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History Nick Matranga - That Illustrious Sanguine '40 Merc!

Discussion in 'Traditional Customs' started by Michelley, Feb 1, 2014.

  1. Michelley
    Joined: May 6, 2011
    Posts: 104


    Nick Matranga - That Illustrious Sanguine '40 Merc!
    © by Michelle M. Yiatras
    Timechanic ™
    Part 1
    It was during one of their deep discussions over the phone about the ’40 Mercury, and the twilight of the Lost City, that David broached his intention. “Say, Nick…What would you think if I applied a serious approach to recreating your Mercury…I mean with your advice, insight, and critical judgment from beginning to end? I think I can do better than some other copies of your car. With your approval and assistance, and with your blessing. I’ve studied the car and am familiar with the proper techniques, colors, and materials that were used at the time.” After a pause, “Yeah…I’d be in on that. That would be bitchin’!” Nick replied. He perceived that David was genuinely capable of exacting justice. Going by David’s track record with the original Joe Nitti roadster discovery and restoration, as well as other projects, Nick knew he was at least cognizant and competent. David has the perspective and appreciation for the era of the American custom car that emerged from Southern California, from the immediate pre-War to post-War period, through about 1953.
    Unlike other attempts that missed the target, the color was not candy apple, matte burgundy, nor freckle face strawberry, as in other interpretations. The George Barris/Nick Matranga paint job, mixed at M & H Paint in L.A., was lead based nitrocellulose lacquer alchemical blend of middle note ’41 Buick maroons called #º«@! & #¤¿« $@#%^ (what was later to become known as Barris Maroon), like a veritable gem, with deep black base note lowlights and >>>>> top note highlights. Resulting in a dusky etheric glow. A swift mercurial spectre destined for legend, haunting Nick himself, “Someday I’d like to build an exact duplicate of it…” Nick advanced on his eighties with a half-checked to-do list of life’s obligations. This particular tall order was required to wait.
    David Zivot, with his detective’s discernment, sat holding the last known remaining parts of the demolished prototype, the pair of 1948 Appleton Model 112 spotlights. Purchased from a guy named Pete in San Pedro who stripped them from the wreck in a junkyard in late 1952. The rest of the wreck was promptly scrapped and crushed. The few other salvaged parts were unwittingly sold off. The spotlights were all that were left.
    The otherworldly photo of Nick aside his Merc in the Barris stance catches the breath. An icon frequently leaves the hands of the originator and belongs to the ages. This car was shown in Oakland, CA at the National Roadster Show in Feb 1951 without Nick, and sold in Sept-Oct 1951 without Nick, because he was in Korea. Did he feel detached from it, or still connected to it, while in Korea? What plans was he making for it when he returned?
    Nick aimed to keep the car. He told David that he was going to put an OHV Cadillac engine in it, probably by the Yeakel Brothers. He also mentioned he was fatalistic about making it back, so he instructed his mother to get ahold of George, that he would know what to do. George Barris, who escorted it to the Oakland and mysterious Montebello big tent shows, made the sale arrangements. A ready line of enthusiasts had the long green $2500, the cost of a new fully loaded car. Nick had about $1800 invested, so he profited $700, and his, “Mom could sure use it.” It is presumed that a nineteen-year-old named Stanley Hannenberg of Artesia, CA, purchased it, and within several months of owning it, in Jun 1952, smashed out of control in the rain, shearing and splitting off Edison Co power poles and mailboxes, on the corner of 168th St. and Pioneer Blvd. The photo in the Jun 1952 Hot Rod Magazine at the first annual Pasadena Auto Show and Reliability Run, showing the driver’s side open door interior view, with admiring kids looking in, could be the last known photo, taken Mar 30. Hannenberg was possibly a member of one of the attending Long Beach car clubs, and possibly knew Danny Lares, who bought the Jesse Lopez ’41 Ford custom.
    Nick deployed for boot camp in Feb 1951, later that year the car was sold, and he returned from Korea in Jan 1953. Born Nicholas Joseph Matranga, April 21, 1930 in Los Angeles, CA, died March 27, 2010, in Torrance, CA.
    A few months before his abrupt respiratory sickness and passing, I asked Nick, “Did you choose the maroon-ish (’41 Buick #¤¿« $@#%^) color? Did you participate in the idea to blend the black and >>>>>with it? Did you prefer any other colors over the maroon?” He confided, “I picked it all. It was the color I wanted. Everybody’s car was maroon, but I wanted the color, as well as the custom, to be outstanding. We started adding black lacquer to it. We’d shoot panels and let them dry and look in the sunlight. Then it was too dark. We were thinking about the >>>>> dust anyway. The >>>>> dust looked so you wouldn’t even notice it in the evening, just dark blackish maroon. In the sunlight you would see it wasn’t black, it was opalescent,” “Like a ruby star?” “Yeah!” It was properly finished suiting.
    He continued, “It was originally going to be black, but there were a lot of black cars out there. Then I saw a customized Buick in the ’41 #¤¿« $@#%^, and I thought it was so pretty. But I wanted to hop that color up. Nobody’s hit it yet but me. I have to salute George Barris for his patience with me. We shot so many panels and let them dry and looked at them in the sun. In them days it was pure lacquer. We’d shoot the car and color sand it. And let it dry for a month. And color sand it again for the final rub out. A lot of guys got impatient and let it dry only a week. I wanted to be sure that it sweated and breathed before its final color sand and rub out. So that the thinners in the paint wouldn’t shrink. George was a great painter, and he was careful not to put it on too wet. We would always use wet sandpaper. I was never a dry sandpaper man. If it went on too wet and run, we had to let it set a little and then use the wet sandpaper, super fine grade. It’s good when the paint goes on wet, but you have to control it. You don’t want it over sprayed. You want the paint to lay flat, without waves. So it is color sanded flat.”
    I further queried, “Did you save any part yourself from the car before you left for Korea?” He confirmed, “That car was completely not saved. We modified everything we were doing with parts available. Everything had to have a line with me, from where we mounted the taillights to the top chop. I was a fanatic. Johnny Zaro got me started on the ’40 Merc. The ’40 Ford standard coupe has a similar front end and grill look that the ’40 Merc had. I would have done my ’40 Ford. Then I decided it was a one seat coupe that wouldn’t look good chopped, so I found a ’40 Merc. Just happened to be driving by a used car lot when I spotted a cherry low miles grey-green coupe.
    The factory Merc had two seats, driver front and passenger back, called a club coupe. It had more length that was better to chop, that would look like not just a hot rod at Bonneville, but a custom that was just there with the look. Started out the butt ugliest Merc, and I knew it had potential to conform to the most beautiful lines, once drawn and cut. Everyone who chopped the ’40 Merc kept the post, and it looked like crap. ‘That post is gone!’ I said, to make the car flow longer. We wanted the side door windows to channel with the top line. I wanted the curve of the window frames to align with the top, in a matched flow. From the hood to the doors to the trunk, the line just flowed from the nose to the tail, it just keeps going.” “Like wind through the wings of the Mercury quicksilver insignia?” “Yeah, that’s what I’m trying to say! That’s why I moved the bumper guard mounted tail lights, the line from the trunk goes right to it.
    The engine was custom built by Phil Weiand, installed with Weiand heads and intake, who I was good friends with, and I hung out at his shop. He gave me a good deal on the motor. Gaylord did the interior. The carpet was dark maroon, the upholstery was dark maroon and ivory DuPont Fabrilite. I insisted that anyone, including my girlfriend, remove their shoes before entering my car. My shoes were always impeccable. Once a girlfriend spilled a Coca-Cola on the carpet and giggled. Next day I got over her.”

