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Customs The explanation of a Traditional Custom

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by Roothawg, May 8, 2019.

  1. Roothawg
    Joined: Mar 14, 2001
    Posts: 18,631


    This weekend the wife and I were walking around the Stray Kat 500 looking at all the great cars and the wife posed a question that sort of stumped me. She has been around pre-48 hot rods for 30+ years so she gets them, but customs are new to both of us.

    She asked what the rules were for a Traditional Custom? She asked "Do things have to be changed so drastically that it doesn't resemble a stock car?" Or can you just add bolt on stuff?

    Her view for someone that has never been around a custom is pretty dang good. She said " My take is it should be elegant, look like the mods were intended to be on there. Not an afterthought. I don't like things that look like they are hanging on like a tick."

    I think that is pretty spot on. I told her there are no rules , to speak of, but some things should be avoided. For instance adding a pool table to the back of a Corvette. To each his own, but my tastes run along the more conservative vein, but I appreciate the effort it takes to complete such a task.

    I ask guys like Jeff Meyers, Jimmy Spears and Sancho a lot of dumb questions, but I think that if we want customs to continue, the knowledge needs to be handed down.

    We are still chugging along on her 55, but it's probably a good thing that I am slow. It gives us time to develop our own style in the process.
  2. I've always interpreted it as improving on the factory design, de-cluttering, and subtle 'what if..' touches.
    There was a very small window of time in my opinion that customs were great and captured the spirit of the above before it was decided to win points for modifications at shows, when we started seeing the wild and wacky that ultimately cut its own jugular.
    There are a lot of very cool and incredibly crafted customs being built still in that spirit, but I think they're just tasteful re-churnings of 1940-1959. Think of it like Christmas want to hear the Burl Ives and the Bing Crosby tunes...very few improved upon these.
    lurker mick and Roothawg like this.
  3. squirrel
    Joined: Sep 23, 2004
    Posts: 42,903


    She figured out the secret.

    Thanks for sharing it with the world.

    Pist-n-Broke, Special Ed and Roothawg like this.
  4. Roothawg
    Joined: Mar 14, 2001
    Posts: 18,631


    This one is probably my all time favorites. Oddly enough, it was a Gary Howard build.
    Not a lot of "crap" hanging off of it. Just clean and subtle.
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    Joined: Sep 5, 2007
    Posts: 1,360


    Yeah, I think Mrs. Roothawg got it too. A J.C Whitney trimout would fall short.
    Chavezk21, Deuces and Roothawg like this.
  6. catdad49
    Joined: Sep 25, 2005
    Posts: 3,381


    I Love the Less is More approach! I think Mrs. Root gets it, you'll do good if you ask her advice. After all, it is her car........right?! Happy building.
  7. Jimmy Vaughn's '54 Ford is a knockout in my eyes. HRP

    jimmy vaughn.jpg
    Last edited: May 8, 2019
    Joined: May 5, 2015
    Posts: 552


    When I think custom I vision streamline where form equals function. To many of the old show cars were all form and very little function. I think that there should be a difference between custom and show cars.
    Deuces, Special Ed and Roothawg like this.
  9. Roothawg
    Joined: Mar 14, 2001
    Posts: 18,631


    Agreed. You are spot on.
    Deuces likes this.
  10. Jay71
    Joined: Sep 15, 2007
    Posts: 789


    Wow your wife is very perceptive! By any chance does Mrs. Roothawg have a sister?
    SquintBoy, mgtstumpy, Deuces and 2 others like this.
  11. Taboo56Chevy
    Joined: May 21, 2018
    Posts: 429


    I would say that line of thought is solid base for a "traditional custom". I think the blurry part is where "traditional" and "period correct" mix, like the early to mid 60's era of customs when things really got crazy. When the fads to have canted quad headlights and crazy fades and panel paint jobs on top of the crazy interiors, while not in line with the more elegant line of thinking of early post war and early 50's customs, would those be considered "traditional" as they are reflecting that period of customizing? It has been a topic of conversation between my grandfather and I when we are showing Taboo on how you would label it.
    SquintBoy, Deuces, LAROKE and 2 others like this.
  12. Roothawg
    Joined: Mar 14, 2001
    Posts: 18,631


    Yeah, but you don't want me.
    mgtstumpy, Deuces, Jay71 and 2 others like this.
  13. Roothawg
    Joined: Mar 14, 2001
    Posts: 18,631


    I believe this may be a hamber's car.
    bab249493691be9ad63c649bbd66c502--kustom-hotrods.jpg like the trim.jpg
  14. I have a soft spot for simple built customs, not over the top just accentuating the pluses of the car and knocking of things that distract. HRP
  15. papa's 39 koop
    Joined: Apr 20, 2011
    Posts: 161

    papa's 39 koop

    That 56 ford is sweet .Just a few changes but you can still tell its a 56.
    Roothawg likes this.
  16. Rusty O'Toole
    Joined: Sep 17, 2006
    Posts: 8,972

    Rusty O'Toole

    A 'custom' is modified for better looks. A hot rod for better performance.

