Gil Ayala's 1955 Ford

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A photo of Ralphy Morales with the Wild Bird at his Huntington Park High School graduation in June of 1956. Ralphy did all the assistant work on the car, and the deal between Gil and Ralphy was that Ralphy could take the custom to his High School graduation. Photo from the Ralphy Morales Photo Collection.
The Pinstriped version of Gil's Thunderbird was featured on the cover of Motor Life May 1957. Photo courtesy of Motor Life Magazine.
The featured story on Gil's Thunderbird from Motor Life May 1957. Photo courtesy of Motor Life Magazine.
Photo courtesy of Motor Life Magazine.
Photo by Jim Potter
Photo by Jim Potter
Photo by Jim Potter
Gil-ayala-1955-ford-thunderbird-7.jpg
A photo of Gil with the Thunderbird taken during the rebuild. Photo from the Ralphy Morales Photo Collection.
Until Ralphy mailed Kustomrama in 2016, this was the only known photo of the second version of the Thunderbird. This photo was published in the Rodder's Journal 40, in a story about the Ayala Brothers. Photo courtesy of the Rodder's Jornal.
Danny Cuellar bought the remains of the Wild Bird in 2011. He bought it from two guys who were dividing up the parts to sell. Photo by Sondre Kvipt - Kustomrama.
The Thunderbird as it sat when Dan Cuellar bought it. This photo was published in The Rodder's Journal 40. Photo courtesy of the Rodder's Jornal.
The Thunderbird as it sat when Dan Cuellar owned it, around 2011. Photo courtesy of Raul Reynoso.
Photo courtesy of Raul Reynoso.
Photo courtesy of Raul Reynoso.
Photo courtesy of Raul Reynoso.
Photo courtesy of Raul Reynoso.
Photo courtesy of Raul Reynoso.
Photo courtesy of Raul Reynoso.
The Thunderbird as it sat when Dan advertised it for sale on Craigslist in August of 2011. Photo courtesy of Raul Reynoso.
Photo courtesy of Raul Reynoso.
Photo courtesy of Raul Reynoso.
Photo courtesy of Raul Reynoso.
Photo courtesy of Raul Reynoso.
Photo courtesy of Raul Reynoso.
The Thunderbird as it sat when Bjørn Inge Jansson bought it in September of 2014.
Gil-ayala-1955-ford-thunderbird-custom16.jpg
Gil-ayala-1955-ford-thunderbird-custom17.jpg
October 30, 2014 the Thunderbird arrived at Yaril's Custom in Hialeah, Florida. Photo by Yaril Quintana - Yaril's Customs.
Early in November Yaril started to strip the body for paint. Photo by Yaril Quintana - Yaril's Customs.
Traces of the old scoop can be seen in the hood. Photo by Yaril Quintana - Yaril's Customs.
A detail shot of the contoured grille shell that Gil made to house the 1955 Pontiac bumpers. Photo by Yaril Quintana - Yaril's Customs.
One of the 1955 Pontiac split bumpers. Photo by Yaril Quintana - Yaril's Customs.
Gil fit the car with a special built tail-panel that housed a license plate inset. Photo by Yaril Quintana - Yaril's Customs.
1954 Cadillac bumper guards were fit on each end of the tail-panel. Photo by Yaril Quintana - Yaril's Customs.
The rear fenders were extended 7 inches in order to house 1956 Lincoln taillights. Photo by Yaril Quintana - Yaril's Customs.
A photo of Yaril with the Thunderbird. Photo courtesy of Yaril Quintana - Yaril's Customs.
The Thunderbird body covered by a couple of coats of primer. Photo by Yaril Quintana - Yaril's Customs.
The driver side floor after Yaril had cut out most of the rust. Photo by Yaril Quintana - Yaril's Customs.
A photo of the passenger side floor after the rust had been cut out. Photo by Yaril Quintana - Yaril's Customs.
The lower rear rocker panel on the driver side, after Yaril had repaired it. Photo by Yaril Quintana - Yaril's Customs.
The Thunderbird as it sat October 3, 2015. Photo by Yaril Quintana - Yaril's Customs.
Yaril decided to take the trunk from the donor car, as the original trunk on the Wild Bird had the complete back lip reconstructed by an amateur metal man. It was pitting with rust very badly. The donor trunk was shaved of its gas fill hole and its key hole, providing the same look without the rust. Photo by Yaril Quintana - Yaril's Customs.
New floor patches welded in. Photo by Yaril Quintana - Yaril's Customs.
The Wild Bird in Epoxy primer January 25, 2017. Photo by Yaril Quintana - Yaril's Customs.
