One of these days I’m going to do a column on the Top 10 All-Time Best Magazine Covers, of which this little June ’57 Car Craft will definitely be one. (I’d love to do one on the 10 Worst Covers, too, for which there are plenty of candidates, but we’ll see.) But today’s column is about just one of these two frantically flamed hot rods, George Sein’s Barris-built-and-painted, Dean Jeffries-pinstriped ’32 Ford 5-window coupe.
The other car, Tom Pollard’s opposite Barris-painted and Von Dutch-striped ’29 roadster, appeared on earlier R&C and Hot Rod covers when it was red, as well as others after this one. But as far as I can tell, this is not only the only cover, but the only magazine feature coverage Sein’s Deuce ever got, which is pretty amazing given the fact it was a Barris car, the amount of modifications on it, its outrageous paint-and-stripe job, and that its “Healthy 4×4 Cad…built by Sein, proved its worth by winning Central Pacific Coast NHRA Regional at 113 mph” according to one Car Craft caption. It was a true show-and-go piece. Plus it had been done for three years before it finally got featured.
I’ve actually given both of these cars considerable coverage in two of my books. The most extensive was in my book on Von Dutch (2005), in which I devoted seven pages to an interview I did with Tom Pollard at the time in which he described in detail how Barris repainted his car just in time to be set up in a special Barris booth display, with both cars side-by side, at the 1954 Petersen Motorama in November at the Pan Pacific Auditorium. Sein’s car was apparently finished, including exuberant pinstriping by Dean Jeffries, not only in white outlining the flames, but in various colors all over the body. Pollard’s car, however, was barely dry when they rolled it in the booth, where it first had to be rubbed out, and then pinstriped just after the show opened by Von Dutch, so spectators could watch. As I say, this is detailed in the Dutch book, but I mention it here because there is some question–and some probability–that Von Dutch also added to the already copious striping on Sein’s car. The prime indicator is the small, thinner design on the nose of the grille shell, with “Jeff” on one side, an ampersand (&) in the middle, and what looks very much like “Von” on the other.
See, that’s the problem. No one has ever said for sure. And I didn’t think to ask the people who could have answered at that time: Pollard, Jeffries, Barris–Dutch(?). And now I can’t. Further, not only did Pollard’s car get much more publicity, its whereabouts was always known, and he was available for me to interview, but virtually nothing is known (by numerous people I have contacted) about George Sein. We know he was from the Alhambra area. Pollard was from Monterey Park, next door. In fact, Pollard said they were “from the same neighborhood,” and saw each other at shows. But Pollard never really said anything about Sein…and neither has anybody else. This is his only hot rod. Someone noted that he was listed as an AMA flat track motorcycle winner in ’61 or so.
Most people thought the car disappeared about that time. In a way, it did, and that’s the story I tell in my Lost Hot Rods book (2010). I had gone to Pueblo, Colorado, primarily to photograph Russ DeSalvo’s immaculately preserved black and chromed ’32 3-window. While there, somebody told me about “a car like that, from the ’50s, by Barris, with lots of flames” that was stashed in some painter’s garage in the area. I was skeptical, but I followed him out of town to take a look, hoping he could find the right house. He did. And yep, it was the long-lost Sein coupe. Pure luck.
Long story short: The Zupan brothers, Johnny and Joe, were from a family that ran a heavy-equipment excavation company and a few Conoco gas stations in Pueblo. But in the ’50s they were young guys who loved Barris customs, and spent considerable time in L.A. Johnny of course bought the Bettancourt chopped Merc and had Barris redo it in two-tone candy. Then they had a green-scalloped custom F-100 built, which was seen in magazines.
Around ’59-’60 John was killed in a heavy-equipment accident. At the same time “Joe somehow got the flamed Sein coupe” according to my book, and moved back to Pueblo with it and the F-100 to run the family business. Further “Locals say they saw the flamed Deuce sitting on the corner in front of one of the gas stations in the early ’60s.” But soon the many-layered lacquer paint began to check and crack, so Joe moved the coupe inside one of his warehouses. However, there it reportedly received further damage from careless equipment operators.
Ray Santistevan was a custom painter/pinstriper of some repute in the Pueblo area, and Joe Zupan knew him well. Around ’66-’67 he brought him the coupe, intending to put a smallblock Chevy in it for his son to drive to high school. Santistevan stripped the cracked and checked paint, repaired the body, and primered it. However, Zupan decided a new Camaro would be more practical for his son, and some of his rigs needed repainting, so he told Ray to keep the coupe in trade. That included the Cad engine, louvered hood, nerf bars, everything.
By the late ’60s and ’70s Ray was busy building candy-colored show cars. He had at least six in his large shop when I visited, plus several (like the Olds you see above) scattered outside “to do.” The coupe sat until Ray decided to install a 6-71-blown Chevy engine (seen in the background of the first primer photo), a Corvette IRS, and painted it all a deep plum candy, fortunately without altering the body. It was a standout street rod of the time, but no-one knew the car’s pedigree. And after a year or two he parked it to concentrate on paying customer cars.
