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Discussion in 'Traditional Customs' started by Austinrod, Jun 17, 2017.

  1. Austinrod
    Joined: Jun 14, 2012
    Posts: 2,160

    from Austin

    This is a good read if you didn't know the scene back then.

    By the late 1950s, car shows had become popular with custom car owners, and their interest spawned the show car circuit of the '60s. But even in the '50s, a car wasn't eligible to compete a second year unless it had new modifications that distinguished it from its previous iteration.

    As a result, many of the wonderful customs of the '50s were slowly degraded from a styling standpoint with unnecessary changes in the name of competition. Canted headlights and more baroque styling features were turning the once beautiful cars into overdone statements that should have been left alone. This, too, began a general decline of the custom car genre.

    But it didn't stop there. As the decade progressed, wacky show rods proliferated the show car scene. Ed "Big Daddy" Roth was one proponent of the genre with his wild fiberglass creations. As Ed tried to outdo himself each show season, his custom show rods went farther over the top, though they usually held some charm.

    Other rod builders got into the act, too, which led to ever-stranger creations. By the 1970s, this would manifest itself in such odd concepts as motorized toilets, Coke machines, and pool tables.

    Another factor in the decline of custom cars in the 1960s was Hollywood. Some of the famed customizers of the '50s moved slowly away from building custom cars for individual customers to the more lucrative television and movie work.

    George Barris was the most notable of these, but Dean Jeffries also did customizing and stunt work for Hollywood, especially after moving his shop next to the Hollywood freeway adjacent to Universal Studios. Larry Watson actually became an actor, appearing in more than 150 television shows from the 1960s through the '80s. Even Von Dutch got into the movie scene, doing two cars for the Steve McQueen movie The Reivers and setting up timed explosives for numerous movies. These were four of the key figures from the 1950s custom car era.

    Not everyone had abandoned the traditional custom car. In the Midwest, Darryl Starbird and the Titus brothers (Jerry and Elden) produced custom cars based on both newer and older cars throughout the 1960s. In Northern California, Art Himsl and Rod Powell customized cars and did elaborate custom paintwork, carrying on the traditions of two other Northern California customizers from the 1950s: Joe Bailon and Joe Wilhelm. But the custom car was slowly evaporating from the car scene.

    The enthusiast magazines provided perhaps the greatest evidence of the custom cars's decline. By the late 1960s, only Rod & Custom magazine was featuring any sort of custom car, and the majority of these tended to be modified Corvettes with flared fenders, extended duck tails, and bubble hoods.

    Some of the last custom cars featured were based on later Rivieras and Chevrolet Impalas, but it was questionable whether they actually improved upon the stock designs. It seemed as if the end of the custom car was near.

    Meanwhile, the hot rod world was changing with the times even though its numbers were dwindling. The overhead-valve engine, headed by the small-block Chevy V-8 that had made its debut in 1955, had pretty much eliminated the Ford flathead and even some of the earlier overhead-valve engines. Automatic transmissions were getting lighter and more efficient, and were finding their way into more hot rods. As the trends changed to thinner white sidewall tires, hot rodders followed as well.

    As the decade progressed, stylistic changes in drag racing, like the use of magnesium wheels and raised front ends for weight transfer, appeared on street roadsters and coupes. A similar phenomenon had happened in the 1950s when Indy roadster characteristics such as hairpin radius rods and larger meter tires in back and smaller in front were adopted by hot rodders.

    On the club scene, groups like the L.A. Roadsters, Bay Area Roadsters, and Early Times found their way into Hot Rod, Popular Hot Rodding, and especially Rod & Custom magazines with their high-quality cars and club gatherings, now called rod runs. Some of these club runs were combined to produce larger gatherings like the Roadster Roundup, which still continues today.

    Over the years, members of each of these clubs worked at numerous West Coast hot rod publications. This helped keep the hot rod fires fanned even as actual participation in rodding waned.

    As the decade drew to a close and drag racing became more of a professional endeavor, engine and chassis builders and component manufacturers started businesses to cater to the latest speed equipment and service needs.

    Many of these businesses also made hot rod components. Kent Fuller, Dragmaster, Andy Brizio, Cal Automotive, and Speed Products Engineering (which would later become The Deuce Factory, specializing in street rod components) all supplied drag racing components or services, and advertised T-bucket kits.

