp.
 
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The Fifties were precious, special times; the post-War rosy bubble of the American Dream. In the Nation’s midland empire, Sheridan, Wyoming was living large. The teen scene was jukebox, sock hop moving theater. California dreaming rebels without a clue, dragging Main in a slow promenade. KOMA on the radio. Cars and kids throbbing to the primal beat of rock and roll. Seeing and being seen.

And always, it was all about the girls. “Chantilly lace, a pretty face, hair falling down…” Just like the Big Bopper called it. Ooooh, Baby!

Of the boys, those daughters’ fathers’ worst nightmares were the Cool Cats: flat-tops and duck-tails, low-riding Jeans with turned up cuffs, a cigarette pack tucked high in a white Tee-shirt sleeve. And the baddest Cats of all were the Conquistadors.

They were Slim, Frenchy and Cass; Bob, Schatzy, Tank and Mo. The Conquistadors were a Car Club. Not just any car club, they were a National Hot Rod Association Charter Car Club. Like the chivalrous conquistadors of old in the livery of their individuality, they let their “rides” speak for them. For Jack “Bushy” Bushmaker, who would become a Club President, this ride was the Purple Burp.
 
CCC-requiem-purple-burp-10Hot Rod Magazine did an article on the Conquistadors Car Club in the November 1962 issue.
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Yes, Purple Burp was a car. It had started out life in an ordinary way, a Detroit assembly line Post-war product from Pre-War tooling, a 1947 Chevrolet coupe. But this one was not destined to be just any car, Purple Burp was to become a hand-crafted piece of rolling sculpture, a custom car.

One day when Jack Bushmaker rolled up to the curb in his stripped-down ’32 Chevy roadster, he spied the ’47 sitting in his folks’ garage. It could be his, his dad told him, if he could come up with the $750 purchase price. (Dad possibly had clouds of worry over his head in dark thoughts of the “hot rod” now sitting at the curb.)
 
CCC-requiem-purple-burp-01Jack’s ’32 Chevy that his father wisely steered him away from, so that he would build the ’47 Chevy.
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Done! Jack had after-school jobs. And visions of cool custom cars dancing in his head. Study hall hours of pouring over the “little pages”– Honk!, Hot Rod, Car Craft, and Rod & Custom magazines – cleverly tucked inside his school books had sparked a passion. Conquistador Jack Bushmaker was going to have the most radical custom car the girls had ever seen.

As with the knights of old, bragging rights started with the power and performance of their “rides”. Girls mostly could care less, but the hormone fueled adrenalin rush of derring-do was a big driver in the car culture. It wasn’t long until Jack blew his engine. The 216 cubic inch Chevy six-banger had just enough low end torque to exceed caution off the line, but as the flathead V8 Fords caught up to out-wind them on the top end, those poured-lead Chevrolet babbit bearings soon hammered a round crankshaft flat.

Nonplussed, Jack figured bigger for better, and a 270 cubic inch GMC truck engine was shoehorned into the engine bay. Emery’s Garage and Andy Grotz at Central Garage each contributed to the mechanical transformations. With a single carburetor on the intake, the exhaust manifold was split, 3-by-3 (2-by-4 was the common-place, given the manifold’s heat riser location). For twice-pipe mufflers, Jack picked Chevy truck mufflers, installed backwards so the inner baffle louvers faced rearward, and didn’t impede the “Jimmy’s” breathing.

When that car came to life, the rumble out of those pipes was awesome. I still can hear that car “back-rap” cackle all the way down high school hill in second gear. There is nothing like the sound of a six-cylinder car with twice-pipes. And the back-rap is the BEST!

Surely all the girls walking home were impressed. They didn’t have cell phones then to distract them.

Somewhere along the line, the ’47 Chevy coupe had been repainted in a robin’s egg blue color popular across the used car lots shortly after the War. But Jack’s car soon would stand out, with patches of deep red oxide primer where minor bodywork had begun. The trunk handle was removed and the deck lid smoothed. Chrome trim was removed from the hood. Cars were drivers then, a guy’s sole transportation, and each Monday morning the school parklot became the scene of a scavenger hunt. New patches of primer telegraphed each “cool” change to a custom in progress.

