Friday, October 5, 2012

The Rebounder Story

                                                         The Rebounder Story
                                                               A true story
                                Written 9/14/2012 and rewritten 03/30/2016 unedited
                                                             Howard Yasgar

      I had first met Neil Metcalf through my friend Barney Kaplan in Detroit. Neil, like myself, was a rebuilder of automotive electrical parts who came from Brisbane Australia.
     It was hard for anyone to not to immediately fall in love with a guy like Neil, he was short and fat, with a jovial disposition, and when he laid down he looked like a Volkswagen. Neil said that he could play any type of musical instrument, and fat as he was he could dance a jig or salsa and he was always the life of any gathering.
      Once we became friends, Neil would call me a couple times a week from his office in Australia, where it would probably be early in the morning for him, but it was ten or eleven in the evening for us in the States. Neil would always start his conversation with me the same way, in his heavy Australian accent, he would say “Good day mate, good day for chasing women”.
      When I talked to Neil, he told me all about his former life when he was a musician, and an alcoholic. He said he had grown up as a musician, and he played pretty much any and every type of musical instrument, but he liked the brass horns the best. He was the kind of a guy that could walk into any bar, take out his trombone and have everyone clapping and swinging around to his music in a few minutes.
     Neil told me that after a long battle with alcohol, he had bought a small automotive electrical parts rebuilding shop in Brisbane, and that’s where he learned the automotive electric business. He said that he did it all the hard way, learning everything by trial and error. I asked Neil, “Why had he, as an accomplished musician, had gone into the automobile parts rebuilding business? He said it was because he had been an alcoholic for most of his musician years, and his first wife was also an alcoholic, just like he was. One evening, after doing a gig, Neil came home drunk. He was so drunk he completely missed the fact that his wife wasn’t there.
      Three days later he found his wife dead, she was under the bed, and it appears she had crawled under it in a drunken stupor and just died there. That episode was a wakeup call for Neil, he quit drinking and joined AA, and after that he said that he never drank a drop again, and not only that but he became a mentor to 5 or 6 other members of AA to help them in their recovery.
     To to stay away from the party scene, Neil quit being a musician and bought the small automotive electric parts repair business, it was for sale and right in his home town of Brisbane. Shortly after buying the company he hired a young lady named Roselyn to handle the phone and do the office work. Neil then put his nose to the grindstone and after a few years he became a real good automotive electrician.
     Eventually, Neil found business was so good that he wanted to expand. So by the time I had met Neil he had already started his new expansion program, he starting it off by marrying Roselyn who everyone called Ros, then he built a new building in a Brisbane industrial zone.
     Once he was in his brand new building, Neil started trying to do all sorts of things, most were things that were related to the automotive electrical field. Neil was just bursting with good ideas, so not only was he now repairing starters and alternators for people living in the outback, but he was teaching himself how to rebuild scrap yard magnets. Then he started making locomotive engine alternators and then besides doing all that he started publishing a monthly newsletter for his customers, then he also offered free monthly technical schooling to all his mechanic customers, and then in his free time he started writing a novel, and that was besides mentoring the six former alcoholics.
     When I really got to know him was when Neil started coming to the United States and buying all types of used starters and alternators. He said that he wanted to become known in Australia as a company that had any starter or alternator that anyone ever needed.
     My wife and I really liked Neil and Ros, and as we were going to Taiwan for business anyway, we decided one year to also go to Brisbane to visit them.
     When we visited with Neil and Ros, we watched how every morning Neil would hold an exercise class for all his employees. Neil being the short fat jovial guy that he was, would stand at the top of a metal staircase jumping up and down, clapping his hands over his head and leading everyone in their daily exercises. We also noticed that as you entered his new building, Neil had a big sign in his foyer that said, “No telling of yarns unless you tell them to the boss first”.
     We went along with Neil and saw that even with everything he was doing with his business, every day after work, Neil would get in his car and go to visit one of the other former alcoholic AA members. They were guys he was mentoring to keep them sober. He eventually drove us all over Brisbane to each of their businesses or homes to check on them. Some of them even owned restaurants, and they, all loved Neil and fed us for free. We couldn’t believe it, after all of this, Neil would then head home and sit down at his computer, write some of his newsletter, and then after the newsletter, he then wrote a page or so of what he said was going to be his first novel, it was about diamond smuggling.
     Neil and I became such very close friends, that we discussed many things together. Then once, when I criticized him for trying to do too many different things, he said, “Australia isn’t like the United States, we have a very small population here, so we need to do lots of things just to survive”. After saying this, he went right out and bought a bankrupt Australian electric motor company named Redmon, and he started assembling electric motors.  
    Neil’s wife Ros constantly complained to me that they could never get ahead financially, as Neil always took every dime they made and dumped it into another new project.
     In 1987, Neil and Ros said that they were coming to visit us in Miami. At the time I was driving a Chevrolet Astro van and my wife and I were living in a townhouse condominium near the Miami Airport, in a community called Cost Del Sol, The condo was only about a fifteen minute drive from the airport, so we told Neil and Ros to call us when they arrived in Miami, we said that by the time they got their luggage we would be there at the airport to pick them up.
     The next day, Neil called about seven in the evening to tell us they had just landed at the Miami International airport.