    Others offering T-bucket kits were Ted Brown, Bird Engineering, and Total Performance in Connecticut. Some of these enterprises would lead off the second coming of the hot rod in 1970.

    Though the 1960s ended on a down note, some new and exciting developments were in the works for the hot rods of the '70s, while the custom car would slowly begin to make a comeback as its old self.

    A new era and a new generation of enthusiasts were about to burst onto the scene to remember and preserve the old and bring on the new. In the next section, get detailed information on the hot rod's rebirth in the 1970s.

    Sent from KUSTOM
  2. VonWegener
    Joined: Nov 19, 2009
    Posts: 786


    That is a strange conglomeration of facts thrown together to make no point. This whole dissertation has nothing to do with the history of Kustoms.
    When you look strictly at the genetic heritage the heirs to the Kustoms of the '50s and '60 are today's Lowriders. As the mainstream car hobby went through its phases and trends in the late sixties and early seventies Hispanics adopted the low Kustoms of the sixties and Whites and Blacks went drag racing. That is of course an oversimplification of things but generally speaking true.
    The toilet seat show cars were always a genre of its own and Street Rods happened because drag racing got too involved and expensive.
    Walt Prey here in Los Angeles did the crazy paint on many of the transitional Kustoms. Sunrise to Sunset a '58 Chevy delivery represented the last of the '60s Kustoms while Walt's Gypsy Rose showed were Kustom/Lowriders were headed.
    Anderson, chopper99, Hombre and 3 others like this.
  3. Roger O'Dell
    Joined: Jan 21, 2008
    Posts: 1,143

    Roger O'Dell

    I think the kustom car scene has declined, when I was young, just every young guys car was at least nosed and decked, primer spot somewhere, and a wheel package , the reference to low rider above, is maybe a little different than my interpretation. The lifted trucks, compact cars, with the big pipe, aftermarket wheels, etc maybe the current custom car, I'm not into any of them, different age of people, with a different lifestyle, and way different thoughts of respect,character, right and wrong. But then I am just a grumpy old guy, and not socially envolved with much.
    popawolf, Hnstray, Chavezk21 and 2 others like this.
  4. Black Panther
    Joined: Jan 6, 2010
    Posts: 1,869

    Black Panther
    from SoCal

    What killed most of the interest in custom cars in my opinion was the advent of the muscle car. I agree with VonWegener....the remaining guys interested in customs, became "lowriders". Starting in 1964 with the GTO...there was a decline in interest in customs year after year. It was much harder to build a custom then to go and buy a new musclecar...and they were relatively cheap.

  5. ronzmtrwrx
    Joined: Sep 9, 2008
    Posts: 864


    This may be a bit off topic and a crazy question, but do you think the music scene boosted the popularity of the muscle cars, or was it the muscle car that was just good subject matter for the music?
  6. Torchie
    Joined: Apr 17, 2011
    Posts: 1,091


    Times change. Tastes change. Customs may have declined in the public eye but some form of customizing has been going on almost since cars were first built.( Coach Built. bodies on factory chassis.) And it continues on to this day. But like all things each new generation puts it's own spin on it. And usually the preceding generation doesn't like it. LOL
    Some really old timers blame Watson for the end of the golden period of customs as he championed the "custom by paint" school of thought. And Ed Roth most likely never would have called himself a Car Customiser. He built one off show cars and trikes. Neither of them led to the demise of the custom car.
    Barris, Winfield, Jeffries and others did what they did to stay in business. If Hollywood came knocking. They answered the door. The Alexander Bros built concept cars for the big 3. Some just stopped all together and others never did.
    The costs of building a custom was never cheap to begin with. And unlike now where you have people building customs that rival many of the best in their home garages. It wasn't as easy to do back then.
    Just like with Jazz,there will always be someone around that appreciates a good custom car. And just like Jazz. The point of a custom car was never to please the masses. But the individual..
    Just my 2 cents on a boring Saturday evening.
    wicarnut, biggeorge, Hnstray and 12 others like this.
  7. Torchie
    Joined: Apr 17, 2011
    Posts: 1,091


    What came first? The chicken or the egg. In this case the cars came first. Then the songs.
    Popular music(Then as now) has always catered to the youth market. I remember reading about Brian Wilson writing 409. One of his friends MOM had just bought one and he thought that it was cool.
    Like Chuck Berry once said. "If I want to appeal to the guys I write a song about cars".....If I want to appeal to the ladies. I write a song about romance."
    Sometimes he wrote about them both together.....
  8. ronzmtrwrx
    Joined: Sep 9, 2008
    Posts: 864


