The custom car culture emerged in the United States during the 1940s and 1950s, as car enthusiasts began to modify their automobiles for performance and aesthetic purposes. The movement has since grown into a global phenomenon with the rise of various automotive subcultures.
- 1 The History of the Custom Car
- 2 Westergard Customs
- 3 Custom Cars of the 1940s
- 4 Custom Cars of the Early 1950s
- 5 Customizing vs Restyling
- 6 West Coast Restyling of the Early 1950s
- 7 Deck Out
- 8 The Golden Era of the 1950s
- 9 Lowrider and Kustom Kulture of the 1960s and the 1970s
- 10 Modern Custom Cars
- 11 Custom Cars of the 1940s
- 12 Custom Trucks of the 1940s
- 13 Sport Customs of the 1940s
- 14 References
The History of the Custom Car
For more than 100 years, the desire for individuality has been a motivation for customizing cars. The traditional custom car as we know it has been defined as an outgrowth of hot rodding, and many consider Northern California as the cradle of the custom car culture. Harry Westergard is a pioneer and a legend in the custom car field, and he is often recognized as the originator of the taildragger look. Today the term "Westergard Custom" is widely used all over the world. A great recognition to Harry and his tastefully restyled custom cars.
Harry Williams Westergard was born on January 9, 1916, in Detroit, Michigan. In the late twenties or early thirties, he moved from Michigan to Sacramento. The Wall Street Crash of 1929 had a sudden impact on the roaring twenties, and during the 1930s, it wasn’t common for a teenager to have his own car. Desperation is often the primary source of creativity, and California youngsters began to dress up their cheap Fords, Dodges, and Buicks to make them look like Cadillacs. Harry began restyling cars in the late 1930s, and as the depression drew to an end, customizing was all about smoothing, cleaning, and sharpening the stock lines of an automobile. Westergard did not have a shop back then, so he worked out of an old chicken coop at his home. Harry was known as a man that cared about other people. A local kid named George Barris used to hang out at the shop where Westergard worked. Westergard became George’s mentor, and the young kid was eventually put to work at the shop.
Custom Cars of the 1940s
The custom car scene boomed in the post-World War II era when American soldiers returned home with a newfound appreciation for European sports cars and their sleek designs. The booming economy of the period also provided consumers with disposable income to invest in personalizing their vehicles. Early customizers like George and Sam Barris gained recognition for their pioneering work, modifying cars to enhance their performance and visual appeal.
Custom Cars of the Early 1950s
According to Portland, Oregon hot rodder, historian and author Albert Drake, a revolution occurred in terms of styling and customizing in the late 1940s and the early 1950s. "Every Detroit car had outgrown what was a pre-war body shape, and the new cars were longer, lower, sleeker. Therefore, many people wanted to make their older cars look more modern, or at least a bit nicer." In 1982 Drake wrote an excerpt about the roots of hot rodding where he pointed out that; "Today we look back at pre-1949 cars with a wistful eye but at the time they seemed drab; high and boxy, with plain interiors, and painted a few standard colors (usually black, dark blue, or grey). It didn't, however, take much to make them more interesting: lowering blocks or shackles, fender skirts, dual exhausts with chrome 'echo cans,' deluxe seat covers and a metallic paint job would cause the guy beside you at the light to sit up and take notice."
Customizing vs Restyling
In 1951, Trend Book 101 Custom Cars was published by Trend, Inc as a result of the growing interest in customized cars. The introduction in the book stated early that restyling and customizing are two things that, like the arts, are better left for the masters. The book defined a custom job as a job that had been custom-built, from the ground up as it were and to order. A restyled job was defined as a stock auto that had been altered somewhat from the original design. Therefore, if you were going to customize a car you would practically start from scratch ending up with a hand-built, totally different creation. If you were to restyle a car, you would change the outside appearance, without evolving a drastically-modified car. The terms were often misused, and in order to explain where the restyled car leaves off and a custom job begins, the following definition was explained in the book: "A restyled car can include any or all of the following modifications without actually being a custom job: a bull-nose, a deck job, fadeaways, a new grille, and/or new bumpers. When it gets to chopped tops and channeling, the car would more properly be termed a custom job." With these two terms defined, the purpose of the book was to show readers the latest trends of customized and restyled cars from coast to coast.
West Coast Restyling of the Early 1950s
Common and favored restyling-features on many West Coast custom jobs in the early 1950s included body modifications such as nosing and decking, license plate set on bumper, tail lights set in bumper guards, dual spotlights and fender skirts.
In the early 1950s, "Deck Out" was a term for restyling a car by adding extra ornamentation such as metal sun visors, chrome exhaust stacks, port holes, extra lights forward and aft, fender flaps, extra radio aerials, bumper guards and more accessories you could buy from your local accessory shop. In the other end were motorists that believed in restyling by smoothing off their cars. This process span from simple modifications such as removal of ornamentation, dechroming and sealing of the car to give a port less, louver-less, one-piece look to chopping the top or channeling the body over the frame.
The Golden Era of the 1950s
During the 1950s, the custom car movement gained momentum, with magazines like Rod & Custom and Car Craft showcasing the innovative work of customizers. The era also saw the rise of hot rods and drag racing, further cementing the custom car culture.
