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Tantalizing Custom Roadster on a Street in San Francisco

By Charlie Beesley: Although Southern California gets most of the attention when it comes to custom car culture, this prewar special shows that the San Francisco Bay Area had its share of inspired enthusiasts too. I believe the car in question is a 1933 Plymouth roadster, seen here in the Tenderloin District near San Francisco’s Civic Center.

While the rear deck of the body remains fairly stock, the rest of the vehicle is something of a brain teaser. The windshield, cockpit surround and hardtop suggest Auburn Speedster and Cord 810/812 origins. The grille shell appears to be a reworked 1933 Ford unit fitted with a centerline divider and diagonal bars like those found on the 1933 Olds six. The handsome aftermarket Woodlites echo and complement the grille’s shape.

1930s custon car San Francisco 3

  • Unigue and fully customized roadster with a hardtop on a street in San Francisco.

The front bumper looks like a 1937 Graham, the front fenders look like scaled down 1933 Cadillac units, while the hood panels appear to be scratch-built. What is impressive is how skillfully all these bits and pieces are combined into a sleek, harmonious whole. California license plates used the V stickers as seen here in 1943, which appears to date the photos. Does anyone in the audience know what might have happened to this beauty?

Editor’s note: Charlie Beesley has a large collection of interesting automobile images of all sorts. We welcome him along with his unique perception of the subject to the pages of The Old Motor and look forward to viewing more soon.

1930s custom car in san franciso

19 responses to “Tantalizing Custom Roadster on a Street in San Francisco

  1. I still can’t imagine as what, it began life! This is one of the very few sets of Woodlites which you can see in old photos. I believe that they are ugly and at most you could say of them that they are “quirky” but at present, a run-away best-seller with restorers. Their case is made no stronger by the fact that they put out no light,,,,either then or now!

      • Hi David, I agree that there’s too many old wives tales about the poor performance of Woodlites……and I’m probably one who did not help since my days of night driving Dad’s DuPont Speedster was behind a 20 year old pair that had tarnished reflectors.
        Just learned from the crew at DEW MOTORCARS that they got the Woodlites on the duPonts they have working very well.
        Don’t know if they upgraded them with LED bulbs, but I’m sure that would make for an improvement.
        All the best, STAN

  2. Will never understand all the madness for Fords and Chevies of the time, while so little for those husky little Plymouths with their modern insert bearings, full oil pressure, hydraulic brakes. Ford brought affordable motoring to the masses, but Walter P. Chrysler brought them engineering.
    On the other end of the scale, all the fawning over Duesenberg Js by those who’ve never ridden in one. Maurice Hendry and others who knew what they were talking about asked what did you get in one of them for quintuple or more the price of an arguably better-looking Chrysler Imperial other than twin cams, a box of timing gears that flashed idiot lights reminding the driver to change oil, check battery water, that the chassis lubricator was on or reservoir required filling, and another 10 mph real world top end (3.8, 4, 4.1 and 4.3:1 rear axles, middle two the most common) over a well-tuned Imperial.
    An auld mechanic recalled prewar Chevy sixes cresting a long hill at 70mph would often burn a valve coming down the other side. No idea how Fangio’s ’37 was set up.
    Bogie’s characters in several movies knew what they were doing driving tough little Plymouth coupes.
    Thanks for posting this rarity.

  3. The top is definitely a NICE PIECE of Craftsmanship!! it looks to be all aluminum, I wonder if the boys at Murphy had hammered this out. a really neat car, a shame if it no longer exists, but a great project for someone.

  4. Intriguing car and a nicely done article. I hope we’ll be hearing more from Charlie and his phabulous photo collection.

  5. Looks to me -obviously more than slightly customized- like a ’33-4 Reo Roadster w/ woodlites…quite rakish, shovel nose grille , swept back front fenders…wonder where it mite be today, hope it survived the WW2 scrap drives.

  6. Individual who created this did not need a day job. It is one of the finest “customs” I have seen from any era! The running board elimination seems to suit the car as though they were never intended to be part of the car. The top is simply a styling masterpiece. I hope someone can fill us in more on the provenance, builld, and history of this hallucination. SCRAPPED FOR BULLETS?!! YEOWWWWY.

  7. I’m wondering if the light colored roadster parked just ahead in the third photo is owned by the same person. Location maybe Larkin St. between Sutter and Bush? Perhaps? If I could read the names on the marque down the street I could solve it..
    Speaking of San Francisco customs, I’m hoping someone else remembers a car inspired by a similar spirit. Back in the 1980s when I was in the construction business I bought sheet rock from a place on Townsend St and 5th st across from the rail yard. The owner or manager, I never knew which, was a great big guy up in his late 80s. I’ve forgotten his name but he was old man strong. On the wall of the front office was a framed photo of a car he built in the late 30’s early 40s. As I remember it was a big roadster like an Auburn that he had fitted the fenders from a Duesenberg or some other exotic. At the time I was able to identify the parts which impressed the owner enough to tell me more about the car. It was really sharp and again I don’t remember what became of it. What I do remember is that he lived up in Napa and drove it to work in San Francisco every day to sell sheetrock, plaster and lathing. When I met him he was still making the same commute although no longer driving the roadster. He was still working there at least 5 years later but he couldn’t possibly be still alive. But who knows…
    I’m sure somebody else remembers this car. Anyone? I might be able to find his name through business records. These photos jogged my memory.

  8. Wonderful Photos!
    I own a radical 1932 Plymouth Roadster custom called “Dudley Sportster” that looks to be built around 1940’s. It was from California too and has the same funky interesting design work as this one shown. Perhaps it was the same builder. It had parts from the Graham Sharknose, Lincoln Zephyr, Pontiac, etc. It was widened, lengthened, sectioned, etc. What do you think? It also has a #3 placque under the hood. Maybe your car shown was number one or two?
    Mark Hopper

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