    Oh I agree the cars came first, but ya gotta wonder how many more GTOs or 409s, etc were sold because of the music.
    biggeorge and rodncustomdreams like this.
  9. Torchie
    Joined: Apr 17, 2011
    Posts: 1,091


    Who knows.
    Most of the guys that I knew that owned those types of cars back in the day were already into their 30's and married.
    Had a good paying job and a station wagon in the driveway for the Mrs.
    They got them for same reason that any male gets anything.........LOL
  10. Gman0046
    Joined: Jul 24, 2005
    Posts: 6,257


    I believe the decline of Customs was due to the fact that many were just down right Fugly.

  11. If you want to blame the decline of Customs on anything, blame it on the imports. Sure, there was internal issues with show judging that created a lot of abortions, but owning a custom was always about having something 'different' from the usual Detroit offerings. Just before and after WW2, you had choices among the various makes, but if you bought a Chevy, it looked like a Chevy. They had different body styles within the make, but there was no mistaking what it was. The customizers took these 'standard issue' cars and altered them to look more like higher-end cars or coach-built. This was relatively easy until 1957 when the cars suddenly got longer/lower/wider and styling became 'space age'. The customizers had to work harder to compete with the factory styling; this period produced both some of the most iconic customs as well as some the ugliest.

    This was true until 1960, when Ford and Chevrolet both came out with their competition for the imports; the Falcon and the Corvair. Now, these cars didn't exactly overly excite the then-current car culture, but did open the eyes of the manufacturers; rather than trying to build one car that appealed to everyone, they started breaking the market into segments. They'd been doing this by marques; Chevy was the low-price leader, Pontiac was a step up, another step up to Buick or Olds, and the final step to Cadillac. Ford to Mercury to Lincoln. Plymouth to Dodge to Chrysler.

    But this was different; they were starting to design cars for smaller, specialized segments. Ford introduced the 'mid-size' Fairlane in '62 with available V8 power, and in '64 two cars appeared that forever changed what we expected out of Detroit; the Mustang and the GTO. By the end of the decade, if you wanted something that 'stood out', you only needed to visit your local dealer and check the right boxes on the order form. The proliferation of models, trim packages (including limited-edition and regional packages), increasingly swoopy styling, and powertrain options made it relatively easy to have a car that 'stood out' at the local drive in, and you could finance it to boot.

    Customizing all but died out. Restyling an older car to look 'modern' became too difficult and expensive for most, and most saw little need for it anyway.
    kevinrevin, Cosmo49, wicarnut and 4 others like this.
  12. 57Custom300
    Joined: Aug 21, 2009
    Posts: 1,392

    from Arizona

    The problem with building a custom car is building something that someone other than your mother will like it.
  13. OneBad56
    Joined: Dec 22, 2008
    Posts: 535


    That is so true.

    I would like to french the headlights and taillights on my '52 but one thing that is got me rethinking this is the saleability of a custom vehicle. Where I'm from, not too many customs period. Mostly muscle and some hot rods.
    People admire them, however don't want to buy them.
  14. missysdad1
    Joined: Dec 9, 2008
    Posts: 3,182


    I think the "fugly" comment was most the appropriate of the bunch. Rarely did a custom - other than a semi-custom with shaved emblems, custom wheels and a good lowering job - look better than the stocker it evolved from. Instead of better, they looked what's the point?
    X38, Cosmo49, juuraslahti and 2 others like this.
  15. Petejoe
    Joined: Nov 27, 2002
    Posts: 11,327

    from Zoar, Ohio

    Great thought provoking write up Austinrod.
    My preference of customs I like were done in the 40's and early 50's.
    When I was younger, as most people, Hotrod's and muscle cars were more popular.
    I believe the wild stuff from the 60-70's turned a lot of people off.
    I see a comeback though. I really think this will be the new focus.
    Austinrod likes this.
  16. wicarnut
    Joined: Oct 29, 2009
    Posts: 8,594


