California Metal Shaping Co. - 1935-present - Los Angeles, California
Given Time, They Shape Up – Somewhere West of Laramie by Tim Howley – Best
of Old Cars - pp102-103
California Metal Shaping - 1704 Hooper Ave - Los Angeles, California 90021-3112
The letter, postmarked Mar. 1, 1965, came to me from Lancaster, Calif. in the land Somewhere West of Laramie. In those days I was still living in Chicago, and could hardly find Pasadena on the map, let alone Lancaster. I was later to discover that this unlikely spot in the high California desert is the home of the ageless Joshua tree, and the seat of some of the most active AACA activity in the West.
The letter was signed by Dick Kingston, a feed mill operator and part-time restorer. He simply wanted me to know that I was not alone in my. enthusiasm for Jordans. He had two of them, a 1927 Tomboy and 1929 Playboy, the latter of which he was just finishing up for the AACA Western Division Spring Meet.
He said he had bought his first car, a 1929 Chandler, from a hospital bed. He was into Jordans because he liked the challenge of restoring rare cars, and he didn't mind taking on a basket case. He completely disassembled his bodies and renewed the wood. He had a boiling tank to clean parts, a rust removing tank for metal, and also fabricated new sheet metal where necessary. You just don't go running down to your friendly Jordan or Chandler dealer out in Lancaster.
A lot of letters were passed between Lancaster and Chicago. I couldn't help but admire the guy for taking on such impossible tasks. In the East, such high ambitions might have been tempered by the rat race, but out in the windy, sparce Ante-lope Valley, time and space were really no obstacles.
"People wonder how 1 do such a good job on a car," wrote Kingston. "I just tell them time and know how, but mostly a lot of time." He later told me that after eight kids, he decided it was time to get a new hobby.
I finally met Kingston in 1969, after we moved to California. -By this time his Jordans were legend, and he was now scooping up Far West trophies with a 1928 Willys-Knight roadster. (See Special Interest Autos, Nov.Dec., 1971). Kingston offered me his championship 1929 Jordan Playboy for $7,500. Chump that I was, I turned it down, feeling I could do better in the stock market. Huh. Since then, the only thing that's shot up faster in value than nice California cars is California real estate. Kingston was lucky enough to get in on both before prices skyrocketed, and today he can 'afford to devote his full attention to his old car hobby. It's now a business with Kingston: a most unusual business.
At some point it became clear to Kingston that it would be easier to remanufacture than to restore. Besides, then he could turn out two or three cars of the same type at once, not just one. These early car bodies were fabricated once, often on inexpensive wooden dies. It could be done the same way again. Kingston's infatuation with brand -new, old time bodies eventually led him to the right place. Just east of downtown Los Angeles stands a bland brick building, shrouded by smog and bypassed by progress.
A small sign out front reads, "California Metal Shaping." Inside, old-time auto body artisans are still shaping bodies the Same way they did in 1935, using hammers and dies that date back to the dawn of .the automotive age. California Metal Shaping has been hammering out bodies for the Indianapolis 500 for 40 years. On the side, they've been shaping bodies and fenders for California's most prestigious custom body builders. The original Packard Darrin was shaped here, and Dutch is still a frequent visitor. Incredible as it may seem, the craftsmen who shaped custom cars in the days of fenders and runningboards are still working for California Metal Shaping. They'll turn out a Duesenberg fender (or a whole Duesenberg body) just as surely as they did it two generations ago.
"Who's to say their work isn't original," said Kingston. "Ws the same people shaping the same bodies in the same building, using the same hammers." Only they're working in a 4()..year time warp, giving you an instant color video replay of the last great days of the custom body era. There is probably no place like California Metal Shaping in the country, if not the world. If Kingston could buy it, he could fabricate old-time cars all over again.
"I really didn't expect to buy the place," says Kingston. "But I approached the owner anyway. Reluctantly, he agreed to sell for double the value of the machines. Along with a long-time friend, Bill Honda, Kingston soon found himself co-owner of California Metal Shaping. Honda, who is mainly a Ford enthusiast, manages the plant, while Kingston finishes up the restorations in Lancaster. .
"We can shape anything here if you have the money," Honda says. "For years, California Metal Shaping catered mostly to the performance people. But today we're putting emphasis on the antique and classic cars again. We shaped the Monorail for Disneyland. We shaped the nose cone for Evel Knievel's sky cycle. We just made sure we got our money before he jumps. We shape fenders for, Duesenbergs. We're the only place in the world that will make you Duesenberg body parts.”
The Ford fenders are the easiest; difficult fabrications are their specialty. One of their most difficult tasks in recent months was shaping hoods for 1931-'33 Auburns. They even have a machine for cutting hood .louvers. At the moment, they're working on bodies for 734 boattailed Packards and '31 Chrysler Imperial roadsters. They hop.e to complete production on two or three of each by the end of the year.
"Once you have the wooden dies, we can shape any car body panel you like," says Honda. Such dies are made using original body panels or fenders for patterns. If you have the original body parts - no matter how deteriorated - you can .
usually make new dies. The one thing California Metal Shaping can't do is fabricate an old car from no car. You can't just walk in with an old photograph from a Paris salon and say, "I want something just like this." But you could came in with a rare bodied classic and have it duplicated. If you have original drawings and a Detroit designer to build you wooden molds, you could conceivably order an old time custom body from Honda and Kingston.
But what they're doing is no laugh. They're actually shaping new bodies to the old specs, and doing it with no bondo anywhere, and often fewer seams than were used in the .original panels. That's really the only way you could tell a remanufactured panel from an original. For example, a lot of body putty and lead was - used in the original Packard boattails, plus a lot of seamwork. You will find only one seam on each fender flare in the new boattails, and absolutely no bondo.