However, when Ray learned that the 75 Most Significant ’32 Ford Hot Rods were going to be feted at the 2007 Grand National Roadster Show–and that this coupe was one of them–he decided it was time to restore it to its “Significant” condition. He had all the parts to do it, including the original Sein-built dual quad Cad engine. As you can see, he removed the blown Chevy and Vette rear, detailed and reinstalled the Cad engine, painting it and the firewall bright yellow, with plenty of pinstriping (on the original car the full underside of the hood was yellow, too). You can also see that the front crossmember, fender braces, and complete front axle assembly were still original chrome. However, this is apparently all he got done before the ’07 deadline, so the car did not appear in the Pomona display, and nobody seemed to know what became of it. Santistevan stopped work on it at that point.
It wasn’t on my “To Find” list when I was doing my book in 2010. It was pure luck that someone led me to it, and Santistevan–then considered a bit of a recluse–not only let me see and photograph it, but enthusiastically pulled out various pieces to show, as well.
The problem–and the main reason I’m doing this column–is that I only had two pages in the book to tell the car’s story, leaving room for just three rather small photos. So here I’m showing you what got left in the file: some pretty cool–and some amazing–stuff.
First the most amazing–and thankfully preserved–part of this pretty-amazing-to-begin-with car is the filled ’32 dash, not only custom upholstery padded and lined with S-W gauges, but lavishly striped by Dean Jeffries, including two hairy little monkeys hanging in the middle, with another’s head in the middle of the ’50s steering wheel. You can enlarge this photo to clearly see the cracked lacquer paint and Jeffries signature. Since it’s dated ’56, it was obviously done a couple years after the car was finished (and not shown in any magazine). We have no idea what the significance of the monkeys is.
This photo, taken on the front floorboard in the car, shows several things: the horn ring with a monkey’s head, one of the original Barris crests, and the ’37 Cad LaSalle trans Ray swapped for the ’39 Ford that was in it. Not only are the floors perfect, but you glimpse some windlace, carpet, and a bit of a door panel in the original white rolls/black and silver-flecked cloth upholstery. We didn’t see the seats at Ray’s, but he did show us a small brass plaque engraved with “Upholstery by Tom’s Top Shop, Alhambra,” which I assume was glued in the middle of the striped dash, where you can see something is missing. As for the Von Dutch signed leather cap, all Santistevan knows is that Dutch wore such caps, the signature looks original, Dutch was with the car and likely added some striping to it, and he found the cap somewhere in the car when he disassembled it.
And here’s some more I couldn’t show in the book. These of course are the front and rear nerf bars made by Barris, I believe in original chrome. Plus Ray is holding the filled grille shell with its handmade horizontal-bar grille that was a Barris staple. Not only is this the only piece still painted in Santistevan’s deep plum candy, but the close-up shows the unique, sort of triangular-shaped peak that Barris added to it, hard to see in photos when it was pinstriped.
This was Santistevan in 2010. You can just see the two small rows of louvers in the rolled pan, plus the bobbed rear fender. Ray says he also has the original Barris Kustoms of Los Angeles plaque that mounted between the louvers. I was very lucky that he let me see the car, let alone take pictures of it, and even dig out several unique pieces such as this nerf bar. In fact, I was lucky to find his house, given vague directions, in a rural area several miles outside Pueblo.
Finally, here’s a piece I know you’ve never seen. It’s the Moon gas tank that was mounted deep in the trunk behind the seat, and Ray had it sitting on the cluttered desk in his house. It’s fairly typical of Dean Jeffries in the mid-’50s, but it might have been suggested by Sein–who knows? What’s further interesting is the red plaque above the Moon tag. It says “Exhibit of Honour, National Roadster Show, Oakland 1955.” This is a bit puzzling. I’ve never seen such a plaque before; it would imply the car wasn’t judged, just displayed. I’ve never seen any record or photos of this car at the ’55 Oakland show. And it’s a long way from L.A. On the other hand, Barris had special displays of his cars at Oakland in those days, and maybe Sein’s was one of them.
OK, so George Sein’s “Flamer” ’32 coupe was one of the surprise finds in my Lost Hot Rods book. It was pretty much a mystery car before then, and even now that you know it exists and I’ve shown you more of the pieces Santistevan has to accurately restore it, some mysteries remain. But these photos were taken nearly 12 years ago. So the one big question that presents itself–the elephant in the room, as they say–is what has become of the car since then? Many of you can guess. Yep, it’s still sitting right in the same place, in exactly the same condition. All the extra parts are still there (fenders, hood, etc.). I recently called the phone number I had in my notes, and after a few tries, was able to connect with Ray’s wife Charlotte. The first thing she told me was that Ray “wasn’t doing too well, and couldn’t come to the phone.” That’s actually better than I expected. The answer to the next obvious question was exactly what I expected: “The car is not for sale, and never will be. He’d get rid of me before that car.” I had been told by DeSalvo that Santistevan had become even more reclusive, and wouldn’t talk about the car, or let anyone see it. There are at least a couple of sons, but their interest in the coupe or other cars in the shop was nebulous, according to Charlotte. So the bottom line, at this point, remains a mystery.