Dick Bertolucci’s Living Library appearance this past Sunday brought in a full house of auto and history enthusiasts, filling every seat and leaving 20 or so fans standing in the aisles. Local auto historian Bruce Woodward handled the questions, and Bertolucci shared the stage with longtime friend and customer, Buddy Ohanesian. Originally slated for an hour, the program stretched to nearly TWO hours to accommodate questions and Bertolucci and Ohanesian’s engrossing tales.
Ohanesian (pronounced O’ HAN uh shun) hired Bertolucci and legendary custom pioneer Harry Westergard to create the Ohanesian Merc, a radically modified 1940 Mercury that was named one of the Top Ten Kustoms of All Time by Hot Rod Magazine! Westergard began the transformation in the early forties, with Bertolucci completing the work later. The metalwork in the car’s removable custom roof marked the then barely-out-of-his-teens Bertolucci as a master craftsman. The car survives today and was recently featured at the Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance.
Dick had great stories and Bruce just let him tell them without getting in the way. He painted a picture of a way of life that is totally gone now. A junkyard across the street from Memorial Auditorium, 80 mile an hour street races on K Street, running a bodyshop out of a one car garage in a residential neighborhood, all the kustom work being done piecemeal because nobody had the money to do more than a tiny bit at a time. As we were setting up the event, Bertolucci and Ohanesian reminisced about Harry Westergard - chatting about one of the true originals in Kustom work, who died 61 years ago when he hit a tree at one hundred miles and hour, splitting his hot rodded T Bird in half.
Buddy Ohanesian added some great anecdotes, including a tale of being pulled over outside of Oakland in the Merc – a jewelry store had just been robbed and his car was riding so low the cops thought he had the stolen safe in his trunk!
Most people didn’t notice, but Bruce also brought a carload of goodies which were sprinkled behind the ‘stage’ area: a ’37 DeSoto ripple bumper, Packard and LaSalle grilles, a nose off a midget racer… pretty cool stuff! Thanks again to everybody who came out. It was an amazing chance to hear a master craftsman – and a really decent, nice guy – speak; I was stoked that so many people showed their support for a true Living Legend!
I’ve been excited about most of the Sacramento Living Library guests, but I am SUPER stoked about this Sunday’s guest, Dick Bertolucci.
Dick Bertolucci is exactly the type of person I’d hoped to spotlight when Time Tested Books asked me for some input on speakers for the series. The word ‘legend’ gets bandied about quite a bit these days, but Dick Bertolucci actually deserves the label. Although he is best known in Sacramento as the owner of an East Sac autobody shop, he is renowned worldwide as one of the originators of the California ‘Kustom’ automobile. One fan from the Netherlands maintains an extensive online database cataloguing Bertolucci’s work. This Sunday will be an opportunity to hear the story from the hometown boy himself.
Sacramento has long been a hotbed of auto enthusiasm (see ‘Hot August Knights’ from the August ’08 MM). The central valley may lacked an oceanfront and mountain ranges, but we had plenty of long straight roads, and even more important, plenty of military/aircraft/engineering activity. The jobs in those industries provided both good wages and an intimacy with machines; those dual components of Sacramento life encouraged innovation in auto design – both for functional and aesthetic purposes.
Dick Bertolucci began ‘improving’ the looks of stock automobiles in the late thirties. Leaving most of the mechanical work to his father, Bertolucci focused instead on the aesthetics of the automobile. Along with a few local contemporaries like Harry Westergard and Sam and George Barris, Bertolucci played an integral role in creating the styles that eventually came to epitomize the Custom car movement: lowered stance, fadeaway fenders, chopped tops, and deep finish paint. Bertolucci, though very young, was regarded as a master for his ability to shape metal body panels that were better than those from the factory.
In conversation with local auto historian Bruce Woodward, Bertolucci will discuss his life, his role in the birth of the ‘Kustom’ movement, and his times with Westergard and the Barris Bros. The aesthetic that Dick Bertolucci helped create has gone from the mark of a small regional subculture to become ubiquitous. From American Grafitti to Hot Rod Magazine to the design for the PT Cruiser, California ‘Kustom’ touches are everywhere.
Don’t miss this chance to hear it straight from the master himself.
in conversation with Bruce Woodward
Saturday August 22, 7PM
Time Tested Books, 1114 21st Street
All Ages, Free
By Mike Blanchard
Ever since cars became available to the masses, there have been those who wanted to distinguish their cars from the crowd. Some wanted to emulate their racing heroes and their favorite racecars– thus the hot rod was born . Some wanted to show more style than the other guys at the Drive-in and attract more girls– thus the custom was born . Most people outside of the car enthusiast community would be surprised to know that in the thirties, forties and fifties, Sacramento was one of the centers of the custom car world. Read more »