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!
By Tony King photos by Jesse Vasquez
Take a cursory view of Sacramento, and this town would appear to be nothing more than just another State capital, home to politicians, lobbyists and a bunch of column-lined marble buildings with nearly nude statues affixed to them. Under the surface, however, Sacramento is teeming with scholars and intellectuals; artists, writers, musicians, architects, poets, culinary geniuses, and people who have lead rich and interesting lives. The Sacramento Living Library, a brand new lecture series hosted by Time Tested Books shines a spotlight on some of the River City’s most extraordinary individuals.