Alphabetical Index|A|B|C|D|E|F|G|H|I|J|K|L|M|N|O|P|Q|R|S|T|U|V|W|X|Y|Z


quicklinks|buses|cars|customs|designers|fire apparatus|limos|pro-cars|taxis|trailers|trucks|woodies

Gaylord’s Tops & Interiors, Gaylord’s Lids
Gaylord’s Tops & Interiors 1945-1960s; Compton, Lynwood & Bell, Calif.; Gaylord’s Lids, 1970s-2003, Long Beach, Calif.; Gaylord’s Lids, 2003-present; Santa Fe Springs, Calif.
Associated Firms
Barris Bros.

Los Angeles' second best-known maker of Carson-style tops (after Glen Houser, the style's originator) was Gaylord's, a small upholstery shop founded at the end of the Second World War by William Gaylord Lunney. Gaylord also constructed padded convertible tops in addition to the non-folding 'Carson-style', but is better known today for his upholstery work which graced many a 1950s showcar.

(In Northern California Oakland's Calvin A. Hall built Carson-style tops and custom interiors for Sacramento's Harry Westergard and Sam and George Barris.)

Over time 'Carson Top' has became the generic name for a custom-built, removable, non-folding, padded, chopped top most often found on custom automobiles constructed on the West Coast during the late 1940s and early 1950s. Named after Houser's employer, Amos Carson, by the early 1950s a number of Californian upholstery shops were producing nearly identical tops, all of which should more appropriately called 'Carson-style’ tops.

Gaylord, as he was known ever since he was a youngster, was born on May 30, 1927 in Oklahoma to William Walter and Lottie (Lemon) Lunney. Lottie was William’s second wife, his first being Minnie Elizabeth (Lizzy) Vetter with which he had two children; Harlow Max and Marie (m. Pizzichino) Lunney.

After losing his first wife, William Walter Lunney wedded Lottie, producing two children, William Gaylord (our subject) and Phillip S. Lunney who was born in 1929 shortly after the family relocated to California. The 1930 Census lists the family as residents of 6314 Randolph St., Bell, California. The 1940 US Census lists the family as residents of 3917 Randolph St., Huntington Park, California and Lottie is listed as a widow.

In an interview with custom culture historian Pat Ganahl, Ed ‘Big Daddy’ Roth recalled Lunney as follows:

“Then there wuz guys like Gaylord Lunney who goes by ‘Gaylord’ in the rod mags with his pickup bed covers & liners. Well, Gaylord was the best example of American enterprise that I know of. Ya see Gaylord had two things he was good at: women & cars. He had 'em both. He was the head jock at Bell. Later on, when he went into the upholstery business, he hung all o’ his tickets to the wall. ‘Count ‘em.’ He’d dare ya! There was too many, but we took his word for over 200 of ‘em. When he was 14 he got this old wreck like the rest of us but instead of goin’ to Tijuana for seats he did ‘em himself & it wasn’t bad. He painted it and sold it for a fortune & he took the bread & bought another wreck & did this about six times & ends up with this beautiful, brand-new ’48 Caddy all decked out with a ‘Carson-type’ top on it that he made himself. Girls? Ya can imagine.”

Lunney started in the upholstery business by installing replacement convertible tops, initially working out of his home, which was located in Lynwood, just off of Long Beach Blvd. - his listing in the 1949 Compton, Calif. directory:

“Wm. G. Lunney, upholsterer, r. 1817 Diane.”

The tops of two- to three-year-old convertibles that more often than not were parked on the street, were prime candidates for Lunney’s new tops and he discovered he could get considerably more money by installing a fashionable padded ‘French Top’ instead of factory-issued unit.

He scoured the streets for cars with shabby tops, inserting his card under the wiper blade, and waiting for the phone calls to start pouring in, which they did. In an interview with Rod & Custom’s Thom Taylor he recalled:

“I was doing Buicks like crazy. I used to do them in five hours and get a hundred bucks. In those days that was good money.”

Even more popular were his padded tops for 1941-1948 Fords and Mercurys which were furnished with 1941-style door glass with a radiused rear corner:

“Some of those guys didn’t want to pay the extra 15 bucks for the glass. I’d use their glass and have the glass guy put in a 5-inch curve, then I’d put on this new piece of aluminum channel. I was getting $165 for the tops, so $15 was a lot of extra money.”

He rented a shop in Lynwood located down the street from the Barris Bros.’ and inevitably they began collaborating on project cars.

