"Lead Barges"? Well, yes. At least, that's what Mary Slonaker and her late husband, Al, called custom cars back when they held their first "official" National Roadster Show in 1950 at the old Oakland Exposition Building. (Note that the previous year they'd hosted an International Auto Show where hot rods crashed the party, became the belles of the ball, and completely changed the venue's direction). Many things may have changed during the intervening years, including locations, promoters, and even the name, but one thing has remained a constant--the mix of customs amongst the roadsters, giving show-goers the complete hot rodding experience.

At that seminal 1950 show, the Barris-built '41 Ford coupe of Jesse Lopez took first in "Special Division." Indeed, the Barris Brothers, George and Sam, had several of their creations on display, taking home gold in several categories, including a personal second place in "Greatest Contribution To Auto Industry," and also a win in "Most Magnificent Convertible." Though I can find no reference to which car this might have been, we do know through photographic evidence that Joe Urritta's chopped, sectioned, and Carson-style-topped ex-Tudor '41, the "Four Footed Ford" was on site. However, since it was still in primer, it might not have been considered quite so "Magnificent" back in the day, as there were no "Suede Palaces" at the time. Customs also in attendance included the Harry Westergard-built '39 Ford of Bruce Glenn, which, oddly enough, doesn't seem to have trophied--go figure? Note that none of the award titles mentioned have survived to present day.

Obviously, as time marched on, so did the makes, models, and years of what would be considered as acceptable custom "bait," stopping at around '64 or thereabouts. Bench racin' sessions could go on forever about what (almost) killed off the customs first time around in the early '60s. Some say it was the emergence of factory muscle cars, some the across-the-board introduction of curved side glass in new cars (almost impossible to cut). Others attribute the downturn in interest to changes in taste and fads; take custom vans as an example. But, whatever the reasons (I think there's a little truth in all of them), thankfully customs never completely went away. The keepers of the flame continued to debut their latest custom creations at "Oakland," no matter where that may have been--it's a state of mind, man! Customs, or "Kustoms," have cruised side-by-side with rods now through 60 years of Grand National Roadster Shows, and will continue to do so well into the foreseeable future. This is thanks in no small part to the show's producers, the Buck family, who recognize the importance of this low, and sometimes not so slow segment of the hot rodding hobby/lifestyle/sport/passion/obsession/business, etc., etc. Did I leave anyone out?

So, take a gander at what's going on up to the minute in the wonderful world of customs, from mild-to-wild. You won't be disappointed and just possibly might come down with a bit of lead poisoning yourself. OK, I'm outta here--enjoy the pretty pictures, then go forth and do likewise.