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Ray Giovannoni's Custom 1936 Roadster

The information for this article was originally published on Kustomrama.


Photo by Kenny Schultz - One photo from the Speed Age October 1949 article.

Ray Giovannoni of Washington, D.C. owns a 1936 Ford Roadster that was restyled by Herbert "Bud" Unger. During the Second World War, Bud learned how to form aluminum panels for air planes in the Air Force. After getting out of the Air Force in 1946, he started to work at a body shop in Virginia. Bud's main income came from repairing and painting cars, but while he wasn't working, he practiced his secret hobby of hot rods and customs. He tried his ideas on a brand new 1947 Chevrolet convertible in 1947. Once that project was completed, Bud's tasteful custom caught the eyes of Ray Giovannoni, who commissioned him to restyle his 1936 Ford roadster. Ray's roadster was Bud's second attempt on a custom car build, and his first paid custom job.

According to a story about custom trends published in Speed Age October 1949, Bud had a passion for California styled customs, and he had spent plenty of time studying current West Coast trends. The article in Speed Age also mentioned that Bud had some guidelines that he followed when the customized cars. His first mission was to kill the identification of the car, so all chrome on Ray's roadster was shaved before the front end was reworked to accept a 1941 Packard Clipper grill. A hood with solid sides was then installed and what appears to be 1939 Buick headlights were molded down in the fenders.

Next, Bud fabricated narrow running boards that bended with the body before converging into the fenders. Then the top had to be chopped as this was a must for Bud, so the windshield of Ray's Ford was chopped and fit with a "California Top" built from accepted styling. Looking back at early photos of Ray's roadster, it looks as though Bud installed a chopped soft top on the car. The style was then wrapped up with 1941 Ford bumpers, single bar flipper hubcaps, whitewall tires, dual Appleton 112 spotlights, and teardrop fenderskerts. The rear license plate was installed on the splash pan mounted in a chromed frame behind plexiglas. A light was also installed on the splash pan to illuminate the plate at night. The splash pan apron's brass plaque read "1949 Venus Custom. Engine by Giovannoni. Body by Unger." If the owner of the project still had money left, Bud would top off his builds with a 20-coat paint job. Ray's car was no exception and it received a 20-coat paint job by Unger. The build was then completed around 1947-1948.

Bud was interviewed about Ray's car in 2012 by Kustomrama. In the interview, he claimed that he wasn't aware about the California custom trends at all when he set off to restyle Ray's '36.

"Ray's "36" was the best custom that I have ever done," said Bud. "It was my pride and joy! I never put as much into any other custom as I put into Ray's. I welded solid and hand leaded all four fenders to the body. I did the same with both 1/4 panels, front aprons, and running boards after narrowing them. I cleared off the back deck, moved the tail lights into the bumper, and made a new back slpash pan that housed a license light before I finished it off with a 20 coat jet black paint job. Oh yes, I did a major reshaping on the grille area to incorporate a Packard grille."

Bud wrote a "Customize it Yourself" story for Speed Age in March 1953 and said, "The unmistakable style and class of a Carson-type, padded top is the true signature of a custom car. A padded Carson type top fives the car the smooth curves of a hard top, yet it can be removed for open-air driving." Once Ray's roadster was completed, he drove it to California to have a genuine padded top by Carson Top Shop made for the car. Along the road, the car gained a lot of attention and even landed a feature story in Hot Rod Magazine in November 1948. By then, the car had been fit with a padded top and the seats, interior side panels, and underside of the top had been upholstered in matching gray and white leather. The dashboard had been sectioned and finished in light brown. Power came from a warmed over 1934 Ford V-8 engine equipped with Eddie Meyer manifold, heads designed by Giovannoni, and a Harman & Collins cam. The engine was hooked to a Zephyr transmission and a Columbia rear end. The story did not mention Bud as the builder. Welded and molded fenders became a trademark for Bud. He preferred milder changes in body design, and in his 2012 interview with Kustomrama, he told them that he preferred a lot of small changes as opposed to a major change.


Photo courtesy of Hot Rod Magazine - photo from Hot Rod Magazine November 1948.

"In my humble opinion I think that a custom car should be practical and functional. So many customers are too far out, not practical for street use. Some are too radical - too low to the ground, etc. But as the old saying goes - To each his own. These variou sdesigns give variety to the business! After I did simple surgery to Ray's '36, I think I improved the overall appearance of the car over it's original design. The car now has a simple beauty, flowing lines, gracious looks and oneness and unity! And yet you can tell that it is still a 1936 Ford roadster."

After Bud had finished restyling Ray's roadster, he was approached by another customer and asked to restyle his 1936 Ford exactly like Ray's. Bud took on the project and immediately started by removing all chrome, acetylene and oxygen welding all holes and leading them in. He moved both running boards in after removing the rubber, and he blended them into the body and front fenders. He then installed a license plate holder pan with a license light between the body and the rear bumper, just like he did on Ray's '36. He did a few other customizations and realized that he was attempting to duplicate Ray's raodster and didn't feel good about it. He stopped doing any more work to it and told his customer about the decision to not complete the project.

The location of Ray's roadster are currently unknown. Bud believes Ray sold it to someone in North Carolina. Bud has searched for it on numerous occasions, but hasn't had any luck. According to rumors on HAMB, it was supposedly spotted in a trailerpark in Jessup, Maryland in the 1970s.