A Day at the Barris Shop

 

A DAY AT THE BARRIS SHOP

 

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



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

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

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Unpublished photos.

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

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



Published photos

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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




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Tommy Thornburgh 1947 Studebaker

 

TOMMY THORNBURGH 1947 Studebaker

 

George and Sam Barris started with an highly unusual car for a full Custom Restyling job, yet they were still able to create an stunning Custom out of Tommy Thornburghs 1947 Studebaker.



Back in the 1940’s and early 1950’s it was most common to custom restyle Ford’ Chevy’, Buick, Mercury’s and an occasional Cadillac, but you rarely saw a Custom Restyled Studebaker. I’m not quite sure why not, the Studebaker’s always had a very distinctive styling, with wonderful tapered fenders, and unique body styles. And the car in this article sure shows that with the right planning and restyling the Studebaker could be turned into a very beautiful Custom Car.

For Tommy Thornburgh there was no question about what kind of car he had to start with for his Custom Dream. His family owned a Studebaker dealership in Huntington Park, Ca, so the Studebaker was really the only choice for him. I guess at the time (late 1951-early 1952) it must have been a kind of a challenge for the Barris Shop to create a good looking Custom out of the stubby looking, relatively small convertible. The end result shows why the Barris Kustom Shop was one of the nations leading Custom Shops. No matter what they had to start with, the end result was far more beautiful than what was brought into the shop, and so highly effective that the finished car made it into a great number spread out over couple of years.

Stock 1947 Studebaker convertible. Notice how the rear fenders are several inches short of meeting the rest of the lower body edge. Barris fixed this on Tommy’s Custom. Also noticed the separation line at the rear of the front fender and the vent door on the front fender.
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Hop Up Magazine title.
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Sadly we have not been able to find any in progress photos showing the heavy metal work needed to create Tommy’s stylish Studebaker. But we do have this photo showing an early, unfinished version in light primer. A lot of the heavy body work has already been performed, but the rear splash pan still needs to be added, and the trunk still needs to have the bottom lip shortened and corners rounded.
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Phase One

Tommy’s Studebaker custom is based on a Studebaker Champion Convertible model. The champion came with the front fenders which have the section in front of the wheel opening slightly wider than the Commander Convertible, Which has a small lip around the front wheel opening. The Champion character line on the front fender inspired the Barris crew to do something similar on the rear fenders, but then upside down, and extended backwards. The Studebaker looked considerably smaller than most other cars restyled by the Barris Shop, so they wanted to ad extra length where they could. The car was lowered front and rear with slightly lower in the rear. (The rear wheels are just visible under the fender skirts for the perfect rear ride height)

The rear fender extension was hand shaped and formed so that a set of ’52 Studebaker taillights would fit perfectly at the top of the fenders. The light units were canted 90 degrees so the top section would now face to the center of the trunk. The rear fenders were molded into the body and the bottom section of the rear fenders was extended downwards several inches to fit level with the bottom of the body. Hand made fender skirts were created and make the effect even more dramatic.

Close up of the ’52 Studebaker taillights which are mounted side ways in hand made fender extensions. (on a stock ’52 Studebaker the section with the circular shape sits at the top of the fender.)
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The car in primer with most of the body work done was photographed with ’51 California plates with a ’52 year tag added. Tommy was a proud Kustoms Los Angeles club member and had created special brackets below the license plate to mount his KLA plaque.
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At the front the hood was completely shaved, and the front section was extended down into a new hand shaped lipped grille surround. An unique grille surround not seen on any other Barris custom before, or after. It looks very much like the Barris shop used part of an 1951-52 Chevy grille surround, de-chromed and molded into the bottom of the hood and the front fenders. It had that distinctive character line on the sides. (Thanks to Larry Pointer for pointing that out, I had been looking at that surround for a long time, knew I had seen it before, but could not place it.) The lip around the grille surround already added some extra length at the front, but the Barris crew wanted more. So they decided to extend the fenders, and build in headlight surrounds with slightly longer eyebrows, extending the fenders with 2,5 inches. The lights were frenched leaving a nice lip around the headlights.

