If you've been keeping up with this column for the past few issues, you may have noticed a reoccurring theme of focusing on custom car builders. Let's just say this isn't an accident, nor is it an attempt to cause an uproar of emotion from anyone used to reading about hot rod and street rod builders. No, this is simply the author's favorite subject and one that needs to be visited once in a while to keep the new crop of car nuts educated on the important historical stuff. Which brings up a good point about this month's "Hall of Fame" spotlight. Without a doubt, Frank DeRosa needs no introduction (with exception to the youths coming up today mentioned earlier), however, the history behind Frank and his Pittsburg, California-based body shop is long, successful, and a true testament to the American way of life.
Frank DeRosa is widely known for hand-shaping some of the wildest custom cars seen anywhere. But what many fans of the DeRosa style may not know is that Frank has very successfully built up and operated a high-production autobody repair shop in his hometown of Pittsburg, California, since 1949. Born in 1929, Frank was only 24 when he started his business (now the oldest body shop in town), but it was a combination of his childhood spent tinkering with model car kits and modifying things like his 2x4 plank skateboard, and a stint in the Navy, where Frank learned welding and fabrication, that laid the groundwork for a life of lead and sheetmetal. Frank also got some much needed autobody experience at a local body shop owned by Bob Dughi, just before Frank started his time in the Navy. When Frank returned from duty, he-like a small group of other Central California-based custom car "freaks," like the Barris brothers, Bailon, Cushenberry, Winfield, and Westergard, just to name a few-began modifying cars and making a name for himself in the fledgling custom car industry. Unlike most of Frank's custom car peers who made the move down to Southern California for presumably greener pastures, Frank stayed in his hometown and because of this, made quite a name for himself locally, as well as worldwide.
Some of his most famous creations include The King of Mercs, a 1951 Mercury with what could be considered the heaviest chop on a Merc known to man; and a little Cadillac built to out-do the original Batmobile, as well as grab the attention of anyone who laid eyes on her, that went by the name of the Sharkmobile or Land Shark. The Sharkmobile started life as a 1960 Cadillac El Dorado convertible before it was sliced and diced in every direction. The roof is sort of a combination of a Cadillac and a Buick Riviera; the taillights are from a '56 Packard; and other features include handmade gullwing-style doors, a '53 DeSoto grille, and 1963 Ford Thunderbird interior. But that's just the borrowed pieces from other cars; this beast was also treated to a list of serious body modifications. First off, the Caddy was lengthened to a whopping 20 feet 7 inches with the help of the Lincoln fender sections with Packard taillights and the flipped-upside-down DeSoto grille, scratch-built fender skirts that extend 6 feet beyond the rear wheels, a set of shark "gills," or louvers for all the non-aquatic cars. Believe it or not, the Caddy was also widened and finished off the old-school way, or rather the Frank DeRosa way, with lead and sweat. Not to let the bodywork be outdone, Frank applied one seriously intricate and very involved multicolored flamed and scalloped lacquer paint job with a padded vinyl roof to top the Caddy off right. By the way, the Sharkmobile was originally named Vendetta, a much more suiting name for some strange reason, at least in our opinion.
Today, the DeRosa shop is still kept in line by Frank himself, however, Frank's son, Frank Jr., has grown up into not only a crack custom car builder, but also a successful body shop manager. This father-and-son team has their hands on some of the latest and finest custom cars around. In fact, the DeRosas have been working with the likes of John D'Agostino, Art Himsl, Gene Winfield, and Oz's Customs, adding their paint and bodyworking skills to the finest full-show cars to come out of Central California. In November 2005, the DeRosa father-and-son team was invited with six other famous names to build a '51 Caddy the "old-school" way on the popular Discovery show "Monster Garage." With that kind of recognition, six-yes, count them, six-Hall of Fame inductions, 40 or so magazine features, and countless happy custom car owners over the past 60 decades, the DeRosa name will forever be known as one of the "greats" of the automotive industry.