George Barris wasn’t satisfied with Gaylord’s padded tops which had a pronounced hump or 'bubble-top look' at the rear. He worked with Lunney to help re-shape the superstructure on a top for a 1941 Ford into a lighter, more attractive, tapered form. According to Lunney:

“George helped me with the shaping. I used machine-gun webbing stretched real tight across and then I clamped all the bows where I wanted them.”

With the hump gone, Barris was now happy with Gaylord’s tops and Lunney became a favored Barris sub-contractor, going so far as to take out joint advertisement in the custom car trade magazines which included an ad in Motor Trend which can be found on the right.

While Sam Barris is credited with being the first to chop the top of a 1949 Mercury coupe, little acclaim has been awarded to Lunney, who chopped the top of this 1949 Mercury at the start of 1950, just a couple months prior to when Barris chopped his Merc, Lunney related:

“I was called up for the army around January 1950. I had just enough time to finish chopping my '49 Merc convertible, but of course, my stint in the army meant that Sam's car got all the glory. I didn't even get to enjoy the car because, while I was away, I told my first wife to sell it. Well, this soldier persuaded her to give him the pink slip saying he needed it to secure a loan. She never saw him, or the Merc, again.”

The timing of the Barris/Gaylord ads were also disastrous for Lunney:

“I was sittin’ in Germany making $96 a month when those Barris/Gaylord ads ran, it was a big waste for me, but it was alright for Barris.”

Lunney returned to southern California at the end of 1951 and soon after his discharge picked up right where he left off, although he was no longer Barris’ favored top and upholstery shop as he explained, “he had to get somebody to replace me.”

Lunney rented a small shop at 5238 East Imperial Hwy. (corner of Wright) in Lynwood, Calif., and greatly expanded his custom upholstery work. He related the details to Thom Taylor:

“I started to do customs after the army because I had to do it to keep my upholstery business. I wasn’t doing much of Barris’ upholstery. I think the last job I did for him was the Kopper Kart. Barris had his connections and I did a lot of upholstery for other shops in the area, so I was competing against Barris in some ways.”

As the demand for tops decreased Lunney began handling large upholstery jobs for the region’s custom car builders and even managed construct a few custom cars totally in-house. He relocated to larger facilities at 7932 Atlantic Blvd. in Bell, Calif., and expanded into the mail-order business producing custom-made fitted carpets that were advertised through display ads in Car Craft, Custom Cars, Motor Life, Motor Trend, and Rod & Custom magazine.

Lunney was always happy to accommodate photographers from Robert E. Petersen’s LA-based Trend Publications and the Gaylord shop was the background for numerous how-to upholstery pictorials. Lunney recalled:

“Dick Day practically lived at my shop. He would bring over products for us to try, then do articles about them. We did a lot of sports cars for him too.”

The October 1953 issue of Rod and Custom included a firsthand description of the construction of a Gaylord top:

“Upholstery By Gaylord (photos by Poole)

“HOW MANY times have you seen a good looking custom or a rod with a set of ill- fitting seat covers and worn or torn inner panels ruining the otherwise beautiful appearance of a car? For some reason, a lot of enthusiasts seemingly overlook the upholstery in their cars. Maybe they feel that since other people can't see into the car while it is being driven that an all-out upholstery job would be a waste of money or, possibly, they feel that the interior design and color scheme that they would like to have is too expensive and so are content to leave well enough alone.

“To be perfectly truthful, upholstery has always scared us a little, too. We decided to look into the matter the other day so, notebook in hand, we drove down to Lynwood, Calif. to see a man named Gaylord. We had heard that he was turning out some pretty fabulous stuff in the way of upholstery so a thorough looking-into, we felt, was in order.

“Entering the shop, which was surrounded by all sorts of cars, we spotted Gaylord himself in the act of giving Dave Crates some pointers on the installation of a pleated inner quarter panel on a clean little rod. We interrupted him to ask a few questions and soon found ourselves being given a king's tour of the upholstery shop.

“With cars being brought to the shop from all parts of California, as well as many other states, the shop gives the impression of having no semblance of order. Cars, seats, great rolls of material and the tools necessary to the upholstering trade seem to be scattered willy-nilly throughout the buildings. Gaylord's employees seem to skip from one project to another and a picture is given that no sense of order exists. In actuality, however, there is very little lost motion and beneath the surface there lies a strict regularity and all the various operations are completed in proper chronological order.

