Silly me. This didn’t turn out the way I expected, or wanted. Pretty soon I was calling it a Herculean task. Now I realize it’s a Sisyphean task.
My plan, given that I am held captive here at home, same as you, was to take the time to rummage through my photo files, looking for interesting, unusual, or just plain cool images that haven’t been seen before. Well…. I’ve spent more than five full days, starting with one shoe-box of envelopes containing early color transparencies and some B&W negs, going back to the days before Rod & Custom was bought by Petersen. There were hundreds of photos just in that box. All good ones. Then I selected one binder (from a shelf of 25) marked “Early Color, Rods” which contained several hundred more images in clear sleeves. Again, all good, otherwise they wouldn’t be there. I only got about halfway through that. So early yesterday I went out to the garage where I have two 5-drawer file cabinets filled with hanging files containing mostly B&W prints and proof sheets with negatives on the back. I started with a file labeled “Bill Burke Negs.” These are what essentially started my collection, back in the mid-’70s. He gave me a whole box full of loose photos and negatives, stating “You have more interest in history than I do.” These go back to the early ’30s (remember the SCTA was founded in late ’37, and he was one of the founders). Then I tried files tagged Early Lakes and Early Rods. These were mostly 35mm proof sheets (36 images each) of photos from various old-timers’ scrapbooks that I copied with my camera, years ago. Finally, pretty frustrated, I grabbed a file marked “Misc. Negs” this morning, and found 3 or 4 things I know you haven’t seen.
But there’s gobs more. More than I could begin to describe, let alone look through. My plan was to limit it to 25 photos. So. So…what follows certainly isn’t “Best Of,” or comprehensive, nor makes rhyme or reason. It’s just Pickins. Hopefully something that will interest and entertain you during this time of internment.
There won’t be much rhyme or reason to the order or time frame of photos here, either. I start with this one because I showed a tighter-cropped version, similar to the June ’67 Car Craft cover, in my Instagram recently, and people wanted to know who took it and how. It was taken by the late Fred Enke, a busy and talented freelancer of the time. It was an annual L.A. Roadsters/Bay Area Roadsters meet, and I have an envelope with dozens of color photos. I like this one with waving car owners.But from this never-seen angle, Enke’s shadow gives you a clue how he did it.
And here you can see that it was a pretty elaborate set-up involving a hefty crane truck. I can’t imagine doing this on the freelance pay I used to get! The envelope also contained many photos of the trip up to Sequoia Park, so I would assume that this parking lot was somewhere in the Visalia area, though I don’t recognize the Carnation dairy background.
OK, let’s jump way back in time. Wes Cooper’s excellent track-nose ’27 T roadster was featured on the cover of the Sept. ’49 Hot Rod, with a 2-page feature inside including a rare profile Rex Burnett cutaway drawing. Like the Spalding Bros. and Navarro roadsters, it featured the distinctive Art Ingles nose and grille, as well as his hood and bellypans. It had a Model B 4-cylinder with a Fargo overhead, running 4 carbs and 8 (doubled) connecting rods, good for an impressive 143+ mph at El Mirage. I’ve got plenty of photos if you want to see more, but only one like this.
You should recognize this as the Tony LaMasa roadster. But this photo was taken in Tony’s Eagle Rock neighborhood in ’51 (according to license plates) shortly after he got it. It looks like it’s already painted metallic green. The bubble in the hood has a scoop cut in it. But it still has the 3-carb flathead engine, and no Von Dutch striping. I like the way the cycle fenders were originally angled. I have an envelope of photos on this one, too, ostensibly taken for the new Rod & Custom little mag, (though it didn’t appear until ’53).
You’ll have to excuse the pink cast of this old Ektachrome. I’ve actually corrected this some, but I don’t have Photoshop (nor time–or inclination–to mess with it). The car is painter/customizer George Cerney’s ’50 Olds, but as the window decal attests, Lyon’s has installed a new ’53 dual-quad Cad engine (as they did in Hirohata’s Merc), punched to 377 inches and liberally chromed. While the car appears to be in primer, the whole engine compartment (including wires, cables, hinges, radiator) was sprayed luscious purple before the engine and chrome goodies were added.
