Highway Creepers Car Show

The Highway Creepers usher in the outdoor car show season in my area, and they host a terrific show replete with low riders, fins, rat rods, and hot rods. If you were unable to make it to Kearney over the weekend, here is some of what you missed: 

’32 Ford

’54 Chevy

’51 Merc

’54 Chevy

’55 Caddy

’51 Chevy Deluxe

’48 Olds

’55 Mercury Montclair

’59 Buick

1950 Shoebox Ford

Custom Rides, Then and Now

1955 Caddy

Harley Earl is frequently described as a pioneer, but even that term seems inadequate when talking about a man of artistry and vision who literally shaped American automotive styling.  Born in 1893, Earl started out working in his father’s carriage works shop in Los Angeles.  While there, he began customizing cars for movie celebrities on the side.  Earl was part of the transitioning of the automotive industry from its buggy and wagon roots by bringing cars down off their high wheels and enclosing the tops.  What started out as a side business quickly made the Earls the biggest builder of high-grade custom bodies in the west.

The Earls’ going concern was purchased by Don Lee in 1917 and he kept Harley Earl on as chief designer.  Lee sent Earl to the eastern part of the country and also to Europe to study the trends.  As one paper put it, Earl was soon making the cars designed in the east “look like something the cat dragged in.”  Lee also owned a Cadillac dealership, and Earl’s skills caught the attention of Cadillac executives who gave him the task of designing the 1927 LaSalle.

At the time, Earl said that the main advantage in designing the LaSalle was that “there was not a tool or die waiting to be used for its manufacture.  That permitted us to begin building this car from the ground up.  It placed us in a position where we were dared to execute something distinctly different – and that is exactly what we set out to do.” The design was heavily influenced by the streamlined bodies of the racing industry and, interestingly, Earl called the LaSalle distinctly “American in its lines, appearance and atmosphere.” 

This idea of American versus European design was revisited by Earl the following year.  He noted that some American carmakers that were offering “European design” were making two very big mistakes.  First, they were failing to capture the more outstanding trends in the design of European car bodies and second, they were failing to differentiate between engineering and body design and therefore were copying undesirable European engineering.  According to Earl, “Europe today offers nothing comparable with the surging power, sturdy construction and roomy comfort of American motor cars, three characteristics that seem reflections of our country’s own vastness.”   

Earl knew what he was talking about, and the new LaSalle was a hit with the public.  General Motors put Earl in charge of their new art and color section, and he remained with General Motors until his retirement in 1958.  When he died in 1969, the papers referred to an interview in which Earl had said, “My primary purpose for years has been to lengthen and lower the American automobile, at times in reality and always, at least, in appearance.” He is credited with curved-glass rear windows, two-tone paint, wrap-around windshields, the first Corvette and, best of all, tail fins.

1955 Nomad

Many of us who appreciate the old iron think that Earl’s way of thinking is sadly lacking in today’s cookie cutter auto industry, but, thankfully, the spirit of Harley Earl appears to be alive and well in custom shops scattered along the backroads of this great country.  One such shop is located not far from me in Hastings, Nebraska.  The shop is called Custom Rides, and the man swinging the hammer is Pat Brubaker. 

My better half and I were introduced to Brubaker by a mutual friend and spent an afternoon at his shop.  We walked away very impressed with both the skills and the work product at Custom Rides, and if you have a need for metal shaping or fabrication, this shop should be your first call.  Brubaker makes everything from trim to fenders to entire car bodies and works with steel, aluminum, stainless, copper and brass. He has found a niche making odd and unique parts such as part of a Reo grille shroud and a Tucker trim piece for, get this, customers in California who were disappointed in the results from some local shops they tried in the Golden State.  Welcome to the Cornhusker State.

Brubaker credits his racing background for his education and approach to problem solving.  He says while racing midgets and mini-sprints, he was around smart people all the time and learned much from them, including how to make all the odd and unique parts needed.  He jokes that, in racing, when you change one thing that means you are going to change everything but the paint color.  This background has clearly served him well because he isn’t afraid to “re-invent the wheel”, even when that wheel is an English wheel (a metal-working tool).  If he needs to make the tools that make the tools that make the tools in order to finish a job, that’s exactly what he does.

Some of the projects in the shop now include this chassis for a 1950 Henry J . . .

. . . as well these dually truck fenders.  The first picture shows the original that the customer wanted replicated, left and right.  Brubaker started by creating an edge band and a buck for it to rest on.  That is a smooth finish!

Brubaker would like people to know that the things they want are not out of reach.  Whether you are looking for a rolling chassis or complete car body, this shop can produce it.  He has a healthy respect for tradition but still looks for a better way to get the job done, and that is an approach that Harley Earl himself would likely approve of.  If you want to see if Brubaker can assist you with your project, this is how you reach him:

This blog post is my honest and independent opinion and not sponsored in any way.


“Big Automobile Factory and Top Factory Now Property of Cadillac Distributer Here.” Los Angeles Evening Express, 12 June 1919, p. 2.

“Designer of Cadillac and LaSalle New Bodies Visits Home Town With Other Executives.” Los Angeles Evening Express, 15 February 1928, p. 3.

“Don Lee Builds Another Special Classic.”  San Francisco Chronicle, 21 November 1920, p. 4A.

“GM Stylist Harley Earl Dies.” Detroit Free Press, 11 April 1969, p. 3.

“Harley Earl, Of Car Factor in Los Angeles Home Again.” “Los Angeles Sunday Times, 15 May 1927, p. 9.

Henry, Bill. “Alumni of Auto Row.”  Los Angeles Times, 30 March 1930, p. 5.

Ivory Roadster Especially For Bay City Show.” Los Angeles Times, 17 February 1924, p.13.

“Stylist Traces Auto From Whipsocket Age.” The Indianapolis Sunday Star, 28 October 1928, p. 2.

$25,000 Dazzler of Roscoe Arbuckle Makes Motorists Gasp in Amazement.”  Los Angeles Evening Express, 1 May 1920, p. 7.

What do the ducks mean?

1963 Caddy hubcap

I have seen lots of stories scattered across the internet that claim to hold the key to the Cadillac crest, but this explanation appeared in 1923. That is only two decades after the company’s 1903 inception, so maybe this story was less distorted by time than some of the more recent versions. You make the call!

Los Angeles Evening Express, 11 June 1923
1955 Fleetwood