Register now to get rid of these ads!

History What were the original kustom owners like? Anyone know?

Discussion in 'Traditional Customs' started by atomickustom, Jun 2, 2018.

  1. atomickustom
    Joined: Aug 30, 2005
    Posts: 3,315

    atomickustom
    Member

    I have read it. But of course it focuses on the builders not the customers. Interesting read, though. It's been a couple years, but doesn't Wolfe slag on everybody except Roth as "strivers" or something?
     
  2. Rusty O'Toole
    Joined: Sep 17, 2006
    Posts: 9,298

    Rusty O'Toole
    Member

    He seems to think they are real artists in a field that has gone unnoticed by the mainstream art world. He also sees they are getting recognition now and their work is being co opted by big companies like Ford. He feels it is very likely they will sell out, except for Roth who will sell out last if at all. He was right about that.
     
  3. In 1960 I was an 6th grader who had to walk up the hill from our school in northern Oregon to the high school to catch the bus. It was a blessing for me, a super car guy even at 14. About mid year, a bright red dropped 58 Bel Air hardtop with chrome wheels showed up at the high school . It was the first car in town with chrome reversed wheels. It had whitewalls, chrome bar grill and white painted inner fenders. Even had a shrunken head and white tuck & roll interior. I asked around to find this kid was a senior and he'd been working a paper route and odd jobs in the local orchards since he was 14-15. He'd saved his $$$ all that time to be able to buy that 58. Some shop in Portland had done the mild custom work to it. The owner was just a plain working stiff.
    Conversely, another classmate of mine had a gorgeous 57 chevy bel air sedan with fuel injection emblems on the fenders, Tahitian Bronze paint, black tuck and roll, Rochester injection, a 4 speed and chrome chrome wheels in 1965. His dad owned the local men's clothing store and had a lotta money. The kid worked for his dad and again, a Portland shop did all the work.
     
    rodncustomdreams likes this.
  4. Gahrajmahal
    Joined: Oct 14, 2008
    Posts: 409

    Gahrajmahal
    Member

    Atomikcustom, I can't vouch for "the original" customs owners backgrounds but as a kid growing up in the 60's modified cars were everywhere. If you were lucky your dad or older brother had a car with mag wheels, loud exhaust and tuck and roll interior ( like American grafiti) my exposure to true custom cars came once a year at the Cavalcade of Customs car show at the convention center. Here we saw completed cars and motorcycles with metallic paint or candy paint. These cars were also around the city and could be found a few years old being used as transportation. Our exposure came from the news stand in the form of magazines or television. A fun series to watch having the first car as a character is Burke's Law. A police commissioner also a millionaire who worked out of a chauffeured 65 Rolls Royce. Look at all the other cars on the street. Truly radical customs came from the used car lots or were bought as wrecks and cobbled together from that and could be owned by the regular factory worker.
    Once I finished high school and started at a car dealer in their body shop we painted all maner of cars, motorcycles and boats, new and used with the metal flake, candy and everything showing up on consumer items, but this was already the late 70's by then. Still, loads of cars immediately went to the tire store upon purchase for different wheels, an interior change or wild paint color.
     
  5. Ned Ludd
    Joined: May 15, 2009
    Posts: 4,078

    Ned Ludd
    Member

    Another thing I've said before is that hot rodding – and by extension customizing – is an intrinsically subversive activity, though through its history it has generally been unconsciously so. Very few hot rodders have been out to bring down the government, but most have had some sense of taking back technological power which has been gradually taken away through dimly-comprehended processes.
     
    James D likes this.
  6. Rusty O'Toole
    Joined: Sep 17, 2006
    Posts: 9,298

    Rusty O'Toole
    Member

    Tom Wolfe talks about this. Especially about Roth who he considered a trickster, a showman, a surrealist and an intellectual. Roth talked about how he and his friends were told they had a rotten attitude when they were young. But they didn't think they were rotten, just different. Then at other times he would tell about some prank he pulled or something he did that shook up the squares and laugh about how rotten he was.