    Jesse Lopez of Bell-Riverside-Downey, CA, on Nick~
    “Nick lived in a different part of town than I did. He was from the West, Fremont. Him, Rackemann, Ortega. And I was from the Southeast side, Bell, Huntington Park. Don Rackemann was a good driver at Bonneville. We were 20 miles apart. All the So Cal guys were different than the rest of the country, we dressed different, talked different, different cars. East L.A., Gil and Al Ayala’s shop. So Cal was a big area with no freeways, all surface streets.
    Nick was so fun to pal around with. I fixed him up with a longtime girlfriend, Lil, from the East side. I had girls from all over. Nick was steady. She was my girlfriend, Joyce’s, friend. Pretty and blonde lady. They hit it off real good. Later he married his wife for life, and we didn’t see him much after that. He was a family man. After the War (Korea), me and Nick and Zaro weren’t together any more. Nick went his way with his wife, and years later he bought a truck shop. Early on he didn’t like to get his hands dirty. Zaro got married too.
    Nick had a happy personality. His mom, Josephine, made us Italian food at their restaurant, on Florence on the West side. [Nick was proud of his lifelong 26” waist. He was able to stay trim even though his family had a restaurant, and his favorite food was Italian.] We filled up on homemade ravioli, salads with real imported olive oil, fresh bread. Mama Matranga’s long johns saved my life in Korea, and she always hugged me and took the place of my mother when she passed in 1957, at 49, from a botched operation. When I met Nick and we went to his mother’s Italian restaurant, it was the first Italian food I ever had. There was only one Mexican restauraunt and only a couple Italian then. Nick’s mother was so very good. She sent me care packages with food and long johns. The Army really strung us out and wouldn’t give us enough food and clothes. I’da froze to death if it wasn’t for her. No one else did that for me.”
    Discussing the ‘Kustom’s L.A.’ club plaque. “Mine was rusty maroon molded out of aluminum pot metal. An original one. The letters protruded, not made out of tin. The background recessed and the letters were more rounded, not squared. The frame edge had about a ¼” lip all around. The letters and frame edge were polished out, so they shined and stood out. Members were not given number stamps in order of joining up. #3 was Nick’s. The large ‘S’ at the end of ‘LoS Angeles’ had no particular meaning.
    Nick had a ’53 Monterey, it was the complete body change, not like the ’55. It was factory black. He got that Merc and met his lady and got married. We didn’t hear from him for a while after 1956. Custom cars only lasted maybe 10 years. Then people got new cars, and they didn’t do anything with them. Johnny Zaro traded his Merc for that ugly bathtub car with the fadeaways, that ’41 Ford. There was a lot of work done to that car but it was ugly, different strokes.
    Recently Johnny didn’t show up at our Hemet, CA, CoCo’s get together. Twenty-two of us old Kustom’s guys. Pete Werrlein checked in with him, and Johnny said he couldn’t make it, heart problems with old age. Johnny’s always been hyperactive and nervous. I’d make fun of him for constantly eatin’ his fingernails to the quick. He had his peculiarities. He talked in riddles mostly. We’d be talking about something and he’d come up with something off the wall. He was driving his ’40 Merc from 77th St and Compton Av, just got it done, and ran into a parked car on Nadeau St. Just completely done and painted leaving Barris’ going home. For years Oren Breeland thought it was me that ran into that car. Johnny was a bad driver. He sat on the curb crying when they went to pick him up. Coming down from the Crestline San Bernardino Mountains on a crowded summer holiday with live music and dancing, he was excited because he met this girl up there, and was on his way to visit his mom. Through the rolling hills of the grape vineyards was a severe curve at 90-100 mph, and he wedged the car between two trees, and dented both sides and the top. Everything got dented because the car was sandwiched between the two trees and buckled on top. He took it to two guys in San Bernadino to work on it. George was mad and wouldn’t fix a total car wreck. So these two guys fixed it pretty good. At Barris’ we would only work on cherry cars. When I saw it I thought that son of a bitch was good. Johnny wrecked the car a couple times at least. He was so hyper he wrecked the car.
    A fat little fellow named Tony brought his ’41 Ford convertible over, and George talked him into channeling it. I told them then they’d have trouble to drop the hood and goddamn it looked like a pancake on fenders. I told them the hood would be too flat, and it was. I thought that car was an abortion. It was built for Little Tony, not Zaro. The metal work was bad, and the fade aways. A lot of waves, not so straight. Little Tony wanted it Barris Maroon, and I think it showed a lot of mistakes. It looked rough. So they changed it to off-cream to cover it up and not see the imperfections and ripples. It was never meant for Johnny, and he had nothing to do with its creation. What made him want to trade is that his car had been pounded out a few times from wrecking it. Johnny and I thought differently, and he thought Little Tony’s car looked nice. It had a floating grill, something to fill the gap. They traded cars and a little money about 1949. Johnny was real happy to have it.
    Johnny and Al Andril were neighbors and best friends for many years. Now Al lives by Marge and Bill in Downey, CA, and they meet up when they take walks. I like it there. I had a lot of girlfriends in Downey, and my ex-wife. Practically all my relatives and friends in Bell moved to Downey. Sister Rose has a big house there too. We all used to go to ‘Harvey’s Broiler’ [Harvey and Minnie Ortner, partners in the ‘Clock Broilers’ of L.A., founded ‘Harvey's Broiler’ in 1958, the Downey drive-in restaurant and coffee shop, on the corner of Firestone Blvd and Old River School Rd, that became a Southern California car cruise ritual draw and later was renamed ‘Johnie's Broiler’ in 1968.] I used to pull in with my new ’58 Bird in ‘Kandy Lak’. One of the first to roll out of King Ford in Huntington Park. Black with black interior, I drove it straight to Lynwood, and dropped the bumpers, and also the chrome gingerbread, and sanded it to paint it. I lowered the front to rake. No one ever saw a new ’58 Bird, let alone a Kustom Kandy one. My formula of candy lacquer. Joe Bailon coined ‘Candy Apple Red’ at the 1952 Oakland Show with a ’41 Chevy. His was not as bright for me. I made it just right. My secret formula. It just freaked people out. After George’s wife, Shirley, saw my Bird I sold to Rackemann for his wife, Jo, she had to have one too, her ’59 Bird in ‘Kandy Lak’.
    Nick wasn’t into racing and mechanics like me and Rackemann were. He was more into looking good with his good personality. Johnny Zaro was a real handsome rascal. Nick could make a believer out of you with his talk. Johnny did his stint on his own ’40 Merc, whatever George told him to do. George designed and made the plaques first for his cars. Later he started and made the club. We decided to have meetings. Now he can barely remember the shop on 77th and Compton. When I ran the ‘Kustom’s’ plaque it meant something, there was only about fifteen of us. We didn’t run ‘Kustom’s’ plaques on stock cars like Nick’s Monterey or my Cadillac, even though they were nice. The clubs didn’t exist after we got back from the Korean War, no meetings because there was no more real custom cars. George might have given some plaques away, but they didn’t run ‘Kustom’s’. Formed the club when George had the plaques made for us guys who had the cars, from 1948 to the early 50’s. Don Henchman, Bob Ruble, Richard Carter, Johnny Zaro, Al Andril, Oren Breeland, Bill Ortega, Paul Janich, Shorty Brown, Harold Larson, Carl Abajian, Jack Stewart, Vard Martin, Les Callahan, Nick, Sam, George, and myself. They voted me in as President. We’d meet and go to Balboa, Crestline, or the Big Bear Mountains. We weren’t kids anymore, we were young men with responsibilities. We’d just plan get-togethers. No official club. Dick Fowler was a squirrel, just weird, he never fit into our clique, he belonged to Fox Florence gang. Not a nice-looking car. [The Dick Fowler ’38 Ford coupe was a very early Sam and George Barris effort, about 1946-47, when they first came down from San Francisco.] I knew him pretty good, he hung out at the Barris shop even before I got there because he lived by the shop. It wasn’t a real custom, not a nice chop, just changed the Packard grill, and kept it kinda black.
    In Bell Gardens, we raced from the corner of Eastern Av and Slauson Av, in front of the Dodge and Lincoln-Mercury dealerships, down Slauson ¼ mile, to Garfield Av, or further on to the ½ mile at Anaheim-Telegraph Rd. We’d go through the Russian cemetery to get away from the heat, and get a good view of who was winning. Bill always talks about him and Margie in the back seat of my car, when he was watching it while I was away…”