The frame painted and ready for assembly. Photo by Yaril Quintana - Yaril's Customs.
March 7, 2017 the primered body was mounted on the restored frame. A big milestone for Yaril and his crew. Photo by Yaril Quintana - Yaril's Customs.
Candy Red over Gold Metallic. Photo by Yaril Quintana - Yaril's Customs.
Gil's Thunderbird was originally factory red. The first version was initially painted Purple over a Black base. After Gil's wife called the car an Easter egg, he went with darker Red over the Purple. When Gil restyled the car the second time, he did a Gold base with Candy Red over. Photo by Yaril Quintana - Yaril's Customs.
The Wild Bird in sealer March 11, 2017. Photo by Yaril Quintana - Yaril's Customs.
The Wild Bird in Gold base March 12, 2017. Photo by Yaril Quintana - Yaril's Customs.
The Wild Bird in Red Candy March 16, 2017. Photo by Yaril Quintana - Yaril's Customs.
The car being assembled after paint. Photo by Yaril Quintana - Yaril's Customs.
Photo courtesy of Yaril's Customs.
Photo courtesy of Yaril's Customs.
Photo courtesy of Yaril's Customs.
The Wild Bird as it sat April 3, 2017. Photo courtesy of Bjørn Inge Jansson.
A photo of Bjørn Inge with the Wild Bird taken April 4, 2017. Photo courtesy of Yaril's Custom.
The Restored version of the Wild Bird in front of Hotel Colony in South Beach. The photo was taken April 5, 2017, the day Bjørn Inge began the cross country trip. Photo courtesy of Bjørn Inge Jansson.
Max Lammers working on the car. Day one Bjørn Inge had trouble with the generator, so he and Max had to sleep over in Orlando. On Thursday they had problems with the starter, so they had to disassemble and overhaul it on a parking lot. The troubles delayed them for a day, making them miss out on Friday at the Lonestar Round Up.Photo courtesy of Bjørn Inge Jansson.
A photo of the car taken in Twin Rivers, Florida. Photo courtesy of Bjørn Inge Jansson.
Photo courtesy of Bjørn Inge Jansson.
Welcome to Alabama. Photo courtesy of Bjørn Inge Jansson.
A photo of the Wild Bird taken in Mobile, Alabama. Photo courtesy of Bjørn Inge Jansson.
Photo courtesy of Bjørn Inge Jansson.
Welcome to Mississippi. Photo courtesy of Bjørn Inge Jansson.
Keeping Louisiana Beautiful. Photo courtesy of Bjørn Inge Jansson.
Bjørn Inge and Max stopped by New Orleans on their way to Austin. This photo of the Wild Bird is taken at Bourbon Street. Photo courtesy of Bjørn Inge Jansson.
Photo courtesy of Bjørn Inge Jansson.
The Wild Bird arrives in Texas Friday, April 8. Photo courtesy of Bjørn Inge Jansson.
The Wild Bird at the 2017 Lonestar Round Up. Photo courtesy of Matt Rico.
Danny Cuellar and Bjørn Inge with the Wild Bird at the 2017 Lonestar Round Up in Austin. Danny drove from Southern California to catch the first public appearance of the restored version of the car. Photo courtesy of Auto Butchers of East Los Angeles.
Bjørn Inge took home an award with the Wild Bird at the Lonestar Round Up. Photo courtesy of Bjørn Inge Jansson.
The Wild Bird entering New Mexico, on its way to California. Photo courtesy of Bjørn Inge Jansson.
Photo shoot at White Sands, New Mexico. Photo courtesy of Bjørn Inge Jansson.
Photo courtesy of Bjørn Inge Jansson.
Photo courtesy of Bjørn Inge Jansson.
Crossing the border to Arizona. Photo courtesy of Bjørn Inge Jansson.
Dusty and decorated with road bugs the Wild Bird returns to California. Photo courtesy of Bjørn Inge Jansson.
The Wild Bird back at Gil's old shop for a photo shoot April 11, 2017. Photo courtesy of Bjørn Inge Jansson.
A photo of Ralphy Morales with the Wild Bird. Photo by Raymond Mosken.
The Wild Bird crossing the border to Nevada, on the way to the 2017 Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender. Photo courtesy of Bjørn Inge Jansson.
The Wild Bird lined up at the 2017 Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender. Photo courtesy of Bjørn Inge Jansson.
The Europe debut for the restored Wild Bird will take place June 23, 2017 at the 9th annual Coupe Devils Rod & Kustom Bonanza in Norway.
The Kustomrama East L.A. shirt is dedicated to Gil Ayala and the Wild Bird. Click here to buy it from the Kustomrama Online Store.