      When Katherine and I arrived at the airport Neil and Ros were not outside waiting for us as we had planned, so we parked the van in short term parking and went inside the airport. There we found Neil at the luggage carousel. Ros was laying on a row of seats in the fetal position. Her eyes were closed and she looked like she was in great pain.
      Neil said that Ros was very sick. He told us that she had some kind of stomach problem that was very painful, but he assured us that she would eventually be OK.
      Katherine and I were extremely concerned, as Ros appeared to really be in a lot of pain, so much that she couldn’t even stand up.
      We all helped Ros into the back of the van, where she again lay down on the van floor in the fetal position. I became very concerned as I thought it was possible Ros might die on us.
      When we got to our condominium, we all helped carry Ros inside, and we laid her down on the sofa in the living room. It appeared to us to be a real bad situation.
      Then Neil asked me, “Do you have a rebounder” What the hell is a rebounder? I asked. Neil looked at me and said, “A rebounder is a rebounder, you jump on it”.
      I looked at Katherine and I said, do you mean a trampoline? “Yes” Neil said, “In Australia it’s called a rebounder, Ros needs one to fix her problem”.
      It was already after eight in the evening, I wondered where in the world we could ever find a trampoline in Miami at eight in the evening. My wife Katherine said, “Hurry and go to Sears Roebuck, they close at nine.”
      Neil and I jumped into the van and I quickly drove to the closest Sears Roebuck store which was located at Miami International Mall, about ten blocks from our house.
       I had never seen a small trampoline, so I was thinking we would have to buy a big one to set up in back yard of the condo.
       But I was surprised, the people at Sears Roebuck knew exactly what Neil wanted and brought a small personal trampoline that was about twenty four inches in diameter.
       We immediately drove home and assembled the trampoline in the living room.       Neil assisted Ros who was still very unsteady, but she got on the trampoline and started bouncing.  At first it was just a small little bounce, and then then it got higher.
       After about twenty big bounces, Ros was smiling, she got off the trampoline and said, “Hello everyone. Sorry about that.”
       Katherine and I were mystified as to what had happened. Ros simply said that sometimes her stomach went inside out, like after she had been sitting on the airplane for a long flight. But after a few jumps on a rebounder, it put her stomach back in position.”
       I really didn’t know what in hell had happened, but we now knew what a rebounder was, and Ros was absolutely perfect for the rest of their stay in Miami.

The Mazda Parts Story

                                               The Mazda Parts Story
                        A true story and psychological lesson in business for my son
                               Written 9/2012 and rewritten 03/31/2016 unedited
                                                      Howard Yasgar

      By the end of 1963, I had bought into an automotive parts rebuilding company located in East Hialeah Florida, and by 1968, we had to move the company to a larger building located on 36 Avenue in North West Miami.
      In 1970, the company’s original owner, Dave Chait, passed away, so his son Don and I purchased the company, and we started modernizing and changing the direction of what the company did.
      We felt that a change was needed because of our ideal location in Miami, and coupled with the fact that our company was bilingual, insured that we constantly had a flood of customers coming to buy from us from Central and South America. These customers were mostly automotive parts importers that were looking for American made replacement automotive parts, and they came to us steadily, with their attache cases filled with bundles of U.S. currency to spend.
     We soon learned that these importers were not only interested in purchasing all kinds of U.S. made automotive parts, but they would buy anything as long as the price was cheap. So when they came to see us, they would walk around all our warehouse and buy pretty much anything that they could make a profit on.
     At the time, back in 1970 our specialty had been automotive electrical parts, mostly for U.S. made automobiles and trucks. But during the late 1970’s the automotive market worldwide was changing, with more cars being imported from Japan. So to fill the needs of our clients we started selling lots of starters and alternators and other parts that we imported for use on all types of Japanese vehicles. Most all the parts we were importing were either coming to us imported from Japan or they were copies of Japanese parts that were being made in Taiwan.
     We couldn’t help but see how fast that the market for Japanese car parts was growing, and we were told by most of our customers, that although the Japanese cars were popular and were cheap to buy in their countries, when they broke down, it was very hard to find repair parts for them. They said that was the reason they were now always coming to Miami hunting Japanese parts, was because in their countries Japanese cars were just parked everywhere for months just waiting for parts.
      At just about the same time this was happening, we had started buying truckloads of  surplus automotive items, these were mostly items that were available to us as excess material, originally made by the large automotive parts suppliers and manufacturers  located in the Detroit area.
      So all during the 1970’s to 80’s we were buying lots of parts from several surplus parts dealers that we had developed good relationships with, most of them were located in the Chicago and Detroit area. We had found that both the cities of Chicago and Detroit had become sort of the hubs for surplus, and because of this it also became the hub for surplus dealers. They were people that specialized in buying and selling large wholesale lots of excess parts, and then reselling them to people like us.

     In Detroit, we had Barney Kaplan Surplus, and in Chicago there was George Lustig and Billy Keene of Fleet Supply, also in Chicago there was Abe Greenstein of Automotive Supply.
     Even though we had found these people to be relatively honest suppliers, we still we always had our nose to the ground looking for new sources of surplus parts. We knew that there were many other surplus dealers around the Chicago and Detroit area, but most of them had such bad reputations, we avoided them.
      All through the late 1970’s and early 1980’s the economies of the Central and South American countries was booming, and the importers were coming to us in droves, but now they were all asking that we find more Japanese automotive items for them to buy. All their countries were now being flooded with so many Japanese cars, that they desperately needed a Miami source for replacement parts.