As might be suspected, this kind of reproduction is raising a lot of eyebrows in antique and classic car judging circles. There just seems to be something downright illicit about the proceedings on Hooper Avenue. They have the facility to create old car forgeries. Conceivably, they could turn out Bugattis and Duesenbergs so refined in detail that even Harrah's experts probably couldn't tell the difference.
Some go so far as to say they could undermine the whole old car economy, with its fragile basis of rarity. The plain fact is, however, that California Metal Shaping is hardly a mass production operation. If they turned their whole facility over to Duesenbergs, they might be able to bump out five or six a year - and they would probably cost about the same as a good Duesenberg restoration. Besides, they'd still need an original Duesenberg engine, and there are just so many of those still around. No, California Metal Shaping is not likely to flood the old car market with rare classics stamped out on the proverbial cookie press. What they are doing is recycling many rare cars that might otherwise be forever lost due to the impossibility of restoration.
"We're expensive," says Kingston. "We charge $20 an hour, and the work is very slow. But there is just no way you can shortcut this kind of labor. On the other hand, we can accomplish in hours what might take the hobbyist weeks, and we can do it without bondo or lead." If you want wooden dies they're expensive, too. You can pay several hundred dollars for a die for just one fender, but the die is then yours. No other hobbyist can ever use it for another car without first coming to you.
But California Metal Shaping is only one part of Kingston's unique operation. It still all begins and ends at his ranch in. Lancaster, a facility soon to be moved to Mt. Shasta in the northern part of the state. At Lancaster, skin is carefully removed from the original body and the' wooden frame is taken apart piece by piece Don Linsley, another of Kingston's associates, then cuts new oak body frame pieces. The original frames might have been oak, ash or walnut, as the old body builders usually bought whichever was cheapest, and the wood was often inconsistent from car to car. Kingston uses all oak. It's a little more prone to dry rot than other woods, but these cars are no longer going to be sitting out in the weather. Oak seems to be the most workable wood, especially for intricate bending and shaping.
The original body frames are never discarded when new ones are made. Rotten pieces are replaced, and the frame is carefully screwed back together. It will be used in one of two or three bodies in the run.
All of the ground-up restoration is done at Lancaster. Engines are usually farmed out, but Kingston does his own transmission work. The whole car, with its wooden body frame, is then hauled down to Los Angeles, where the new body is shaped right over the frame. Then, it's back to Lancaster again for painting and finishing up. A classic restoration will take anywhere from six months to a year.
"I like to do the impossible job," says Kingston. "I like to do something different. That's why I don't go in for Fords. I like Fords, but now there are so many guys around making parts that you can practically buy a whole old Ford right off the shelf. I'd rather take on a Pierce-Arrow, a Packard or a Stutz Bearcat."
Kingston's back room houses the only Stutz Bearcat factory in the world. He has had most of the 191416 Stutz Bearcat parts remanufactured, ordered his own dies, castings and all. He has even had frame channels made. Kingston emphatically states that if you supply him with an engine he will build you a brand new Stutz Bearcat to the old specifications. "Whose to say it isn't original," he adds. "How many people could supply you with this kind of thing?"
But Kingston's most exciting project, by far, is the Packard 734 boat-tailed speedster. Literally, a brand new car built to the old specs. In a few months, the first one will be rolled out. By next year at this time, Kingston will have produced three of them. It takes a lot of guts to even conceive a project like this, let alone carry through with it. We've seen a lot of ambitious car projects here in the West, but this one tops them all. It's the Jordan Playboy idea relived, and who could be more capable of pulling it off than the master of Jordan restorations; Dick Kingston.
One of the old Playboy ads reads: “The Jordan Playboy is built in limited numbers for robust Americans who refuse to grow old. It is built for those discerning motorists who know the difference between good taste and gaudy repetition. There will never be enough Playboys to go around. We only build a few of them because, quite frankly, we love doing it."
We guess that pretty much sums up Kingston's whole operation.
"So we wound up out at Troutman and Barnes (race car fabricators) in Culver City, California. They'd been making the tail sections for the Kurtis roadsters, and California Metal Shaping
was rolling their panels. They had some wonderful craftsmen there who could build something like a tail section for a champ car in two days.
"We took the plug out to California. Troutman and Barnes had California Metal Shaping roll out some panels, and while they welded them together and metal-finished the seams we proceeded to finish our design for the spaceframe out in Dearborn.
Blueprints for the Cobra Daytona Coupe were sent to California Metal Shaping in Los Angeles for the body and inner panels. The first coupe was assembled at Shelby American as CSX 2287. The car did not look like any other car. The roof was odd shaped, the rear end was chopped off and it had a movable wing on the rear.
the Matranga Merc To achieve the desired contour, Sam Barris commissioned California Metal Shaping to fabricate new roof panels to his specification and chopped the windshield
Bill Honda at California Metal Shaping filled the original spare-tire recess.
The Futura was only the first Batmobile built for the television show. BKI made four others on different Ford chassis as there were no other Futuras. BKI had to lengthen the different chassis by 11 inches to match the longer wheelbase and tread of the Futura.
The second car was a stand-in car for the filming. The third car was mostly used to tour for exhibitions and feature attractions. The fourth car was a drag racing car, with a more powerful engine than the others. And according to Barris, the fifth car was another steel car and was used mostly for drive-by shots out on the highway. California Metal Shaping pulled molds off the number three car to do the metal work.
For more information please read:
Tim Howley - Given Time, They Shape Up; Somewhere West of Laramie – Best of Old Cars
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