    David Zivot on Nick and his Merc~
    So…Why another Matranga Merc? “It isn’t just another one. We don’t need just another one. That automobile was an amalgamation of the thought processes of Nick Matranga, Sam Barris, and George Barris. Nick related to me, while inspired by the J. Zaro and A. Andril Mercury’s, he wanted something more advanced and stylish that would set his ’40 Mercury coupe apart from more common customs he saw around L.A. There were other ’40 Merc coupes running around then and none met Nick’s sense of style. As a high school kid in 1948 L.A. he was influenced by pillarless hardtops like the ’49 Buick Roadmaster Riviera, the ’49 Cad Coupe de Ville, and the ’49 Olds Holiday. I saw enough Matranga-style attempts in mags and at shows, and I was a bit disappointed in the lack of commitment in trying to achieve an accurate rendition. Not that accuracy was necessarily the goal of some of these builders. But Nick was clearly chagrined that no one quite ‘got it right’.
    Nick and I discussed the inexhaustible popularity and emulation that his senior year project provided custom car guys through the years. He actually had plans to replicate his most memorable car himself. Nick was very polite to other builders, and often autographed their visors and dashboards, but was let down by the missing verisimilitude of most that he viewed. Then I presented him that with his help and advisement I’d take a shot at it. I took extraordinary efforts and pains to assure it would be as accurate and true to nature as humanly possible. He took an immediate interest because he observed my authenticity for historical and technical concerns.
    He’d say, ‘How the hell did you know that? I haven’t thought about that in 50 years!’ Nick was a consummate gentleman, well-mannered and well-informed. If I asked a question and he didn’t know the answer on the spot, a week later I’d get handwritten letters in his perfect penmanship, ‘Now I remember how I did that…’ We talked about more than his iconic car; we talked about J.C. Fremont High School, his neighborhood, the drive-ins, hanging out at George’s and Sam’s place. How it was the best being a teenager in L.A. in the 1940’s. And all the really neat cars you’d see driving around every day, very well done customs and hot rods, and not as well done but sincere efforts. It was fun and the weather permitted. He told me they’d go downtown and see Gary Cooper or Clark Gable coming out of Eastern Auto or Musso & Frank Grill or a men’s clothing store. Also he mentioned some of his relatives in charge of L.A.-based back-east interests, like restaurants and bars. They’d pick up the check for him and his friends so he could act like a big shot.
    I’m a proponent of a high degree of exactitude in representing an automotive artifact. The original car existed a brief couple of years. It’s important to have a representation that would exemplify Nick, as well as Sam and George, and the time period. Nick said if you were a good-looking guy and had a keen car you had no trouble for Fri and Sat night dates, and you could just be driving down the street and girls would jump in your car. As a teen you have a lot less cares and concentrate on the important things like cars, hamburgers, and skirts. Nick said if he hadn’t gone to Korea, he woulda really had a good time in his car, but the time he did have was too short.”
    Technical regards… “He’d seen other Barris lacquer jobs, including George’s own car, that had the deep majestic maroon that George would conjure up by using toners and custom blends that he would supervise at the paint store. George’s Greek aesthetics of color and form were amazing and unfailing, especially early on. Nick thought that patrician maroon stood out and glowed on the street, particularly at night under the street lights. Nick knew what he wanted in his mind, Sam knew what he wanted in his mind, and when they started cutting the roof they arrived at, ‘That’s it!’ Both Sam and Nick agreed that the flow of the roof, at the sail panels, a product of CA metal shaping, the raised windshield header area, and other refinements, and the most important omission of cumbersome B pillars, were much more advanced and pleasing developments than what was done on the Zaro or Andril cars. Nick was adamant about these things. Phil Weiand built and modified Nick’s ’46 Mercury block, with full Weiand racing equipment, and Winfield cam, and took special care in its assembly and cosmetic appearance. Nick wanted it sound with plenty of pep for street reliability.”
    Examining the ‘Kustom’s L.A.’ club plaque. “Hmmm…Color photographs of a ‘Kustom’s L.A.’ plaque, that’s neat. And also serves to confirm that they were most likely royal purple, as the contrast between the California black plate and the deteriorating Ektachrome or Kodachrome photographic print would tend to distort the true color. The photo of the aluminum plaque on Jim Skonzakis’ ’49 Buick is clearly purple. Refer to the back of the photo, July 22, 1952, #12, dated. The original plaque that I am in possession of, which was gifted to me from Nick Matranga a few years ago, has a numeral ‘3’ stamped into the back. It measures X” W x X” H x X” thick. The recast that Kurt McCormick makes measures X” x X” and varies in thickness between X” and X”. All early originals, let’s say the first twelve to fifteen, were cast art bronze, and had the telltale large ‘S’ at the end of ‘LoS’. Jesse Lopez was the first President of ‘Kustom’s L.A.’, and was instrumental in its formation in 1948. The plaque that Nick gave me is his original off the 40. He got an additional plaque when he came back stateside in 1953, when the Korean War ended. He purchased a brand new ’53 Mercury Monterey two-door hard top, on which he attached the plaque. He could not remember who gave it to him, but I have an idea that all the original members were given a number as to when they joined up or when the club was formed. Just a theory. As to the aluminum one at the NHRA museum, I wouldn’t discount it out of hand. I know a fellow in Los Angeles who’s had an aluminum version of this plaque since 1952. George Barris had an affinity for Greek nobility and the trappings of royalty, that’s why he favored purple and the royal coat of arms that he fabricated for the affected Barris crest. It’s a Greek thing. In the realm of small details, notice the pair of ‘Kustom’s L.A.’ club plaques that have been removed from Nick’s car and probably Johnny Zaro’s that are stacked together in Nick’s booth at the 1951 Oakland Show. They are leaned up against the wood divider in front of Nick’s car right by the hacksaw that’s lying on the ground. One of these days one of us will spot an ethereal image of Mother Mary in the ripples of a lacquer paint job.”

    Tony Pisano of the Pisano Brothers, on Nick~
    Joe and Carmen Pisano, Tony and Frank’s oldest brothers, were family tight with Nick, like Nick was another brother. Tony Pisano, of the Pisano Brothers, who built the Pisano/Ogden ’41 Buick chopped custom with an original Gaylord Carson top, was a drag racer. He owns ‘Worco Powder Coatings’ on Cherry Industrial Circle, in Long Beach, CA. “I was in the scroungy war, when we were all into putting together the cars in different combinations. I was drafted into the Army. Nick was pals with my brother, Carmen. They met at the drive-ins and shops. Carmen hopped up some of his engines. Nick’s dad had a night club, ‘The Mint Tulip’, on Florence near Normandy. The memories are sad because it hurts to remember. Nick had a hot-headed sense of humor. He could be critical. Nick was a good-looking guy, he had all sorts of broads. Nick was a fun guy, he could walk by a woman and say, ‘Wow, what a great ass!’, and they would say, ‘Thanks for the compliment.’ He was likeable and could get away with it.”

    Frank Pisano of the Pisano Brothers, on Nick~
    Born in 1939, and native to L.A., owns ‘Venolia Pistons and Rods’ on Cherry Industrial Circle, in L.B., CA. “Nick came over to Tony’s ‘Worco Powder Coatings’ every Saturday to have his ’37 Chevy powder coated. We all hung out and ate at ‘Curley’s Cafe’ for hamburgers. When I first started driving my funny car ’67 Camaro at Lion’s Drags in 1968, Nick made sure I was seat belted tight in before I got to the starting line. He’d close the door and pat me on my head. He had the side windows made right specially for me out of plastic. He hung out with my older brothers, Joe, Carmen, Tony, Sammy, and me the brat. He’d always go to the races with us to make sure everything was OK. Nick was that type of guy, loving. More than a friend. We were there for each other and helped in each other’s businesses. Carmen supervised setting up the car racks at Nick’s transmission shop. Tony painted and powder coated for Nick. If we needed a transmission done he took care of it. When you’re Italian you trade. We didn’t exchange money.
    I first met Nick about 10 years old. My brothers brought him over to the shop, on 52nd and Western in L.A., ‘Bigelo & Pisano’. Carmen was the smart one, our leader. Joe was the car salesman. Tony was the painter. Sammy was a general contractor. I was the mechanic helper. I helped with the race cars. Nick in his days was a good-looking guy, always well dressed. And he didn’t like to get dirty. You look at him and he would talk to you, and he was very nice looking and very nice person, and you wondered if he was a gigolo. When I got to know more of him I learned he was a very true and honest man. If he didn’t like you he’d let you know about it. If he did like you he’d give his heart to you.
    They all allowed me to hang out with them. They’d say, See you at the drive-in, ‘Scrivener’s’ in Inglewood. We’d have coffee and hook up to race. We’d park in the back and talk about our cars, motors, and chops. I started driving at 13, not supposed to without a license. ’53 Studebaker trucks with Cad motors. After Korea in the ‘Screwdrivers’ club of Culver City, with my brother, Joe, and Don Rackemann and Nick. I rode with my brothers while street racing between Culver City and Inglewood. On 190th in Inglewood was a root beer drive-in that we met at to race. As fast as you could go, and whoever was way ahead would shut off because the other guys couldn’t catch him. There was no measured stretch. We had so many cars that we moved around and changed around, ’32 roadsters, Model A coupes, and Chevy coupes, 32’s-33’s-34’s, and later ’55 and ’57 Chevy’s. Before Korea we mostly worked at our race shop. It was a gathering and BS place. We always had black cars. Nick said it was important to keep it clean and polished.
    He always hugged me and said I was doing the right thing by keeping ‘Venolia Pistons’ going when Joe died. Joe died in my arms at the races from a heart blockage. I took care of my mother and father when they were sick, like Nick took care of his wife and son. We always stuck together. We all had our shops on the same street on the Cherry Industrial Circle in L.B., and that was our later hang out.”