     On many mornings, we would show up for work to find five or six importers all waiting in line for us at our front door. Most of them were now only looking for Japanese spare parts.
      In the cities of Chicago and Detroit, the surplus dealers that we did business with were all friends with each other, but while they were friends they also were  competitors with each other, so the  last thing any of them would do, is recommend to us another surplus dealer that we should do business with. However, as we were always coming to Chicago and Detroit it was really impossible for anyone to keep a secret from us for very long.
      We started to hear about somebody in Chicago named “Fizzy Nelson”. We heard the name over and over again, and one day one of my friends in Chicago told me that we were missing a big opportunity by not doing business with this guy named Fizzy, and he gave me Fizzy’s phone number.
     I called Fizzy, and made an appointment for us to visit his warehouse in Chicago. When we got there, we were surprised to find Fizzy Nelson, was a real character, and when we spoke with him, he didn’t have one good word to say about any of the other dealers we were presently doing business with. He said he was the only honest surplus dealer in Chicago.
      I must admit Fizzy did have a very big warehouse, and it was absolutely loaded with surplus parts, But what really caught our eye was row upon row of new Japanese Mazda Japanese car parts. It appeared that Fizzy, had tons of them, and I was excited as I had already heard from all our South American customers how popular Mazda automobiles were in their countries.
     Fizzy told us that when the Mazda USA company consolidated their parts distribution system, they moved everything to one big central warehouse, and when they did that they had a lot of excess inventory, and no room to store it, so they sold all the extra inventory to Fizzy. He said that was why his warehouse in Chicago was full of Mazda parts.
     We told Fizzy that we were interested in the Mazda parts as we sold to Central and South America. As a sales ploy, Fizzy said that he had already sold some of the Mazda parts and they were already on the way to South America. We learned later that it was all
a lie, and he only said it because he knew our market was to South American buyers.
     Fizzy said that if we bought the entire Mazda parts deal from him, he would sell it to us for sixteen cents a pound, FOB his warehouse in Chicago. It sure sounded like a good deal. So as we looked the Mazda parts over, I thought I recognized hundreds of electrical items that I recognized as our kind of electrical parts. All the boxes had Mazda part numbers on them but unfortunately all the other information on the boxes was printed in Japanese. To be sure we knew what we were doing, my partner Don and I spent several more hours looking over the Mazda parts, opening up boxes hoping to recognize the parts inside, but the more we looked, the more we saw items mixed in that we didn’t want, like Mazda body parts. There were lots of Mazda hoods and fenders, and these were items that were not in our line of business, and we didn’t want to buy them. We knew that those kinds of parts took up way too much room to ship and store. So we decided to talk to Fizzy about it. We told him that we didn’t want any of the Mazda sheet metal parts as it was not our business. Eventually, Fizzy relented and said he would remove all the sheet metal parts, and we agreed to buy two forty foot container loads of the new surplus Mazda parts for eighteen cents a pound. After that we shook hands on it, and the deal was closed, and my partner asked Fizzy if he could use his rest room. Fizzy said yes, it was located in the rear of the big warehouse. When my partner Don came back from the restroom he told me that Fizzy had a big cardboard sign in there, called “Fizzy Nelson’s Shit List” and on the list was all of our other suppliers names, as well as the names of other people we knew. It was apparent that this guy Fizzy had a lot of enemies that he didn’t like, and some were our friends, it was not a good omen.
     When the parts showed up in Miami, There was so much, that it was all we could do to unload them into one of our warehouses. We had agreed to pay a premium price to Fizzy because he would leave out the sheet metal parts that we didn’t want. Well, Fizzy never removed them and the sheet metal parts were still all mixed in. I received a bill from Fizzy for $18,000.00 and the freight was $3,200.00. It appeared we now had a sizeable financial investment, in a lot of parts we didn’t want. Our total cost so far was $21,000.00 and that was not counting all our other expenses.
      Yes, we complained to Fizzy, but it was to no avail, he said he had other South American customers that wanted the parts. We later determined that everything he said was just another lie.
      Since there was still a lot of Mazda electrical parts that we thought we recognized, we eventually stopped complaining. Then we spent over a month sorting out the parts. We found that the sheet metal pieces took up so much warehouse room we put them all up on the roof of our warehouse to get them out of the way.  Receiving those fenders and hoods, was a big disappointment, and after our complaining to Fizzy, I was sure we would probably end up on Fizzy’s “Shit List.”
      After we unloaded the two trailers of parts I spent most of the next month trying to organize them and doing an inventory, we needed some kind of inventory so we could start trying to sell the parts. But making an inventory was difficult as all the writing on the boxes were in Japanese. So we did a lot of calling Mazda agencies, and we estimated that at Mazda’s selling price on the items was a minimum of $250,000.00. Every item we inventoried had a Mazda part number on it, but when we called various Mazda agencies in Miami, they said they had prices but the parts were not for the U.S. or South American
Market. They were for the Mid- East and Europe. So Fizzy had lied to us, no South Americans would buy these Mazda parts.
