A Custom Car expert and JDM enthusiast born and living in the wrong country. Well, that pretty much sums up Rik Hoving and me.
A few weeks ago, Rod told me he had a special assignment for me. There was a guy living in Holland that had built up the largest internet Custom Car photo collections anywhere. I'm not a person who is an expert on these American Customs but because Rik lives in Holland it meant that the communication was much easier. Another cool thing was that I could learn a thing or two from Rik and his passion for custom cars.
When Rod gave me a link to Rik Hoving's vintage photography site I really didn't know where to start looking. It seems he has collected a massive amount of pictures from custom cars that were build from 1940 till the mid1960s. This photo archive is a must see for anyone interested in old school customs and American car culture.
Maybe you noticed something strange in the opening picture? That's because the picture was originally black and white. It's another thing that Rik does besides collecting pictures. He calls it Kolorizing Photo's. The idea is to take original black and white photos from the 1940s and 1950s and hand paint the colour into them. As many of the old school customs had amazing paint jobs, it's a real treat for fans of these cars to see them in all their colourful glory. The vast majority of the cars that Rik colourizes have never been published in colour before.
Rik's work has been twiced featured in The Rodder's Journal.
For this story we have selected a group of some of our favourite customs from Rik's photo archive and if he could write a small explanation to go with the pictures. We've placed the photo's in chronological order so you can see the evolution in the styles. I hope you will enjoy this post as much as I do, because I learned a lot from it.
Harry Westergard – one of the custom car pioneers – built this 1939 Ford Convertible for Mel Falconer in 1946. It first had a padded top by Carson or Hall, but later Harry created a removable steel top for it as can be seen in this photo. The car is typical for the mid 40's customs with its Packard grille, 1937 Studebaker ripple bumpers, wide white wall tires, Cadillac Sombrero hubcap, somewhat tail dragging stance and a super gloss mile deep black lacquer paint job. This custom car survived and has been restored in the 70's. Its currently in a car museum in Reno.
The Barris brothers Sam and George built this 1951 Chevy Hard-top for an Ohio Priest. Larry Ernst bought the car new and drove it from Ohio to California to have it customized at Barris. Sam chopped the top beautifully, extended the rear fenders, incorporated a continental (spare tire) kit at the back, reshaped the front using a 1949 Mercury grille surround and a Canadian Ford Meteor grille, and set the car at a perfect ride height. The paint was deep purple and had a lavender top.The car was reshaped a few years later to meet the standards for the new car show scene. This photo is of the completely restored car, after it was brought back to its first customized specs.
1952, Bob Hirohata a car park owner in down town LA takes his 1951 Mercury to the Barris brothers to have them built a unique custom car. George Barris makes some sketches, and his brother Sam, exceptional body man, approves them, work begins and 6 weeks later the Hirohata Merc is born. All the good things in custom cars come together in this car. This is the "mother" of all custom cars. This car has had a lot of impact in the history of custom cars. Everything about this custom is just right. Every line flows together with other lines.
Many custom enthusiast feel there must have been magic going on at the Barris workshop when this car was created. It was Sam Barris who created the basic shapes, and a team of fine body man at Barris supervised by Sam finished it of in an incredible 6 weeks, just in time to gather the big price at the 1952 LA Motorama Custom Car show.
Some of the modifications are:
Chopped top, more in the back than the front. New fender lines to flow with the chopped top and 1952 Buick side trim. Reshaped Rear quarters with working scoops with 52 Chevy grille teeth added. Extended front fenders with 52 Ford headlightsReshaped grille opening with grille based on 1951 Ford grille (three of those where needed for the new grille). Unique sea foam green and deep organic green paint job.
This is Bob Hirohata at the steering wheel (a Monteray Accessory wheel) of his 1951 Mercury. Bob created the hand laminated and shaped dashboard knobs and Appleton Spotlight handles. Later he would make them for a few more Barris Custom cars and eventually he sold his idea to an Custom Car aftermarket company. And today these style dash knobs are still manufactured.
The Interior was upholstered by the Carson Top Shop in two tone green and off white leatherette. The headliner is unique and the dark lines make the top look even longer. In 1955 – the year that Bob sold his car – he had Von Dutch stripe his Dashboard.
Bob Hirohata kneels down in front of his Mercury parked at his own parking lot in down town LA to show of some of the 184 prizes the car has won from 1952-55. A nice detail is that Bob has switched to 1953 Sombrero hubcaps in this photo while the car was originally outfitted with the more common 1949 Cadillac Sombrero hubcaps.
This photo is probably taken in 1955 and shows the incredible detail on the car. The trunk was completely upholstered but the Gaylord upholstery shop. Carson did the rest of the interior, but to meet the show deadline in 1952 the trunk was outsourced to Gaylord who also did a lot of the Barris custom upholstery jobs. The "wild" antennas indicate this is a mid 50's photo.