    One of the best explanations came from Tom McCahill in 1950. He said a lot of guys were telling Detroit, "I'll buy one of your dowdy apple crates but I'll make a real automobile out of it".

    There were fast cars, performance cars, and unusual beautiful cars built in the US up until the 1930s then the depression killed off the small makers of exotic cars like Duesenberg, Auburn, Marmon, Stutz. From then on low cost, reliable transportation was the big seller. Then came WW2 and ended new car production for 3 years. When production resumed, car makers dusted off their old tooling, some of it 5 years old and focused on putting out as many new cars as possible.

    A few guys fought against this flood of mediocrity through the forties and early fifties. By the mid fifties you could buy hot performing cars, and low beautiful cars and customs faded away.

    So, if a custom is modified for looks, where do you draw the line? Can you do it with bolt on accessories? Mild customs were defined as ones with no major body modifications. By the late fifties you could buy low sleek well styled cars and there was not much point in making major modifications, this is when panel painting, scallops, and metalflake made their appearance, a lot of customs were basically stock cars, lowered a bit, with custom paint jobs. It's an interesting point, I have a hard time imagining a mild custom that has not been at least nosed and decked which involves filling trim holes and blowing in the paint on the hood and deck lid. Other than that, I can imagine a mild custom that has nothing but bolt on modifications.
    brad2v, LAROKE and Roothawg like this.
  17. Rusty O'Toole
    Joined: Sep 17, 2006
    Posts: 8,972

    Rusty O'Toole

    Floyd Debore's 1958 Pontiac, paint by Larry Watson. I don't have any problem calling this a custom. But what has been done to it other than paint, lowering, and bolt on accessories?

    catdad49 and Roothawg like this.
  18. Roger O'Dell
    Joined: Jan 21, 2008
    Posts: 1,026

    Roger O'Dell

    Nosed and decked.
    Special Ed and Roothawg like this.
  19. flamedabone
    Joined: Aug 3, 2001
    Posts: 4,430


    I am a minimalist my nature and my cars reflect that. I didn't follow any hard and fast rules on my Merc, but I like to think it is pretty traditional.


    Some folks say it needs some kind of side trim, but it ain't getting any.


  20. Spot on!
    Chavezk21 likes this.
  21. andydodge
    Joined: Sep 28, 2008
    Posts: 867


    I've always thought that if its essentially a stock body then custom paint is fine but with any body modifications , ie, rolled pans, chopped, etc then it should have single colour paint job that accentuates the mods and allows people to see the mods and intrigue them and leave them wondering what has been done yet able to appreciate the work..........Flamedabone.........I hate the T your Merc is a perfect example of what I mean............the paint is just what it needs to allow the bodywork to shine as well...beautiful & elegant car..........andyd
    SquintBoy likes this.
  22. Defining "Traditional" is like nailing down Jello. Period correct is a superior term. Regional differences can't be ignored, either.
    egads, Special Ed and Roothawg like this.
  23. Roothawg
    Joined: Mar 14, 2001
    Posts: 18,631


    That car makes my peeper feel funny....
    Chavezk21 likes this.
  24. 0NE BAD 51 MERC
    Joined: Nov 12, 2010
    Posts: 937

    0NE BAD 51 MERC

    Because I have spent the last 50 years developing skills as custom painter and a metal fabricater. The more mods the better and even though a car may not resemble the car it started as, it should still look like something the factory built. Cars like the Ernst Chevy, the Jade Idol , and the El Matador come to mind. With out really giving them any thought they just look right. Wilhelms Mark Mist was on the same vein as the El Matador , but in comparison it looked boxy and out of proportion . It is hard to explain but when you see it you just know when it is right. But a stock body with just the right trim removal . smooth paint and the right stance and wheel combo is killer too. Larry
    Last edited: May 8, 2019
    COCONUTS and Roothawg like this.
  25. Rickybop
    Joined: May 23, 2008
    Posts: 5,589

    from Michigan

    "...that look like they are hanging on like a tick."
    Lol...I laughed pretty hard at
    So true.

    A couple of my thoughts about customs...

    "Streamlined". a rain-drop!. Big and fat and rounded at the front and tapered at the back. The traditional nose-up ass-down stance helps in that regard.