Along the way, the car was lowered 4 inches all around, then for that “speedboat stance” and added stability, four 30-pound bars, or “pigs”, of printers’ lead from the Sheridan Press were bolted to the trunk floor.

Then Jack made a bold move. With his design plans in hand, he went to the local Ford dealership. An estimate was drawn up for the changes he proposed. $700, to do it all, and then this high schooler made a nervy request, could he make payments? It was a risky proposal, those under 18 could not be held responsible for their debts. But Jack had a job at the newspaper, and hadn’t he already paid off his father? Mr. Cook took the gamble and authorized work to begin.

At the Cook Ford Body Shop work commenced in earnest on Jack Bushmaker’s ambitious plan. A top chop was tackled by shop foreman Rocky Pedulla, and Hank Sullivan the WWII Navy vet with the rolling sailor’s gait. As evidenced by the narrow “mail slot” rear window, fully seven inches were removed, front and rear, to lower the lid. Overall, it gave Jack that “don’t mess with me” sinister look he was striving for.
 
CCC-requiem-purple-burp-03The heavy chop, 7 inches, with “mail slot” rear window looks really good on the car. This rear photo shows the set in license plate, the recessed stock taillights and turned upside down moved closer to the body ’49 Ford rear bumper.
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Unique to this car, and way ahead of its time in the art of customizing, is the forward slant of the B pillars at the rear of the door windows. From a side view, this change especially give the coupe a forward motion flair to accentuate its “speed-boat” stance. It is a safe bet that this was the first and last top chop performed by Pedulla and Sullivan. The sail panels especially gave them fits, but the smooth, sweeping contours they achieved speak volumes for their creative sense of style.

Another aspect of forward looking design is evident in the side view of this remarkable custom car. There are no fender skirts to cover the rear wheels, as with the traditional customs of old. The year 1955 saw major design changes in Post-War Detroit styling, and not the least of these was the opening up of the rear fenders as evidenced in the sporty Chevrolet Corvette and Nomad, and those Chrysler and DeSoto “Hemi” muscle cars. Performance was selling cars, and nothing said “SPEED” quite like it.
 
CCC-requiem-purple-burp-04The side view photo really gives us a good feel on how much the top was chopped. A lot of work was needed to make the top flow this way.
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The 1955 styling cues from Chevrolet also were incorporated by Jack in his unprecedented incorporation of the 1955 Chevrolet flat “egg-crate” grille into the front of the ’47. To make this a fit, Pedulla and Sullivan “bobbed” the car’s hood, to bring it into a more flat surround for the grille. It was a brilliant innovation. Again, making the design all his own, Jack had all of the vertical teeth of the grille removed, except for the center three.
 
CCC-requiem-purple-burp-02Headlights were molded to the fenders, a modified 1955 Chevy grille was fitted into a new grille opening and a ’55 Ford bumper replaced the stock unit.
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The stock headlight rims were welded integral to the fender, and the seams “frenched”, leaded-in smoothly. This was “old-school” bodywork; no “bondo” was used, only time-tested lead. To complete the frontal transformation, a 1955 Ford bumper was added.
Moving to the back, the rear fenders also were welded to the body panels and the seam leaded smooth. The stock tail lights were mounted in a lower, more “sexy” location and smoothly frenched in. To the shaved deck lid, a recess was added for placement of the license plate. Completing the program around back, a ’49 Ford bumper was mounted upside-down, and recessed slightly into the rear bodywork. A short seven months after these extensive changes were begun, Jack Bushmaker’s restyled custom car was ready for paint.

Actually, it wasn’t purple. This Conquistador’s steed was regally cloaked in a lacquer conservatively named Dawn Grey by the color stylists of the Cadillac Division of General Motors for their 1956 models. In direct sunlight this custom took on a hint of an orchid tint. At night, it would pick up hues from street lights and the neon signs of the downtown businesses along Main Street. Parked behind the Sheridan Press newspaper building, this color play caught the eye of a fellow worker, and Jack Bushmaker’s beautiful custom car was dubbed the Purple Burp.
 