The front fenders were welded to the cowl unit, the vents on the side of the front fenders were welded shut and all smoothed cleaning of the front sides of the car considerably. All stock trim and handles were removed and the door bottom corners were rounded, front and rear. A set of electric push buttons and solenoids was installed to open the doors as well as the trunk. The windshield frame was chopped 4 inches according the period magazines. It might not have been an easy chop, especially getting the bend glass to fit the new windshield opening. George installed a set of his favorite Appleton Spotlights, wide white wall tires with ’52-53 Lincoln hubcaps and the car was primed in a light color primer. Tommy drove it like this for some time before the final restyling was performed.

A photo of the car in light primer with the rear body work still to be done appeared in the 1952 published Trend Book No. 105 Restyle your car. It shows how the door corners are rounded. Notice how flat the front end looks without the ’52 Lincoln bumper added.
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A photo of the unfinished primer version also appeared in the 1952 Petersen Motorama Show program. The show was held from November 10-16, 1952. And Tommy’s Studebaker was at the show, all finished.
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Phase Two

In the later part of 1952 Tommy took the car back to the Barris Shop to have the finished what they had started. The car looked already a thousand times better than how it looked from the factory, but now it was time for the finishing touches. The crew at Barris Kustoms added splash pans front and rear, they were welded to the body and molded in. At the rear the trunk lower edge was cut and welded to the splash pan, then the corners of the trunk were rounded. A ’52 Lincoln front bumper/grille was chosen to be the best bumper unit for the Studebaker. They would use the ’52 Lincoln front bumper both front and rear. The Lincoln bullet shaped guards were re-positioned on the bumper to suite the Studebaker better. At the rear the bullets were modified to accept the exhaust tips to protrude thru the tip of the bullets.

The bumpers and molded splash pans worked amazingly for the Studebaker, adding the so much extra length to make it all flow so much better. The Barris Kustoms Shop is known for their wonderful, and exclusive grille designs. Tommy’s Studebaker is a wonderful sample for this. The guys at Barris tarted with a two bar ’49 Lincoln grille. The center portion of both bars was removed and the ends welded together to match the v-shape of the hood-lip. The lower bar was then flipped 180 degrees so that the teeth on the bar would face down, creating a bar with teeth at the bottom and top. At the end of these two grille bars a teardrop shaped parking light unit was added, most likely from an late 40’s Henry J. The whole unit was send out to be chrome plated, then it was installed in a floating way, mounted from behind on rubber stubs, or springs.

Beautiful higher point of view rear 3/4 photo shows the stylish lines on Tommy’s Studebaker. The way the rear fenders were extended, the ’52 Studebaker taillights were integrated and how the corners on the trunk were rounded, the splash pan was molded. And of coure the unique ice blue paint with dark blue Carson Top Shop created padded top. Colorized photo.
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The hubcaps are ’52-53 Lincoln units, and they fit the car absolutely perfect. perhaps even better as the then mostly used Cadillac Sombrero units. The guys at the Barris Shop really had everything right on Tommy’s Studebaker.
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Low angle 3/4 image was used in the 1954 Custom Cars Annual where Tommy’s Studebaker was featured with two photos, and minimal writing on a full spread.
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Marcia Campbell taught George Barris how to take good photos of the Custom Cars, one thing George learned was the importance of a good full profile side view. It gives the audience a really good feel how the car really looks. And it the case of Tommy’s Studebaker is extreme stylish. Notices how the bottom of the rear fenders are level with the bottom of the car… now check a factory stock ’47 Studebaker.
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Tommy posing with his Studebaker with open door which gives us a better look at the rounded door bottom corners.
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The large smooth body sides were spiced up with a modified side trim of a ’52 Pontiac. The top and front portion of the trim remained unchanged front stock, but the lower trim on the door was shortened. The car was then sanded smooth and painted in a beautiful ice blue. George wanted to use a light color so that the car would look a little bigger. The section in between the modified Pontiac side trim was painted a brilliant metallic dark blue.