“Following Gaylord into an adjoining building, we watched him light up the welding torch and go to work on the construction of a padded removable top.

“The car in question is a radical Chevy custom that was built in another part of the state. The chopped windshield and the cut down glass frames were completed before Gaylord received the car but from this stage on the job is his baby. The original top bows and actuating mechanism were first removed as were the seats and every bit of original interior covering.

“Building a padded top, one of Gaylord's more popular jobs, requires a great deal of work and the project generally takes about a week from start to finish. Each individual top is built to enhance the contour lines of the particular car. He has-built literally hundreds of these tops with no two of them being identical in every respect.

“After the removal of the former top structure, the next step is to sketch top designs and decide on the style to be used. Full scale patterns and templates are made using the selected sketch as a guide. Next, work is begun on the shaping of ribs and trusses, from 2" channel iron, and the necessary lighter frame work. The original windshield headboard is the only part of the original top retained. As soon as the numerous necessary measurements are taken the various sections are carefully welded together.

“When the skeletal framework has been completed, the next successive operation involves the upholstering. The first step at this stage is to cover the frame with chicken wire. This provides a base upon which the necessary layers of padding can be placed. With the majority of the insulating material being positioned, the inner headliner is the next to go in. The headliner itself is much the same color scheme must be chosen by the owner – or suggested by Gaylord – and designs made so that it will result in absolute conformity with the remainder of the interior. The liner is hung in the manner common to all cars – using metal bows to give the lined the proper contour.

“As soon as the inner lining is concluded, the outer covering is commenced. This requires additional layers of insulating padding to provide a firm foundation for the tightly stretched outer material. In the accompanying photo, Gaylord is doing a bit of measuring on the last layer. This final section of padding must be carefully installed since any irregularity in thickness will result in wrinkles or bulges. This particular car, when completed, will boast one of the lowest tops Gaylord has built recently.

“Leaving Gaylord to his work and going out to the parking area beside the shop, we come across Jack MacGill putting the final touches on a newly completed, custom Ford. This particular car, more than any other at the time we were at the shop, is typical of the fine work done by Gaylord. The seats, headlining and door .panels are done in a1 startling combination of reddish-brown and antique white leatherette with pleats and rolls running in all directions. The headliner itself required over a week's work to design and sew to say nothing of the time required to install it, made doubly difficult due to the radical modifications to the top itself and to the body in general.

“Because most of the more radical customs are driven to the shop with their interiors resembling an empty, fifty gallon drum, it is left up to Gaylord and his employees to not only upholster the inner panels and seats but to give the interior its final touches, such as: replacing the dash instruments if they happen to be removed at the time, installing spotlights as well as cutting and rewelding seat frames if they happen to need alteration. In short, the entire interior of the cars is left up to Gaylord. Incidentally, the shop is located at 5238 Imperial Highway in Lynwood.

“The pride of ownership of a rod or custom is proven not only by the upholstery on the seats or sides of a car, but by the floor carpeting as well. Although floors are usually considered as being nothing more than something to put feet on, they actually cover as great, or greater, an area than the headliner and are seen more often! Why, then, be satisfied with a wrinkled, misfitting rubber floor mat? Gaylord wouldn't any more leave a floor covering in its stock, drab looking appearance than a paint shop would, say, give a car a beautiful iridescent lacquer job - all, that is, except the front fenders.

“To prove a point, Gaylord's carpets have received such favorable and widespread comment that the shop has gone into actual production on them for the more popular cars and they ship them to all parts of the country.

“No universal carpets are made at the shop, each one is precision made to fit a particular car giving an assurance of a perfect fit. Here, in the carpet sewing room, we see Dave Crates again, this time sewing padding onto a maroon carpet for a late model Ford. Carpets for any particular car in practically any shade may be ordered from the shop.

“Custom work, while occupying the lion’s share of the time at the shop, does not receive the entire consideration of the shop's forces. In the accompanying photo Ronnie Morrow is shown tacking the inner padding to the stock framework of a Mercury convertible prior to recovering it. While the prices for such work are strictly in accordance with prices at any upholstery shop, the workmanship on stock jobs is equal to that on the most expensive of custom jobs.

“To keep things flowing smoothly and running on an even keel, Gaylord hires his employees with a particular spot in mind for them to fill, and trains them to do that job with an exactitude surpassing the majority of similar shops. For instance, Ronnie Morrow works solely on top coverings, whether they are custom or stock, and he follows them through to completion. Occasionally, though, the helpers double up to assist each other out of a bind if such an instance becomes necessary.