    Even Wolfe fell into the same trap, of thinking there was something wrong with Roth. You can reconstruct his thinking from the article. He started out expecting the custom car guys to be greasy hoods with cigarette packs rolled up in the sleeve of their T shirts. But was a bit surprised to find them thoughtful, articulate, and dedicated to their art. Roth he considered especially creative and intelligent. Then goes on to say that he could be doing something better with his life than working in a dirty garage but won't out of sheer stubbornness, or words to that effect.

    I imagine a conversation between Tom Wolfe and Roth that went something like this.

    Tom: You are a smart, creative guy
    Roth: Thank you
    T: You could be doing something better than this.
    R: What do you mean?
    T:You don't have to waste your time working on cars. You could do anything you want.
    R: I'm not wasting my time. I am doing what I want.
    T: Well young man you have a rotten attitude.
    R: Yeah, I've heard that before.

    I don't think this conversation ever took place but it is implicit in the article.

    To his credit Wolfe got it that these guys had their own subculture and dismissed the everyday square world. They had no idea of fighting it, they just couldn't be bothered dealing with all those boring old farts who didn't get it. It seems funny that Wolfe got that part of it but couldn't get over the feeling that they ought to try harder to join it. Then was disappointed when they did.
     
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2018
    atomickustom and James D like this.
  7. atomickustom
    Joined: Aug 30, 2005
    Posts: 3,315

    atomickustom
    Member

    I definitely see hot rodding a subversive. They were barely legal or not quite legal and built to break the law.
    The early kustoms, though, seem almost the opposite: take an ordinary car and turn it into something sleek and luxurious and expensive looking. I buy kustoms as culturally subversive once all the wild modifications and flashy paint came onto the scene, but the classic post-war kustoms until the mid-1950s seem subversive only in the sense that those who were not at the top of the economic food chain could have something that most people (even those above them in economic status) could only dream about. Which, now that I write it out in those words, IS a bit subversive, isn't it? Crashing the party, so to speak.
    Mind blown. [It was that tiny little "pop"]
     
    Special Ed and Ned Ludd like this.
  8. I think to something to think about as well regarding the shift in customs in the mid to late 50's is that a lot of the mild to full customs went from being cars made to look like a more expensive Caddy or Packard to just following the hot trends being set by the big three with their new cars and styling. So customs went from being built to look like a more expensive car to a making older cars (say pre 57) to look like the latest stuff on the showroom. I use our custom Miss Taboo as a example of that thinking. Ron bought the 56 as a used car, when he started customizing the car the latest trends were the quad headlights, which is something almost every custom built in the mid to late 50's to early 60's had to have done. Even when Miss Taboo was on the cover of Rod & Custom it was commented on how modern the car looked due to the use of pretty much new parts since it had 57/58 Chrysler headlights and the 59 impala bumpers. Then by the mid 60's it just got crazy since now the stock stuff was almost custom looking from the factory.
     
    atomickustom likes this.
  9. some guys just like cars.
     
    blowby and Special Ed like this.
  10. atomickustom
    Joined: Aug 30, 2005
    Posts: 3,315

    atomickustom
    Member

    I just found the answers to most of my questions right here on the HAMB! Confirms much of what has been said in this thread, coming straight from the horses' mouths:
    https://www.jalopyjournal.com/forum/threads/satans-angels-the-early-years.591260/

    These are actually the specific guys who got me wondering about this in the first place. The photo of them all lined up with their cars that shows up in at least one or two custom car books and on the internet made me think "I wonder what those guys were like?" Being a bit slow on the uptake myself, it never even occurred to me that any of them were ever actually ON the HAMB.
     
    rodncustomdreams likes this.
  11. Ned Ludd
    Joined: May 15, 2009
    Posts: 4,078

    Ned Ludd
    Member

    Yes – the rule broken was the one which said that you may do whatever you like, so long as you do it with your wallet. The only permitted creativity is that of choosing product A rather than product B.

