The Clean Gene Sadoian Photo Collection

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A photo of Blackie and Amos Torosian with Blackie's roadster taken in Fresno, California in 1947. Clean Gene Sadoian was 14 years old the first time he saw Blackie in his cut down black hot rod in 1948. " The driver was a scary looking guy with cut off t-shirt sleeves. He looked at me and smiled. I saw gold leaf letters on the side of car—"Blackie". He did a burn out for me, I was forever hooked." Photo courtesy of Clean Gene Sadoian.
Gene was brought home from the hospital in this 1934 Ford Four-Door Sedan that his father had just purchased. "He purchased it in Fowler, California, just 10 miles from our home in Fresno, California. The car cost $640, a lot of money at the time. It was our family car until 1949 when he purchased a Lincoln Cosmopolitan, giving me the 34 to fix up." Gene was 15 years old when his good friend Richard Peters took this photo outside United Automotive. "My mother had just sewed up the quilted door panels in Naugahyde chartreuse." Photo by Richard Peters, courtesy of Clean Gene Sadoian.
Most of the kids in Gene's gang were Armenians, and they all followed a charismatic WWII veteran widely known around town as Blackie. Gene met Richard Peters at Roosevelt High School in 1950. "He was full of energy and worked very hard at his father Ed's packing house." Taken circa 1951, this photo from Richard's Collection shows a group of Blackie Hosses in front of Richard's yellow Mercury Convertible. According to Gene, Richard was the only one in the gang with a camera back then. Photo by Richard Peters, courtesy of Clean Gene Sadoian.
Clean Gene at age 15 holding up the steering gear for Shirinian's roadster at United Automotive. Shirinian's dad owned United Automotive Works, which was a truck repair shop at 304 N Street in Fresno. "It was across the street from Tidewater Oil's main gas and oil delivery plant. His dad had a contract with them to keep their trucks running and maintenance services. That became my part-time job, wearing Richards coveralls, working from age 15-21 while attending school. Richard was in the Army, Motor Pool in 53-54, so I felt I obligated to cover for him." Photo by Richard Peters, courtesy of Clean Gene Sadoian.
According to Gene, his buddy Richard Shirinian was their leader throughout the 7th grade thru high school graduation in 1952. "He was Blackie's cousin, handsome, with long thick hair like Blackie. He was the first one in junior high school with a car, a 38 Ford 4 dr sedan. I nicknamed it "Dirty Eight" since we did not look at the 38's as hot rod material." In 1950 Shirinian bought a 1929 Ford Model A Roadster from his cousin Paul Soligian. Shirinian’s dad helped him with the build, as well as his best friend, Richard Peters. Taken circa 1951-52, this is the earliest photo Gene has been able to locate of Shirinian’s roadster. Notice the dropped axles and juice brakes. Shirinian’s 1938 Ford can be seen in the back of the photo along with Peters Mercury. Photo by Richard Peters, courtesy of Clean Gene Sadoian.
Richard Shirinian's dad, John, holding the windshield on Richard's roaster outside United Automotive. "Richards father Johnny, allowed me to keep the shop open after hours to service the trucks; then, after finishing, work on my '34 sedan. Some nights I would work on my 34 until 6 AM. School was secondary to having access to a hoist, gas, tools, and nuts and bolts. I am forever grateful to them," Clean Gene told Kustomrama. Photo by Richard Peters, courtesy of Clean Gene Sadoian.
Gene had just started working on his dad’s 34 Ford sedan in 1951 when Mel Thurber showed up with a beautiful modified 29 Ford roadster that he had purchased in LA. "It was black, fender wells filled, custom 32 grille, 21 stud block, Aluminum heads, 2 pot manifold, most parts chrome plated, not just polished." Richard Peters snapped this photo of the roadster at an outdoor event in April of 1952, Gene’s Senior year in High School. "Mel had to fabricate fenders to comply with new California law requiring fenders. It was scary as a passenger, fenders kept vibrating until the flat steel stock would break. Added reinforcements did not help," Gene recalled. Photo by Richard Peters, courtesy of Clean Gene Sadoian.
Dick Dooley later purchased Thurber's roadster, and tore it up. "In high school, Dooley had a primered 34 Ford three-window, solid hood sides, heads, and 2 pot manifold. Dooley was a tough guy, he ended up as a "Mob enforcer" serving time at Terminal Island. He is the one giving Mel the nickname "Thumper." Photo by Richard Peters, courtesy of Clean Gene Sadoian.
A photo of Gene's 34 taken at the 1952 Oakland Roadster Show. "The tan 34 coupe behind my 34 was owned by Dean Moon. He helped me during set up and took many pictures of my car. We became good friends, I was flattered at age 16 to receive such attention." Photo from The Clean Gene Sadoian Collection.
In the program from the 1952 Oakland Roadster Show, Gene's 1934 Ford was listed as a top competitor for the new Concourse D'Elegance award against Joe Bailon's 1941 Chevrolet. According to Gene, "Joe had more money in his dashboard than I had in my whole car!" Photo from The Clean Gene Sadoian Collection.
"My mother's 49 Ford." Viola Sadoian had a shoebox Ford that Clean Gene had painted black and installed a custom red and white interior in. He also had Bob Martin chrome the window frames. "I realize now how much my parents supported my Hot Rodding efforts," Gene recalled as we were going through his photos, adding that not only did his mother upholster his 34 Ford, she drove it when her car was not available. "One time while driving downtown, the four 97 carbs overloaded on her and caught fire. A noble gentleman stopped to help her remove the one-piece hood top. She remembered I had a fire extinguisher attached to the front seatback. He put the fire out." Photo courtesy of Clean Gene Sadoian.
