The Fred Johnson Roadster Pickup

The Fred Johnson Roadster Pickup

So my first post from Hawaii featured a couple of cars that a 1961 issue of Hot Rod Magazine said were parked in a Renegades Car Club display at the Winternationals. One of those cars was a roadster pickup that a number of you commented on. And like you fellas, I was a bit taken by the car as well.

Shortly after posting, I got an email from David Giller that I thought was too good not to share. Check it out:

Hello Ryan,

Thanks for your response on the Roadster PU at the 1961 Winternationals Show.

Actually, this car was not part of the Renegades display, just happened the display decor was similar. It was owned by Fred Johnson of Simi Valley, California, Northwest of L.A. and in Ventura County. Fred had a Auto Body Shop in the then little town of Simi along with the local tow truck service and an Ambulance kept parked at the Body Shop – Both much needed in this Ranch and Farming part of Ventura County. I often worked part time/after school for Fred at the shop and sometimes as the Ambulance attendant.

He found an older, late 1940s or 1950 vintage Model A-V8 Roadster Hot Rod, with good chassis work, juice brakes and a well built flathead. Fenderless, body heavily channeled and interior unfinished. Think the car was from of the LA area as we had not seen it before. Drivable car and fast but rear of the body was in poor shape. Fred  cut off the rear of the Roadster body and fabricated a new rear section for the Roadster PU cab except curved around the back rather than the factory flat back panel. Added a shortened pickup bed, rear frame covers, reset the cab, still channeled, plus the (cursed) small fenders required and enforced by California law.

The original roadster windshield was in poor condition so he made new windshield posts from tube steel with a machined slot to drop the the glass in. This fairly tall to compensate for the channelled body and it better matched the other vertical body lines. Fred asked me for ideas on the interior and I arranged for a fiberglass twin bucket seat pod from Bill Devin that he used in his quality glass Ferrari style bodies and the Devin SS cars. The pod fit low and perfectly with just a little trimming and a low seat position. I should maybe mention this was not a Coupster. Always a true roadster and Henry steel. Probably a 1928 or early 1929 body as no exterior door handles.

Fred did some other fitting, added chrome and made the little front bumper thing plus the chrome side pipes. Forgot about them until seeing the photos again.These were functional and I don’t recall if they were somehow tied into mufflers. Just noticed the Naugahyde frame covers up front. Silly show stuff.

Fred was a good body man but an even better painter. Color was a Lime Green metallic with good depth. I did not see the car during painting but it was surely lacquer and most probably nitro-cellulose with a silver base coat (or white). As you probably know, with the silver base coat the light would go through the semitransparent Lime Green and bounce back, especially under show lighting. In regular body work, Fred was very good at matching spot paint areas by eye and he usually got it right the first time. Later he told me he was Green-Red color blind. In my teenage dumbness asked him how he could recognize  the red and green traffic stop lights. He patiently explained that the red light was the top one and the green the bottom one. So the car was Lime Green metallic to most of us but I have no idea what color he saw when he painted it.

The car was first shown at an indoor show at Ventura, then to the L. A. Roadsters first Fathers Day show, 1960, at the Hollywood Bowl parking lot. Final show was the 1961 NHRA Winternationals from your article. By then the showed cars often had some identity name and set decoration. Hence the “Warrior” name and Polynesion theme with the spears and such. Fashion. Don’t think the car won any show trophies but it wasn’t intended to. It was kind of “Friendly” looking and easy on the eyes, so the show patrons usually stopped a while to look at it.

There was another reason Fred’s roadster was at the Winternationals Show. Over at the ongoing Winternationals Drags was a car that Fred and his shop did much of the build work. A Flathead powered Street Roadster sponsored by the Moose Lodge as a car club project for younger kids and with a lot of help and involvement by some older Hot Rod guys, including me. Virtually no money to spend. Free labor, donated parts and a borrowed engine. Car was built just for the first NHRA Winternationals…. and they won!  Beating several heavily touted cars the NHRA invited from all over the country. This for Class C Street Roadsters. Another story.

Soon after, Fred donated his car to the local Moose Lodge for a Raffle. They sold a lot of tickets and great revenue for the Lodge. Did not hear who won it but the car immediately disappeared and so far as I know, never seen again.

Photos below at the First Fathers Day show Hollywood Bowl parking lot. The L.A. Roadsters put out a call for as many cars as possible. So we rounded up five from our little rural valley, mostly daily drivers. Shown in row closest to the camera. Kim Woodbury’s 1929 Roadster PU, still in primer, Fred’s Roadster, Billy Harris’ 34 Phaeton, Fred and Pat Johnson’s 1921 Rolls Royce (Original old car) and Billy Harris’ 1929 Roadster PU with white top. I recently heard Kim kept and drove his Roadster PU the rest of his life. Died over fifty years later. This lower photo was in a feature in a Hot Rod Deluxe issue a year or two ago. I knew I was there so got out the magnifier and sure enough, there is a taller guy (me) on crutches on the right side by the Auto Parts booth. Crutches from a big wreck on a English Motorcycle.

Ryan, thanks for reading this far. Email rather longish as found I was testing my now 80 year old memory and got a bit carried away.

With best regards,

David Giller
Lyons, Oregon

So. Damn. Good. Thank you Mr. Giller!

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