A lot of custom cars would get add-on's later on in their career, just to gather points at the custom car shows. The taillights are 1952 Lincoln units and the rear bumper was modified to fit the reshaped rear fenders.
In 1955 Bob planned to sell the Mercury. He had used the car as transportation a lot, it went to a lot of Californian shows and saw a lot of roads. Including a cross country trip from California to Indianapolis in 1953. A road trip that was used for an inspirational magazine article in the October 1953 Rod & Custom Magazine. The car needed an update, and the body was repainted in a lime and dark green.
The car was used like this in the Movie Running Wild with Mamie Van Doren in 1955. Soon after the movie the car was sold. It went thru a few owners and treated badly by some. in 1960 it ended in the back of a used car lot and was bought by the current owner Jim McNiel for $500.00. Jim reworked the car a bit so he could drive it to high school and it took him until the late 80's before he found the time to do a complete restoration. Jim worked on the car for nearly ten years and today it looks as good , possibly better than it ever did before.
The Aztec, another trend setting custom created by the Barris Kustom shop in 1958 for owner Bill Carr. Body man Bill De Carr from the Barris shop performed most of the custom work on this wilf 1955 Chevy convertible.
The car itself had been modified as a mild custom starting in 1955 and evolved a bit over the years. but in 1958 the owner wanted to rebuilt it as a show winning custom car. The front and rear where heavily modified with 1953 Studebaker grille pan's and 1957 DeSoto bumper/grilles.
The new extreme rear fender fins where custom made from sheet metal, and custom taillights were fabricated by Bob Hirohata. At the front Mercury Tunrpike quad headlights where used and a new scooped hood added. The wild interior in white and copper was created by the Carson Top shop. This car also still around today and is completely restored by Barry Mazza from Florida. This photo was taken inside the Barris workshop, where the car probably was detailed to enter a local car show.
Another famous Barris creation was the 1955 Chevy pick-up truck named the Kopper Kart. Barris built this car for him-self to help promote the business. He started with an already sectioned body (few inches removed from the body below the side windows, to create a sleeker appearance). Barris chopped the top, rebuilt the front and rear using Studebaker pans just like the Aztec Chevy. And used Mercury bumper components to create new grilles front and rear. The rear bed fenders where reshaped and a new pick up area was created.
Once the body work was finished the body was painted pearl white with copper scallops. Most of the "chrome" was copper plated, hence the name of the truck. The Kopper Kart as well as the Aztec where built primarily for the car show circuit. They were designed to gain as many judging points as possible, and thus won many trophy's. Both cars did very well at shows across the States.
Gene Winfield Customs built this 1956 Mercury in 1960-61 for Leroy Kemmerer. The car was sectioned to lower the body contours and the suspension lowered. But the top was not chopped. The rear fenders where extended and homemade taillights fitted. The quad headlights were fabricated using Chevy hubcap center bezels, and the finished body work received a unique faded/blended paint job by Gene Winfield. A paint technique Gene would be famous for.
The photos shown are of the second paint job. The first one was a bit more subtle but after the car was in an accident after it flipped from the transportation trailer, it needed a new top and new paint job. The interior has swivel seats a TV and many electronic controls. The latest things in customizing at the time.
The Alexander brothers had a custom shop in Detroit. Here they built this 1960 Pontiac that would be named the "Golden Indian" for owner Mike Budnick. This typical early 60's custom has some more mild custom touches. The body is not chopped or sectioned. But a lot of the body panels have been modified to suit the owner's taste. The headlight housings are extended, and anew grille opening was created. The stock grille was replaced with a custom made tube grille both front and rear. The hood and trunk where smoothed (removed from the factory chrome trim pieces).
The finished body work was painted in a luxurious Lemon Lime Candy color. The interior on this car was spectacular as well, as in many ealry 60's custom cars the stock seats where replaced with bucket seats. And the front seats could swivel. The center console looks like a floating surfboard and everything was upholstered in fine tuck&roll upholstered white leatherette and lime gold carpeting. Today the car is fully restored to its former glory, and can be enjoyed at many shows around the US.
Darryl Starbird of Witchita Kansa built this very futuristic looking Bubble top custom out of a wrecked 1956 T-Bird. Two 1959 Buick rear fenders where used at the back of the car, and the find where extended with the fin door parts of the Buick and sheet metal to end at the front of the car. Most of the front of the car was hand formed from sheet metal. The trunk was replaced by another t-Bird hood and round rod was used to create the front and rear grilles of the car.
The car was first finished with a bullet grille but was later replaced with a more subtle chrome tube version. The wheel openings where reshaped to follow the contours of the narrow white wall tired. Starbird wanted to use a Plexiglas bubble top to create something very futuristic. He made a wooden buck and heated up a large sheet of Plexiglas and made the bubble by blowing compressed air in the fixture he created. Starbird would use this technique on several other custom cars later on.
A complete history on the Predicta can be found on Mark Gustavson's website
We at Speedhunters want to thank Rik Hoving for his help in making this post. Please visit his website for even more classic custom cars.