Petersen Archive: A Homegrown Hot Rod

Throughout the 1950s, the pages of Car Craft, Hot Rod, and Motor Trend magazines gleamed with the chrome and color of countless custom cars. These cars, however, not only looked good. Dragsters such as the Cortopassi Brothers’ Glass Slipper, the “Miss 400” Competition Coupe, and Merlin Windham’s “Dragon Wagon” proved that these candy colored hot rods could reach speeds of over 200 mph. It was one thing to look at these “high priced dream cars” in Car Craft, Hot Rod, and Motor Trend magazines, however. It was another to build them. Indeed, as Car Craft editor Dick Day noted, hot rodding was expensive.

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As Nat Reeder proved in the September 1956 issue of Car Craft Magazine, however, popular customizers did not have to break the bank to build a beautiful custom.


To customize his coupe, Nat Reeder removed the spare tire from above the gas tank and added taillights from a 1939 Ford. As the author of the article “Budget Beauty” in the September 1956 issue of Car Craft Magazine proclaimed, this made the “rear view…so smooth that it is hard to be sure just what has been changed.”

Wells Body Shop in Los Angeles, California painted the car Torch Red. To give the car the appearance of a two-tone paint job, without the cost, they also added a white fabric panel to the top of the car. Recycled white Chris-Craft rubber boat decking was bonded to the car’s running boards. The front bumper and grille were also re-chromed.

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Nat and “Daffy” Dave’s Top Shop in Los Angeles, California gave the car new rolled and pleated red and white leatherette upholstery.

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The changes to the car were not just superficial, however. The engine was bored and stroked. Reeder also gave the car a Winfield camshaft and Edelbrock heads and manifold. He also gave the battery box aluminum panels and cut it into the firewall.

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As such, the engine had such a “clean appearance” that the author of the September 1956 article noted that it “almost makes you think that there isn’t enough in there to turn the wheels.”

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Finally, Reeder gave the car a three inch Dago front axle and de-arched the rear spring. Reeder’s Custom Coupe was not a high priced dream car. It was, however, as the author of the September 1956 article “Budget Beauty” observed, “a fine little street coupe.”

By Kristin Feay

Photography by Bob D’ Olivo