      We eventually spent several two months doing the sorting, I estimated that we had over $26,000.00 invested in the Mazda deal. Finally, when the inventory was done, we started letting in all our friends and our export customers. Hoping they would look the Mazda parts over, and start buying it. Not one person, recognized even one part number, and having all the descriptions in Japanese didn’t help. I was getting depressed. We needed to somehow recover our $26,000.00 that we had invested. We had no customers from Mid-East or European countries. So now, my partner and I were getting concerned that possibly we had bought a bad deal, and we could lose all $26,000.00.  We realized that was the reason Fizzy sold us the parts so cheap. He knew that they were originally only for the Mid-East and European consumption. He had lied to us telling us that he already sold some of the Mazda parts to South America.
      After about two years out in the rain, the fenders that I had put on the roof started rusting, and we had them taken down and thrown into the trash.
      By 1985, I started noticing that our customers From Venezuela and Colombia were not coming in as frequently as before, and it became obvious to us that there were serious economic problems going on in those countries. We were also concerned that we were really going to lose our shirt on the Mazda parts deal. We had spent hundreds of hours trying to sell the stuff with little luck.
      Then one day, I received a call from my fiancĂ©e Katherine, she was managing a large British freight forwarding company in Miami called MSAS. Her company specialized in shipping merchandise to Europe and the Mid-East. Katherine said she had customer just in from Egypt that was looking for a deals on automotive parts, so I told her to send him right over to see us. The very next day a dignified Egyptian fellow came over, he said his name was “Mr. Solly.”
     As I talked to Mr. Solly, I could see he was not going to be what I considered to be a friendly type of customer like the South Americans that we usually dealt with, but I did recognize that he was a potential Mid-Eastern customer for our Mazda parts.
      My son Jack was working with me at the time, so I asked him, to take Mr. Solly over to look at all the Mazda parts. When they came back Mr. Solly said, “We have a lot of Mazda cars in Egypt, and he said he had looked over all our parts and he was interested in buying everything, how much did we want?”
      At first, I thought I could handle Mr. Solly easily, just like any other export customer. I felt that I could do business with him the same as I have done with hundreds of other business men in the past. I knew that I never had a problem in telling a customer how much an item had cost me, and how much profit I needed to make. Most sensible business people know that everyone needs to make a profit, but that was not to be with Mr. Solly.
      Now I had never dealt with a Middle East buyer before. So I told Mr. Solly, that I wanted $40,000.00 for all the Mazda parts.”  But Mr. Solly said, “No way”, and I could see from his attitude that the only way Mr. Solly would buy the Mazda parts was like it was on a fire sale, he wanted us to lose money. He wanted us to sell the Mazda parts to him for little or nothing.
      Mr. Solly, I concluded would only be happy if he made sure we were losing money.
So I now knew that selling to him wasn’t going to be easy.
      The next day Mr. Solly said that he wanted to check out some of the part numbers with his associates in Egypt, so he called them and they talked about part numbers for over an hour. That night I couldn’t sleep, I was troubled by the fact that Mr. Solly was the type of guy that wouldn’t be happy unless he was taking advantage of someone, and I didn’t like that, so I knew that I had to be much sharper than him, if I intended to sell him the Mazda deal.
     The next day, when Mr. Solly returned, I knew it was a good sign, his associates in Egypt obviously wanted the parts. Then Mr. Solly said he could pay us only $8,000.00 for all the Mazda parts.
      My son Jack was sitting in on the meeting and listening. I hoped that this was going to be a good learning experience for him, because I had an idea.
      I said, look Mr. Solly, you appear to be a trustworthy and honest fellow, so I think the best thing we can do is for us to be partners on the Mazda deal. My company has more than $26,000.00 invested in the Mazda parts, and I have the receipts that we can show you. We know that the parts are worth over $240,000.00 or more than that in Egypt. If you will pay us our cost of $26,000.00, we will load the containers and ship the parts to Egypt, freight collect. Then when you sell all the Mazda parts we will be 50/50 partners on all the profits. You can deduct the cost of the freight, and my son Jack will fly to Egypt to collect our share of the profits from you.
      I could see that Mr. Solly was scheming in his head. He couldn’t believe I was so stupid to trust him to be our partner. Mr. Solly knew he could sell the parts in Egypt for probably $300.000.00 dollars and he would never call to give me any of the profits, so he agreed immediately. We shook hands, as now we were partners.
     The next day, Mr. Solly paid us, and we loaded three 20 foot containers full of the Mazda parts. I was 100 percent sure we would never hear from him again, but I was wrong. About six months passed, and I received a call from Mr. Solly who was in Egypt. He regretted to inform me that the Mazda parts had arrived in bad condition, and his customer never paid him. Consequently he had lost his money and regrettably there was no profit for us.
     So, you see, after all the bad thoughts I had about Mr. Solly, the Egyptian who wanted to screw us, he was really such a nice guy by calling us to tell me he had no profit for us.
     I think for Mr. Solly it was important for him to call me, as it would show me that he was the shrewder business man than I was. I should have told Mr. Solly that I already knew there would be no profit for us, as I knew the very minute he bought the parts, he would cheat us, and that was my plan all the time, to let him cheat us.
      For me it was all an exercise in getting rid of the Mazda parts, and recovering most all of our money. I’m sure Mr. Solly made a handsome profit selling the Mazda parts in Egypt. But I hoped that by letting the Egyptian think he got the upper hand, it was perhaps a good business lesson for my son to see.
       I told my son Jack he was lucky, now he didn’t have to fly to Egypt to collect our profits. He smiled, and I hoped that he had understood, and benefitted from the business lesson that had happened.