    Herschel ‘Junior’ Conway, ‘Junior’s House of Color’, of Florence Av, Bell Gardens, CA, on Nick~
    “I was the youngest kid working at Barris’. I met Jesse in 1955. Jesse came around a lot more than Nick did. Nick already got rid of his Merc and was back from Korea by the time I met him. Even the 1960’s had passed by the time I really got to know him, even though in the early 60’s he talked to me about painting a ’57 Chevy Nomad black. I was wary, I had plenty of business, and knew he was very particular. I knew Jesse and Hirohata well. Nick and I didn’t hook up until the 1970’s. He took the Nomad to Barris’ to have Tubs paint it. And he wasn’t happy that the job wasn’t detailed enough for him. He called to tell me about it. I passed. Then he sold the Nomad, and later in the 1970’s went to build a ’32 Ford coupe.
    He had Barris’ doing body work, his guy Dick Dean. One day he called me up to inspect some parts and redo some body work. Next I was doing all the rest of the bodywork on it. I was doing high end sports car work (Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Rolls), and he liked how I finished, fit, and detailed cars. We’re in the process of bringing it to paint. It cost a lot, so he had Boyd Cottington paint it in the early 1980’s.
    I’d go visit him and have him do transmission work and he’d visit me. He’d say, ‘You are the best painter, at everything you do, your detail finish work, you’re just too expensive.’ I had too much work to do, and Nick always wanted a deal. To do the custom work today to my level is very expensive. I can’t give a guy that kind of work and keep it affordable. A lot of guys are running into that. In the early days, I didn’t plan it. I made the car and we all traded out. That is the only way those cars got done. Jesse and Nick both worked two, three jobs to afford their cars, materials alone.
    Today’s kids read a magazine or see a TV show and think it’s easy. I was a young boy that came from Kentucky in 1952, and I too read the mags and wondered how they afforded to do this. I questioned how Jesse and Nick had the money to spend. When I got here I realized it was a lot of bargaining and horse trading to get it done. I had Sam black out my bumpers so the bolts didn’t show through, and he leaded the hood so it didn’t have chrome molding anymore. It took him two full nights. It took me two weeks of painting his house trim to work off that trade. George wanted to include my car in a car show with others. He needed it finished so he took money out of my paycheck to pay for the labor a whole year after George and I finished my car, my senior year of high school, 1956-57. Had it not been for people like George and Sam Barris, at any shop, if not for being able to work on your car in the facilities that they had, and shared with you, the expense would not have been possible. I was very young, younger than the rest. Seventeen when that car was finished and in shows, thanks to them. I worked for Barris until 1961. By 1960 Jesse and I did ‘House of Color’, until I took it entirely over in 1961, ‘Junior’s House of Color’.” Junior’s ’50 Ford business coupe custom, painted ‘Sam Bronze’, went away by 1970, and was accurately rebuilt by Jerry Daman of Dallas, TX, who is also rebuilding the Jesse Lopez ’41 Ford club coupe custom.

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Jun 8, 2014
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  2. Michelley
    Joined: May 6, 2011
    Posts: 104


    Part 2
    Don Rackemann of San Pedro, CA, on Nick~
    Lifelong best friend of Nick’s. Ran Saugus Dragstrip. Lou Baney and Lou Senter owned Saugus, Don ran as manager and starter 1951-55. Owned ‘Don’s Speed Shop’ 1950-52, with partner Lou Baney, running at lakes and building hot engines. Changed to ‘Lou Baney Automotive’ when he sold him his share. From 1952-55 went on as ‘Ansen Automotive’ representing after-market hot rod parts to speed shops. Now owns ‘Fuel Savers Group’ MPG3 fuel enhancer. “I knew Nick since junior high. We went to different junior highs, and then later went to John C. Fremont High School. We were both small guys in the 10th grade, 15 years old, maybe 100 lbs, 5’2”. But we thought we were cool. We got in an argument and a fist fight in the quad. We were hitting each other and not doing any damage because of our small size. The other kids looking on were stunned. We weren’t even aware until the coach pulled us apart and told us we were making a spectacle of ourselves. We stayed friends. At 16 on California nights all year round us hot rodders went to the drive-ins: ‘The Wich Stand’ on Slauson by W. LA and Inglewood; ‘Scrivener’s’ on Manchester Blvd in Inglewood; ‘DeMay’s’ on Slauson in Culver City. We’d cross paths. Then for a year we didn’t. In the meantime I built a ’32 three-window coupe in stock brown-black, sitting on the corner of Hoover, and the car next to me is the primered Merc, and it’s Nick smiling at me. ‘Nick! What are doing on that lead barge?’ At that time Jesse was building his car at Barris’, I was a hot rodder, not a customizer, and I had to show him how the cookie crumbles. I revved the engine to let him know I had the horsepower. He scrunched his head and declined because he had a stock engine in it still. So I hit the throttle and went on down the road, 60-80-100 mph, in 1949. Nick’s car took a lot longer to complete than my coupe. I put my car in the hot rod show at the L.A. Armory 2nd show 1951. I took first place in the competition coupe class they put me in. A man came into the show on Saturday with his son. They went gaga and wanted to buy it. I hesitated because I just finished the paint and upholstery. Next day on Sunday he came back and offered me $100, so I took it and sold it at the show. A Merc bore, stock stroke, Offenhauser heads and manifold, three Strom 97 carbs, stock ignition, Iskenderian ground cams. Stock good street machine. Only engine I ran in it. It taught me a big lesson.
    Some guys had exotic stroker engines. My car ran so strong. It had Lincoln gears in the transmission, a longer 25 tooth cluster gear, 4:11’s rear end, 6.00 x 16 on the front. Without planning it, that combination with the compression, and the cam, and the carburetion, ran really fast with the gear ratios. I sold that car and opened up a first shop with that money, ‘Don’s Automotive’, located kitty corner from ‘Scrivener’s’ on Slauson and Western in S.W. L.A., 1951. I built engines for my friends who wanted to go fast. The first drag race at Santa Ana, 1950, before the Armory show, I raced that ’32 coupe, rolling start quarter mile, and won first place coupe and sedan class. Beat Joe Reath in the semifinals, and Dean Moon in the finals.
    I still had the ’32 coupe and my wife was still pregnant. We were driving out to Malibu. I just finished the engine and it was all clean and chromed, putting some miles on it. Winding along the 101, on our way back through Encino, I glanced to the left and going opposite I noticed the new green Jaguar go by, and realized it was Clark Gable. I whipped a U-turn and caught up with him at a signal. He glanced over at my engine and raised his eyebrows. I revved my engine a couple times. So he smiled. He reached over to put his in low gear and then the signal changed. He jumped on it. My car with those gears I could run 70 mph in low gear. I just stayed right beside. He bangs his shift into second and I still stayed right beside him. He smacked it into third gear, I jumped on the throttle, put mine into second, and smoked his ass. I had to shut it off for the next signal. Then he pulled up next to me at the signal, and smiled and said, ‘Pretty fast, son, pretty fast.’ I was twenty years old. Sue, my first wife, just giggled. Nick and I were the same age, born the same year.
    After the ’32 three-window was sold and I opened my shop, 1951, Nick went into the Army. When he came home, the first thing he did was call me and said, ‘I hear you have a really, really hot coupe!’ I said, ‘I’ll pick you up at 7 o’clock!’ He looks it over and says, ‘Aw, this is bitchin’.’ We went to ‘DeMay’s’ drive-in. There were a couple guys and cars we didn’t know. He says, ‘Is there anything here you can’t beat?’ I said, ‘No.’ So he says ‘How about that guy that just pulled in?’ A ’32 roadster. Nick walks over to him and says, ‘You wanna try it?’ ‘Yeah sure,’ thought his roadster could beat my coupe. We went to Lincoln Blvd, behind L.A. International Airport. The runways were so long and Lincoln stretched diagonally across that back of the airport. Nick said, ‘Where do you want me to get out?’ to drop him off while I ran the race. I said I can’t because the floorboards that were angled had screw down bolts. Mine fit real tight so I didn’t put the screw in, and I put carpet over them. So I would have someone sit next to me and put their feet down on them and hold them when the car went over 100-110 mph. So he had to ride the race with me a lot to hold the floor boards down, at least three times a week going street racing. He already sold the Merc.
    From the late 1940’s-50’s, to the early 1960’s, Nick’s dad, Nick Sr, had a family Italian restaurant named ‘Nick’s’, on Florence Av in L.A. I ate dinner, mostaccioli and spaghetti, many times. We’d end up there before racing. Later in 1958, after I got Nick to quit laying bricks and come be the vice-president of my company, ‘National Bonded Cars’, the first company to ever put out a mechanical failure warranty on used cars. Jack Hershey also worked for me in sales. Nick’s first wife, Gayleen, and my wife of 60+ years, Jo, were friends. Nick’s brother-in-law Larry, and my wife’s brother Jon, were also real good friends. They figured out a system to make money in Las Vegas. They showed it to us, and we acted like it was nothing. Jack Hershey, who was our pal, got me and Nick to practice this dice rolling system on the living room floor, and it worked! We said, ‘Let’s go to Vegas,’ and the three of us went. Jack writing the pad, I’m working the money, and Nick’s watching the action. The first weekend we went we each put up $150 in the pot for the bankroll. At the end of the weekend we came home with $3600 each. We stayed at the Sahara Hotel because Louis Prima and Keely Smith were headlining. We really thought we were hot stuff, big time gamblers. We drove a white 1957 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. Next week we flew and did the same. It started out ahead, and then it turned and we lost everything. We called our wives to wire another $450. We lost again. They’re mad, we’re mad. On the plane home we’re not even talking to each other. I had just purchased, as the owner, the company ‘National Bonded Cars’. So we got home Sunday night. On Thursday I got my first commission check $2000+. We took that check and got back on the plane to Vegas. Hershey had the paperwork from the other runs, I put up the money. This time we won $36,000 ($12,000 apiece). This time we had a bankroll that kept us going to win. Our system worked.
    At 1955 Bonneville, the ‘Iris’ light blue color, it was very subtle and really stood out with the Von Dutch red, yellow, and orange flames. Lou Baney was service manager over all three Yeakel Brothers; Cadillac, Olds, and Chrysler-Plymouth. We were sponsored by Yeakel Cad. That year of 1955 the ‘Iris Blue’ Cadillac was their prime chip color. I had all the embroidered shirts and painted vehicles in that color. Nick put up the money for the second engine that we built and won the records, that was Nick’s engine. Us hot dogs (Nick Arias Jr, Lou Baney, Teddy Evosavich, Bill Likes, Nick Matranga, Danny O’Brien, Don & Rich Rackemann, Don’s wife Jo) had Nick Arias’ Jimmy in the car the first couple days. Nick M.’s stroker in the car for the last three days that we went the fast 189 mph in 1955. We came in second. Art Chrisman’s roadster with a Chrysler, beat us that weekend by 3 mph, he got first place.”
    Inspecting a blurry ghost I titled ‘Drag Races 1956’ from Nick’s personal photo collection, Don comments, “Fran Hernandez was a drag race icon. At the beginning was three or four people that made the dual and three and four carb manifolds for the Ford flathead. The most popular was Edelbrock (my first was a two carb), and the first I ever saw was Eddie Meyer. Just after the War, Fran H. and Fred Offenhauser (nephew of Offy Indy engines) made a deal for Fran’s designs of a set of heads and manifolds. Fran was the machinist, and was promised 25%. Fran got the idea that the Offenhauser name carried weight. He was young and without paperwork, it wasn’t called a ‘Fran’, it was called an ‘Offenhauser’. Fran’s designs were very popular and sales were great. A few years later Fred told Fran he wasn’t getting his 25%. When Vic Edelbrock heard Fran was leaving Offy, he offered and hired him on the spot. When Fran came over to Edelbrock in 1949, the cemented guys, Bobby Meeks and Don Towle, got a little bent out of shape. Because when Fran came in he was a made dude, because he was so smart, and the lead guy in lakes and drag racing. Fran became the main man at Edelbrock. It worked out well. That’s Danny O’Brien’s ’29 roadster on a ’32 frame with a ’55 Olds Hydra. Fran built the Hydra-Matic we put in that car at the drag strip. Fran did the hydramatic modifications before B & M did, Fran was one of the first, way before. I quit driving the car because it ran very well on gas or alcohol, but when we ran nitro I couldn’t control the transmission, it didn’t have enough stall speed. Even though we had the record at seven drag strips, we never lost. Fran was working on solving that. Fran was liked by everyone. Very abrupt and so bright, everyone wanted him to tell them what to do. He knew everything. An extra good guy that everyone loved.”