After that the car went to the Carson Top Shop for an unique Padded Top and full custom interior. The Carson Top Shop was known to use specially made jigs so they could create padded tops for the most common cars, off the car. This allowed the upholsterer to walk around and under the top much easier. However Tommy’s ’47 Studebaker might have been the only Studebaker they ever made a padded top for, so more than likely this top was created on the car it self. George Barris wanted to have the top done in dark blue to work best with the ice blue paint and dark blue side trim insert. The shape of the top, the way it flows, the way the rear quarter windows are filled is just as perfect as it can be. The shape of the Studebaker interior tub is totally unique, and it must have been a bit of a challenge for the Carson Top Shop employees to create this to. But the top they created enhances all the beautiful restyled shapes of the Studebaker so well. It has become one of my personal favorite Padded Tops.

Barris used one 1949 Lincoln grille, which comes with two identical bars to create the unique Thornburg Studebaker grille. Each bar was cut in the center and welded in the right shape. Then the bottom bar was flipped upside down, The integrated parking lights are most likely Henry J units.
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Bob Lund 50 MercuryThe photos of Tommy’s Studebaker taken in a “park” were most likely shot the same day, and at the same location as this out door car show. In at least one of the photos we can see the Hirohata Merc parked in the background, and all Barris cars have the famous Paper Kustoms Los Angeles tag mounted front and rear. Tommy’s Studebaker is parked all the way on the right side of this photo.
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Close up on the canted 1952 Studebaker taillights. These light were mounded in hand formed pods/wind-splits, which helped extend the optical length of the car. The ’52 Lincoln front bumper used on the back is mounted on molded in splash pans.
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The rest of the interior was also completely done by the Carson Top Shop, using white leatherette they created a very stylish mostly all white interior, beautifully done rolled and pleated.  The headliner is done in white and an a medium color with white piping. None of the period publications mention anything about the headliner, but my guess is that the second color was a light blue, or grayish blue to complement, or match the exterior paint. The carpet were done in dark blue with white piping and white leatherette mats. The Studebaker dash and steering wheel were left untouched.

The interior of Tommy’s Studebaker was done by the Carson Top Shop. Dark blue carpt to match the blue top, the seats and ide paneles were done in white leatherette in beautiful pleats and rolls. The Studebaker Dash and steering wheel remained factory stock
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Another look at the interior shows the nicely upholstered seats and door panels. Barely visible in this photo but the center section of the headliner is a darker shade, perhaps light blue, to match the body? Notice how the rearward positioned vent windows give an instant speed effect to the car, even from the inside.
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Close up of the sides of Tommy’s Studebaker show how the front fenders were welded to the cowl, the vent windows are now welded shut and smoothed. The side trim is made from modified (shortened) 1952 Pontiac side trim.
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Taken from a photo test sheet, this nice front 3/4 low angle photo probably made it into a publication.
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A few more snapshots of the Thornburgh Studebaker.
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Because the Thornburgh Studebaker was such an unusual custom car, as well as a very stylish one, it made it into a lot of publications in the early to mid 1950’s. Here is a two page spread in the March 1953 issue of Hop Up Magazine on the left, and Tommy’s studebaker was¬† part of a three Barris Custom Car feature in the March 1953 of Motor Trend magazine. Tommy’s Studebaker was featured on a full page.
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Front view from the Hop Up magazine article gives is a good look at the ’49 Lincoln based floating grille. The Surround looks like it might have come from an early 1950’s Chevy grille surround, molded to the Studebaker hood and fenders. (Thanks Larry Pointer for pointing that out)
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Beautiful front 3/4 view. set free from its background was used in the March ’53 issue of Motor Trend Magazine. This angle shows the beautiful lines of the Barris Kustoms created Custom. The car is mistakenly dated as a ’49 Studebaker in the article.
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Two more images and photo captions from the Motor Trend article.
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The car was finished just in time for the prestigious Petersen Motorama show held from November 10-16, 1952. Tommy’s Studebaker was among the first Barris Shop created customs to get the brand new Barris Crest. It was mounted on the front fender, just above the side trim. The finished Studebaker must have been quite a sensation at the Motorama. With its totally unique color, the blue padded top, and of course being based on the highly unusual Studebaker. Tommy’s Studebaker was featured in many magazines from 1953 and up. High point must have been the cover of the Sacramento Autorama Show Catalog in 1953, and of course in full color on the March 1953 issue of Motor Trend Magazine.