       My partner and I had also learned a business lesson, we never went back to Fizzy Nelsons place, and I am sure you will find us on his shit list.


The 1959 Chevrolet Story

                                              The 1959 Chevrolet Story
           A true story about how in 1961 and 1962 a 1959 Chevrolet convertible was
           Slowly transformed into an outstanding street “Hot Rod”
                       Witten 09/10/ 2012 and rewritten 04/ 02/ 2016 unedited
                                                    Howard Yasgar

      I would advise you not read this story, unless you are a custom car fanatic, a do it yourself mechanic, or a 1959 Chevrolet car lover. It is a story about my customizing of a black 1959 Chevrolet Impala convertible with a red interior. It was done in 1961 and 1962, and I am doing this story only because I am, what people call an O.C. D., a person with an obsessive compulsive disorder. It was something that I had to do to prove to myself that I could actually do an extensive customizing project.
      This story tells how I took, what was a beautiful car to begin with, and customized it, to make it into a real eye catching work of art, a car that got every ones attention wherever it went.
     I did the project starting in 1960 working out of my back yard garage. I was only 21 years old at the time that I did it. I had some very limited experience, as I was always working on automobiles, but I had no experience doing major custom body work on a late model car.
     Over the years, I had developed some gas welding and arc welding experience. I also had experimented with doing minor body work on my earlier car, a 1940 ford convertible that I had been driving. I had experimented on the Fords, rebuilding the engine and learning to do some body work by using the lost art of using hot lead as a body filler.
     I had also rebuilt the 1940 Ford’s V8 engine, I had done it under the watchful eye of an excellent teacher. He was my good friend Billy Flynn, a fellow who later became the head of Chrysler Corporation’s racing team. Also, at the same time, I had learned how to do the lost art of pin striping, I had learned how to pin stripe intricate designs, painting them on my Triumph motorcycle and also on several of my school buddies cars. The only other knowledge I had regarding customizing was from reading a lot of custom car and hotrod magazines.
     So by 1960 I had probably looked at thousands of pictures of customized street hotrods, cars that the professional customizers in California had done.  It took a while before I got the nerve to think about getting involved in my own 1959 Chevy project, I always had lots of good ideas, but I really didn’t have any actual experience of working on a late model car, and it was a very scary thought because I could ruin the car. But by the time I was finished customizing the Chevrolet Impala, I had gained a lot of experience, probably more than I needed, and yes, I made my share of mistakes, but fortunately in the end the car came out great.
      In the late 1950’s and the 1960’s, the customizing of cars, and building hotrods, had become all the rage nationwide, and every drug store magazine rack was filled with hotrod and custom car monthly’s, all depicting the customizing of cars. Body shops started springing up everywhere, all competing for who could design, build and paint, the best looking custom car.
      By 1960, it was also becoming all the rage, for the “Do it yourself” customizers to remove so called, ugly hood and trunk ornaments from their cars. But the teenagers soon realized that to have your car customized by a professional shop was expensive, so that’s what gave rise to the do it yourself crowd. Eventually there became so many do it yourselfers driving on the streets, that it was a common sight to see cars that had multiple areas that were being worked on, they were usually primed and unpainted areas somewhere on the car where someone had made an attempt to customize it by removing a hood ornament or by taking off a trunk handle. For a while it seemed like half the cars you saw on the road had some unfinished back yard customizing work being done to them. It was like if you were a young male, you had to drive a car with some primer and unfinished work somewhere on your car, it was almost like a rite of passage.
     By the 1960’s, plastic body fillers, epoxies, and polyester resins, hit the market but they were all very new technologies. New or not, all the “Do it yourselfers” started using them, they did it because it was easy to do, and now the streets became loaded with more unfinished partially customized cars, all with some kind of unfinished plastic putty plastered on them. Most of those cars were driven that way, unfinished, until they all ended up in some junk yard waiting to be crushed into scrap metal.   
      At the same time, besides from the physical customizing of cars, there was also a revolution in car painting. Cars were being painted with specially concocted brightly colored paints called “Candy apple” or “Metal Flake”, it was becoming a custom car painter’s field day for all the really artistic automobile painters who were now painting the brightly colored cars with newly invented and unique colors and flame jobs. Even the lost art of pin striping was resurrected, but pin striping was no longer relegated to just long straight lines on the side of a car, it was now being done in grand multicolored designs. I had practiced the art of pin striping myself, and I found that it took a steady hand and lots of artistic ability. Today one can buy a pin stripe decal kit and stick it on a car in a few minutes, no talent required.
     Back then, the professionals were now customizing cars had started to include in them, souped up, high performance engines, engines with lots of chromed parts, and accessories, some cars even had superchargers protruding through their hoods. It was a wonderful time period for creative thinking automotive mechanical artists to show off their skills. The custom car craze that had originally started in California, was now everywhere, it was even going on in my own little city of New Haven, Connecticut, it was certainly an unusual time, there were official drag races every weekend, and there was always unofficial street drag racing going on, starting from the parking lots of restaurants where the hotrod cars all appeared in the evenings. And just like now in the computer industry, a whole new language had developed with new words and descriptions that we had never heard before were being invented, words like souping up, chopping, channeling, there were words like headers, straight pipes, and laker pipes, and there was the California rake, there was boring and stroking, balancing, porting and relieving, and that was just to mention a few of them, it was like a whole new language had been invented for the custom car and hotrod industry.          