    Rich Rackemann of San Pedro, CA, on Nick~
    Don’s younger brother, a partner and executive of automotive marketing, advertising, and promotions, for ‘Beaumont Design Group’. “I was a tag along. My brother and Nick were eight years older and brought me with them. I started hanging out when I was 12-13. Started going to drag racing, Bonneville, the lakes, all that. Nick grew up a little more affluent than the rest. His folks owned the Italian restaurant. Some of the guys went in the kitchen to eat. Nick always had nice equipment, all his stuff was very detailed. The way he dressed, carried himself, his hair, his cars, that was very important. He goes and buys a ’40 Merc, the club coupe. His Mother said it was the ugliest car she had ever seen! He told her, ‘Ma, I have a vision. Then it will be the most beautiful car you ever seen!’ And he worked on the Merc and when it was done she agreed with him, ‘Nick, it IS the most beautiful car I have ever seen!’ He’d say, ‘Richie, it’s all in the top, the way the top chop was cut and fitted. The other guys always get that wrong, and the bumper guards in the back placed wrong. Heck, they even get the color wrong.’ He said he was enjoying himself working on the last car because the guy’s [David] head is in the right direction. Junior Conway and I went to Lynwood High School together, same grade Class of 1957. In 1955-56, Nick was building a ’41 Ford pickup at Bob Grossie’s garage on 48th St, L.A., a very nice truck with a very hot Cadillac motor. Just finished it. I told him I had a date and needed a nice set of wheels to go out in. I had the date, and also had a street drag race set up. He said, ‘Sure, come and get it.’ When I got the truck his parting words to me, ‘Richie, don’t break it!’ I told him I’d bring it back sometime Saturday at Grossie’s. Which I did, on the back of a tow truck. His only comment was, ‘Did you win?’ And I said ‘Yes, three times.’
    In 1981-82, before he started the black ’32 Ford coupe, he had a line on getting the car. I had built a chopped ’32 Tudor sedan, and I finished the car and was really proud of it, and wanted to take it over to show him. He had been very busy building his business, ‘Crown Transmission’ (before ‘Advanced Transmission’) on Redondo Beach Blvd in Gardena, CA. When I took the car to him, he was very impressed, and very jazzed about getting and building another car. And just after that, the gentleman who had the ’32 coupe passed away, and the wife called Nick and asked if he still wanted the car. He immediately went and got it and started to build it. My ’32 gave him the press to get his, and make it so nice.
    In 1955 we went to Bonneville. He had built a Cad motor. We put it in a ’29 hi-boy roadster on ’32 rails. Lou Baney, Don Rackemann, Danny O’Brien, owned and rebuilt the car in 1954. We were gonna run it in three different classes. We had two Cad motors, one owned by Nick, one by Lou Baney. The other built and owned by Nick Arias Jr was a GMC 302 ci 6-cylinder motor. That car won ‘Best Appearing Car and Crew’ at Bonneville, Aug 1955. Hot Rod Magazine published a great pic of the car and crew. The paint, the dress, all the support vehicles [Don Rackemann’s F-100 pickup, Lou Baney’s Cadillac, + the Baney-Rackemann-O’Brien roadster, was considered a rock-around-the-clock lakes, salt, strip, and street quadruple threat!] matched. Theme color ‘Iris’ (light blue iris) with Von Dutch flames and custom pinstriping and painting was Don Rackemann’s idea. Our uniform was white narrow legged pegger pants, special short-sleeved bowling shirts made ‘Iris’ color with the sponsors names (Yeakel Bros Cadillac). Nick always treated me with respect and as an older brother. I was part of their group event though I was younger. Frank Pisano and I were younger, we were the tag alongs.”