Tommy Thornburgh’s 1947 Studebaker convertible was one of the 6 special Barris Kustom Shop created cars that were displayed at the ’52 Motorama show at the Pan-Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles. The big picture shows Tommy’s car all the way on the left side of the Barris ustoms wall display. The car was freshly finished, and this was possibly the first full show the brand new Barris crests had been added to the Barris Kustoms created cars.
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Tommy’s Studebaker was featured on the cover of the 1953 Sacramento Autorama Show Program. The pictures for the program were taken at the Compton Drive-in Theater, a popular photo location of George Barris.
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The March issue of¬† Motor Trend magazine is one of the all time best covers. And mainly because it shows no less than three Milestone Barris Customs in color on the cover. This is ‚Äď so far ‚Äď the only real color photo I have ever seen on Tommy’s Studebaker (as well as Dan Landon’s Chevy). The rear 3/4 view is perhaps my own personal favorite view of Tommy’s Studebaker. Everything makes so much sense from this angle.
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Tommy was a member of the George Barris’s Kustom Los Angeles Car Club. A club strictly for Barris Kustoms created cars. In one of the magazine ads for the later Kustoms of America George used this photo showing Tommy’s Studebaker parked next to Louis Bettancourt’s Merc, and the former Busterl Litton owned Panoramic Ford. Most likely that is Tommy showing of his Kustoms America Los Angeles jacket for the camera.
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Photo taken at the Thrifty drug store on Rodeo Rd and LA Brea in Los Angeles on May 14, 1954. The photo does not show much of the car, but it does show the really unique shape of the Carson Top Shop created Padded Top.
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This photo was taken at an outdoor car show held at the parking lot of the Hollywood Park, a famous horse racing track in Inglewood California. Around 1954-55. At the time Tommy tried to sell the car with a For Sale sign in the windshield.
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We know very little about Tommy and what happened with the car after he had enjoyed for a couple of years. Around 1954 Tommy had a For Sale sign in the windshield. The last photos we have been able to find of the car shows the car with 1956 California plates on the back, and no year tag, so those are most likely taken in 1956. The only thing we have heard about the car after that is that it went to Oregon around that time and that Donald Mohr, who lived in Central Point Oregon owned the car for some time (Thanks to Bruce Heather for the info). Later the car might have been painted maroon, or possibly candy red. But what became of it from there on, we have no idea.

Donald Mohr, who lived in Central Point Oregon owned the car around 1956. Here Donald is posing with his Barris Restyled ’47 Studebaker.
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Series of photos taken at the same, unknown, location in Oregon, as the one with Donald Mohr posting with the car above. The car now has a new (no added year tag) 1956 license plate. So the photos were probably taken around 1956.
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Hopefully the car is still around, hiding in a garage, or shed waiting for the right moment to the surface again.¬† Tommy Thornburgh’s ’47 Studebaker is such an unique Custom, you would think that people would remember seeing it. Hopefully this extra attention on the Custom Car Chronicle will help get some more information about what happened with the Tommy Thornburgh ’47 Studebaker. If any of our readers knows something more about it, please let us know and Email Rik here at the Custom Car Chronicle.