    The "traditional" era was the era in which the construction of the Pure Consumer began. It was not completed – arguably in many fields it actually was completed – until long after.
     
  12. atomickustom
    Joined: Aug 30, 2005
    Posts: 3,315

    atomickustom
    Member

    Nowadays they call it hacking (as in "hacking this $12 item to serve the same purpose as that $1,200 item") but it is the same idea. Point well made.
    Stickin' it to The Man one homebuilt, handmade, or modified consumer product at a time!
     
  13. One had to grow up in the '50's to appreciate the era. The best time to grow up in the U.S.A.
    Yes, there were a few west coast guys who went to Barris and the like, but we were in Cleveland, Ohio, a hell of a long way from Barris and those glory guys out there.
    What made us unique, in the '50's, was the fact that WE worked on our own cars, we came up with our own ideas, we worked for cash after school and on weekends to support our cars ..... we strived to be different with the cars we built.
    We transplanted Cadillac and Olds powerplants into our Chevys and Fords, backed with Cad / LaSalle trannys or 4 speed hydramatics, because stick 4 speeds were not yet manufactured .... and the 265 Chevy V8 had not yet come out when we were cutting firewalls, making our own motor mounts and hedders to fit the Cads and Olds mills under the hood..
    HONEST CHARLIE'S SPEEDSHOP sold the parts we needed, like bell housing engine adapters, etc. ....... few local speed shops back then in Cleveland.
    We chopped our own tops, we lowered our cars, which stayed low ...... we shaved the door handles and trunk lock, we added our own solenoids to activate the doors and decklids ..... no " popper " kits to buy, no hydraulics or air ride to buy, no Gambino channeled frame work to buy ...... we did it all from scratch .... and were damn proud to do so.
    No patina back then ..... the body work was done, then it quickly went into primer ...... then the color, as soon as we saved up enough cash from our part time jobs.
    Some of us had AUTOMOTIVE CLASSES in high school, the teacher would allow us to bring our car to the class for whatever project we had going on at the time, so we all learned from one another.
    At .29 per gallon for SUNOCO 260, we cruised every Friday night with the guys, street racing, grabbing burgers at the local drive in restaurant .... had a blast.
    Saturday night was date night, taking out your favorite girl, going to a sock hop, maybe a drive in movie, then a burger, then going to the submarine races, if you were lucky enough.
    Monday was the day at school we looked forward to, for we wanted to see who did what to their car over the weekend. Since we all drove our cars to school, we were able to check one another out ..... a very kool time.
    Our cars were a reflection of our own ingenuity, we never tried to "copy" the other guy ..... that was not the kool thing to do, never.
    We helped one another, we had our car clubs with the plaque hanging from the rear bumper, we were loyal to one another ....... what else could be better ?
    Absolutely nothing !
     
    INVISIBLEKID, waldo53 and williebill like this.
  14. Rusty O'Toole
    Joined: Sep 17, 2006
    Posts: 9,298

    Rusty O'Toole
    Member

    Another point you may have overlooked. These were overwhelmingly working class kids. They typically left school at 16 and got a job in a factory or in a trade. Such jobs pay relatively well for beginners. So we are talking about guys in their late teens and early twenties who live at home and pay little or no rent, and have money to spend on their cars, clothes, dates etc.

    Some time in their early twenties they most likely get married and that is the end of the custom car. It gets sold to finance the furniture for their first apartment or rented house or to pay for the new baby. Then they join the army of over the hill squares.

    So they had this brief window of 5 or 10 years of freedom with money to spend, in between the jail sentence of school and the responsibilities of family life.

    They are not of the class that stays in school until nearly 30 and then gets a job at Starbucks for minimum wage.