Lowrider and Kustom Kulture of the 1960s and the 1970s
The 1960s and 1970s witnessed the rise of new automotive subcultures, such as lowriders and Kustom Kulture. Lowriders originated in the Chicano community in Southern California, where cars were modified with hydraulic suspension systems for a distinctive "low and slow" look. Meanwhile, Kustom Kulture emerged from a fusion of custom cars, hot rods, and motorcycle influences, with artists like Ed "Big Daddy" Roth and Von Dutch creating unique artwork and pinstriping designs.
Modern Custom Cars
The custom car culture has continued to evolve, incorporating new styles and techniques. The new millennium saw a resurgence of interest in classic customs and hot rods.
Custom Cars of the 1940s
Alex Xydias' 1934 Ford Cabriolet
Bruce Brown's 1936 Ford
Frank Sandoval's 1936 Ford 3-Window Coupe
George Barris' 1936 Ford 3-Window Coupe
Jack Calori's 1936 Ford 3-Window Coupe
Leland Davis' 1936 Ford
Ray Giovannoni's 1936 Ford Roadster
Red Swanson's 1936 Ford Convertible
Robert Fulton's 1936 Ford Sedan Convertible
Tommy Jamieson's 1936 Ford 5-Window Coupe
Vern Simon's 1936 Ford Roadster
Leroy Semas' 1937 Chevrolet Coupe
Neil Emory's 1937 Dodge Convertible
Al Twitchell's 1937 Ford Sedan
Richard Emert's 1937 Ford Convertible
Richard Meade's 1938 Buick Convertible
John Sal Cocciola's 1938 Chevrolet Convertible
George Bistagne's 1938 Ford DeLuxe Convertible Sedan
Harold Johnson's 1938 Ford Tudor
Joe Stone's 1938 Ford Convertible Sedan
Norm Milne's 1938 Ford Convertible Sedan
Arthur Lellis' 1939 Ford Convertible
C. E. Johnson's 1939 Ford
Dick Bair's 1939 Ford Convertible Sedan
Emil Dietrich's 1939 Ford Convertible
G. L. Harlander's 1939 Ford V-8 Convertible Sedan
Harry O. Lutz' 1939 Ford Convertible
Harry Keiichi Nishiyama's 1939 Ford Convertible
Jack Ruynan's 1939 Ford Convertible
Jerry Moffatt's 1939 Ford Convertible
Kenny Controtto's 1939 Ford Convertible
Mel Falconer's 1939 Ford
Mickey Chiachi's 1939 Ford
Bill Henderson's 1939 Mercury Convertible
Bill Spurgeon's 1939 Mercury Coupe
Jim Kierstead's 1939 Mercury Coupe
Bob Creasman's 1940 Ford Coupe
Fred Cain's 1940 Ford Coupe
Gene Garret's 1940 Ford
Johnny Williams' 1940 Ford Coupe
Ralph Jilek's 1940 Ford Convertible
Al Andril's 1940 Mercury Coupe
Butler Rugard's 1940 Mercury
Dick Owens' 1940 Mercury Convertible
Harold Ohanesian's 1940 Mercury Convertible Sedan
Jimmy Summers' 1940 Mercury Convertible
Johnny Zaro's 1940 Mercury Coupe
Maximilian King's 1940 Mercury Convertible
Eldon Gibson's 1940 Oldsmobile
Al Twitchell's 1940 Plymouth Four Door
Frank Kurtis' 1941 Buick - The Kurtis Buick Special
George Barris' 1941 Buick Convertible
Pierre Paul's 1941 Buick Special
Al Lauer's 1941 Cadillac Convertible
Dick Carter's 1941 Ford Convertible
George Janich's 1941 Ford Business Coupe
Jesse Lopez' 1941 Ford Club Coupe
John Vara's 1941 Ford Convertible
Charles Kemp's 1941 Plymouth Convertible
Dean Batchelor's 1941 Pontiac
Marvin Lee's 1942 Chevrolet Fleetline
George Shugart's 1946 Chevrolet Convertible
Raymond Jones' 1947 Studebaker Convertible
Vincent E. Gardner's 1947 Studebaker Sportster
Albrecht Goertz's 1948 Studebaker Business Coupe
Marcia Campbell's 1949 Chevrolet Convertible
Custom Trucks of the 1940s
Charlie Grantham's 1935 Ford Pick Up
Sport Customs of the 1940s
- Sondre Kvipt
- Severson, Aaron. "The American Custom Car." Ate Up With Motor, 11 Mar. 2012, www.ateupwithmotor.com/model-histories/custom-cars/.
- Ganahl, Pat. "George Barris: King of the Kustomizers." Rod & Custom Magazine, 1 Feb. 2011, www.hotrod.com/articles/george-barris-king-of-the-kustomizers/.
- Reflections in a Spinner Hubcap
- Trend Book 101 Custom Cars
- Batchelor, Dean. "The Birth of Hot Rodding." In The American Hot Rod, Motorbooks, 2002.
- Reighard, Heidi. "Lowrider: A History of Custom Cars and the Lowrider Movement." Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 39, no. 4, Aug. 2006, pp. 585-601.
- Witzel, Michael Karl. "Kustom Kulture: Von Dutch, Ed 'Big Daddy' Roth, Robert Williams and Others." In The American Custom Car, Motorbooks, 2001.
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