Having spend a lot of time with Tommy’s Studebaker researching this article I wonder why we have not seen more of these Studebaker’s done up as full customs, back then, and especially now. They make absolutely beautiful Customs, perhaps with a bit more effort than your standard Ford or Mercur, and you have to be a little bit more creative. But then you have something very nice, and totally unique. Or, perhaps it is time for somebody to recreate the Tommy Thornburgh ’47 Studebaker. And allow all the younger generations to see this stunning Barris Kustoms creation with their own eyes.

 

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Featured in:

  • Hop Up March 1953
  • Motor Trend March 1953
  • Trend Book 109 Custom Cars 1954 Annual

 

Shown in:

  • Trend Book 105 Restyle Your Car
  • Hop Up July 1953
  • Car Craft May 1956
  • Trend Book 143 Restyle Your Car

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Petersen Motorama 1952

 

PETERSEN MOTORAMA 1952

 

Custom Cars at the third Annual International Motorama show held at the Pan Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles 1952.



The Annual International Motorama held at the Pan Pacific Auditorium in 1952 was the third time this event was organized. The location and the publicity given to this show in previous years made this one of California’s car show high-lights of the year. Bob Petersen was the organizer of the show, and it was advertised long in advance, so people were extremely excited to attend and see the latest in custom cars and hot rods. Aftermarket speed and custom companies were urged to set up a booth at the event and showcase their latest products. The show was held from November 10 till 16, 1952.


Official Show program cover on the left, and one of the any magazine ads that were used to promote the 1952 event.
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CCC-1952-Motorama-06-WThe “magical” Art -Deco styled Pan-Pacific Auditorium is where the Petersens 1952 Motorama show was held.
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Barris Display Wall

The 1952 Motorama couldn‚Äôt have been more perfectly timed. It was the ‚ÄúGolden Era‚ÄĚ of custom cars and the major builders such as the Ayala Brothers, Bill Gaylord, Gene Winfield and Barris Kustoms were all in their prime. Many of the cars created in this time period are still considered milestone customs today, and this show; the Petersen Motorama, had them all under one roof! The Barris Kustom shop alone had an amazing display showcasing and highlighting their work with multiple trophies and highly polished¬≠ custom cars. Consider this: the Bob Hirohata Mercury was finished just moments before the show opened up! It must have been a spectacular sight with all these perfectly shaped custom cars in their fresh, bright, vibrant and mile deep organic color paint jobs being presented¬≠ to the public for the very first time. Let‚Äôs have¬†a look at some custom car snapshots taken at this exciting and now legendary 1952 show.


The Barris display at the show included some of the very best customs. From left to right we can see Tommy Thornburgh’s 1947 Studebaker, Robert La Briola’s 1949 Oldsmobile, Dan Landon’s 1949 Chevy, Jack Brumbach’s 1942 Ford, Don Vaughn’s 1947 Buick and barely visible in this photo at the end of the line-up was Bob Hirohata’s 1951 Mercury.
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Close up from the right side of the photo gives us a slightly better look at the front end of Dan Landon’s 1949 Chevy, Jack Brumbach’s 1942 Ford, Don Vaughn’s 1947 Buick (we can see its windshield on the left side of the guy with hat, and its drivers headlight, on the right side of the same guy. Bob Hirohata’s 1951 Mercury shows its windshield just below the guys face, and the grille next to the Vaughn Buick headlight and the girl with the handbag.
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Tommy Thornburgh 1947 Studebaker

