Joe Ortiz

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This version of Jerry Sahagon's 1951 Chevrolet featured body and paintwork by Joe Ortiz.

Joseph W. Ortiz (October 21, 1929 - August 18, 2017) Joe was born October 21, 1929 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was the oldest of five sons and was the sole survivor of all. He was born and raised in Old Town New Mexico the Plaza and raised by is Grandparents Carlos and Felicita Vigil along with another cousin Francis Vigil-Sedillo. He served as an Alter Boy at the San Felipe di Neri Church where he also attended grammar school.[1]

Serving the Country

As a young man Joe wanted to join the Military and serve and protect his country. He gathered enough money to come to California and tried to join the U.S. Marine Corps. He was too young and was sent to the U.S. Coast Guard and was stationed on Mare Island and then transferred to Treasure Island where he finished his last year of high school. He then went back to the Marines and they gladly took him where he served from 1946-1949. When he discharged, ranked out as Guardsman 2 with a sharpshooter medal that he was very proud of and was also a boxer for the Corp. When he was going to be discharged he entertained the profession of going into the California Highway Patrol. However his life took a "Big Detour" when he met his first wife Verda Mae Wolters the Daughter of the founding Fire Chief William G. Wolters of the Fairview Fire Protection District. It was a immediate love match and they were married soon after on December 18, 1949. They later had two daughters Catherine Ortiz-Carden and Susan Ortiz-Horton.[1]


Joe became a volunteer fireman and was mentored by his father in law Chief Wolters and Chief Matt Jimenez of the Hayward Fire Department, pioneers of Fire and Emergency industry. He juggled all his trades the fire department, boxing and also worked a full-time job at the Dodge plant in San Leandro.[1]

The Rod Benders

Joe adored cars, and each year as new cars came out, he was enthralled with the design. He took that enthusiasm and started his own club called "The Rod Benders."[1]

Custom Body Shop

Joe did also open up his own custom body shop, when very soon very many were coming to him. He became famous for his custom pin striping and was a paint mixologist coming up with the wildest colors such as "Chicano Purple." Joe could mold fiberglass, bend and weld metal, forming futuristic cars. People would comment he had a vision way before his time. At any given moment there were famous professional wrestlers at the door asking for Joe. He designed and painted for Pepper Gomez, Ray Stevens, Private Sector, Professional racers and the City of Hayward their first "radar vehicle."[1]

Hall of Fame

Among his many awards and trophies Joe had a personal meeting and was presented a plaque of gratitude and achievement from the late movie star Ricardo Montalban for Humanity. He was inducted into the International Custom Hall of Fame in 1964 after being part of the winning team that won the 9 ft. trophy in 1961 for Richard Guasco's 1929 Ford Roadster "The Most Beautiful Car."[1]

Car Show Organizer

Joe later put on his own Custom Car Shows with his Wife Verda that attracted famous customizers such as George Barris, Joe Bailon, Blackie Gegjeian, Jerry Sahagon, Bill Cushenberry . Joe also mentored the Late Great Tony Del Rio. His Beautiful Customs dawned the covers of many of the custom car magazines throughout the late 1950s and 1960s. He juggled all the while attending summer extension courses at U.C.L.A and taking his family along with him, then later in the winter, attending Chabot Community college studying fire science classes after work.[1]

Fire Chief in Fairview

Joe earned numerous certificates of completion over the years in fire and emergency services always honing his profession to help mankind. He developed the very first rescue vehicle in all of Alameda County, which was equipped with the first resuscitator to revive heart attack victims and other distressed individuals. He responded to many plane crashes, car crashes, drownings, heart attacks, house fires, vegetation fires, and etc. throughout his lifetime. Joe always said the hardest ones where the children, as that really hurt him. He also worked for the Alameda County Fire Patrol responding in the many surrounding narrow canyons. All while working up to the rank of Fire Chief in Fairview. He graduated at Chabot Community college in 1969 with Cap and Gown with a degree in Fire Science. Joe was the first Fire Chief in all of Alameda County to hold this degree in that era and was even featured in the local news. He later transferred to Merced, California as Fire Chief where he later retired in 1982.[1]

Moving Back to Albuquerque

In 1983 Joe and Verda Mae divorced but remained life-long friends. He met Margret Litke who was to be his second wife. Margret had two daughters Darlene Litke-Floriano and Karen Litke-Hathaway. He later came back to Fairview and won a contentious race and was elected as Fire Board Director for the very fire district that he once worked as Fire Chief and served a four-year term. He was then summoned back home in 2000 by his ailing mother to his roots in Albuquerque, New Mexico where looked after her until her passing in 2001. He was still working restoring his parent's historic adobe home which is part of the Historical Society in old town New Mexico. He continued collecting classic cars, and trucks and had a yard full at the age of 84.[1]

Passing Away

He was brought back to Madera, California due to Dementia where he lived his remaining years around his family, until his passing. At age 87 Joe passed away on Friday, August 18, 2017 at the Bella Vista Memory Care.[1]

Cars Restyled by Joe Ortiz

Jerry Sahagon's 1951 Chevrolet
Jim Gimenez' 1956 Ford Thunderbird
Richard Lee Tiago's 1957 Ford Ranchero



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