The Ray Soff Photo Collection

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Harry Bradley's 1964 Chevrolet El Camino custom photographed in front of his 1951 Chevrolet custom. While the 1951 Chevrolet was restyled by Harry and Herb Gary, the El Camino featured work by the Alexander Brothers in Detroit. Harry designed the El Camino while he worked as a designer for GM, and it actually served as the prototype for the all-new production 1968 Chevrolet El Camino. Photo courtesy of Ray Soff.
Don Antonelli's 1954 Mercury Hardtop. Don was into customs from a young age. He bought the Mercury when he was seventeen and he immediately took it, and some rough sketches, to Les Cove's Custom Body Shop in Hillside, New Jersey in order to have it restyled. Once completed, the build was featured on the cover of Rodding and Re-styling February 1958. This photo of Don with his Merc comes from that session. Photo courtesy of Ray Soff.
Anthony Abato's 1954 Oldsmobile Convertible. A well-known Jersey City, New Jersey custom that Abato showed up and down the East Coast as "The Comet." Photo courtesy of Ray Soff.
Sy Gregorich's 1955 Ford Crown Victoria photographed at an indoor car shown. Known as "The Victorian," Sy's Crown Victoria is a favorite amongst many custom enthusiasts when it comes to the famous Alexander Bros. Photo courtesy of Ray Soff.
A photo of Russ Grady's 1957 Oldsmobile that was developed in April of 1962. Also known as "The Oriental," the radically restyled Stamford, Connecticut custom was restyled by Herb Gary at Gary's Auto Body in Sea Cliff, New York in the late 1950s and the 1960s. The initial version of the car was painted black, but after coming second at the 1960 National Champion Custom Car Show in Deotrit Russ decided that he had to make it more radical in order to take home the first place trophy. He returned to Herb's shop where the front end was modified further. Herb also installed a plastic roof and gave it a fade paint job before the car returned to the circuit. This photo shows Herb and some of his helpers in action, cutting out the roof skin on the car, making it ready for its plastic insert. Photo courtesy of Ray Soff.
A yellow iteration of Russ Grady's Oriental custom. Photo courtesy of Ray Soff.
A photo from an outdoor car show held at the Langley Theater in Langley Park Maryland in the early 1960s. Photo courtesy of Ray Soff.
Another photo from the Langley Theater outdoor car show. This 1959 Chevrolet El Camino has been given a rear end treatment very similar to the one Bill Hines gave Jerry Yatch's 1959 Chevrolet in 1959. Photo courtesy of Ray Soff.
Ford with a Facelift,” that’s how Custom Cars Magazine described Tony Moldonado’s 1950 Ford custom, one of several Bob Sanchez New Mexico built customs that were featured on the cover of custom car magazines back in the days. Photo courtesy of Ray Soff.
A construction photo of Andy Southard's 1958 Chevrolet Impala. The car was restyled by Herb Gary at Gary's Auto Body, and the photo was taken in front of his Sea Cliff, New York shop. The front end of Andy's Impala was restyled by molding the grille opening with two-inch tubing. A floating bar grille made from a chromed 2-inch bar was installed and bordered with a 1/2-inch solid rod. Photo courtesy of Ray Soff.
Hank Bornstein's 1959 Chevrolet Corvette being worked on at Herb Gary's Gary's Auto Body in Sea Cliff, New York. Known as "Pineapple Pearl" due to its color, the car made it onto at least a couple of magazine covers. Photo courtesy of Ray Soff.
Tom Piantkoski's 1948 Mercury Convertible of New Jersey. Tom was a body man at Highland Auto Body. In the early 1950s he took his customized 1941 Mercury Convertible on a cross country trip, heading for California. Unfortunately, Tom was involved in a traffic accident in Zanesville, Ohio, and he had to take the bus for the rest of the trip. He managed to get a job as a machinist in Los Angeles, where ended up buying the 1948 Mercury. When he got it, the top had already been chopped 5 1/2 inches and it had been fitted with a padded top by Carson Top Shop. He drove it back to New Jersey where he spent $1000 completing the build. Unfortunately, the car supposedly burned to the ground in the early 1960s, ending its days at the junkyard. Photo courtesy of Ray Soff.
A photo that Korky lent to Ray. Korky took this photo one day when he came out his house to find The Parisienne all covered with snow. Photo by Richard "Korky" Korkes, courtesy of Ray Soff.
A photo of Bill Tumbliston's 1955 Ford Convertible. Tumbliston worked with Darryl Starbird, and his convertible was restyled by The Alexander Brothers in Detroit. Photo courtesy of Ray Soff.
A photo of Bob Bissell's Street Scene taken at an indoor car show sometime prior to April of 1962. The custom-built street roadster featured a hand-formed steel body by Roy O. Coppick. Power came from a modified Oldsmobile engine, and it featured racing-type suspension and hydraulic brakes. Photo courtesy of Ray Soff.