Tommy’s father owned a Studebaker dealership in Huntington Park, California, and he mandated that if his son was going to have a custom it had to be based on a Studebaker. It was a very unusual car to customize, especially back then, but the Barris brothers did a fantastic job. In fact, so good that they asked Tommy to display the car in their special Barris wall display at the Motorama. The windshield was chopped 4 inches, the front fenders were extended 2- 1/2 inches, and the headlights were frenched. The grille opening was hand-formed and fitted with a grille made from two ’50 Lincoln grille bars with round parking lights at each end. The bumpers, front and rear, are ’52 Lincoln. The rear fenders were molded to the body, and ’52 Studebaker taillights were mounted horizontally in hand-made extensions. The rear fenders were extended downward, leveling them with the rest of the body. The body was shaved and all corners rounded. The interior was upholstered in white rolled and pleated leatherette by the Carson Top Shop. They also created the removable padded top, which was upholstered in royal dark blue cloth. This dark color for the top was a nice contrast for the ice blue paint that covers the body. Side trim, from a ’52 Pontiac featured dark blue paint in-between the stainless to match the top.

Tommy Thornburgh’s fantastic restyled and very unusual 1947 Studebaker convertible was sitting on the far left side of theBarris Kustoms Display wall.
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Robert La Briola 1949 Oldsmobile

1949 Oldsmobile Convertible was a mild but very elegantly restyled custom created by Barris Kustoms for Dentist Robert La Briola. The car featured extended and Frenched headlights. A new oval grille opening created from bended and shaped tubing. Inside was an all custom made floating center section constructed from round tubing and chrome plated. The rear fenders of the car were modified using 1951 Frazer taillights. The trunk was pie-cut section to flow better with the new rear fender shape and shaved. The door handles were removed and the car was painted lime gold.

We could not find an individual photo of Robert’s Oldsmobile taken at the Motorama show, so we used this cropped image, enhanced with a color image taken by George Barris for a magazine photo shoot. Robert is also responsible for the design of the famous Barris Kustom Crest. Which were used at the 1952 Motorama show for the first time.
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Dan Landon 1949 Chevy

The majority of the work on Dan’s Chevy, including the chop and molded in belt line was most likely done by the Ayala brothers. The finish work was done at the Barris Shop. The proportions on this Chevy are absolutely flawless, and everything works together to create an overall flow. The top on this coupe was chopped around 5 inches and some more in the back. The windshield was leaned back and replaced with a cut down one-piece Oldsmobile windshield. The top itself was reshaped to thin out the profile. The C-pillar was angled forward to flow with the new shape of the top. All door and trunk corners where rounded. The trim around the beltline was removed and the dip in the metal filled in and smoothed. This gave the car its unique smooth one-piece look.

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At the front, a new grille opening was shaped from 2-1/2 inch round tubing. The top portion was welded and molded to the hood. The grille was made up of three ‚Äė51 DeSoto grille teeth and 1951 Kaiser-Frazer horizontal bars. The front fenders were extended and the headlights rings molded into the fenders. The rear fenders were extended 8 inches. 1951 Frazer taillights complement the overall shape of the body. 1951 Packard side trim was added to create some visual length. The front bumper is from a ‚Äė49 Pontiac, with 1952 Kaiser bumper guards, and the rear bumper is from an Oldsmobile. The car was lowered using a kicked up frame at the rear and cut coils in the front. The body was painted solid metallic rusty bronze and the car was outfitted with a set of 112-Appleton spotlights. The interior was handled by the Carson Top Shop in brown and antique white leatherette. More info and photos of Dan’s Chevy can be found on this CCC article.

Dan Landon was a member of George Barris’s Kustoms Los Angles Club as the brass tag on the front bumper shows.
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Jack Brumbach 1942 Ford

Jack‚Äôs Ford had never been featured in any of the car magazines back when it was a new custom car in the early 1950‚Äôs, which is really unfortunate, since it is a very nice car with a mix of styles from the late 1940‚Äôs and early 1950‚Äôs. I think Sam Barris experimented with the roof on John‚Äôs Ford by lowering it much more in the back than in the front. The result is quite slick and streamlined. The grille was made using a 1950 Oldsmobile 98 top grille bar with a custom made floating grille using Henry J components. The headlights are frenched and a set of ‚Äė46 Ford taillights were set into hand shaped pods. Jack‚Äôs Ford uses 1949 Mercury bumpers, and the side trim was shortened on the hood. The Appleton spotlights and sombrero hubcaps on wide white wall tires are all mandatory for the style of that era. Unfortunately, we have no info on what color the car was painted. More on Jack’s Ford can be found in the CCC-Article on the car.