    Interesting thread and opinions, the hobby has and will go through changes of what's hot, there is thread about the "Fad" changing. Been hanging around car deal for 50+ years, fads/styles come and go, the " Traditional" is pretty hot presently, But IMO, the hobby has always been about individuality, in that I have not seen any change
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2017
    craig b blue likes this.
  17. I kinda think the 'traditional custom' started to pick back up in the '80's. Remember when they would tub and 'Pro-Street' anything on wheels?(kinda like the current 'lets make a gasser out of anything that moves') There were several 'custom type' cars appearing (although tubbed) Anyone remember the topless pick-up phase? That's an extension of custom cars. (kinda) People seemed to rediscover customs. Nostalgia type cruising and drag racing became more popular as the time went on. Certainly the low rider movement of late '60-70's has an influence on current custom trends. There was a story in a big performance magazine, at the time ('80's), about driving an old custom Merc from NYC to out West, in the Winter, that drew a lot of interest. There are more people in the world now and a lot of talent is emerging using modern tools & technology . Granted most traditional cars now are only mildish customs with a shave and a hair cut. I feel customs is making a come back of sorts.
  18. Bounder
    Joined: Oct 31, 2011
    Posts: 251


    Maybe it's just me but doing custom body work requires some skill or you need MONEY to pay someone to do it for you. This has always held me back, a wife, two kids, house payment, car payment, bowl of fish and a fat old dog. Don't leave much money left for custom cars.
  19. bondolero
    Joined: Dec 10, 2008
    Posts: 562


    Customs in decline ? The practice of destroying the" recognition of the car" has stopped but the mild custom is alive and well and the quality is 100 times what it was in the past. The low riders are embracing them at their show since they also like the modified original look. Recent lowrider show here.

    Attached Files:

  20. I think it was Watson who said, and I'm not quoting here, that the factories killed Kustoms. like Crazy Steve said up there ^^^, the factory styling became so attractive that wheel treatment and a paint job or a scallop job was all it took. maybe a nose, deck and shave job, if you really wanted to go all in. if you, like many consider the Hirohata mere to be the pinnacle of Kustoms, that happened in the early 50's. when the slab sides started coming out, the possibilities were reduced and lots of real quirky trends started happening. not that there weren't some attractive stuff being produced, but not like before. Then I think as stated, guys started going racing, and then the muscle car and then....

    But what do I know?
    Austinrod likes this.
  21. fortynut
    Joined: Jul 16, 2008
    Posts: 1,038


  22. lostone
    Joined: Oct 13, 2013
    Posts: 2,037

    from kansas

    Being around cars all my life from my perspective it's been 2 major influences to the decline, 1 is the skill set to the average car owner, 30 yrs ago you had more maintenance to a car and most owners did their own so stepping up a notch or two to learn alittle more wasn't a problem. I.e. you changed your own oil, spark plugs, tune ups, etc learning to swap cams wasn't much of a step up. Now days most people don't have the skill set just to change a spark plug.

    The 2nd and to me the most influential is money, my God some of the prices people want for things, be it parts or labor. I've seen cool items that cost under 20 bucks in materials an hour or so of labor then charge 200 bucks for it. The price of parts over counter, the price of used parts thru a salvage yard. I remember when salvage prices where around 30 to 40% or less of new and now some are up around 75 to 80% of new.

    Follow the money, custom cars were/are expensive so then came hot rods, that got expensive so came the older muscle cars now those have gotten expensive so the rise of the rat rod.

    When ever car guys get a style that's affordable, popularity comes along, drives up prices and then the next fad is born as the average car junkies look for a different and affordable alternative then becomes the next fad and so on.

    Want to see a bunch of cool builds come to life? Make it affordable again.
    Squablow, kmrumedy and 31hotrodguy like this.
  23. fortynut
    Joined: Jul 16, 2008
    Posts: 1,038


    Customs were never a commodity. Regardless of numbers they are labor intense, artist/craftsman one off products of human beings whose interests are not consumer oriented. To say that there was a decline in the numbers, is to compare impressionist painting to abstract expression. Pie and cake, apples and oranges. No matter where you look in the linage from the beginning to the present, someone has been building them. That we are nostalgic for the older masters, is an indication of a predisposition for a particular style. The thesis something killed them is corrected by simply looking at the division Ryan makes in subject matter for this message board. The only point that weakens the cause is that newer model vehicles are so dependent on wind cheating many of the better ones seem influenced by the sleek lines that came from chopping, channeling, Frenching, and today's color palette for even the simplest sedans would make an old-timer drool. And, I have seen builds on the HAMB that are as clever in their execution as any of those in the gloried past. Customs are not in decline, my friend, they have just tightened their belts and gotten meaner and leaner, and are just as wonderful as in yesteryear. That's my two cents. Opinions may vary.
  24. Sweet & Low
    Joined: Feb 13, 2014
    Posts: 300