     To pinpoint exactly why anyone wanted to engage in the radical customizing of a car is any ones guess. Possibly it was just to change the cars design to suit an individual’s taste, or perhaps it was like doing an original work of art, or perhaps it was a combination of all of these things with showmanship also included. Changing a cars looks, took a lot of time, and a lot of craftsmanship, and it took a lot of money, especially lots of craftsmanship and money, as only wealthy people could afford to use professional companies to do the work for them.
      In my case, I think I was motivated into customizing the 1959 Chevrolet Impala just to prove that I could do it all by myself. Once I started the project, failure was not even an option for me, it would be admitting that everything I had learned up to that time was all for nothing. So the customizing of the 1959 Chevrolet would confirm to me and the rest of the world that everything that I had already learned up to that point could be put to some use.
      The Chevrolet I had was a 1959 Impala convertible, with a 348 cubic inch, 315 horse power engine, it had a factory installed 4 speed Corvette transmission and it had a positraction differential. It was really a good looking car to start with.
     In 1960 I had taken time off after two years at New Haven State Teachers College, and I was working as an apprentice electrician during the day and in the evenings I was working at a Gulf gasoline station that was located on the corner of Whalley Avenue and Emmerson Street in my home town of Westville, a suburb of New Haven.
     The Gulf gas station had a hydraulic car lift, so when things were quiet in the evenings, I could put the Chevy up on the lift and I was able to study the underside of the car, I started doing that because I had a few novel ideas, starting with the cars suspension.
     A popular look for cars at the time was called “The California Rake”. It was when the car’s rear was raised dramatically higher than the front end. To raise the rear end on most cars was a simple matter of installing spacers raising the leaf springs, but the 1959 Chevy was different, it had coil springs in the rear. I had seen special airbags being offered in catalogs, they were designed to fit into an automobiles front coil springs to eliminate a spongy ride.
     I reasoned that if I installed them in the Chevrolets rear springs and overfilled them, it would raise the rear of the car as much as I wanted, depending on how much air was put in. I knew it was going to be tricky installing them, as they were not intended for the purpose that I had in mind and the Chevy’s rear coil springs were pretty big and had to be removed then reinstalled after the air bags were put in. Then there was no guarantee the air bags wouldn’t just blow up when I filled them. So I ordered the air bags and enlisted some help from friends and we installed the air bags inside the Chevy’s rear springs and reinstalled them, we used multiple tire irons to force the springs back in place. Wow, it worked, the air bags, depending on the amount of air you put in them, raised the rear of the car so high it would make you slide forward when you sat in the front seat, and the 1959 Chevy now had the most dramatic California rake in New Haven.
       Next I started studying how the exhaust system worked. The 1959 Chevy had a dual exhaust system, and I had plenty of experience on using gas welding to weld and repair exhaust systems. So I mentally designed a really unique exhaust system, it was one that would be functional and also be a good looking attention getter. As I had access to the hydraulic lift at the gas station, I ordered all the special chrome exhaust system parts I needed from our local auto parts store. Then one evening I brought my gas welding outfit in and started welding up my new exhaust system.
      First I cut two round hole into the existing exhaust pipes, one on each side of the car.
The holes were located in the original exhaust pipes just behind the cars two front tires, then I welded in two exhaust bypass extensions that allowed the exhaust to flow right behind the front tires, and on the ends of the extensions I welded a chrome triangular flange. Each flange had an asbestos gasket and a triangular chrome plated steel cover that attached with three 9/16 bolts and nuts. When the triangular covers were bolted on the flanges, the cars exhaust would exit from the car’s rear tailpipes just like normal, but when I unbolted the two front bypass flange covers, the cars exhaust went directly from the engine and out just behind the rear tires and boy did it make a loud racket. I then welded two similar chrome triangular flanges with chrome covers to the two rear exhaust pipes in the back of the car, but on the rear tail pipes, I bolted on the triangular covers in the open position, using only one bolt, to hold the chrome cover in place. This left the flanges in the open position and allowed the exhaust to exit like normal. This system with the chrome flanges and covers was esthetically beautiful and it was functional. In city driving the exhaust exited the rear of the car like normal, but when I was racing, or on a turnpike, I could open the two front bypass pipes and let the exhaust come out, and boy was it loud, and if I wanted it to be even louder, all I had to do was close the chrome covers on the rear tailpipe flanges, now forcing all the exhaust out the front bypass pipes just behind the front tires. The terminology for doing this was called “Straight pipes”, and I had to be careful to only open up the straight pipes when I was going onto a freeway to race someone, and there were no cops around.  
      Because that 1959 Chevrolet looked like a missile in flight, I was often challenged to street race. Unfortunately having a heavy 4600 lb car with only a 315 horsepower engine was never conducive to winning a lot of the races, the engine just didn’t develop enough horsepower for such a heavy car. So that’s when I started considering “Souping up” the engine and raising up its horsepower. I thought I could do it because by 1962, I was receiving a lot speed shop catalogs in the mail, and many of them were starting to offer high performance parts for the big block 348 cubic inch engine. I saw that oversize high compression pistons were also now available, as well as a high performance racing camshaft, there were even special springs offered to make the engines oil pump put out more pressure.