A construction photo of Ray Farhner's 1963 Chevrolet Corvette taken by Grier Lowry in 1963. Known as "Outer Limits," the car had less than 100 miles on it when it fell victim to a high-speed crash in 1963. It had hit a concrete bridge abutment head-on at high speed. Tom Davison was there when it was delivered to Ray's shop on a flatbed truck, and he saw the shattered pieces of the car. Tom remembers that Ray paid $950 for the car, and spent 6 weeks creating the custom body and finishing up the repairs from the accident. In 2019 Tom told Sondre Kvipt of Kustomrama that he remembers well when Grier's photo was taken. "At one point, Ray had the body off the chassis, hanging from the ceiling by chains, about head high to the rocker panels. I came into the shop one night, hours after any work had been done, to show it to some friends. I didn’t touch anything, but I itched from the fiberglass in the air I guess." Photo by Grier Lowry, courtesy of Ray Soff.
"Grier Lowry was cool," Tom Davison told Sondre. "An older guy, old-time journalist, not into cars at all, just a job to him. Tweed jacket with sleeve patches, smoked a pipe, very sophisticated. He sold Ray to a lot of magazines." Ray Soff got the construction photos of The Outer Limits from Grier's wife after Grier had passed away. When Grier passed away she threw boxes of old photos in the dumpster. Ray reached out to her a little too late, but he told her to get in touch if she ever came across more car-related photos. She did and sent Ray a few negatives later on. Photo by Grier Lowry, courtesy of Ray Soff.
Richard "Korky" Korkes' 1954 Ford convertible photographed at an indoor car show in Teaneck, New Jersey in 1960. Korky bought the Ford brand new, it was his second car, and he was 19 years old at the time. Known as "The Parisienne", the car went through some mild modifications before Korky decided to turn it into the Parisienne in 1959. Photo courtesy of Ray Soff.
A chopped version of Bob Sanchez' 1954 Mercury photographed in front of Robert Martinez' Broadway Custom Auto in Chula Vista, California. Photo courtesy of Ray Soff.
A rear end shot of Bob Sanchez' 1954 Mercury photographed in front of Robert Martinez' Broadway Custom Auto in Chula Vista, California. Photo courtesy of Ray Soff.
An early incarnation of Dean Jeffries' 1947 Mercury convertible taken before flames were added to the front end. George Egen snapped this photo during one of his California trips. Photo by George Egen, courtesy of Ray Soff, scanned by Richard Toonkel.
A photo of Herb Gary with his sectioned 1949 Plymouth. The car is also known as The Aztec. Herb owned and operated Gary's Auto Body in Sea Cliff, New York. Gary learned his trade solely from reading magazines, he learned his craft entirely on his own, and that included a long list of abilities such as hammer-welding and sectioning. He never used any filler of any kind, whether plastic or lead. When a job first called for a specific shape, panels were handmade from sheet stock and hammer-welded in place. He was well known for flawless results. Photo courtesy of Ray Soff.
A photo of Bob McNulty's 1955 Chevrolet Corvette custom that Drivin Deuces member George Egen took on one of his trips to California. The photo was taken outside of Barris Kustoms. Known as "The Shark," Bob's Corvette was shown at the 1958 National Roadster Show. It competed in the Customized Sports Roadsters class and won an award for being the best in its class. Later on the same year, Bob's Corvette was also nominated as one of 28 "Top Customs of the Year" in Motor Life July 1958. The Thunderbird next to Bob's Corvette in the photo belonged to Shirley Barris, George Barris' wife. Photo by George Egen, courtesy of Ray Soff, scanned by Richard Toonkel.
Another photo of "The Shark taken outside of Barris Kustoms. Photo by George Egen, courtesy of Ray Soff, scanned by Richard Toonkel.
Bob Smith's 1947 Ford Coupe. Featuring quad headlights, we believe this photo was taken at the 1959 Detroit Autorama. Photo courtesy of Ray Soff, scanned by Richard Toonkel.
An early custom by Les Dunham. The 1941 Ford in the photo has been chopped and hardtopped. Photo from provided by Ray Soff, courtesy of Les Dunham.
A photo of Ed Meritai with his 1950 Ford custom. In the early 1980s Ray Soff met Ed, and Ed told him that he used to have a 1950 Ford custom back in the days. Ed lent Ray the photos he had of the car so he could scan them for his huge collection of East Coast custom car photos. Photo courtesy of Ray Soff.
Edward Meritai's 1950 Ford was restyled by Monego's Body Shop in Garfield, New Jersey, and the build was completed in 1958. Photo courtesy of Ray Soff.
The rear quarter panels on Edward Meritai's 1950 Ford were extended 14 inches and modified to accept a pair of 1954 Oldsmobile lenses. The rear of the car was also dressed up with a continental kit, a popular East Coast trend at the time. Photo courtesy of Ray Soff.
The Continental Kit on Edward Meritai's 1950 Ford was hinged and could be moved backward for access to the trunk. Photo courtesy of Ray Soff.

