Sport Custom Cars

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The Rotzell 46 is sport custom built by Ed Rotzell of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The build took 3 months, and it was completed early in 1946.
Robert McClure's Custom of Denver, Colorado. Built by Robert, the first version of the car was completed in 1947. It rode on a Buick chassis.
The X-Ray Jr was a futuristic sports custom built on a late 1920s automobile. Taken at the 1955 Detroit Autorama, the car was displayed next to Tom Liechty's 1950 Plymouth. Photo from The Fred Thomas Collection.
The 1956 Volante of Brooklyn, New York City, New York. The car was built by Enzo Volante, a race car driver hobbyist. Built from a 1941 Hudson Super Six, he started the build in 1949 and completed it in 1956.
George McLaughlin's Roadster of Yakima, Washington. George's roadster was built in the 1940s. In the early 1950s George moved to Richland, bringing the roadster along.
Martin S. Papazian's Cordster of Worcester, Massachusetts. The first version of Martin's Cordster was completed in 1953. In 1955 the top was chopped and the car was fit with a widened laydown windshield from an MG. Martin’s objective in building the Cordster was to produce a “Sports Custom” family car. He felt that the two seater sports cars of the day were limited to people that could afford to own two cars, so he set out to create his own.
Norman Timbs' Buick Special was designed and built by Norman Timbs in the 1940s The build was completed around 1948/1949
The Manta Ray was built by Glen Hire and Vernon Antoine of Whittier, California, sometime between 1951 and 1953. Inspiration came from Harley Earl's 1951 GM LeSabre concept car.
Brad and Gale Bez' 1948 Buick Roadmaster. The old sports custom was was located in Milwaukee and then moved to the Chicago area where it was in a garage fire. In 2009 it was purchased by a St Louis Buick collector. Brad and Gale are currently looking for info about who built their one-off custom.
Robert L Darling's 1949 Buick of Jeffersonville, Indiana. Robert's sport custom was built sometime between 1949 and 1953. Rumors has it that the car was shipped to Europe in the 1950s. It stayed there for some time before it was sold back to the US again some time prior to 1962.
William J. Unger's 1949 Cadillac Convertible of Chicago, Illinois. Built from a fusion of General Motors parts, the build was completed in 1950. It gained national recognition when it was featured in Motor Trend October 1950. In 1951, two photos of the car appeared in Trend Book 101 Custom Cars, in an article named "Customs With Character - A Lineup of Cars With Singular Personalities."
Ed Rotzell's SCOLF is a sports custom built by Ed Rotzell of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Built in the early 1950s, the rear end of the SCOLF was inspired by the 1951 GM LeSabre concept car.
The Little Jewel is a sport custom built by Garner Jones and Herman Lawhon of Lamesa, Texas. The build was completed in 1953.
The Kevin Hertfelder's Sport Custom of Orange County, California. When Kevin bought the car in 2010 he was told that it came from the Mid-West.
Bob Knessel's Sports Custom of Bell, California. Featuring a Fiberglass body, Bob and his dad spent three years constructing the car. According to an appearance in Fawcett Book 413 How to Build and Race Hot Rods, Ed Roth was involved in the build, and rumors has it that he gave it a Metallic pink paint job once the bodywork was done.
The New York Mystery Sport Custom. The car was advertised for sale in the Syracuse, New York area in the late 1980s or the early 1990s. The car was sold to Italy, where it still remained in 2019.
Dave Facey's 1940 Willys Special of Lakeland, Florida. Facey bought the old Sport Custom from a collector in North Florida in 2021. The collector bought it from someone in Texas 10 years earlier, and rumor has it that it was built in California.