    "Less is more." Yes.
    "Simple." Yes.
    "Understated." Yes.
    "No ticks." (lol) Yes!
    I like the early customizer's attitude that the removal of most of the chrome trim was to "allow the lines of the body speak for themselves". Of course, a body that's been beautifully re-shaped. Abone, your Merc is a great example. Gives it a "one-piece" kind of look. Schmoooth, baby!

    A custom needs a few unique touches here and there. But there needs to be a balance.
    Roothawg and Chavezk21 like this.
  26. BamaMav
    Joined: Jun 19, 2011
    Posts: 3,124

    from Berry, AL

    A custom needs to “ flow” from front to back. You want smooth lines, rounded edges and corners. No points sticking out like tits on a hog, but rounded, maybe bullet shaped items. Some 50’s cars are excepted like the fins on 59 Chevies, they need to be pointed. And the paint needs to be slick and any striping should accent body lines. Some folks go overboard chopping tops and ruin that flow. I like the raindrop example, fat in front to a tapered tail. And I like them level as well as raked, depends on the car. Any add ons need to match body contours and not draw attention on first glance, lake pipes, drenched lights, etc. Like somebody said, it should look like the factory did it, or should have. Lots of the old line drawings were exaggerated in length and width and height, they are good to look at for ideas.
    Roothawg likes this.
  27. atomickustom
    Joined: Aug 30, 2005
    Posts: 3,177


    That car doesn't need ANYTHING! Beautiful kustom.
  28. jnaki
    Joined: Jan 1, 2015
    Posts: 3,447



    Frenched headlights, taillights, license plate on the trunk, lowered, and sometimes shaved door handles. That was pretty much the custom touches for the times. But, it seemed like most customs on the street had some or all of those modifications. Of course, the radical ones had chopped tops and maybe they were sectioned somewhat.

    For the street, having a chop was part of the radical look and not too many people had those cars, at least in our neck of the woods, in Bixby Knolls. They were mostly in car shows and not daily, on the street. The upholstery was usually white tuck and roll, locally or from TJ.

    What about the paint colors? The standard was usually black, primered or painted a high gloss. The candy colors were also popular, as that won more awards in shows. My brother’s older friends had hot rods, cruisers, and mild custom sedans. They were the typical high school teens that customized their cars, with what little money their after school jobs allowed were the norm.

    Their cars had some mild touches: a black 34 Ford 5 window, rake, rims, Olds powered, a 37 Chevy sedan, a green and white 56 Bel Air white upholstery and a modified motor, and the 51 Olds. Most high school kids had to have a car to go to work after school, so the time it took to do all of the radical custom touches, put too much of a strain on the availability of the daily driver.

    Two years later, in our own high school group, only three cars got the full white tuck/roll upholstery, a new paint job, and new chrome rims. (56 Chevy two door, a 53 Chevy hardtop, and a 46 Ford coupe.) The other cars were mostly drag racing oriented cars. They were relatively stock except for some engine/trans modifications. Some of those drag racing oriented cars, maybe had a chrome wheel or two, custom knobs, lowered or California Rake, etc.

    For a youngster, my favorite was and always will be the 1956 Ford Truck that in my mind, a custom truck ready for any car show of magazine feature, but was driven every day. the Ford Truck was lowered, had Tahitian Red paint, white tuck and roll upholstery, chromed reversed wheels, side pipes, and a slightly chopped top at an angle, just to be different. The front edge was taller than the rear top edge. It was a strange chop, but one that was easily remembered. It was for us, a full custom that was driven daily in our Westside neighborhood. One day, I even got a ride in the truck, as the owner knew my parents.


    The main custom mod included Lead, not fiberglass or a Bondo like substance. Even minor fender repair dings were fixed with Lead. Old world craftsmanship was taken for granted back then, as every body shop had a “Lead” man. Not a “lead by doing”, but LEAD like poison body filler.
    But, again, the majority had minor custom touches that were considered traditional, during these teenage years, for the daily drivers…from Moon Discs to chrome reversed wheels to Buick Skylark wire wheels.

    Ron Funkhouser likes this.
  29. Ned Ludd
    Joined: May 15, 2009
    Posts: 3,844

    Ned Ludd

    If, as I maintain, the custom movement originated both out of and in response to the tradition of coachbuilding, the essence of a custom build cannot be emphasis on modifiedness. The essence is not contrast with the stock condition. The idea is to body a car as the OEM, or preferably a coachbuilder, might have. The idea is to build something as a better alternative to stock – which is why my untrained teenage eye struggled with traditional customs when I first met them in the '70s (they had hubcaps! Modified cars aren't supposed to have hubcaps!)
    Roothawg likes this.

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