The Kustomrama Photo Archive


Raymond Soff of Saddle Brook, New Jersey is often referred to as a walking custom car Encyclopedia. He was born in 1946, and he has spent half of his life tracking down custom cars in the United States, talking to owners of cars that he admired in the magazines when he was a little kid. Ray’s growing collection of East Coast custom history contains thousands of photos and negatives, letters, notes, and taped interviews.[1]


This is my hobby,” Ray told Sondre Kvipt of Kustomrama in 2018. “My whole life is cars. Since I was a kid, I have always been into cars. I still am. That’s maybe what keeps me alive,” Ray chuckled. Ray’s passion can be traced back to 1962. “When I was 16, I went with my father to the New York Coliseum to an indoor car show. At the show, I saw my car for the first time. It was dark green, and I said; ‘Dad, that’s the car I want.’ Dad went; ‘Yeah! Well, it ain’t for sale, and you’re only 16!’ I said ´OK.’[2]


The car Ray fell for back in 1962 was a chopped 1950 Ford Convertible that had been driven in from Stamford, Connecticut. It featured a chopped top, rolled bumpers, chrome rims and a shiny Dark Green lacquer paint job. It was owned and restyled by a teenage kid named Jimmy Karcher.[2]


Jack DeWitt, an award-winning author and poet who grew up in Stamford, also has fond memories of the same car; “In the mid-Fifties, when I was in my early teens, the streets of Stamford, Connecticut seem to be invaded by a whole new class of car. Without warning chopped and lowered Fords and Chevys, Mercs and Oldsmobiles appeared on Main Street, on Bedford Street, in the Ridges, down by Long Island Sound, up on the Merritt Parkway. They looked mean and low painted in deep maroons, bright blues or wild purples. Some were unfinished with primered patches on hoods and fenders covering the spots where chrome had been removed and holes filled. But that was still cool. Even cooler was how they sounded as they announced themselves to the world with a deep rumble of steelpac or glasspac mufflers or even straight pipes. They were the coolest things we had ever seen.[3]


One night in 1956 or 57 Jack and his buddies heard that Jimmy Karcher was building a 1950 Ford convertible in his garage, and his younger brother offered them a look. “We walked down Cedar Heights, and Jimmy’s brother opened the door, and we saw the car sitting there in a tiny one-car garage that barely contained the car. Jimmy was there.” Jack told Sondre that that night stayed with him for a long time; “To me, it was the sort of night that you might remember if you had a chance to see Jackson Pollack when he first started dancing around a canvas spread out on the floor with a stick dripping in his hand. Or to hear Allen Ginsberg read “Howl” in San Francisco. I treasured that memory as much for what the car became as for what I remembered of that night. We all knew (believed) how perfect it was going to be.


Jimmy had bought the car from a policeman in Stamford, and it was in a pretty good shape when he began transforming it into the car of his dreams. The top was chopped 6 inches before the body was brought an additional 6 inches closer to the ground by modifying the A-arms and dropping the spindles. The back of the car received two sets of 3-inch lowering blocks before the quarter panels were modified to accept a pair of 1955 Packard Clipper tail lights. Sonny Bennet, a buddy of Jimmy, did most of the welding on the car. Up front, 1954 Mercury headlight rings were frenched into the fenders. A molded grill cavity was made from two 1950 Mercury grill shells, and the new opening was dressed up with a shortened 1955 DeSoto grill. The first incarnation was painted 1954 Buick Tahitian Red, a trendy color back in the 1950s. It featured 1955 Buick sidetrim, and it was upholstered in pink and black Naugahyde. According to Jack, the Stamford cars were almost all owner built, and it was rare to see such a radically altered homebuilt car so well designed and perfectly executed.


Known as “The Connecticut Yankee,” Jim’s Ford went on to become a well known Connecticut custom. According to a magazine article, it was also the lowest car in the state. In 1961 Jimmy’s Ford was invited to attend the Custom Car Spectacular in San Juan, Puerto Rico. “There was a big ship that brought cars from New York City to Puerto Rico,” Ray told Sondre. “Mine was damaged on the way over, and it never made it into the show.Jerry Anolik that was responsible for the show was supposed to pay for the shipping when the cars came back to New York City. Unfortunately, he ran to California, with all the money, and the shipping company put all the cars in storage when they arrived. They wouldn’t release the vehicles before the owners had paid for the shipping from Puerto Rico.