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: May 16, 2014
    kidcampbell71 likes this.
  3. devilscustom
    Joined: Feb 22, 2007
    Posts: 286

    from Sweden

    Thank you so very much for the story and pictures
  4. Michelley
    Joined: May 6, 2011
    Posts: 104


    Part 3
    Karpo Murkijanian, ‘Deuce Week’ Chairman of the Petersen Museum, CA, on Nick~
    “Nick and I were friends for 27 years. We met in 1983 when his ’32 three-window was getting painted at Jarmo Pulkinen’s shop next door to Terry Hegmen’s shop, where my ’32 three-window was getting chopped, in Stanton, CA. Their shops were around the corner from Boyd Cottington’s shop. These guys did a lot of work for Boyd at the time. In my spare time I’d meander over to Jarmo’s and we’d all go to lunch together.” Karpo growing up in Montebello next to Whittier and East LA, was surrounded by hot rodder and low rider car culture in the 1960’s-70’s. “We hit it off right away. He was naturally drawn to my Armenian nature. He was my father’s age, and he taught me about customs as my mentor. He was like a father I never had. He always encouraged and pushed me.” In business and life he was very motivating, not just with cars. He spent time with me at his shop and on the phone.” Karpo was like the son Nick couldn’t have because his own son was handicapped with MS.
    “Nick just sold his ’40 Ford in 1949. He was driving down the street. He saw the Merc on a used car lot. He stopped and checked it out, 8000 miles on it. He bought it then and there. He brought it home, and his mom came outside and said in her Italian accent, ‘Nicky, that’s the ugliest car I ever saw in my life!’ When it was all finished, his mother and father said it was the prettiest car they ever saw in their life!
    He told me a story about the Korean War. He left the car in the garage. He got a letter from his mom saying George Barris inquired to sell the car. He and some fellows were in a fox hole getting bombarded. He was literally shaking recounting the story 25 years later. They were getting hit left and right, and the next thing he knew, he was the only one left alive. And so he saw all his friends die, and he realized he wasn’t coming home. He loved his mother and wanted her to have the money. So he wrote her back and said, ‘Sell the car!’ So when he got back home, the first thing he did was go to Barris’ to buy the car back. Then he found out it got totaled. He was very disappointed, but realized it was time to move on.
    He told me early on, ‘You’re never gonna make big money working for someone else, or by yourself. You’ll make money having other good people working for you, and treat them well. Because of the volume. One man can’t do it all. With a crew you can work in volume. Treat people and your workers with respect, and kindly, because they’ve been through it. Listen to the successful older guys, and listen well. They know a lot and you’ll get way ahead by paying attention to them.’
    In 1986 at the Los Angeles Race Track, Nick had several Sulky thoroughbred harnessed race horses with painted and pinstriped buggies. He loved to talk about and show his race horses, he had box seating. He would recommend what horse to bet on and we were winning. Once I wanted to bet on one of his horses and he said, ‘No, no, no, bet on this other one…’ Another time I wanted to bet on one of his horses and again he said, ‘No, no, no, bet on this other one…’ Then I realized he personally knew all the horses racing, and their owners, and he could evaluate who would likely win a race. He would be sure to tell me when to bet on one of his horses. If I listened to him I always won.
    When Shauna, his wife, died from MS, he did change. He didn’t want to go out as much. He sold his ’32 three-window that Jarmo painted and Boyd worked on. He hadn’t even put on a couple hundred miles. The medical bills ran up and he needed quick money to pay it, and sold it in 1989. As it was on the cover of Street Rodder magazine April 1984. And then later in 2006 I’m on Ebay looking at ’32 Fords. I scroll down and see this black three-window. I recognized it immediately. A performance car dealer, Brian Burnett, from Los Gatos up north, was selling it, and in the description didn’t even know what it was. He could tell it was a high quality build. I called to let Nick know and he shat. So I called Brian and informed him that it was Nick and Boyd built. He remembered Nick and me from Boyd’s. Whoever buys it, we asked that it be displayed at the Petersen’s ‘Deuce Week’ 75th Anniversary of the Deuce, of 380 Fords. A super nice Canadian, Mike Seelbinder, bought it, and obliged. I was co-chairing and organizing the event, and when Mike and his wife showed up I directed them to park it in the exclusive ‘Cover Car Row’ for the weekend. The black lacquer still looked brand new. It was the first show in twenty years that Nick attended any event, and the last time. The big day Saturday was hectic. Nick tapped me on the shoulder. I was surprised to see him because he rarely turned out for a car show. He loved that car. We went over to see it, and it looked so good. He wanted to meet the new owners. Nick and Don Rackemann walked around and found out that the new owners were at the hospital because they got hit by a car, walking from their hotel on Wilshire Blvd, Friday night. They were seriously hurt. Nick was winded, so he didn’t stay long. And that was the last Nick ever saw it. We sent them copies of Nick’s pictures of the car and a ‘Deuce Week’ poster. They still have the car and are in good shape. Nick really didn’t build another car until the ’37 Chevy coupe he started in 2005. He got to drive it a bit before he died, just needed final interior.
    Another major thing Nick taught me, is that when you’re building a car that has a lot of custom trick stuff done to it, put it in primer, and then drive it to get the bugs out of it. Then blow it apart and paint and chrome. That’s how he did the Merc. He drove it out to the Santa Monica beach one day. When he pulled in and parked the car, people gathered around. He went to eat. When he got back, there was a swarm of people around the car, and he couldn’t even get to it. When Hirohata’s was getting chopped at Barris’, he asked Nick if he could use his side windows to copy the design. Nick said, ‘Yeah!’ George Barris wanted him to use the LaSalle grill and Nick refused, so he used the stock ’40 grill.” David says one beautiful thing about the stock ’40 Merc is the stock grill.
    “The first ten years I knew him, in the 1980’s, traditional customs were not popular. It was all about hot rods for me, growing up in the 1960’s-70’s. Nick had a really bitchin’ three-window. I didn’t even know he had a Merc until the 1990’s, when I started coming around the transmission shop, and I saw all the Merc and Bonneville pictures on the wall, I had no idea. Now that was bitchin’, and he told me the stories. I didn’t even know he was a Bonneville competitor. I really looked up to him. The last time I talked to him he said he loved me, right as we were hanging up. I was shocked because it was the first time he spoke like that. He usually spoke no holds barred, but it was, ‘MF this or MF that.’ A week later he was in the hospital and couldn’t talk. Nick was blunt and to the point. Either he liked you or didn’t like you. Very opinionated. Once I didn’t call him for a bit, and I called and said, ‘Eh?’, and Nick said, ‘Where the f--k have you been! Who are you banging?’ I said, ‘A Sicilian!’”

    Frank Baney, Lou Baney’s son, of Inglewood and Huntington Beach, CA, on Nick~
    A finish carpenter by trade, a race dragster restorer by hobby, owns the ‘Yeakel Plymouth Special’ ’64 top fueled dragster, fellow ‘Screwdrivers’. Father, Lou Baney, General Manager of the ‘Yeakel Plymouth Center’, S. California car dealership, sponsored the top fuel dragster. “In 1963 I was 8. My father, Nick, Joe Pisano, Nick Arias, Don Rackemann, and all their families went on a big vacation weekend on the Colorado River at River Shore Resorts at the CA/AZ border, in the town of Earp, CA. They all had boats. Don was the ringleader. Everyone was waterskiing, and I had never skied before. So I was left sitting in a cabana on the beach. Nick had a broken hand because he hit a wall, and he was stuck on the beach with me. So he sat with me and talked to me a couple hours about how I could do it, ‘It’s so much fun. I know you can do it. I’ve seen you ride your bike and skateboard. You’ll pop right up.’ He went and wrapped his hand in a plastic bag and silver taped it up. He said, ‘Sit in my lap, and I’ll hold your knees with the skis sticking up from the water.’ He hooked us to the boat and said to them, ‘Hit it!’ The ski rope tightened and pulled us up, and Nick stood me up and let me go, and off I went skiing. After that first run I wasn’t afraid anymore, and from then on you couldn’t get me out of the water. I’ve taught both my kids and their friends how to water ski in the same way and in the same place. We’ll teach my grandkids that way too.
    He along with the other guys were big heroes and racers. He was always so down to earth and nice to bother with me and talk and listen to me. When I was 17 and broke a transmission in my truck, I took it to him at ‘Advanced Transmission’. Just a kid and he told them to take care of me. Then we went for a ride in his black ’57 Nomad fully restored and customized. When we got around the block he asked me if I wanted to drive it. When I got behind the wheel he directed me to a big open street and then he said, ‘Hammer it!’, and it took off, a big block 396 Chevy engine. That was the fastest I ever went, it wasn’t how fast we went, it was how quick we got there. The first time I ever got pushed back into the seat. I thought mine (’61 Chevy pickup with a small block 327 Chevy), and my buddies cars were badassed hot rods. It was a real racer’s car with all the expensive good stuff in it that I wanted. Here’s a grown up that can have anything he wants and he took time with me to drive in his car. I looked up to him and he was a kid at heart.
    Nick knew my dad before my dad knew me. My relationship with Nick was in the moment of the 1960’s. In the 1970’s he told me to stay away from horses, both as a hobby or betting, because it’s just a place to throw money, you’ll go broke. Although he loved them. He would walk me around his shop and go over his latest cars with me. He treated me like I was somebody even though I was a kid with big eyes and my tongue hanging out. As far as he was concerned business stopped when I came in and we talked about race cars. I collect dragsters, boats, motorcycles, pretty much anything with a motor in it.”