1955 Ford Thunderbird owned and restyled by Auto Butchers of East Los Angeles member Gil Ayala of Gil's Auto Body Works in Los Angeles, California. Gil's Thunderbird is also known as the Wild Bird.


Contents

Gil's Auto Body Works

Gil and his brother Al were early custom pioneers, and major players when it came to establishing and setting trends in the 1940s and the 1950s. Gil opened up his own shop, Gil's Auto Body Works, in East Los Angeles in 1945. After providing Southern California with trendsetting custom cars for about a decade, he decided to build a wildly customized 1955 Ford Thunderbird for himself.


The Wild Bird

Gil gave his Thunderbird a longer look by extending the front and rear fenders. The rear fenders were extended 7 inches in order to house more exclusive 1956 Lincoln taillights. Expanded mesh-type gold fins were installed on top of the fenders to enhance the look, these did also work as radio antennas. Oldsmobile wheel cut-outs were reshaped to give the car a look of motion. The rear end of the car featured a special built tail-panel with a license plate inset that eliminated unnecessary frills. 1954 Cadillac bumper guards were fit on each end of the tail-panel. The exhaust was routed through the bumper guards.[1] Ralphy Morales worked with Gil on the Wild Bird, and in 2016 he told Kustomrama that John Manok did the exhaust and bumper combo on the car. Al did most of the custom work on the car, while Ralphy did all the assistant work on the body. The deal between Gil and Ralphy was that Ralphy could take the custom to his High School graduation.[2]


The entire front end on the car was reshaped with sheet metal. Wrap-around twin bumpers from a 1955 Pontiac were set into the contoured grille shell. The headlights were frenched and hooded, and the hood scoop was reshaped and fit with a gold mesh and three chromed teeth. The hood itself was louvered. Curly Hurlbert did the headlights on the car. The interior was stock, nothing fancy.[3]


Ralphy Morales' High School Graduation

In June 1956 Ralphy took the Wild Bird to his Huntington Park High School graduation. At the time it was not fully done.[3]


Motorama Debut

The first version of the Wild Bird was painted dark Purple Metallic, one of Gil's favorite colors. According to Pat Ganahl, who did a two part series about the Ayala Brothers for the Rodder’s Journal, “Gil’s speciality, and his love, was mixing and spraying luscious custom colors, especially candies and pearl.” The purple version was shown at the 1956 Motorama at the Pan Pacific Auditorium. Gil had the fins gold plated, and he sent Ralphy and a kid named Eddie Hernandez up at the show, right before it opened, to install them. The fins were made by Al and Ralphy.[3]


Easter Egg

Gil's wife said the Thunderbird looked like an Easter Egg, so Gil decided to repaint it dark red.