By 1962 Jimmy’s Ford had been given a blue paint job, and a white rolled and pleated Naugahyde interior. This version was featured on the cover of Speed & Custom March 1962. After the car had been photographed for the Speed & Custom story, Jim decided to redo it for the third time. The bumpers were scrapped in favor of rolled pans, a popular early 1960s modification. This incarnation received a metallic Gold paint job and chromed and reversed wheels. Shortly after that, and in time for the New York show, the car was given a Dark Green lacquer paint job.


I always had it in my mind, that car. All the time,” Ray told Sondre. In 1978, after he got married and had a kid he said; “You know, I wanna find that car.” He spent a year looking for the old custom in Stamford, Connecticut where it was from. Nobody knew what had happened to Jim or the car, but Ray found the house where he used to live and knocked on the door. ”A guy opened up, and told me that he bought the house off of Jim 10 years ago,” Ray asked him if he knew where he lived. He didn’t know, so Ray started knocking on the doors in the neighborhood, talking to Jim’s ex-neighbors. “A guy told me that he had moved to Florida, so I gave up on him. I put an ad in the magazines with a picture of the car that I had taken in 1962, saying that I was looking for the car or Jim. A guy called me up from Long Island, and he says “I think my friend owns the car. It’s for sale, but it is in a million pieces.” Ray told him that was no problem, and he went down there to check it out February 10th, 1979. “We came up with a good price. I paid the deposit and told the seller that I would be here Saturday with the rest of the money. I brought it home, and since I was a bodyman for 30 years I put the car together, and it has been on the road ever since.” According to Jimmy, the car had been painted seven times while he owned it. First Buick Titian red, then candy blue, metallic gold, a bluish silver, and a deep green. It had also been painted two different reds. Ray decided to give the car a Red paint job, similar to the one Jim had originally given it when he first restyled the car. He also decided to maintain the molded front and rear pans that Jimmy had grafted onto it in the sixties. Appleton Spotlights and 1957 Cadillac hubcaps were added to make the restored incarnation “his.” During the restoration, the drivetrain was upgraded with a 351W engine, an AT transmission, Jaguar rack and pinion steering and disc brakes.


That car was what got me going,” Ray told Sondre. “Because when I found my car, I said if I could find this car that I wanted since I was a kid, there's gotta be more customs out there. And that’s what got me going. The quest to find more cars. 35 years ago these guys were still alive, so I would go into the telephone book look em up, call em, and we would talk. It eventually became a habit. I had to have another one. Then the next one, and the next one.


In the 1980s Ray started tracking down old show promoters, and photographers that were credited in the 25 cent magazines he used to drool over as a teenager, asking if they had any photos or negatives to share. “I have thousands of negatives from all of the magazines because the photographers kept them, got old and passed away. Along the way, I became friends with their wives, and after their husbands died, I told them not to throw the negatives out.” Ray offered to buy photos and negatives from the widows, and his collection started to grow dramatically. Unfortunately, he also came too late several times, and he has several stories about widows that have been throwing large collections of negatives and photos in the dumpster.


Talking to a lot of people for 35 years I find stories. I get information from people, then I make the calls to the guy in subject, and all of a sudden I have a new story. For 50 years, since I was a kid, I have been going through the 25 cent magazines. I go through them every winter looking for information.” As a result of this, Ray can tell you what’s on every page almost in every magazine. “It is in my mind,” he laughed. And in 2018 his mind seemed to be great for his age. Ray also hunts stories and photos on swap meets. When he sees people looking through boxes of 25 cent magazines, he asks them what they are looking for. “Sometimes the guy goes, “I’m looking for my car, it was on the cover of this or that magazine.” Then I say; Who are you? He tells me his name and gives me his telephone number so I can give him a call someday. That’s how I find people.


Ray has also been calling old customizers such as Korky Korkes, Harry Bradley, John Hycko, and Herb Gary regularly for the last 35 years. He has recorded most of the calls, and he also has a vast collection of taped interviews. “Most of their friends are gone by now, so they have nobody to talk to about the old days, so when you start talking, asking questions, they just keep talking, they don’t want to stop, cause I’m the only guy listening to them.” Ray truly loves talking to people. And according to his wife he is on the phone with someone every damn night.


In 2002 Ray’s Ford was featured on the cover of the first issue of Kustoms Illustrated. After that, Ray became a contributor to the magazine, providing photos and stories. Before that Ray also made some stories for Custom Rodder Magazine. Today Ray receives calls from all over the country. “People call me about their car, or they have a car, and they ask me about the car and wants to know if I have any information about it. Maybe 20 percent of the times I know what happened to the car, or can tell them info about the car they have in their garage,” Ray chuckled. Luckily for us, Ray has become a valuable contributor to Kustomrama, sharing rare photos and stories from his enormous collection.


References



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