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Don Vaughn 1947 Buick

Don Vaughn was from Port Orchard, Washington, but that did not prevent him from taking his 1947 Buick to the Barris Kustom shop in Lynwood to have his dream custom built based on the Buick, with upgraded elements from a 1948 Cadillac. The car came out so great that Barris asked if they could include it in their Motorama display. The windshield was chopped and the hood was smoothed and peaked. The bumpers, front and rear, came from a 1948 Cadillac, as did the cut down grille which has a pair of parking lights set into the ends. The 1948 Cadillac rear fenders were sectioned three inches to fit the Buick Body and were fitted with 1951 Cadillac taillights. Paint is a deep Purple Mist lacquer. The interior and the padded top with wrap around rear window, were done by Gaylord. The steering wheel and shift knob where made of clear acrylic plastic – a very unique feature back then. Appleton spots, Caddy sombrero hubcaps and a perfect stance make this one an all time favorite.

Don’s Deep Purple lacquered Buick must have looked amazing with the white Gaylord padded top with panoramic rear window.
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Bob Hirohata 1951 Mercury

The paint on Bob Hirohata’s Mercury must have been so fresh that you could smell it at this show. The team at the Barris shop rushed to get the car finished in time. The interior was handled by two different shops (Gaylord and the Carson Top Shop) to make sure the deadline could be met. Bob’s Mercury was at the end of the Barris display wall; perhaps that was done intentionally so the audience could have a better look at the totally unique and very bright colors of solid seafoam green (on the main body) and deep organic green (below the Buick side trim). On the other side of the display was Tommy Thornburgh’s 1947 Studebaker, which also was painted a very light and bright color. I think that after several years of using mainly deep and dark organic colors, the Barris shop wanted to promote the lighter, brighter and sunnier colors. This photo of Bob’s Mercury shows that the bumper guards are still stock height. Later, they would be sectioned to fit better with the floating grille bar. More articles on the Hirohata Mercury can be found on the here.

The last Barris Custom of the Display wall was the freshly finished Hirohata Mercury.
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The Barris Kustoms Shop had a huge display at one of the walls with 6 of their very best and newest restyled Customs. This display must have been a huge crowd pleaser. Of course there were numerous more Custom cars created by other shops and individuals. Lets take a further look at some of the other custom cars at the show.




Bill Page 1940 Ford

Bill Page’s 1940 Ford was mostly created by Don Riggs, but Bill also did some work on the car. Don was responsible for most of the metal work which included a chopped windshield, reshaped frontend to accept the top three bars of a 1948 Pontiac grille. The trim and handles were all shaved for the smooth look. The team lowered the car in the rear using modified spring hangers and re-rolled springs with reversed eyes. The frame was C-ed at the back to make space for the lowered axle. Up front, a Dago axle helped lower it three inches. 1948 Mercury bumpers were used front and rear, and the interior was upholstered in maroon and white. The inside of the padded top was done in maroon rather than the usual lighter color. Aftermarket hubcaps, wide white wall tires and spotlights were all mandatory parts every custom needed in those days. The car was painted a deep maroon color which looked stunning with the white padded top.