How They Came to Be

According to Dan Post's Original Blue Book of Custom restyling from 1944, Southern California, the capital of the motion picture industry, was the natural nursery of the sport-custom car. "Though coachmakers all over the country have been kept busy since the industry's infancy with orders for one-of-a-kind limousine bodies, enclosures for touring cars, and an occasional customizing treatment on a roadster, or the once-nippy "speedster," not until the middle thirties did the custom sports car come into its own in the form it is known today." While movie scripts like "The Young in Heart" and "Topper" called for custom cars, many of the starts themselves ordered specialty styled models.[1]


In 1936 Maurice Schwartz, a partner in the firm of Bohman & Schwartz, constructed the "Topper" movie car for Hal Roach on a Buick chassis. Maurice followed a design by Anthony Garrity of Hollywood. According to Dan Post, the Topper Car gave youth to the infant custom-sport industry.[1]

Charles Martz and Sports Car Craze

A couple of years after the end of World War II, the sports car craze hit America. Buying a British sports car like the Jaguar XK-120 cost a lot of money, so many enthusiasts decided to build their own sports cars. Many homebuilt Sport Customs featured mechanical components from the likes of middle-aged Fords and Hudsons. Charles Martz of Aurora, Montana is often credited for starting the Sport Custom movement nationally. Charles built a sport custom that was featured on the cover of Motor Trend January 1952. Martz created his buttercup-yellow Sport Custom by combining a 1940 Hudson sedan and an ambulance with $700 and seven months of labor. Martz published the result in a book titled Build Your Own Custom Sports Car.

Sport Customs reached the height of their limited popularity in the mid-1950s. Most of the cars were given life by cutting down American coupes and sedans. A Sport Custom was usually bigger than imported sports cars. They were also more powerful, but they often lacked quick handling and driveability.

Sport Customs probably influenced Detroit show cars like the 1951 GM LeSabre. And ironically, the LeSabre certainly influenced Sport Customs. The LeSabre was one of the most copied of Detroit idea cars, as many backyard customs used its theme in the early 1950s.

Three basic designs and methods of construction were used in building Sport Customs. The first approached began with an existing passenger car, usually, a coupe or sedan, cut down to make a 2 - or 4-seater Sportster. Others were built up piece by piece from an assembled, assorted collection of body and chassis components. The third approach involved developing a full custom body built from scratch using metal or fiberglass bodywork.

The Sport Custom Registry

In 1976 the Sport Custom Registry was founded by Tim Hutchins of Burlington, Iowa. The idea behind the club was to promote the preservation of Sport Customs and to provide a clearinghouse for information.

Sport Customs

Henry Rootlieb's 1933 Ford Roadster
Robert E. Roeder's 1934 Ford - The Roeder Sport Custom
Clarence Schaaf's 1937 Cord Special
C. H. Peterson's 1940 Ford-Willys - The Custom Speedster
Manuel Avila's 1940 Ford
Ted Graziano's 1940 Ford Sport Custom
Charles Martz' 1940 Hudson
Kevin Hertfelder's Sport Custom
Al Fitzpatrick's 1940 Packard - The Fitzpatrick Custom
Dave Facey's 1940 Willys Special
Preston Hopkins' Estrata
George McLaughlin's Roadster
The Skylane Motor Special
Doray Inc.'s 1949 Willys
Ed Rotzell's SCOLF
The 1952 Maverick Sportster Martin S. Papazian's Cordster
The 1954 Cramer Comet
The Manta Ray
The New York Mystery Sport Custom
Lon Hurley's 1946 Cadillac
The Rotzell 46
Robert McClure's Custom
Brad and Gale Bez' 1948 Buick Roadmaster Roadster
Robert L. Darling's 1949 Buick
William J. Unger's 1949 Cadillac Convertible
Glenn Stauffer's 1949 Chevrolet Convertible
The 1950 Saturn
The Donz Lancer
W. Frantz' Sport Custom
Jack Kirsch's 1954 Cadillac
1956 Volante
Bob Metz' La Rocket
Norman Timbs' Buick Special
Ray Reed's 1941 Chevrolet
Garner Jones' 1951 Ford Sport Custom - The Little Jewel
Bob Knessel's Sports Custom


Special-Interest Autos Nov-Dec 1977


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