    Nick Arias, “Nick Arias Jr Racing” piston and engine shop, of Normandie Av, Gardena, CA, on Nick~
    “Later on I got to be better friends. The Yeakel Brothers sponsored us at Bonneville 1955. Don drove it. And Danny O’Brien. I built the 6 cylinder GMC engine, I ran it in the B class. We ran pretty good. Horning 12 port head. Alcohol-nitro 50-50 blend. Hilborn fuel injection. ’29 Model A on ’32 frame. All painted powder blue. Three cars, the ’55 Cad 4-door sedan for the crew; Danny’s ’51 Ford pickup; and the roadster, Cad engine A by Nick M., and GMC engine B by Nick A. Lou Baney ran the whole crew. Nick was a good guy and worked hard. He had a job as a bricklayer mason before he got into his transmission shop. We were part of the crew. We all got along. We all pitched in. We ran the Yeakel car that won. I used to stop by and say hello at his transmission shop while he was working on the ’32.”

    Dennis Loehr, financial advisor, of Torrance, CA, on Nick~
    “I knew Nick well the last eight years of his life. Nick has not changed one iota since his youth. A feisty tailed dart, more energy than he knew what to do with, a dynamo. A guy came into his office at ‘Advanced Transmission’ in Torrance, a foot taller than Nick’s 5’5”, said something smart alecky that inflamed Nick, and Nick knocked him down and out with one punch. He was very strong for his size. He was a very proud and private Sicilian. If he didn’t like you, that was it. His arms were severely burned in Korea, and he was a very patriotic guy.”
    Dennis composed the video for Nick’s (& his lovely sister, Connie’s) obituary:

    David Zivot, of Las Vegas, NV, on Nick’s ’40 Merc~
    “I can tell you that using photographs to scale anything from can be a tricky business. Case in point, the famous Marcia Campbell photograph of the almost dead on side view of Nick’s car in front of John C. Fremont High School. When I started my project, I produced a 1:1 scale blowup on a vinyl banner from a fellow’s computer that had the hard drive space to process a life size (apprx 14’ x 5’) hi res digital file of this. I lined up the door and the stainless trim, for a horizontal starting point, matching it with an actual piece of stainless off my ’40 Merc. I also used the known diameter of the Cadillac sombrero hubcaps for both horizontal and vertical measurements as well. Proceeding to chop the top from this blowup or any templates made from it, were not to the degree of accuracy that I was after. I threw away all templates, blowups, etc., and used my own eye. In fact, using any of the photographs for precise measurements is asking for trouble, because of the distortion factors involved. The metal man that finished the chop had something the others didn’t…an eye! In the final analysis, the compound curves that are demonstrated on those wonderful creations, especially after they are chopped, are best replicated by getting as close as you can in the ballpark with measurements, but finalizing it with your eye from every angle possible, from multiple distances, and knowing the documented data of the car. There are many little tricks and details on how I think I finally captured this chop on Nick’s car that I’ll relate to you later. I’ve experienced in the past that sometimes the most unreliable sources can be the original owner/builder because memories fade with age. Not so in this case with Nick, he was acute.
    Some observations on early paint jobs, including Barris Maroon. My initial plans were to find a meticulous match to what was known as Barris Maroon circa 1946-52, that was based on 41 Buick #º«@! $@#%^. My researches indicated through discussions with George Barris, Junior Conway, Nick Matranga, Jesse Lopez, and Dick Bertolucci, boiled down to this. You can only get so close, and barring finding an untouched never been in the sun 60 yr old example of an original Barris paint job would have told me only, that particular paint job only looked like that. In other words, Barris Maroon could vary from car to car, depending on amount of >>>>> powder used, what time of the morning George Barris sprayed it, and who was bugging him that day. Plainly put, numerous variables. So to get as reasonably close as possible, I personally mixed ’41 Buick #º«@! & #¤¿« $@#%^, using toners only, with no <<<<<powder added, put in differing amounts of fine >>>>> powder (in this case a 65 yr old can of Crescent brand), dipped each shade in a light bulb, sent them off to Nick, and said, ‘Nick, when I hit it on the nail, tell me.’ Five or six light bulbs later he said, ‘You got it, kid!’ All of this is to illustrate that you have to use as close as possible the available materials at the time, talk to the original owner if he is still alive, and in the final analysis, go with your gut and understanding. You also have to satisfy yourself. The most important thing is not the quality of the paint job and the accuracy of the color, but does it look ‘1949-50’ or not?! Guys that have original color photos to extrapolate from are lucky…No base coat-clear coat, just plain old fashioned lacquer. One pint tin can Crescent >>>>> powder, late 1940’s, from John Carambia’s collection of NOS. ’41 Buick #º«@! $@#%^ modern acrylic lacquer. An original can of nitrocellulose was too deteriorated so had to use modern. All the constituent parts had separated and the solvents and binders smelled funny like stagnant turpentine. George Barris confirmed my suspicion that it was #º«@! $@#%^, rather than just the very close #¤¿« $@#%^. I tested a can of #¤¿« $@#%^ and it was too brown. The #º«@! $@#%^ was very rich with some purple like blue blood. When you buy the #º«@! $@#%^ it commonly comes mixed with<<<<<. You have to instruct the paint store to not put the <<<<< in it, just the ’41 Buick #$, hold the stock <<<<<. Then when you get it you add your own >>>>> powder. Trial and error determined the degree of >>>>> highlights just enough so it glowed in the sun like 24 carat, not copper, bronze, nor Roman. In those days, M & H mixed the Rinshed-Mason base and George added the >>>>>. I got a dealer of authentic vintage lacquers to mix my base and I added the >>>>> touch. Nick verified the result.
    I knew of Nick since I was a youngster from his outstanding custom cars. When I finally got to meet him later on he offered encouragement and advice, and a friendship developed that not only encompassed our mutual interests, also in seeing the world as it really is as well as how it really was. His reminiscences brought the days of the early hot rod and custom era to life, and perhaps more importantly what it was like to be young when it was good to be young in Los Angeles, USA.”
    Nick was a paisan whose family matriculated from a neighboring village in Palermo, Sicily. His mother knew all the families and their folklores. So he knew by your family name what calibre of people you were. When I told him my family name from Detroit, he said, They are good guys but formidable guys, don't mess with one. Nick was very steadfast and straight forward. He was Proud to Serve both his family and his country in their times of need. Godspeed, my good fellow, on uplifted wings. He was a hot number in a hot custom -That Illustrious Sanguine 40 Merc!

    ALL of the photographs included in this article are © COPYRIGHTED EXCLUSIVELY by the respective property owners.
    NO PERMISSION is given for anyone to reproduce or utilize these photographic images for ANY PURPOSE.
    ALL of the words of this article are ™ TRADEMARKED & © COPYRIGHTED EXCLUSIVELY by Michelle M. Yiatras.
    NO PERMISSION is given for anyone to reproduce or utilize this article for ANY PURPOSE.
    Thank You for respecting these properties!

    Pic Cap’s:
    Part 1
    All personal photos, i.e. Nick, his family, his friends, his yearbook, in the Army, his office, his shop, horse races, ’57 Chevy Nomad, 37 Chevrolet Coupe, autographed photos, etc; from Nick’s collection were gifted to David & I, and remain our copyright possession.
    “Nick, Connie, & Josephine a”.
    “Nick, Connie, & Josephine b”.
    “Nick's Merc At His Girlfriend's House 1950”.
    “Nick Off to the Army 1951”.
    “Nick In the Army 1951”.
    “Nick In the Army Discharge”.
    “Merc Wreck Article”.
    “Nick Late 1950's”.
    “Nick's 57 Chevy Nomad Barris Paint a”.
    “Nick's Office 1966”.
    “Horse Races Family Shauna & Anthony”.
    “Nick & 37 Chevrolet Coupe a”.
    “Nick & 37 Chevrolet Coupe b”.
    “Nick & 37 Chevrolet Coupe d”.
    “Nick & 37 Chevrolet Coupe e”.