The only color photo I have ever seen from the 1952 show is this one showing Bill Page his 1940 Ford. Hopefully one day more color photos from this show will surface.
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Ken Vertees 1951 Chevy

The windshield was chopped and replaced with a cut down one-piece Oldsmobile unit. Chavez American Auto Tops created a wonderfully shaped padded top which they called the ‚ÄúDeVille‚ÄĚ for this car. The Chevy rear fenders were replaced by Oldsmobile units with Pontiac taillights installed. A 1950 Mercury grille surround was molded to the front, and a floating grille bar was created using 1951 Plymouth components. The headlights were frenched, but the door handles and side trim remained in place. Once all the body work was done the car was painted with many coats of special mixed lime, lemon and gold metallic lacquer paint. All the work was done by Bill‚Äôs Body Shop. Chavez also did the interior, and chose green and white leather for the material. Ken‚Äôs Chevy made it on the cover of the January 1953 issue of Motor Trend magazine in full color. The magazine shown on the wall behind the car must have been hot off the presses at the November 1952 show.

Kent Vertees’s conservatively restyled ’51 Chevy with Chavez wrap around padded top.
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Jim Chapkis 1940 Ford Coupe

Jim was the original owner of this custom, but at some point in the early 1950’s he sold it to Revelle Harrison. One of them owned it when it was displayed at the Motorama in 1952, but we are not sure who. The Ford was channeled 7 inches. The front fenders were raised approximately 4 inches, and the hood was sectioned the same amount. The rear fenders were raised approximately 3 inches, but not molded to the body. The front was filled in and reshaped to accept a 1939 Buick grille. The running boards were removed and rock shields made to protect the rear fenders. The side trim was removed and so were all the handles. The car used 1940 Buick torpedo fender skirts. The headlights are stock Ford parts, but the taillights were replaced with upside down 1941 Studebaker Champion taillights. 1947 Ford bumpers are used front and rear. With the bodywork finished, it was time for a ruby maroon lacquer paint job by Larry Ackley. The car was featured in several magazines dating from 1951 to 1957, but the original builder, who did this fantastic work, was never listed.

The special display wooden fence at the Motorama show might have looked very nice and gave the whole room a nice finished look. But it did interfere with taking some good quality photos showing the complete cars.
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Ed Wilder 1952 Cadillac convertible

Restyled by Jay Everett for owner Ed Wilder of Los Angeles, California. Jay sectioning the body above the fender lines¬†4¬†inches. The cuts were made just below the belt molding. The hood and trunk needed to be widened and heavily reshaped to match the new lines. Jay also widened the front fenders, doors and rear fenders to make the car look even wider. ¬†Ed’s car originally was an convertible, but later in the process a DeVille top was added. The hood and trunk were nosed and the Cadillac fender trim was removed, but most other brightwork was retained to keep that Factory Custom look alive and “confuse” the people who saw the car. When finished the car was¬†finished¬†with a super gloss black lacquer paint job.

CCC-1952-Motorama-04-WEd Wilder  sectioned 1952 Cadillac built by Jay Everett.
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Earl Bruce 1940 Ford Coupe

Roy Hagy and Summers did most of the body work on Bruce Earl’s coupe with its unique chopped top with filler quarter windows.¬†The work on the car was done when the car was still brand new in 1940. Beside the chopped to p the car also had rounded door tops,¬†removed the running boards and all the trim was shaved of the body. After using the car for several years the car was redone and re-painted by the Valley Custom shop. This photo of Earl’s Ford shows that it was displayed with the hood and door open, to show all the engine and interior details.

Earl Bruce 1940 Ford Coupe has been around since the very early 1940’s and was still looking stunning at the¬†1952 show.
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Movie stills from the 1952 Motorama promotional movie Petersen Publishing had made.
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The 1952 Petersen Motorama Sow promotional movie with special thanks to Geoff Hacker and Forgotten Fiberglass.
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This great aerial view shows the Pan Paciffic Auditorium building where the Motorama show was held in the top left corner. It also shows the Gilmore Field, Gilmore Stadium and Gilmore Drive-In.
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The Pan-Pacific Auditorium building seen from one of the parking lots.
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The Pan-Pacific Auditorium was located at 7600 W. Beverly Blvd. Los Angles, California.
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