A photo of Richard Shirinian's 1929 Ford Model A Roadster taken in 1953. From left to right in the photo are Hermen Shirinian, Robert Kalyfan, John Shirinian, Eddie Kalyfan, and John Tikijian. According to Gene, a kid named Babe Obradovich had the fastest car in school until Shirinian completed his roadster. Shirinian built an engine to beat the braggart Babe. "I remember Richard telling me he polished the crank throws to reduce friction, ported and relieved heads, 4 pot manifold, electric fuel pump. His father built two battery storage mounts, two 6V batteries for 12 Volts, to turn over the high-compression motor. His frame was reinforced so as not to twist. Richard raced Babe and beat him for the bragging rights." Photo courtesy of Clean Gene Sadoian.
A front end shot of Richard Shirinian's 1929 Ford Model A Roadster taken in 1953. Richard Peters helped Shirinian finish his roadster, and in his collection, he has a movie of Shirinian winning a trophy at the Hammerfield drag races in 1952. "My father and Richards's father were greeting him after his win." After the build was completed, Peters, Blackie, Sweet Lehman, and Gene took the roadster to several car shows. Photo courtesy of Clean Gene Sadoian.
Gene re-entered his ‘34 at the 1953 Oakland Roadster Show, where he won first place in the new sedan class. This photo shows Gene and Chuck Pollard with the car. When Gene started showing the ‘34, he was a criminology student at Fresno State. Back in those days, there were very few criminology students, and only one that was driving a hot rod. Hot rodders were known as villains, like what Hells Angels are considered today. Gene was trying to get into law enforcement. He was also in the college police force, and he remembers that the chairman used to call him telling him that he couldn’t park his car at the administrative parking lot. “Oh, I was the bad guy. Then what happened is that California was trying to quell the hot rod riots and the movies. Hot rodders were the bad guys. All those B-class movies. They formed California Safety Patrol and the Califonia Highway Patrol. And they named two people, Ezra Earhart, and a guy by the name of Chuck Pollard. And what happened is that when I got my 1953 from the highway patrolman in his uniform, that became my saving grace, because now I was doing everything within the limits of the California Highway Patrol who were trying to legalize drag racing.” Photo courtesy of Clean Gene Sadoian.
In 1952, Gene and Blackie met Mel Lehman when they were showing their cars at a Fresno car show put on by Gene Bender. "I did not have use of a garage in 52 and used to work on my 34 sedan on my front lawn. Mel and his friends used to come by and offer help." Mel had a 1940 Mercury Four-Door Sedan that he decided to turn into a full custom. Gordon's Custom Shop took care of the build, and Mel started showing it at Fresno and the Oakland Roadster Show in 1953. Mel’s dad was an engineer, and he helped Mel design a stainless steel firewall with a bunch of polished solenoids. The solenoids operated the hood, trunk, and shaved doors. "During its time, the polished solenoid-firewall and a detailed full race 296 engine, made a unique eye catching display." Photo courtesy of Clean Gene Sadoian.
A photo of Mel Lehman's 1940 Mercury and 1940 Ford Coupe taken around April of 1955. Mel was a friend of Gene and a fellow Blckie Hosses. Photo courtesy of Mel Lehman, provided by Clean Gene Sadoian.
A rare photo of The Ala Kart taken on the street in Fresno. Richard Peters only drove The Ala Kart about 200 miles while he owned it. He drove it to two local shows, one family-oriented show by a river and one that was held at an old age home. "Otherwise, it never was on the road," he told Sondre Kvipt. "I was scared to drive it. The underside of the fenders were all painted. You get a rock and you would ruin it." He used to pull it apart and clean and polish it when he was going to a big show. "Clean all the upholstery underneath and all that." Photo by Richard Peters, courtesy of Clean Gene Sadoian.
Customizing by Cushenbery. Bill Cushenbery gave this business card to Gene "Clean Gene" Sadoian at the 1962 Winternationals. "He showed his El Matador, wild custom. Blackie also featured his car, that's how I met him." Photo courtesy of Clean Gene Sadoian.
T Plus II. Four of Clean Gene's Fresno buddies had won the prestigious America's Most Beautiful Roadster award when Don Lokey decided to go for the big one with his 1927 Ford Model T Roadster Pick Up. The car was already a show car, so he decided to hand it over to George Barris and let Barris Kustoms take over the final restyling. A wise investment as Don took home the AMBR with the car in 1966. Photo courtesy of Clean Gene Sadoian.

This is a story about a group of Armenian friends from Fresno that helped form the history of hot rodding as we know it today.

Eugene “Clean Gene” Sadoian grew up in Fresno, a city in Central Valley California crowded by Armenians. In fact, the first Armenians that arrived in California in 1874 settled down in Fresno. Most of the kids in Gene’s gang were Armenians, and they all followed a loudmouth kid widely known around town as Blackie. "All of our car guys are known as Blackie's friends," Gene told Sondre Kvipt of Kustomrama when he ask him about how he first got into hot rodding. Blackie was eight years older than Gene. "He was our leader. Most kids in the gang were Armenian, even though they didn't have Armenian names. We were known as villains in the early days of hot rodding," Gene explained before jokingly telling Sondre that Blackie was the constant evil in his life that tried to keep getting him into trouble. "My law enforcement background was the good guy, the Clean Gene, that kept trying to get Blackie out of trouble, so it balanced out."[1]



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