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Papke Enterprises 2006

Papke Enterprises 2006


Gone Racin’ to Papke Enterprises

Roger Rohrdanz and I traveled to Huntington Beach, California, to visit a very special place in the hearts of hot rodders and custom car builders. The place is Papke Enterprises and it is a one-man business dedicated to locating and then selling 1949-51 Mercury and Ford Parts and cars. Bill Papke is a very likable guy who seems to have found a business that is more than just economically beneficial. We listened as he took customers calls and spoke in a fatherly voice. He loves the styles produced by Ford and Mercury from 1949 through 1951. It is the kind of car that drove teens in those years crazy, fueled by the James Dean wild look in “Rebel without a cause,” and “East of Eden.” The style of these cars is not for everyone, but for the chopped and rounded shape of the Merc, it has a fascinating effect on people to this day. Bill Papke was born in Chicago, joined the Marines in 1960 and saw enough of the world aboard Navy vessels to see where he wanted to live after he was discharged in 1964. He married and settled down to raise a family in Fountain Valley, California and work two and sometimes three jobs. He was never too busy to help his daughters, travel with his wife and support the Hot Rodding community.
In those days Bill worked full time for a cement company, worked a shift at the gas station and scrounged around for parts to sell. He loved the ‘49-51 Ford’s and Mercury’s and began to specialize in those years. Ninety percent of his business now goes to people living outside of California. He travels around Southern California and enlists the help of numerous friends and associates to find complete cars and parts. So well known in the trade for this niche market that the motto “Go see Bill,” refers to Papke and ‘49-51 Ford and Mercury cars and parts. Papke also keeps a library of owner’s manuals and repair books for these years. The Ford manual is common, but Papke reprints the Mercury manual and sells them to buyers and restorers. He has produced a video called “Mercury’s on Parade,” which he also sells to the public. Customers will come to his shop and pour over the books and manuals and pick his brain for suggestions. He loves to work with the kids and get them interested. Show a little interest in the subject and Bill will give you the grand tour of his memorabilia collection, most of which are objects he has found that relate to his passion in cars. There are models of Fords and Mercs, posters that he sells, and all manners of collectibles. He produces his own line of T-shirts called “Back to the Fifties,” and yes, the cars are ‘49-51 Ford’s and Mercury’s.
Papke knows his merchandise and what is rare and hard to find. He rarely throws anything away, preferring to save parts in case someone has a real need for them. He showed Roger and I some window guard hinges that are often lost or misplaced when customizers have taken a car apart. He remanufactured a door handle guard that protects the paint around the handle, hood ornaments, dagger handle dipstick holders and a plastic dashboard insert. Bill finds most of his inventory at swap meets, but just as much is brought to him because he is known as the man to see for this type of model and marque. He is working on a website and will have that up soon, and will be going on eBay in the future. We found Papke to be very easy to talk to and intense in his subject. He pointed out his treasures to us as we walked through the shop. He has 40 engines on pallets and another 10 on engine mounts ready to go out to the public. He pointed out the parts that turn over rapidly and those that are slow to sell. He doesn’t mind keeping slow moving inventory because he has built up a reputation for service and assistance that rivals his prices and speed in shipping. Many people love the 49-51 Mercs, but they are not for everyone. Full, fleshy and sensual, they are the cars that customizers love to cut, chop and change into works of art. They look a bit like the French Marques of the thirties with their stylish and curvy lines and full-bodied appeal. There are none of the boxy, sharp and squared lines that you see on modern cars like vans and SUV’s.

We saw posters hanging all over the ceiling and Papke’s extensive collection of memorabilia. Bill gave us a run down on the movies that he has helped by providing cars or parts to, including; Clint Eastwood’s “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot,” Sylvester Stalone’s “Cobra,” and other movies that want that retro look. Chip Foose is one of his biggest customers. Foose, who once worked his magic for Boyd Coddington, is now making dreams come true in a business right around the corner from Papke Enterprises. Bill said that it is becoming harder and harder to find these rare parts. He also is very specific about whom he will refer work out to. He refers customizing to Dick Dean in Hesperia, California, and framework and front ends to Wheeler’s in Huntington Beach. For glasswork he suggests Chuck’s Glass. Papke is a major supporter of the Hot Rodding scene in Southern California, and a representative for the West Coast Kustoms car club and car shows. On the way out of this marvelous museum in time, he stopped to show us some of his models with signatures like Bo Hopkins from the movie “American Graffiti.” Some of his models are specifically handmade for him by Joe Castro out of Bakersfield, California, including an awesome looking ’50 Mercury Limo. Dick Dean customized the original car. For parts, advice or a tour down memory lane, drop by Bill Papke Enterprises in Huntington Beach, California.

Gone Racin’ is at