It’s the week between Christmas and New Year. This would usually be vacation time, but we’re all confined to our homes this year, especially those of us in the Los Angeles area, currently the Covid capital of the universe. So I asked Sabina (Bill’s wife, in the San Francisco area, who is my Technical Editor) if she wanted to mess with this now, and she said, “Sure! Let’s give them something to do while they’re cooped up at home.” She’s definitely an enthusiast.
So here’s the deal. The last few columns have been fairly involved, so I wanted to do something quick and simple this time. My first idea was to go through my Bill Burke Prints folder and pick out 10 or 12 “Best of Burke” pictures. But that folder’s nearly two inches thick. Too much good stuff!
However, as I thumbed through that drawer, I crossed one very skinny file I knew well. It’s marked “Early R&C Negs” and it’s only got three glassine sleeves in it holding four 2-1/4 negs each, with their corresponding images cut from proof sheets. Twelve photos total, taken with an old twin lens Rollei camera (I know because one neg is double exposed), with no info, no date, nada.
I can’t even remember exactly how I know these were R&C photos, but the file’s been marked that way for decades. I’m pretty sure they are. Let me give you a little “behind the scenes” background. When I worked at Hot Rod magazine in the ’80s, the only two people–in all of Petersen–who showed much interest in the photo library, and knew how to find stuff there, were Gray Baskerville and myself. Jane Barrett, the long-time Librarian, would let us into the locked room, which had rows of steel bookshelves mostly holding binders of color slides in the middle, and special file cabinets along the walls filled with black-and-white negatives. There were also some reference books on the shelves, and other stuff, but most important was one 3-ring binder filled with lined loose-leaf paper known as the Log Book. Each roll of film turned in by any Petersen photographer was given a number. That number was written in the log book, along with the date, name of photographer, and “subject,” which could often be cryptic, depending on what the photographer decided to call it. Researching that log book was great fun for Gray and me, and I could tell much more.
But the point here is that this logging system wasn’t begun until 1955. That was also the year Petersen bought Rod & Custom from Quinn Publications. So these negs I’m showing here were never logged, I.D.ed, or in the Petersen files. Among the other stuff on the library shelves were two slightly longer than shoebox-size boxes filled with sleeved negs and proofs just like the ones above, which were the entire remaining photo files of R&C from its founding in ’53 through ’55, mostly shot by editor Spence Murray or photog Ralph Poole. Since they weren’t Petersen file photos, they were going to get dumped. So Jane decided to give them back to Spence Murray, who was her good friend. How this one roll (12 shots) got separated and saved by me, I cannot remember at all. It was probably because by then I had revived Rod & Custom.
And undoubtedly because it contained some excellent, classic photos, a few of which I have used in the past, such as this one of the deep green, Barris-built, Jesse Lopez ’41 Ford. The sign behind it with–yes–a slab of bacon on top, clued me that this was a one-day car show staged at Bacon Ford, which was on Sepulveda Blvd. in Hermosa Beach from ’51-’65. Only from a license plate could I determine that it was some time in 1954. By then this car was owned by Danny Lares of Wilmington, who bought it in ’53 and obviously kept it in beautiful condition. Bacon Ford was becoming notorious for wild TV ads, and attractions like this car show, and was soon the largest Ford dealer west of the Mississippi.
I’ve included the double exposure (caused by forgetting to wind the film between shots on older cameras) because I figure the multi-car overall image was supposed to be the lead shot for the show. If you squint, you can see several hot rods on the right, customs in the back, and “antiques” toward the front. There were plenty of rods and customs in the beach area known as the South Bay, and many turned out for the show.
I think this is the backside of the other car in the double exposure, which looks like a ’28 Chrysler (or similar Mopar) to me. It has excellent body and paint, plus a “Lancers L.A.” club plate. Those are steps on the rear fender to get into the rumble seat. But where are the taillights?
I assume the show was on a Sunday, when the work bays were closed, allowing plenty of room for show cars to park, as well as plenty of spectators free to attend. Note the primered Ford Shoebox sedan with the chopped top, next to the white Merc. Not sure what the school bus behind them was doing there.
Here’s a closer look at the Merc, which is a ’49 indicated by the 3-piece rear window. Given its stock height (both suspension and roof), not to mention hubcaps and headlight rings and what appears to be white primer paint (briefly popular at that time), you’d think little was done to this mild custom other than obvious nosing, decking, and the somewhat haphazard placement of a ’51-’52 Plymouth grille. Even its dangling club plaque proclaims he’s a member of the Stockers of Manhattan (Beach, the next town up). I’m assuming the photographer was Spence Murray, and he saw enough details to warrant front and rear photos of this one car. You can see the Lincoln taillights in back, the shaved door handles, and some nice, thin side chrome ending in a circle with an “R” in it (probably from a Rambler; maybe the owner’s initial). The “kickstand” lakes pipes were the latest custom bolt-on. But the nicest work was in the shaved and rechromed bumpers, with tasty oval exhaust tips sunk in the rear, and popular ’49 Chev license guards both lengthened and reshaped to fit the flats in the Merc bumpers. Given the primer, we assume there was more customizing to come on this one.
