Some of you might have noticed I’ve been gone for a while. Anna and I spent an excellent week driving out to Las Vegas, New Mexico, staying in the recently restored and reopened Harvey House Hotel there (La Castaneda), and taking day-trips all over high-altitude northern New Mexico. After one day home, I then flew out to Bowling Green, KY, at the behest of the Warren County Public Library, and hosted by the Corvette Museum, to not only meet several of you and see some of your rods, customs, and Corvettes, but also to talk about hot rod history and culture and show lots of examples of photos from my archive on a big screen. I really appreciated meeting and talking with those of you who came.
So let’s keep things sort of simple this time and just concentrate on one photo. Of course, the story behind this photo is neither simple, nor is the car what it appears to be. In fact, it’s more than a sleeper, it’s a total fake-out. This is the only photo I have of it. I’ve only shown it once before. And the car hasn’t been seen, as far as I know, since 1952 or ’53.
This chopped, channeled, and moderately sectioned ’40 DeLuxe convertible was built by John Geraghty, with the help of Gil and Al Ayala. Yes, it’s a full custom with a Carson Top, but you’ll notice it’s no ground-scraper and has no typical custom add-ons such as skirts, spotlights, or lakes pipes. That’s the first clue.
You should know John as the builder of the candy green, blown-Olds-powered “Grasshopper” ’23 T show-and-race car, as well as much of the Lloyd Bakan Hemi-powered ’32 3-window, which appeared on classic Hot Rod covers in October ’59 and ’57.
Both of these cars were covered extensively in fairly recent issues of The Rodder’s Journal, so I won’t repeat that here. Also, in issue No. 41, I did an 18-page feature on John’s considerable exploits in the hot rod field, ranging from the City of Burbank record-breaking streamliner to his well-known dyno shop in Eagle Rock, just for beginners. The guy was amazing (John passed in May 2015 at age 85).
However, it was in a large story on the Ayala Brothers in TRJ No. 40 that I showed this rare photo, which I think came from their family scrapbook. The only info on the car there was in the caption:
“One of the less-known, and certainly under-appreciated examples of Ayala’s work was John Geraghty’s sneaky ’40 convert. …This sleeper, which John began in ’49, featured a chrome-moly round-tube chassis, a hand-built IRS, a 12-inch set-back full-house flathead, not to mention the more obvious 2-inch chopped windshield (with Carson Top) and 2-inch sectioned body. When I asked John why he chose the Ayalas, he said, ‘Because I didn’t want all that lead in it like the others guys did.’ He said Gil did the cutting and metalwork on the body, while Al sectioned the hood. Then Gil painted it ‘Glamor Green,’ which was 30 coats of an emerald green lacquer over a gold base. John sold it in ’53 and it disappeared.”
I told you it wasn’t what it appeared to be.
Although I didn’t show this photo in the article on Geraghty in TRJ #41 (and I have never seen any other photos of it–rear, engine, interior, etc.), John did give me more details when I interviewed him. Some slightly conflict what he first told me, but….
He starts by saying he joined the Navy after high school, saved his pay, and bought the ’40 convert when he got out. “I soon began to modify my ’40, initially just the engine: cam, heads, manifold. But I began to appreciate some of the custom features that were being accomplished and decided to take 2-1/2″ out of the windshield and install a Carson Top, painting the body a translucent green.” This would mean a candy-type color.
This time he said the windshield was chopped “By the guy who did Doane Spenser’s top.” Then he met Gil Ayala, who suggested sectioning the car and other customizing like the filled hood and deleted running boards.
“While it was at Gil’s I decided to build a really good motor. I did a lot of things Doane did to his. I brazed 6-cyl. guides in the ports. I used lighter valves without the mushroom. Then, like Doane, I machined out the stock lifters and put aluminum inserts in there to make them weigh nothing. Winfield ground me a special cam. The motor was over 300 inches and could rev to 7500 RPM. Ed had a different idea about relieving the block. The pistons had a relief in them, to match the block. I also hung out with Barney Navarro down there. He built the best head. I reworked them–cut back behind the valves so they could breathe.
“And when I’m building the motor, I think, jeez, if I could build a better chassis for it. And I could move the engine back. I got carried away. So I bought a junk ’40 coupe, tore the body off, and built my own frame out of round tubing with the same mounts. Narrowed it a little. And I’d been reading about the German Auto Unions, so I thought it’d be kinda fun to put a swing axle under it [meaning an IRS]. I just used Ford torque tube components, which made it a piece of cake. I got Cook’s to do the machining on the axles. I had parallel leafs in the back, which were heavy compared to today’s coils, but it worked really well.
“It was primarily a street car. I drove it all the time. I hung out at Bob’s, and guys would tow alcohol-burning roadsters out to race me. We’d go over there to Forest Lawn [‘River Road’]; never got beat.”
I asked why he didn’t build a lighter car to go fast, and if he ever took the top off to race. “I liked the looks. It was a good-looking car. I took the top off once, when I had to race Don Montgomery and his Buick-powered Graham out at Saugus. I could run 105 on gas, but he could run 106 on alcohol.”
John said he sold the ’40 in ’52 to buy a new, yellow Mercury convertible. He also added, “I got married in ’53 [to Sarah Lynn] and we moved to Eagle Rock. I opened Geraghty Automotive there in 1954.”
The only “furthermore” I would add to this amazing tale, is that when I interviewed John in 2008 at his large home near the Brand Estate Library in Glendale, complete with modern sculpture in the front yard, he had completely retired from the automotive business and scene to become a well-known collector and curator of Western Art. He was hesitant to talk about his automotive past–extensive as it was–and his wife was totally against it. I was lucky to get about a half-hour interview on tape. When I asked John if he had any photos he could share, he said, “Oh lots, but they’re packed away in the attic,” as Sarah Lynn gave us both a glare. The big irony of this is that not only was Sarah Lynn Miss Glendale, or queen of the Glendale custom car show–or some such–but she also is the only female, besides Mamie Van Doren and Linda Vaughn, to have appeared twice on the cover of Hot Rod magazine. She’s the blond on both of the covers above.
As for John’s candy green, Ayala-bodied, tube frame, IRS, set-back-engine ’40 custom sleeper convertible–not to mention his stash of early photos–who knows? Certainly not me.