CCC-requiem-purple-burp-09This was the color Jack picked for his ’47 Chevy, “Dawn Grey” Cadillac color.
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In this neck of the woods, Jack Bushmaker’s radically restyled car was the best designed custom car ever yet seen, a seminal marvel to all who “got it”. It never made it into a major car show; never was published in Rod & Custom, or in any of the “little pages” car magazines of the day. Its fame was not widespread, nor was it destined to decorate Sheridan’s Main drag for long.

It was, ironically, the night of Friday the 13th. Jack was cruising Main with his friend Marlin Sene. They crossed paths with a pair of Billings, Montana, guys who really dug Jack’s ride. The Billings boys parked their car on Courthouse Hill at the south end of the nightly promenade, and climbed into the back seat of the chopped Chevy coupe.

Just to show the visitors what that “Jimmy” power could do, they headed west, onto the country road. Through the twisting turns, Jack had the car wound pretty tight and, with double shock absorbers all around, cornering like a cougar. Then in an instant, everything went horribly wrong. The little coupe lost traction, went into a skid, and shot over the pavement edge. Jack fought the wheel, trying to bring the slide under control. It was no use. In a heartbeat, the beautiful car was clipping over roadside saplings to the sickening sound of crumpling sheetmetal. The huge old cottonwood loomed up in front of them. Jack wrenched the wheel; they struck the tree only fractions shy of dead head-on. Marlin pitched forward into the dashboard. Jack was slammed under the steering wheel. Then there was silence; save for the hissing steam rising from the ruptured radiator.

A woman was first onto the scene. Marlin was bleeding profusely, four front teeth gone, his mouth lacerated. Jack was nearly under the dash. The boys from Billings were scrambling to extricate themselves from the wreck. The woman began to lecture them, shaking her finger at Jack. “Please,” he begged her, “Go for help!”

Help came. Officer Verne Eisenman of the Highway Patrol. An ambulance. Andy Grotz from Central Garage with his wrecker truck. Marlin Sene, in addition to the subtraction of his front teeth, had a broken collarbone. The Billings guys were dropped off at their car on Main Street, to boogie for safer climes in Montana.

Jack thought he’d come out of it all, O.K. But Officer Eisenman had some counselling to give this very lucky Conquistador. The patrolman drew out his notebook. “He showed me a page where he had written down the names of the guys who he figured would be wrecking their cars or worse. Harry Larsen was at the top. I was third down on the list.”

Harry “Tank” Larsen was another charter member of the Conquistadors.
 
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While Patrolman Eisenman was offering Jack intimations of his mortality, Andy Grotz dragged Jack’s car back to town. A procession slowly rolled by to gape aghast at the wrenched wreck dangling from the mast. Car to car, gossip genesis loosed gospel exodus: “Did you see that?” “How could anyone…” “Why, nobody could survive that….” By the time the Billings boys scurried out of town past the crowd gathered at Hersh’s Drive-In, scuttle-butt was solemn certainty: “Jack Bushmaker was killed in a car wreck!” “And on Friday the 13th.”

Later that evening when Jack showed up at Hersh’s, a wake over the coffee cups fell away at the sight of such a lively apparition. But then on Monday he too went to the doctor, to discover he also had a broken collarbone, along with a hairline leg fracture. That night he went bowling anyway, “And I bowled the best score I ever bowled in my entire life!”
 
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In the ensuing years, Jack Bushmaker would move on, marry his Colleen, and raise a family in Coos Bay, Oregon. There he became an officer of the law and would serve on the local schoolboard. He’s still a car guy. In his garage are two painstakingly restored Oldsmobile 442’s. His driver is a jet black 1949 Chevrolet pickup. And, yes, it is mildly customized.
 
CCC-requiem-purple-burp-08The cottonwood monarch in the winter of 2014.
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The Purple Burp is no more, save for a few precious black-and-white Kodak images. The motor became a donor for the Central Garage boom truck. The crushed body was discarded with other hulks in a depression outside town. An ignoble ending for beauty so brief.
But that cottonwood monarch still stands, its bark deeply scored. In the play of light, if you look just right, the eye can catch a hint of an orchid tint. Could it be, just perhaps, Dawn Grey?

 
 

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