It’s hard to tell from this aged ’54 photo whether Dave Bugarin’s Barris ’51 Merc is dark blue or purple (it was sapphire blue and metallic gray). You seldom see color photos of it, and definitely not from this rear angle, which I really like, with the (brand new) ’54 Packard taillights frenched into the mildly extended ’51 fenders. This one’s apparently lost, though rumors persist that it’s hidden somewhere in San Pedro.
Joe Bailon’s style was way different from the Barris’s–or anybody else’s. And we’re jumping ahead to 1959 to show Jim Doyle’s, um, distinctive candy red ’52 Merc convertible. To see how this car was found in deplorable condition on a Sacramento river levee, then restored, check my Lost Hot Rods II book. But the main reason I’m showing this photo here is because of the setting, with mid-century-modern motel, palms, sculpture(?), and full wall-art. The car just completes the concept.
The Jackman Bros.’ ’32 Ford Sport Coupe from San Diego was a tour de force show car. This thing had a complete chromed frame, not to mention driveline, plus a Plexiglas floor to show it off, including 8 straight pipes that ran from the dual-quad T-Bird Y-Block to the back bumper. Even the license plates were chromed. I tried reducing the pink in this old 4×5 film, but that killed the brilliant hue of the candy wild cherry paint.
This car was obviously selected as one of the top 75 Best Deuces for the 75th Anniversary bash at the Pomona Roadster Show. But with the original seemingly lost, Harry Jackman decided to build an exact clone, the painting of which I fully covered in my Custom Painting book. With the fresh candy wild cherry barely dry, and the clone positioned on the show floor, guess what rolled in next to it? Yes, the original Sport Coupe, out of nowhere (actually Colorado, I think), surprising everyone. The only major changes were black paint (with liberal white pinstriping) and a chopped top. I’m pretty sure I’ve got a photo of this, somewhere, if I can find it.
This one hasn’t turned pink, but it has faded a bit. It came from the shoebox full of envelopes, most of which were “outtakes” (i.e., leftovers) from freelance submissions to various magazines. But each envelope only had the name of the owner, type of car, and usually the photog’s name on it. All this one said was “John Detrick, ’51 Chevy Bel Air.” It only had this one 2-1/4 x 2-1/4 transparancy in it. It appears to be photographed on a golf course in the Glendale-Burbank area. Otherwise it was a complete mystery to me. But a quick Google search turned up one B&W image of the Chev (I would have guessed it was an Olds), with the name John Dietrich and “Valley Custom.” Now remember I’m retired, and I shouldn’t be doing research, but a little more digging turned up a HAMB entry on it from a few years ago, which in turn led me to a ’55 CarCraft 2-page B&W feature (an issue missing from my incomplete collection). But nothing on the ’40 coupe, which looks like it might be a little earlier (given the split ’40-Lincoln bumpers), and looks really nice the closer you look (shaved and peaked hood, partially filled grille, shortened side chrome, white upholstery–and white spider painted on the cowl). Did the girl drive it there? Was it hers? But speaking of looking closer (remember you can click on the photos to enlarge them), that unassuming lady is very definitely flipping the bird with her left hand. Wow. Some photo. I guarantee you’ve never seen this one before.
I’ve loved Sheldon Schmidt’s blown Hemi ’34 Comp Coupe since I first saw it in Hot Rod in ’62. The candy tangerine is brighter than it looks here, but the tinted windows, chromed and detailed set-back engine, ’34 grille, Moon tank, and polished 12-spokes add up to one bitchin-but-bad race car. Or show car? I’ve got a bunch of good photos of it, and one detail–a ’39 Ford transmission inside–didn’t equate. That blown Hemi would blow that trans in one or two runs. I remember I featured it in one of my books, and somehow I contacted Sheldon, who told me “Yeah, that was just so I could get it in a magazine to get a sponsor.” Which he did, and ran the car hard enough that he eventually catapulted off the end of the Pomona track (chute failure), across the road, landing upside down in the golf course on the other side. Not on fire, but still strapped in the seat, and bleeding. The safety crew saved him, but the car was lost.