Pinstriped by Walt Leeman

The red version of the Wild Bird was pinstriped by Walt Leeman at a Hollywood car show. Walt was an aspiring pinstriper from East Los Angeles. He was self taught and started pinstriping in 1956. In 2015 Walt told Kustomrama that Gil gave him free hands when it came to pinstriping the car: “I was about 18 when I did the car, and I was still in high school.” Walter picked up the trade after reading Von Dutch articles in various magazines. He began pinstriping out of House of Chrome, a chrome accessory company that was located at the Ayalas property, right next to the shop; “I was already striping out of the House of Chrome after school and on weekends. I had met Earl Bruce, who owned a bar on Sunset Blvd, and owned a 1940 Ford that Valley Custom had filled the quarter windows on and performed some other custom work on. When I was striping the Wild Bird at the show Earl brought Von Dutch over and introduced me to him. He didn’t say much, but it sure rattled me for a bit.” [4]


Motor Life Cover Car

After Walt had pinstriped the Thunderbird, it was featured on the cover of Motor Life May 1957. It was Ralphy that drove the car to the photo shoot, and he remembers that the male model had the wrong pants on, and they made hims change them right on the spot.[2]


Redone by Gil

The Thunderbird was later redone by Gil. Walter Leeman, who pinstriped out of Gil's shop, went into the US Air Force in the early 1960s, and the second version was done sometime after he left.[4]


Rescued by Dan Cuellar

Around 2011, East Los Angeles Auto Butchers member Dan Cuellar bought the remains of the old custom. He purchased it from some guys in San Fernando Valley. Apparently, the vehicle was abandoned in an apartment building when they found it, and it was going to be junked. They bought it with the intent of dividing up the parts to sell. Dan recognized the old custom and bought it off them. He bought the car with the intent of restoring it. As Dan also had two other customs he was working on, he decided to advertise it for sale on Craigslist in August of 2011. At the time, the car was located in Orange County, California, and the asking price was $10 000 USD. It was mostly complete, but in need of a restoration. The left door, seats and some glass were missing.[5]Later on the same year, the car was sold to the East Coast. In September of 2014 the Thunderbird came up for sale again. It was located in Ocean, New Jersey, and the asking price was $13 000. It was advertised without it's engine, transmission and interior.[6]


Sold to Norway

Mid-September 2014 the old custom was sold to Bjørn Inge Jansson of Oslo, Norway. Bjørn Inge shipped the Thunderbird to Yaril's Custom in Hialeah, Florida, where it will be restored back to it's former glory. In the Summer of 2015 a donor car was located and purchased. The driver side door from the donor car was straightened and installed on the Wild Bird along with the fiberglass roof. The roof on the Wild Bird had no custom work on it, and as the back window frame was broken, Yaril didn't see a reason to struggle and repair it. The donor roof only had some cracks from the sun beating on it. An easy fix. The trunk was also taken off the donor car, as the original trunk on the Wild Bird had the complete back lip reconstructed by an amateur metal man. It was pitting with rust very badly. The donor trunk was shaved of its gas fill hole and its key hole, providing the same look without the rust. By October of 2015 new floor patches were welded in.[7]


March 7, 2017 the primered body was mounted on the restored frame. A big milestone for Yaril and his crew.


Kross Kountry Kustom Adventure

Yaril completed the restoration early April 2017. Monday, April 3, Bjørn Inge flew in from Oslo, Norway to drive the car across the country. Max Lammers flew in the following day to tag along on the adventure. April 5 Bjørn Inge and Max left Hialeah, headed for Austin, Texas and the 16th annual Lonestar Round Up.[8]


Day one Bjørn Inge had trouble with the generator, so he and Max had to sleep over in Orlando. On Thursday they had problems with the starter, so they had to disassemble and overhaul it on a parking lot. The troubles delayed them for a day, making them miss out on Friday at the Lonestar Round Up. Bjørn Inge and Max arrived at the show Saturday morning. The response on the old custom was great, and it took home an award at the show.[8]


Viva Las Vegas

April 13-15, 2017 the Wild Bird will be displayed at the 20th annual Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend in Las Vegas, Nevada.


Europe Debut

The Europe debut for the restored Wild Bird will take place June 23, 2017 at the 9th annual Coupe Devils Rod & Kustom Bonanza in Norway.


Magazine Features

Motor Life May 1957
Trend Book 156 Custom Cars 1958 Annual
Car Craft August 1958


References

  1. Motor Life May 1957
  2. 2.0 2.1 Gerald Marks
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Ralphy Morales
  4. 4.0 4.1 Walt Leeman
  5. Raul Reynoso
  6. The HAMB - Historic Gil Ayala Custom T-Bird
  7. Sondre Kvipt
  8. 8.0 8.1 Bjørn Inge Jansson





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