    I thought I should mention this because the world has changed so much. Kids don't finish school at 16 if they have any choice, and if they do there is no good paying union job waiting for them.
     
    fol and williebill like this.
  15. atomickustom
    Joined: Aug 30, 2005
    Posts: 3,315

    atomickustom
    Member

    That was actually one of the things I was wondering about - if they were working-class kids or middle-class and above. I think the variety of primary and secondary sources agree that most were working-class.
    I had forgotten all about entering a truly good paying full time job straight out of high school because by the time I was a teenager in the early 1980s the entire manufacturing sector was leaving northeast Ohio as fast as they could. There were NO good paying full time jobs to be had, especially for teenagers. Instead we had guys in their 40s and 50s lining up for the few remaining $6.50 per hour jobs. My friends and I all worked for minimum wage or not at all.
     
  16. Here in So Cal San Fernando valley there was Johnny Haggan who had a shop in Glendale, Kurtis in Glendale and Valley Custom with their shop in Burbank. Only grownups used shops because they were too expensive for kids. Most people did their own work at home or at a friends house. My friend Mike's dad had a welding shop on Lankershim Blvd. at Strathern. They made fences stairs, gates and had everything a kid needed. Welders, benders, brakes and a Paint area so we could fill and primer spot the hood and trunk, cut and heat springs and for the most part you were done. Remember too nobody kept their cars for very long, a year or two was a long time to keep a car. hot rods were mostly 30's and 40's cars and trucks that got a new bigger engine and were old rods or clean newer cars that got engines and pipes, maybe cutouts. The best cars were little old lady 30 to 48 Fords with original paint shiner up primer spotted and a "Big Mill" first hot flatheads and mid 50's Olds and Nailhead Buicks and those usually just got a 2 or 3 pot intake from Valley Accessory and down the road. Barris we never saw or heard of except thru shows and magazines.
     
    waldo53 likes this.
  17. Roger O'Dell
    Joined: Jan 21, 2008
    Posts: 1,140

    Roger O'Dell
    Member

    Atomiccustom, I think your off on the wages,especially, for the 50’s before the army I got $1, in the army 1965 it $78 a month, after college I started with TWA 1969 $3.83 aircraft mechanic with A&P license. $6.50 I would have loved.
     
  18. manyolcars
    Joined: Mar 30, 2001
    Posts: 8,373

    manyolcars

    Hey! Stop being so subversive. haha :)
     
    atomickustom likes this.
  19. atomickustom
    Joined: Aug 30, 2005
    Posts: 3,315

    atomickustom
    Member

    I meant $6.50 an hour in 1983! When I was in high school. Sorry if I was unclear.
     
  20. Rusty O'Toole
    Joined: Sep 17, 2006
    Posts: 9,298

    Rusty O'Toole
    Member

    I don't think the custom car guys were subversive at all. I think they wanted their own version of the American dream which at that age, meant a good job with a steady pay check, a cool car, cool clothes, and a girl friend to take dancing, to the movies, to the beach etc.

    In other words more American Graffiti and less Hot Rods To Hell.

    For some reason the adult square world saw them as hoodlums and trouble makers. This you can put down to the small minority who were in the habit of squealing their tires in school zones and generally driving like fools.

    Not to say that teenage hormones didn't get the upper hand at times but I don't think they were ever as bad as the newspapers and movies painted them.
     
  21. Rusty O'Toole
    Joined: Sep 17, 2006
    Posts: 9,298

    Rusty O'Toole
    Member

    Does anyone remember the term "juvenile delinquent"?
     
  22. atomickustom
    Joined: Aug 30, 2005
    Posts: 3,315

    atomickustom
    Member

    I believe a couple school administrators may have thrown that term around in my presence once or twice...
     