Speaking of totally bitchin–and orange–’34 drag coupes, how about this one that is close to my heart? This is Ike Iacono’s original orange-and-black drag car, actually a ’33 3-window, that first ran a Chevy 6, but is seen here at a car show at Bacon Ford in Hermosa Beach around 1954, featuring a big (320+ cu. in.) GMC inline fitted with what I think is the first aluminum Wayne 12-port head and definitely the prototype Hilborn injectors. He later swapped this engine into his well-known, very fast dragster, which now sits in my garage, fully restored and running with the same head and injector you see here. In ’55 this coupe was profusely striped by Von Dutch, then put up for sale (and/or stolen?) a couple years later, less engine, and has never been found since.
I mentioned that my photo archive pretty much began with a box full of prints, scratchy negs, timing tags, a scrapbook, Throttle and early Hot Rod magazines, and more given to me by Bill Burke, who briefly worked with me at Street Rodder magazine in the ’70s and became a good friend. As a hot rodder he’s legendary for many reasons, but probably best known as the inventor of the belly tank lakester. He’s seen here in his first version, with a small V8-60 up front and an obviously tight cockpit. His next version was made from a larger tank with the driver in front and a full-size flathead engine in the rear–the Burke-Francisco “Sweet 16,” which set several records and became the standard for many others to follow.
I also stated that Bill’s photos went back into the mid-to-early ’30s, as do others I was able to find and copy from other lakes veterans years ago. This one is obviously from the ’30s at Muroc. The severely narrowed and bobbed (note gas tank at back) ’27 T body makes it a “Modified.” My notes state only that it has a Cragar head (presumably on a model B four) and a Hallock dual-carb intake. The dual-front-spring frame could be Essex, the narrow grille is from a Whippet, and it has shiny black paint. This is no jalopy.
This one is a real mystery. It came from my shoebox of envelopes and all it said was Bob Finley ’60 T-Bird, photos by Bud Lang. There are several images of the car, but none showing the rear, engine, or interior. I figured it was a Starbird custom–given the look, the bubble top, and the nice candy red paint. But that little white thing behind the front wheelwell is an unrecognizable tag, or emblem, of some sort. Again doing a brief Google search, I found a couple references (including Kustomrama) stating that Bob Finley of Long Beach, CA, bought Larry Watson’s panel-painted ’58 T-Bird in ’59. Could this be the same car? That’s all I can tell you.
Not too long ago, in my Instagram, I showed a couple B&W photos of Chet Herbert’s pretty amazing chopped, fenderless, black ’32 Ford Fordor, but I didn’t show the engine. Well, during my recent search I found not only some photos of the propane-powered, Horning 12-port head GMC six Chet built for it, but they’re in color! Even though he did everything from a wheelchair, Chet was a hands-on builder and incredible innovator who was one of the true hot rod heroes. And you’ve never seen these photos before, nor will you see them anywhere else
What, you say, is this? Well… That’s what some readers said when I did a second, more-tongue-in-cheek Swimsuit Issue, this one in the Oct. ’90 Rod & Custom. The cars were real (well, most of them), this of course being the Eddie Miller handbuilt, Pontiac 6-powered lakester, collected by the Fergusons and thankfully recently restored. The rest was pure farce, including captions patterned after the early Hot Rod “Parts with Appeal.” It all ran in black and white in the mag, but my favorite photographer (and good friend) Robert Kittila snapped this one in color, hoping we’d use it for the cover. Probably should have. Maybe I’ll do a future column just on this. Yes? No?
I got this 1947 photo from rear-end guy and longtime rodder Frank Currie. This was the Strokers club from the Whittier-LaHabra area, out for a winter-time weekend run, with the tops up, and even side-curtains, on most of the roadsters. These are some nice cars. But there were hundreds like them in SoCal at that time.