    Sweet & Low

    In So Cal the customs took a big hit back in the 50's when the lowering law was passed, customs just don't look right at stock or near stock heights and all of the older guy's in my neighbor hood were all up in arms after it passed. And the cops were handing out to low tickets left and right. So instead of spending your money on custom mods and be cool you could run down to your local dealer and buy a new muscle and drag race and be cool. Sure is cool now, I never get stopped for being to low.
    Chili Phil likes this.
  25. AlaskanMatt
    Joined: May 22, 2015
    Posts: 69


    This may sound like heresy but what is a custom and did it really decline? If custom is slight modifications in stance, trim, paint that sticks out, shaved, etc don't we all have a custom so to speak? I was at a show lay summer in my state of Alaska and it was mainly tuners and imports. I have to say there were some amazing cars that were well done and looked damn good. I don't think customs declined but rather customs evolved. Just fuel for the fire.

    play hard, drive fast
    bondolero and Special Ed like this.
  26. jnaki
    Joined: Jan 1, 2015
    Posts: 7,150



    When we buy our cars today, aren’t we still doing the custom thing? A different upholstery pattern, baseball stitching instead of simple straight stitch, custom wheels and tires, everything to make our cars different than the others we see on the street.

    With every car model plus all of the multiples of custom accessories, there is probably a great chance that your car will never look like anyone else’s vehicle. It is the same for all hot rods and customs as we know it. Every car has the hot rod look, but they just look different.

    In the 50’s we could not wait until we had enough money to do some of those custom things that we saw in the mags. But, as time rolled on and our lives required a reliable daily driver for high school or a job, custom things that kept a car off of the road was not going to happen.

    Sure, car shows, weekly cruises to the drive-in restaurant show/shine, and hot rod picnics were the epitome of showcasing one’s vehicles. Everyone had a million ideas of how to make your own car a custom. Three red taillights in a 58 Impala plus wiring... custom, but within hours, back on the road to get to the teenage job.

    So, mild custom things took over. New chromed reverse wheels, lowering, rake angles, side pipes, exhaust cut outs, Skylark wire wheels, new carbs, paint and upholstery, etc. We all still customize our own cars, even after 60 plus years later.

    So what happens to today’s young drivers? They still are keeping this “custom” thing going with their own versions of hot rodding. They can’t all drive around in 32 Ford hot rods, so it is easier to spend a little to customize their own vehicle.

    We can’t fault them for not being old time, hot rodders, but in their own way, they are keeping the hot rod/ custom car thing going in their generation. Who knows, there may be a kid that pops out with influences like the hot rodders of the old days. Let’s hope it happens… Creativity never dies…
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2017
    wicarnut, Torchie and Austinrod like this.
  27. Bandit Billy
    Joined: Sep 16, 2014
    Posts: 9,045

    Bandit Billy

    Buick killed the custom, by mimicking the style
  28. gearheadbill
    Joined: Oct 11, 2002
    Posts: 1,313


  29. Mr48chev
    Joined: Dec 28, 2007
    Posts: 31,296


    The popularity of the Muscle car grew because for around 3K a guy could buy a car off the dealers lot that was quicker than the gas class car (not jacked up with a straight axle but a real gas car with cheap body and big engine) he had been busting his ass on for the past several years. Your 55 two door post with the 59 389 and 4 speed that had been the car to beat in the area was all the sudden getting beat by Chevelles that had rolled out the show room door the week before and hadn't even gone though the first full tank of gas yet.
    wicarnut likes this.
  30. Mr48chev
    Joined: Dec 28, 2007
    Posts: 31,296


    On the customs I'd say that the original post was spot on. Cars that were great customs the first time out got hacked up with mods so they were fresh the next year and hacked again the year after if the owner or new owner wanted to show them in competition again and builders had their spies out to see what other builders were doing so they could build something more radical or something with more mods for more show points. You got so many points for this mod and for that mod and for the other mod and even if they didn't really work together well or compliment each other each mod got points on how well it was done.
    rudestude likes this.

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