  23. I think that Bobj1951chevy said it Best I cruised my car in that era & had a Blast
    I worked Part time for a Body Shop I would Drive the Tow Truck
    That's how I got my 50 Merc.
    Went on a Call one Day in the Rain & this 50 Merc slid on the
    Cobble Stones & coming off a Bridge & Slid into a Ell Pillar Which
    every knows they Do Not Move!
    That was the Year for me 1951, I bought the Car at the Sean
    of the Accident & took it Back to the Shop
    the Car in my Avatar
    I used go to the Hot Spots & Cruising
    I did every Thing to My Car my self except Paint
    its Nosed & all the Chrome is off the

    Just my 3.5 cents

    Live Learn & Die a Fool
     
    bobg1951chevy likes this.
  24. Rusty O'Toole
    Joined: Sep 17, 2006
    Posts: 9,298

    Rusty O'Toole
    Member

    One other point that is obvious once you see it. If you don't have your own place, then your social life will revolve around your car and the places it can take you.
     
    atomickustom likes this.
  25. Kommuter
    Joined: Feb 9, 2002
    Posts: 147

    Kommuter
    Member

  26. 51 mercules
    Joined: Nov 29, 2008
    Posts: 3,056

    51 mercules
    Member

    My 51 Mild Custom Merc was owned by Phil Sauer. He was High School Student and Surfer in Huntington Beach. His mom helped finance his car which he called Ol Shasta. The body work was done over a 2 year period by Dean Jeffries , Dash was striped by Von Dutch and interior by a GM Designer. Car was finished Christmas of 1956. [​IMG][​IMG]
     
    Surfcityrocker and atomickustom like this.
  27. atomickustom
    Joined: Aug 30, 2005
    Posts: 3,315

    atomickustom
    Member

    That IS informative!
    Anyone know enough about social life in SoCal back then who can shed light on the fact that so many of these guys were what would have been called "ethnic"? It seems like the representation of Hispanic, Asian, and Italian/Greek first- or second-generation is very high?
    I spoke once to an African-American man in Chattanooga TN who talked about the difficulties of buying a car from any dealer in the 1950s. Would California dealers have cared about the ethnicity of potential buyers, or was there some other reason why these guys chose to customize nearly-new cars rather than just buy more expensive cars? (In other words, why customize a Chevy or Mercury rather than buy a Lincoln or Cadillac?)
    Obviously Larry Ernst could have afforded to buy "higher", and being a priest and in Northeast Ohio clearly he wasn't part of the kustom gang Lopez talks about.
     
  28. Rusty O'Toole
    Joined: Sep 17, 2006
    Posts: 9,298

    Rusty O'Toole
    Member

    I didn't know African Americans had difficulty buying a new car, except luxury brands. I thought their money was welcome in Ford and Chev dealerships, not so much in Cadillac, Lincoln and Packard showrooms.

    Alfred Sloan talks of this in My Years With General Motors. In the 30s depression they seriously considered dropping the Cadillac due to lack of sales. One executive suggested they go after black customers who were not being served by any luxury make. They did this, in a low key way, and Cadillac became the preferred car for well off black people.

    A Packard dealer said something funny when Packard introduced their lower priced, mass produced 120 and 110 models in the mid 30s. He said "we've got the Episcopalians, now we are going after the Methodists".

    Other than that, never heard of a car dealer not wanting to sell cars to certain ethnic groups. In California he would have starved to death while crying his eyes out.
     
  29. Rusty O'Toole
    Joined: Sep 17, 2006
    Posts: 9,298

    Rusty O'Toole
    Member

    I've gotten the cold shoulder in car dealerships and I am white as they come. It was because the way I was dressed and talked, they didn't think I had any money.

    In the fifties a young guy in work clothes would have been welcomed with open arms. If he had a good job he would have been the perfect customer to sign up for years of "easy payments"
     
  30. Rusty O'Toole
    Joined: Sep 17, 2006
    Posts: 9,298

    Rusty O'Toole
    Member

    No doubt some did buy Lincolns and Cadillacs. George Barris had a couple of used Caddies before buying a new Lincoln in 1953. Larry Watson had the first 58 Tbird sold by the local Ford dealer.

    Cost entered into it and then there was the fact that Ford was the cool car because of its V8 engine.
     

Share This Page

Register now to get rid of these ads!

Archive

Copyright © 1995-2020 The Jalopy Journal: Steal our stuff, we'll kick your teeth in. Terms of Service. Privacy Policy.

Atomic Industry
Forum software by XenForo™ ©2010-2014 XenForo Ltd.