“Returning to the adjoining building (construction work requiring welding is done away from the stock of upholstery material because of the fire danger) we find Gaylord checking the fit of the Chevy padded top before the final canvas covering is installed. Notice that this particular car has been not only completely reupholstered, but has had a rear seat tarpaulin made. While most enthusiasts use the tarp only when their convertible tops are down (or removed in the case of a padded top) the owner of this car wants to retain it most of the time. It was necessary, therefore, to cut a slot into the tarp so that the fastening clip can be passed through it. With the top in its proper position, a bolt is passed through the aligned holes and, when tightened up, holds the top securely. Additional strength is added when the outer covering is installed since snap fasteners are used to hold the top tightly to the belt molding.

“Thanking friend Gaylord for the information passed onto us and apologizing for taking him away from his job for a few hours, we left thinking how nice it would be if we were in a position to have our Upholstery by Gaylord Kustom Shop.”

A couple of Gaylord-built full customs also appeared in the page of the mid-50s buff books, in particular a 1953 Oldsmobile in which he installed 1954 Packard taillights and a Gaylord padded top with a reverse-angle rear window. When displayed at car shows, the top lifted from the side to reveal its custom Gaylord interior.

Lunney also constructed a series of semi-custom shop trucks that did double duty as two vehicles for his numerous custom speedboats, a favorite passtime of his.

The custom top and upholstery business went into decline in the late 1950s when competitors began setting up shop across the Mexican border in Tijuana. The custom car craze began a steady decline soon afterwards and Lunney turned to the manufacture of seats and interiors for regional speedboat manufacturers. Business expanded and he purchased an industrial vinyl cutter in order to keep up with the demand, employing as many as 25 craftsmen at its peak in the early 1960s.

However the speedboat craze ended just as quickly as the custom craze and a number of manufacturers failed, owing him thousands. Once again Lunney made lemonade from the lemons as follows:

“Rather than go to court and get nothing, I’d come by and ask what they had. I’d deduct whatever they would give me from the bill, and off I’d go.”

With a factory full of boat building equipment and accessories, Lunney quickly constructed a few Fiberglas molds and commenced the construction of the Gaylord speedboat, of which 350 examples were built during the mid-Sixties. His next brainstorm came quite by accident, he fabricated a hard Fiberglass tonneau cover for his personal Ranchero in 1964, and within a few months had a backlog of orders for other truck enthusiasts who desired similar covers for their Rancheros and El Camino. The hard tonneau covers were marketed as ‘Gaylord Lids’ and soon after the lineups expanded to included pickup bed covers and hardware.

The firm relocated to a larger facility located at 6801 Paramount Blvd. in Long Beach, Calif. and remains in business today at a new plant located at 13538 Excelsior Dr., in Santa Fe Springs, Calif.

At that time the senior Lunney handed over the reins of the company to his son William Gaylord Lunney II (b. 1962) and retired. Today Gaylord Lids remains a major player in the aftermarket truck accessory business, marketing tonneau covers and bed liners for pickups both old and new. See:

© 2013 Mark Theobald for







Robert Lee Behme - The Case For Custom Upholstery - Motor Trend, April, 1953 issue

Greg Sharp – The Carson Top Story; Hot Rod Yearbook No. 14, pub. 1974

Greg Sharp – The Carson Top Story; Rod & Custom, August, 1991 issue

Upholstery by Gaylord, Rod and Custom, October 1953 issue

Thom Taylor – Top Gun; Custom-Car Legend Bill Gaylord, Rod & Custom November 1997 issue

Ed Roth & Tony Thacker - Hot Rods by Ed Big Daddy Roth, pub. 2007

Pat Ganahl - Ed "Big Daddy" Roth: His Life, Times, Cars, and Art, pub. 2011

Pat Ganahl - The American Custom Car, pub. 2001

George Barris, David Fetherston - The Big Book of Barris, pub. 2002

Tony Thacker - 1951 Mercury Convertible; Blue Heaven, November, 2003 issue of Rod & Custom

Submit Pictures or Information

Original sources of information are given when available. Additional pictures, information and corrections are most welcome.

Click Here to submit pictures or information


quicklinks|buses|cars|customs|designers|fire apparatus|limos|pro-cars|taxis|trailers|trucks|woodies

© 2004-2014, Inc.|books|disclaimer|index|privacy