    Part 2
    “Nick & James Mahaffey-R. 1947”; L.-R. -?, Nick Matranga, James Mahaffey; from Nick’s personal collection, gifted to David & I.
    “James Mahaffey at Catalina Island 1947 & Fremont High Senior Grad 48”; Jim Mahaffey got killed making a pass and upset in his ’32 coupe at Russetta sanctioned El Mirage dry lakes in 1947 at 17 years old, erased but not to be forgotten on the speed record chalkboards; from Nick’s personal collection, including an insert from Nick’s 1948 Fremont High School senior yearbook, gifted to David & I.
    “Nick & Pals in 25 T Track Roadster 1947”; Rear L.
    “Nick High School Senior Football Letterman Fremont 48 Back Row 2nd fr L & Autoshop L & Senior”; composite from Nick’s 1948 Fremont High School senior yearbook, gifted to David & I.
    “Russell Lenarz High School Senior Fremont 48”; the elusive hot rod racing photog in composite from Nick’s 1948 Fremont High School senior yearbook, gifted to David & I; refer to ‘Jesse Lopez – Lo! & Behold Part 1 & 5’; Russell Lenarz took the ‘Jesse & 41 Ford 1949 Turf Club’ photo, and so many others.
    “Clark Gable & his 1949 Jaguar XK120 Roadster 'Gable Grey'”.
    “Bonneville 1955 a”; L.-R. -Nick Arias Jr, Bill Likes, Danny O’Brien, Don Rackemann, Jo Rackemann, Rich Rackemann, Nick Matranga, Lou Baney, Ted Evosavich; famous shot by Hot Rod from Nick’s personal collection.
    “Bonneville 1955 b”.
    “Bonneville 1955 c at CA Show”.
    “Drag Races 1956”; LF. –Bill Likes getting it fired up, LB. –Fran Hernandez legendary hot rod racer and mechanic bending over engine compartment, C. –Don Rackemann driver putting on helmet, RF. –Lou Baney, RB. -Ted Evosavich; from Nick’s personal collection, gifted to David & I.
    “Nick & Yeakel Crew Autographed Aug 2001 Rod & Custom”; as personally autographed from Nick & the guys to Dennis Loehr, gifted to David & I.
    “Nick & Rich & Don Rackemann”; L.-R. –Rich Rackemann, Don Rackemann, Nick Matranga; as taken by Dennis Loehr in Nick’s office at Advanced Transmission.
    “To Nick From George Barris a”.
    “To Nick From George Barris b”.

    Part 3
    “Matranga 32 1984”; formal by Street Rodder from Nick’s personal collection gifted to Karpo Murkijanian.
    “Matranga Merc by Marcia Campbell early 1951 a”;
    “Matranga Merc by Marcia Campbell early 1951 b”;
    “Matranga Merc by Marcia Campbell early 1951 c”;
    “Matranga Merc by Marcia Campbell early 1951 d”; these were gifted to David & I by Jesse Lopez from his personal collection of never before seen originals of Nick’s car taken by Marcia, bearing her stamp.
    “Lopez-Lares 41 Ford & Matranga '40 Merc Car Show Circa 1952 a photo courtesy Lares-Trace Edwards”;
    “Lopez-Lares 41 Ford & Matranga '40 Merc Car Show Circa 1952 b photo courtesy Lares-Trace Edwards”;
    “Matranga 40 Merc Car Show Circa 1952 photo c courtesy Danny Lares-Trace Edwards”;
    “Lopez-Lares 41 Ford Car Show Circa 1952 photo d courtesy Danny Lares-Trace Edwards;
    these were allowed by Trace Edwards & Danny Lares’ nephew, George Lares, from Danny’s scrapbook of never before seen spectres of Jesse’s and Nick’s cars.
    “Marcia Campbell 1951 Oakland or L.A. Roadster Show Walter Wyss Collection”; this exclusive color slide was discovered by Rik Hoving, demonstrating that Marcia was the only female member of Kustom’s Los Angeles, and she proudly displayed the club badge on her ’29 Model A roadster pickup.
    “Johnny Zaro ’41 Ford 1951 Oakland or L.A. Roadster Show Walter Wyss Collection”; this exclusive color slide was discovered by Rik Hoving, possibly John Manok (who worked for George with his brother Ralph at the Lynwood shop) polishing the hood, George Barris polishing the bumper guard, Jack Stewart leaning on the driver’s front fender, possibly Gene Simmons (who hung around the shop as George’s Hollywood buddy and first brought over Jesse’s gal, Flo, on his motorcycle) on the far left. Zaro’s car when it was Barris Maroon, had more metal work on it than any other car in the shop, the darker and iridescent colors showing the imperfections.
    “Nick's Original Kustom's L.A. Plaque a”; this was Nick’s original that was emblazoned on the ’40 Merc, also ran on the ’53 Mercury Monterey, gifted to David.
    “Nick Signs for David”.
    “To David Nick Matranga”.
    “Nick & Custom US Postage Stamps”; made for Nick by David as a surprise gift.
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2014
    Rocket1953 and kidcampbell71 like this.

  5. Thanks Michelle, you always have interesting stories! Very koool!
  6. pwschuh
    Joined: Oct 27, 2008
    Posts: 2,555


    Welome back Michelle.
  7. Torkwrench
    Joined: Jan 28, 2005
    Posts: 2,568


    Thanks for posting. The Matranga Merc is one of my favorites.
  8. rbantique
    Joined: Jun 12, 2008
    Posts: 6,428

    from maine

    Nothin' like a 40 Merc !!! Great article !!
  9. s55mercury66
    Joined: Jul 6, 2009
    Posts: 3,980

    from SW Wyoming

    Probably my favorite custom car ever. Thanks Michelle. Are you related to Tom Yiatras by any chance?
  10. Michelley
    Joined: May 6, 2011
    Posts: 104


    My Papa!
    Last edited: May 16, 2014
    Rocket1953 and kidcampbell71 like this.
  11. Pewsplace
    Joined: Feb 10, 2007
    Posts: 2,800


    Thanks for the great stories about the car and Nick.l knew Nick in the 80's and had his 3 window for a time when it was owned by Boyd. He was always very interested in the condition of the coupe and told me to keep it up...which I did. The car was owned by Walt Baynes for period of time.
    kidcampbell71 likes this.
  12. s55mercury66
    Joined: Jul 6, 2009
    Posts: 3,980

    from SW Wyoming

    Cool! I haven't seen him for a couple years, I live outside Kemmerer. If you see him, tell him Don from Opal said hello.
  13. 296ardun
    Joined: Feb 11, 2009
    Posts: 4,546


    If you read nothing else tonight, or for the rest of the year, for that matter, read this! The people mentioned in these stories are the foundation of who we are; Nick Matranga, Jesse Lopez, George & Sam Barris, Lou Baney, etc., etc. Michelley's interviews and stories tell us a great deal about these pioneers as hot rodders, customizers, and people...and the builders/owners of some of the greatest customs and hot rods in history. Michelley, THANKS for taking the time to do the interviews and tell their stories!
  14. Michelle, thanks for this Great Read on Nick Matranga and the '40 merc!
    As always, another great read from you.
    thanks again,
  15. Royalshifter
    Joined: May 29, 2005
    Posts: 15,517

    from California

    Outstanding read.
  16. Chaz
    Joined: Feb 24, 2004
    Posts: 5,016

    Member Emeritus

    Amazing work... So well done. Thank you for preserving our history.!!!!
  17. hotrd32
    Joined: May 16, 2007
    Posts: 3,539

    from WA

    Amazing stuff Michelley! Love reading real history and first hand accounts....thank you so much for spending all your time and energy so we can read info like this.. Jack
  18. elgringo71
    Joined: Oct 2, 2010
    Posts: 3,422


    Thank you so much for capturing this history before it slipped away. This is an amazing read and opened a window back in time.
  19. not that one guy
    Joined: Mar 28, 2011
    Posts: 291

    not that one guy
    from So NV

  20. Royalshifter
    Joined: May 29, 2005
    Posts: 15,517

    from California

    This thread is a perfect example what this Traditional Custom Forum is about.
  21. Thank you x2 Michelley.
  22. 63Compact
    Joined: Feb 14, 2007
    Posts: 1,178


    Thanks for putting this up. I was lucky enough to see the recreation in progress in 2008, and cant thank you, and David, enough for letting strangers from another country in to share your passion.
  23. As always, "Good Stuff."
  24. robber
    Joined: Nov 25, 2011
    Posts: 1,942


    Very cool, Michelley! Very colorful information; very colorful people...legends! Awesome Merc!
  25. Another terrific article Michelle! I can't get enough of this historical stuff - these fellows (and gals) are the foundation of all that we enjoy today in this hobby. I just love it!

    Thank you,
  26. olscrounger
    Joined: Feb 23, 2008
    Posts: 4,511


    Great writeup--lots of interesting info. Thank you for the exacting history!!!
  27. OLLIN
    Joined: Aug 25, 2006
    Posts: 3,076


    Yeah thanks a ton for doing these. These are the true legends of the hobby and now their stories will live on.

    Posted using the Full Custom H.A.M.B. App!
  28. Very good article, Michelle. Thanks for all you do for the hobby.
  29. jcmarz
    Joined: Jan 10, 2010
    Posts: 4,633

    from Chino, Ca

    Wonderful read Michelle. I've always liked Nick's 40 Merc. My parents had Mercurys (49 to 61 models) throughout the 50s and up to the early 60s and one of my favorite photos of my Dad is of him standing next to his blue 49.
    Thank you for sharing a piece of history with us H.A.M.Bers.
  30. 50Fraud
    Joined: May 6, 2001
    Posts: 9,999


    A fine effort, Michelle, and a history worth preserving. Thanks for posting this!

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