     When the Chevrolet 348 cubic inch engine was introduced by 1958, it was designed primarily for trucks, not cars, so I was surprised to see how many companies were starting to offer high performance parts for the engine. I felt that considering that parts were available, I could overhaul the engine and dramatically raise the horsepower up. Doing that, I thought could help me win more races, but I was wrong about that.
      Unfortunately for me, at the time, I had no idea that Chevrolet had already started trying to modifying the engine, and they had already modified it to produce 350 horsepower, but this was all unknown to me, and I have recently read that by the year 1961, Chevrolet had already realized that the 348 cubic inch engine was a dud, and they were seriously thinking about discontinuing it for use in cars. But before they gave up they did try to modify the engine and called it a 409 which was supposed to be for light trucks only. Then by late 1962 they boosted the horsepower on the 409 to 425, and put them in a few muscle cars. The reason I mention this is because had I known a 425 horse power engine was available I could have made the same modifications that Chevrolet did, and it would have simplified my life, but at the time I didn’t know anything about any of it, so I had to do everything the hard way. It was several months later, and only after I wasted a lot of time and money that I realized that there was never any hope of me ever making the 348 cubic inch engine into a powerhouse. I had ordered oversize high compression pistons, and a racing camshaft. Then when all the parts came in, I proceeded to pull the engine out of the car in my back yard. After completely disassembling the engine, I brought the cylinder block to New Havens best automotive machine shop, to have it bored out so I could use the oversize high compression pistons I had purchased. Right away the machine shop called me with a problem. That was when I learned that to bore out the 348 cubic inch engine, the machine shop needed a special 17 degree angle plate to allow their boring bar to do the job.  I was kind of surprised to find out that I was the first and only person in the city of New Haven Connecticut to ever want to bore out a Chevrolet big block 348 cubic inch engine, so of course the 17 degree angle plate was ordered at my expense.
      While I was waiting for the angle plate to come in, I took the engines two cylinder heads down to our basement work shop, and using an electric drill and several rotary abrasive stones, I ground out and polished all the ports in the heads just like I had seen them do it in the hot rod magazines. The purpose was to open up the intake and exhaust ports to allow smoother fuel intake and also allow the engines exhaust gasses to flow out faster.
      Once the block was bored out, I then assembled the engine and it ran well amazingly well, but the car still didn’t win many races. So now I felt that if the car couldn’t be fast, as an alternative, I could always customize it more, and make it into a show car.
      Once I decided that customizing was the way to go, my thinking immediately went into high gear, and I could just visualize in my head everything that I wanted to do to the car.
      Tony Massey, was one of the Gulf gas station managers that I had worked for, had owned a 1955 Buick, and I saw that in 1955, the Buick cars had beautiful chrome port holes all along the sides of both front fenders. The portholes looked oval but could be installed by drilling 3 inch diameter round holes. So I installed six of the portholes in two rows of three each on the Chevy’s hood. Each row was nicely spaced. But doing it was a very traumatic experience, because I was drilling right into the metal of that beautiful 1959 Chevrolet hood with a round hole saw I bought in a hardware store, I was scared that I might ruin the car, and I had to make sure I wasn’t drilling through the stiffening struts on its underside of the hood, but when I was done, the chrome port holes came out excellent. You can see what those portholes looked like by finding a picture of a 1955 Buick on Google.
      After doing it, I worried that I had made a big mistake. I thought that rain was going to go into the portholes and affect the engines performance, but it never did. So now that I had installed the port holes, it gave me the opportunity to try using my pin striping skills. I had purchased the special long tapered horse hair brushes that were required, as I had already been practicing by pin striping all of my friend’s cars. So now I pinstriped designs all around the portholes. I did it in red and white enamel paint, and the designs and port holes came out so good, that now I was really inspired to go forward with more customizing.
      The next project was to change the 1959 Chevrolet’s front grille. I removed the original louvered horizontal grill, leaving me with a gaping wide space across the entire front of the car. The space was about 3-1/2 feet wide and about 8 inches high.
      I already had an idea as to what I was going to do for a grille. I went down to the New Haven Studebaker agency and ordered five chrome, 1950 Studebaker front nose pieces. I found that five of the chrome Studebaker nose pieces fit just perfectly into the 59 Chevrolet grill cavity, and they were exactly the right height. Those chrome Studebaker nose pieces are another item that you can see on Google by looking for a photo of a 1950 Studebaker.   
      Now everything was coming out so good, that I started to think a about doing something little more daring. So I focused on the rear taillights. They were already pretty novel looking, being long, horizontal and tear drop shaped. But as long as I was changing and redesigning everything, I decided to change those tail lights as well. But now I wanted to use my auto body fabricating skills, so I removed the aluminum tail light frame and its red plastic lens’s, and then by welding 3/8 diameter iron round rod, I fabricated what was called a “Frenched” tail light. Frenching meant you created a tunnel effect, creating the appearance of depth. I did this keeping the original tail light shape but extended its border out around two inches and on the hood of the taillight I creating an extended and pointed peak. I welded sheet metal over the frame, and I used the molten lead technique to smooth everything out. Working with lead as a body filler was by 1962 already a lost art. It required sticks of a special lead alloy, a wooden paddle and a block of bees wax. You heated the paddle and coated it with bees wax then melted the lead on the metal surface you were smoothing out using the paddle. The entire surface had to be prepped first by tinning the area. Tinning was the difficult process of using acid and a rag to rub hot lead into the metal surface so the hot lead body filler would stick. Today one would buy a can of plastic auto body filler called Bondo, and do the entire job in a few minutes.   