I’ve done a couple of columns here called “cover stories.” Well, here’s another one. We were on a rod run somewhere near Escondido in 1978 when Danny Brent showed up in this wicked, low, very red ’29 sedan and I got some good photos of it, which I knew would make a good cover. And I guess I wanted to get it on Street Rodder before somebody else got it. I really can’t remember. But the cover caption read: “The paint was barely dry when Ganahl snapped a picture of Danny Brent’s new chopped and very louvered ’29 sedan. Full feature coming soon.” It didn’t. Probably because that was my last issue of SRM. But I credit that Model A for instigating the “Red Rod” era that followed shortly.
Here’s another good one from the copious Burke files I’ve never shown before. I can’t quite read the license plate date, but I think this was just after the war (’45 or ’46). Bill built this T-V8 from a $5 stocker (there are “before” photos). I’d guess it’s a Model A frame (with mechanical brakes). It uses later wire wheels, with a filled Deuce grille and headlights. And about the only speed parts for V8s were “slingshot” dual intake manifolds. Bill hand-built the squarish turtle deck, but most significantly he sprayed and rubbed-out a shiny black paint job. Bill always did is own paint, often in his signature “Burple.”
It was great to see Jim Govro show up for the AMBR circle at Pomona a year ago with his original Tweedy Bird, looking pretty much like this. You never saw it in a magazine in color back then, but Tom Medley shot this in Texas in ’57. Note how the fenders are raised and bobbed on the channeled roadster. Sectioning the stock louvered hoodsides took some real finesse. They cover a detailed Cad V8 with four staggered carbs. I like the matching whitewalls, red wheels, and Olds flipper wheelcovers.
Speaking of ’32 roadsters, including another channeled one (in front), this is a typical line-up at El Mirage in the post-war ’40s. The photo was taken by fellow ’32 Hiboy owner Jack Mickelson, who was a member of the Vultures car club along with Joe Nitti. The thing to note in this photo is that all three have windshield posts in place, upholstery, mostly nice paint, and even hubcaps, denoting that they were street-driven rods stripped for the weekend races–two with tonneau covers snapped in place to help streamline.
It was fun to find an envelope full of color photos of Ron Coleman’s and his wife’s channeled Deuce coupe and chopped ’50 Ford custom. I remember reading about them in Hot Rod magazine, where it was emphasized that all work was done in the home garage. Then I got to see them at the first or second Winternationals car show. I was around 13. And it was a thrill to see magazine cars “in person.” But even at that age, I remember looking down the sides of the custom and noticing how wavy they were. Coleman had grafted later Oldsmobile quarters and taillights to the rear of the Ford. Interestingly, of the several photos I have, none shows the rear of that car–as here.
It was with a pang of sadness that I found these two rough, nearly unprintable images on a proof sheet of photos I had copied from various people many years ago. Of course I’ve never shown them before. But these were snapshots Jim McNiel took of his recently acquired (and polished) Hirohata Merc when he was in high school, and of his good-looking new girlfriend Sue, whom he used the Merc to help woo–and marry. They of course stayed that way, and kept the Merc, the rest of their lives. Jim and Sue were wonderful people, and became close friends of both Anna and me. R.I.P. (I would guess the guy in uniform in the upper photo is Jim’s older brother Bob.)
I don’t want to close this lengthy column-for-the-homebound on a down note, so here’s my “just one more” photo. As I was refiling proof sheets this one caught my eye. It is, of course Bell Auto Parts, home of Cragar racing components and so much more, in Bell, CA, and I would argue that it was the first, and possibly longest-running, speed shop in the world. You may have seen a similar photo, with different cars in front (including an MG-TC), but this one was taken by a young Tom Medley when he and at least a couple roadster buddies drove all the way down from Oregon, sometime before 1948, to see hot rod sites in SoCal and buy speed parts to take home.
Whew. This might not have turned out quite the way I planned, but it kept me busy for a week. My intent is that it will do nothing other than entertain you for some fraction of that time. My sincere hope is that nearly all of you who are reading this are well, and doing everything possible to keep yourselves, and anyone around you, that way. Be good. Stay safe. Let’s beat this thing–we can, together. And I’ll do better next time. Promise.