Again, I assume Spence was the photographer, since he shot more customs than rods. On this ’52-’54 Ford hardtop, he focused just on the rear, where ’52-’53 Olds taillights have been neatly molded in place. This is a simple and effective mod I’m surprised we didn’t see more often. This is also the type of mild custom you’d see in high school parking lots, as well as at the many drive-in restaurants up and down the length of Sepulveda Blvd. Note the louvers in the skirt of the Chevy beside it.
So here’s the front of the ’51 Chevy convert with the louvered skirts. This filled, shaved, and lengthened hood (also louvered) was a modification performed, unfortunately, on a few of these ’49-’52 Chevs. It looks better shut than open, though the bent upward grille bar doesn’t help. Of course the hood was up to show off the 3-carb and chromed inline six. I also like the frenched stock lights and the short, thin side spear. Also note the shaved bumpers and white wheelwells. But these mid-’50s mild customs certainly didn’t go for the ground-scraping attitude glimpsed by the ’40s Barris Ford next to it.
While there didn’t seem to be any foreign or sports cars, as such, there were a number of restored antiques, such as Model T’s. I remember seeing pictures of this ’36-’37 Cord “roadster” but I can’t remember its story. The most notable change are the two nostril grilles added to the coffin nose. Beyond that, the classic Cord chrome wheels are covered with ’40s “full moon” wheelcovers and ’40 Olds winged bumpers replace the more stylish originals. Hey, if you could afford a Cord, you could do what you wanted with it.
Given several other street rods you can spy, it’s somewhat surprising this is the only one photographed. Yes, the turtle-deck T with rolled side pans covering the frame is a nice piece: painted, upholstered, cut-down Deuce grille, big-n-little whitewalls with Merc caps-n-rings, set off with plenty of chrome plating. However, in ’54 the Cragar-head Ford 4-banger with dual carbs wasn’t cool (as it would be today), it was simply outdated. And the external fuel hand-pump and chopped steering wheel were leftovers of a long-gone circle track era. What’s really amazing is that I used this photo in one of my books, and in the past year or two somebody contacted me, wanting to know the usual “more information” because he had recently acquired it. Of course I had no further information, so I don’t recall exact details. But I think he said he got it from an older gentleman who had kept it in a garage in the South Bay area all these years, in exactly the same condition you see here. He must have sent me a color picture, because I see it with a red body and dark but bright blue paint on the frame, firewall, and wheels. Sorry I can’t remember more. Maybe we’ll see it one of these days.
Now this is probably the real reason I ended up with these photos that would otherwise have been thrown away. In fact Jane may have given them to me, because I think by then I had acquired the Ike Iacono GMC dragster. This is, of course, its predecessor, Ike’s screaming, fuel-burning, orange-and-black ’33 Ford coupe, which he brought up from nearby San Pedro for the show. He left the hood at home to show off the big Jimmy with its aluminum Wayne 12-port head and Hilborn injectors–which, according to Ike, are the exact same ones I was able to acquire and run on my dragster today. Which I think is pretty cool. Not only was this car fast, but you can easily see Ike’s level of finish and detail, which was superb. What you can’t see is much of Von Dutch’s lettering and striping, which was copious on the back end and hood. The one question everyone asks, and no one has been able to answer, is “What became of it?” All Ike knew was that it was stolen (less engine) from his Pedro tune-up shop, and no vestiges have ever been seen since.
Which is, I think, what I can say for this story, until today. While I have shown 2 or 3 photos in other places, this is the first time I have shown all the photos from this one roll of film, taken by someone from Rod & Custom magazine at Bacon Ford sometime in 1954. Although I’m missing a couple issues, I just paged through all my 1954 copies of R&C, and there is neither a story on this show, nor any of the individual photos shown anywhere else.
So that’s my quick and relatively simple show-and-tell for today. You’re the first to see most of it. And the next time you hear from me, it will be a new year. Never in my lifetime has that phrase meant more than it does now. Of course things aren’t going to magically get better in two weeks. We still have a whole lot of work ahead of us. But I will leave you with something that is a complete non sequitur to the story above. This was, by far, my favorite Christmas card we received this year. I have blanked out the name to protect the guilty, and I doubt you’ll recognize anyone wearing masks (including the dog). But I hope you appreciate it as much as I do.
See you next year, with hope!