      Now for the lenses I used inside the stop lights, first I made an interior flat surface by using gold colored textured sheet aluminum. Then I installed three bullet shaped, red plastic taillights that were used on the 1959 Cadillacs. I installed three of them on each side into the Frenched tail light. You can see what those beautiful bullet shaped Cadillac tail lights looked like by finding a picture of the rear of a 1959 Cadillac on Google.
      While I was doing the taillights, I had removed the Chevrolets rear bumper, and I found that the bumper was made in three sections. I decided to eliminate the center section. So I reinstalled the right and left side bumper pieces, eliminating the piece that was in the center, leaving a space that was about two feet wide. By removing the center bumper piece it now exposed the car’s rear chassis, which didn’t look good. So to cover up the exposed chassis I welded sheet metal to the cars body and rolled it under, and attaching it to the underside of the chassis. Where I did the welding, it was ground down and leaded over to be smooth, I prime painted it and I am pleased to say that the finished product looked like it had come from the factory that way.  
     When I first started the project, I had never intended to repaint the entire car as I felt that would have been too expensive, so up until I did the tail lights and removed the bumper, I could have gotten away with just repainting those small areas. But now after observing the finished tail lights and the rolled pan, I was pretty proud of the work I had done, so it emboldened me to really alter the side appearance of the car. The 1959 Chevrolet had one long chrome strip that ran the length of the car on both sides. I knew that if I removed the chrome strip there would be several small holes left all along the side of the car from the clips used to hold the chrome strip on, So that’s when I had what I thought was a terrific idea, perhaps I could find a design from another car that I could put on the Chevrolet to make the sides of the car more attractive and give the car a more custom look, and I needed to find some existing design  that would cover up all the little holes left from removing the original chrome strip.
      I started looking at other cars, and that’s when I noticed the beautiful chrome and gold aluminum design work on the sides of the 1958 Ford Fairlane. Not only did the Fairlane’s side trim have a long chrome border that would cover most of the holes left from removing the Chevy’s chrome strip, but the Ford Fairlane’s side trim had a golden aluminum center design that looked like a streak of lightening, I thought that putting the entire Ford Fairlane chrome and gold aluminum side trim, would be perfect.    
      I went down to the New Haven Ford Dealer and ordered the complete 1958 Ford Fairlane side chrome parts and all the installation clips. You can look on Google for a 1958 Ford Fairlane and you will see why I fell in love with the chrome and gold design on the cars sides.
      In a week, all the Ford parts came in and I brought it home and temporarily put it on the Chevrolet using masking tape to hold everything in place, and that’s when I noticed that I had miscalculated. There were two or three holes in the Chevrolets body that the Ford design didn’t cover up. So I tried moving the chrome in all directions, but I couldn’t cover those holes. They were located on both sides of the Chevrolet on the rear quarter panels. Having those holes presented me with a dilemma. They were in a place that was very dangerous to weld, as the heat from welding torch could warp the metal and ruin the side panel of the Chevrolet. I thought about it for two days, I was thinking of all the tricks I could use to keep the metal from warping if I attempted to weld the holes closed. I knew what could happen to the quarter panel once I applied any heat from my torch. So after thinking about it, for some reason, I impulsively took my torch and welded the holes on one side and it warped the Chevy’s rear quarter panel. It was a disaster, and at that point I was ready to give up and commit suicide, but instead, I spent the rest of the day working to remove the warp, and I finally got it where it looked better, but it was still pretty bad. My skill at fixing warped metal, just wasn’t that good, I had miscalculated and failed.  
      The next morning I was totally depressed, but I drove the car down to Cooley Chevrolet and showed the head salesman what I had done. He already had seen most of my other customizing work, and the other Cooley Chevrolet employees had liked it. So he had me drive into their body shop where he called a meeting of all his old time body shop experts that were working there. I watched as they studied what I had done to the car. They all scratched their heads as they had never seen a Chevrolet customized like that before, but I saw that they all admired what had been done. Then they looked at the warped area where I had attempted to straighten out the side panels, and they all had a good laugh. After all, these old time bodywork guys did this kind of stuff every day, they knew how to fix the problem.
      After a long conference, and after everyone felt the warped area with their hand, they told me to leave the car there. They knew I didn’t have the money to both fix the warped areas and paint the car, but I could see that they all enjoyed looking at the car and what had been done to it.
       The next day I came back to the Cooley Chevrolet body shop to see what they were going to do. To my surprise they had already straightened out the warped area, and they also had welded up the other exposed holes. It was only nine in the morning and one of the men was sanding the formerly warped panel, using a four foot long piece of wood with fine sandpaper on it, and I saw that it was already smooth, he was making the car ready for paint. The salesman came in and said that my 1959  Chevrolet used a new type of  black acrylic lacquer paint, it was paint that had to be special ordered, but he said, fortunately they were painting several cars that week that used the same paint. I came back later that day and the car had already been painted, and it looked like new.
     When I started the car up, the whole body shop crew was standing there clapping their hands. Cooley Chevrolet never billed me for any of the work they did. I drove home and finished installing the 1958 Ford Fairlane chrome on the cars sides, my customizing job was done.