Gene Schilling's 1949 Chevrolet Convertible
1949 Chevrolet Convertible owned and restyled by Gene Schilling of Kenosha, Wisconsin. Gene's dad worked at Sheridan Road Garage, a Nash Distributorship in Kenosha. In April of 2023, Patrick Schilling told Sondre Kvipt of Kustomrama that "Automobiles have always been a part of our family beginning with my Grandfather, Cy Schilling." According to Patrick, his dad's first custom job was on the family car. "One day out of the blue, he brought the '37 Lafayette home with half the paint scraped off. His dad went nuts. He promised his dad that he would have the car finished and painted by the end of the summer. He did, and it was gorgeous. It had several layers of Marlin Blue hand rubbed lacquer. His customizations were minimal and limited to mostly accessories of the period including a Fulton Sunvisor."
Second Custom Job - A 1940 Nash Lafayette
Gene took his next custom project, a 1940 Nash Lafayette, a little further. The car was traded in at his father's work, "and after his father agreed that it was in good shape, a deal was struck. Whatever money he needed beyond what he had was borrowed from his Uncle Albert in the form of an IOU note. The work started that following summer. Customizations were again mild including marlin blue hand rubbed lacquer, fender skirts, Plymouth bumpers, a spot light and wide whitewall tires accented with single bar moon hubcaps. Almost immediately the trouble began. At work Mr. McCurdy would not let him park it on the lot because he feared some of the parts were stolen even though my dad assured him they weren't. Then at high school the students with cool cars would take them at lunch and drive them around the block that the school was on. In no time my dad was called into the Principal's office and scolded. That got him in trouble with his dad so he had to lay low for awhile. He divided his time between working at the service station and detailing cars with his new Milwaukee Polisher."
Gene graduated from Kenosha High School in 1950. While still working at the service station, he and his friends began to travel around the country. According to Patrick, "his favorite picture was to pose in front of the welcome sign of every state they entered. His third customization would be his best, his most daring, and his last. In 1951, he borrowed $3,000 from Uncle Albert because everyone around him told him he was crazy, but his Uncle believed in him." The money was to be used for the purchase and customization of a 1949 Chevrolet Convertible that he found for sale.
Customized by Friends
Customized in 1952, the car was built by Gene, Kurt Lienau and Art Hubbard of Hubbard's Body Shop. The Kenoshan trio teamed up to build the custom car which was displayed at the Milwaukee Auditorium Auto Show, sponsored by the Milwaukee Motoring Association, where it gained national recognition with a picture and an article in "Hop-Up Magazine," a California publication for auto enthusiasts.
The project started with a stock 1949 Chevrolet convertible, and the three friends went to work customizing the car. The car was nosed, decked, and shaved for side trim. They installed 1950 Pontiac taillights and placed the license plates on the bumper. The headlights were "Frenched" in 1951 Ford units. Up front, a Mercury grille shell was grafted on between the fenders before it was dressed up with an elegant Packard grille. The car was painted with 16 coats of Black lacquer, hand-rubbed to perfection, which was a major job in itself. Once completed, it was dressed up with dual spotlight, chromed hubcaps, and whitewall tires. Inside, the upholstery was dark green and pearl white, and the window frames were chromed.
A split manifold was bolted in, and dual exhaust was installed with Hollywood mufflers exiting the rear. According to Patrick, "The Hollywood mufflers got him many accolades and some grief. People would marvel at the sound they produced as my dad and his buddies would scoop the loop in downtown Kenosha. The sound also got him some unwanted attention from his parents' neighbors. One day they had all had enough and complained to his father. That night his father was waiting for him when he got home. His dad drove the car into the garage and removed his Hollywood mufflers and replaced them with stock, quiet ones. He eventually got them back on and learned to keep them quiet."
Gene's Chevy was an instant hit at the Milwaukee Auto Show, and it was clear that the three Kenoshans had created something special. The car was a testament to the creativity and ingenuity of the custom car culture that was emerging in the United States in the 1950s.
The mid-fifties brought racing to the mainstream, and Kenosha was no different. "When the National Hot Rod Association came to town promoting safety, a group of guys including my dad pushed to open a drag strip which eventually became the Great Lakes Dragaway. A club was also formed, named the Ramblers of Kenosha, of which my father became an advisor. This club all had plaques dangling from the rear bumpers of their cars, identifying their organization."
Sold to a Student at Lake Forest College
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