Three stories exist as to the naming of the Thunderbolts. No one seems to remember exactly how it happened. As we said earlier, Capitol Auto Club was picked for its assumed innocence and respectable sound. The name Thunderbolts is said to have possibly come from one of three sources. Story One: Some of the early members, including Norm Milne, flew with the Republic Aircraft P-47 Thunderbolt fighters during World War II. Since they spent some of their early years racing at abandoned airstrips, the Thunderbolt name seemed to fit. Story Two: Those early race cars made a lot of noise, both intended and "what the hell is that rattle?" Some say that when you went to the races, all of the cars sounded like "noisy buckets of bolts." Story Three: The early members, especially Milne, Westergard, and Bertolucci, were smitten by a Chrysler factory dream car called the Thunderbolt. This last version seems the most familiar to Milne, since many of the guys were into customizing and were drawn to the Chrysler Thunderbolt's cool styling.
Looking at old photos of the 1940-41 Chrysler Thunderbolt, you can easily see why guys like Westergard and Bertolucci were impressed. Recessed rear license plate, totally enclosed front and rear wheels, hideaway headlights, and electric doors were all many ideas that were showing up on the first customs.
Although Southern California was quickly becoming the hotbed of the hot rod roadster movement, two young customizers in the sleepy little town of Sacramento were about to leave their mark on the history of automotive restyling. For a short period in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Harry Westergard and Dick Bertolucci would collaborate to produce some of the most intensely creative four-wheeled masterpieces to see the open road. Working at first out of Harry's chicken coup, then out of Bertolucci's Body and Fender Works at 21st and Broadway, the duo produced many cars that are still around today. Possibly the most famous would be the 1940 Mercury hardtop convertible Westergard and Bertolucci built for Buddy Ohanesian, and is now owned by Ed Hegarty. The entire steel roof of the car was frenched into the body, in an almost seamless fashion. Beyond that, it was removable!
Norm Milne was the club's first president. Now 85 years young, Norm still lives in Northern California and is active as a docent with the Blackhawk Museum. "After a scathing article in LIFE magazine, hot rodding was gradually getting more respectable," Norm said, "mainly because the club stressed the importance of avoiding publicity from unauthorized events on city streets. The surname, Capitol Auto Club, was adopted to downplay the hot rod roadster image