Building the Enola Gay: The Man, The Machine, and the Mission

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Harry’s 1962 Pontiac from Chicago  is one of the most eye catching and truly unique street driven mild customs around. This car overflows with style at every corner, and is a perfect example of the unique Los Boulevardos aesthetic that Harry has termed “period possible”.

 

Harry’s unique eye for style and appreciation for history is evident in every part on this car that he touches, from the wild pearly pink body to the unique wheel setups he runs this car is an incredible way to blend styles. Harry has found a way to play around with period correctness to create a look that, while deeply rooted in custom car history is completely unique. Reminiscent of the wildly creative custom cars of Japan, Harry’s Pontiac isn’t afraid to cross styles and explore the limits of our preconceived notions of what makes a period custom. I’d always wondered how Harry arrived at the final look he’s achieved with this car, and I was honored that he took the time to sit down and talk through this car’s genesis with me.

 

This is the 1962 Catalina when it first arrived in Chicago.

This is the 1962 Catalina as it was before Harry started making changes to it.

 

Originally, the car was bought by his then-girlfriend as a slightly-worn, bone-stock cruiser with little custom car ambition. At the time Harry was deep into building his 1966 GTO, which had been reduced to a pile of parts, and had played a minor role in helping his girlfriend find the car to Chicago from British Columbia.  As time went on, slowly he’d bond more and more with the car, from helping to arrange a drivetrain swap of a mid-’60s 400 motor and keeping the car running on the streets of Chicago. When she eventually moved to Portland, Oregon, Harry volunteered to drive the car 2000-plus miles out to her so she could enjoy the milder winters of the West Coast with the ’62, and ended up having a great time along the way:

 It was an amazing trip, I remember vividly watching the sunset in the mountains of Idaho driving the car up these twisting roads with a boom box on the front seat blasting Fu Manchu, it was just one of those perfect moments that sticks with you.

She had kept the car for a few years out there, eventually moving to St. Louis, and after years of the car getting further and further worn down by a life on the street she finally had enough and offered to sell the car to Harry. At the time, Harry nearing completion of his long-term GTO project, so he knew if he were to take on another car it would have to be a completely different experience:

It was funny, this was right at the time where my GTO was finally turning back into a car after being disassembled for so long, and I had been telling myself that I never wanted to take on a project of that scale again. But of course, when she called me one day out of the blue offering me the Catalina, without hesitation I instantly said “Yes. I’ll come and get it”. I knew it would be necessary to take a different approach with the Catalina than the one taken with the GTO. The GTO had really kicked my ass, it had been very expensive and really exhausting for me to take a car that far apart and put it back together. The decisions for how to modify the ’62 were a reaction to that. Originally, I didn’t even care to make the Catalina that nice; after all the time and cost that had gone into the GTO I really just wanted to have a beat-to-shit car that I could have fun with.

The GTO had been an experiment in taking a different approach than most to on how to put together a traditional muscle car, and the Catalina was going to be a different take on building a custom car. While with the GTO he had been focused on building a muscle car more inspired by the show cars and drag cars of the late 60’s, the Catalina was going to be more inspired by the mild customs that he’d fallen in love with at the Paso Robles car show.

I’d been going to Paso regularly since the late 90’s and was really influenced by what I had seen out there. I was inspired to build something that captured that west-coast vibe which wasn’t readily present in Chicago at the time. Out here, there are nice hot rods, muscle cars, and some ’50’s cruisers but the type of custom cars I’d seen at Paso didn’t seem to exist out here. What I’d seen at Paso had really opened my eyes to this whole other world in which cars are as much of an art form as they are mechanical devices. I loved the idea that you could take a car, appreciate the style that it had from the factory and add onto it, add your own personal and cultural influences to it, and build something cooler than the parameters stamped on the data plate. As much as I can appreciate accurate, high-quality restorations of stock vehicles, it can be very limiting creatively to allow corporate America to decide how cool your car can be. The way a car left the factory is just a starting point. From there the owner should have the freedom to build it however they want. I’ve always been interested in how the world was changing culturally and socially during the late-60s, so I loved the idea of incorporating a much greater context into the whole feel of the car.

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The Catalina in new paint and wheels, c. 2007

Since Harry had known the car for so long in red he felt the need to change up the look to better reinforce the idea that now he was the owner. A friend of his worked as a touch up painter, so they started talking and swapping ideas about a way to get a unique look on a budget.

Since my friend did touch up paint, he was always mixing pearls and toners and there was this one gray toner that they’d use to darken certain colors. He had always wanted to see what it would look like on a whole car, so that’s what we tried. The color turned out pretty cool, it was this odd pearly gray. Over that dented body it almost made it look like some sort of industrial waste or like some crazy battle-scarred artifact. This phase of building the car was a lot of fun, everything we did was full of experimentation and exploration, I mean the car was so rough then that you couldn’t really go wrong.

The first iteration of the roof color was a similar experiment, he took a variety of different pearls and blended them together over the gray base coat. The result was this wild pearl brown color. The experience had a lasting effect on the both of them, and had opened them up to all the myriad of possibilities available when you start getting into custom mixed paints.

We loved the idea that you didn’t have to rely on predetermined style from a bottle, you were able to mix and match and come up with something totally unique.

That idea of mixing and matching for a unique look was carried through onto the wheels, a passion of Harry’s so profound that he even went through the trouble of changing the lug pattern and narrowing the rear end to open up more possibilities.

With a relatively simple lowered car you could swap out one set of wheels and it’d look like almost like a muscle car, another and it’d be a 70’s lowrider, and another set and it’s a mild custom.

 

The next intermediate phase in the roof paint came about sort of out of necessity, as the clear over the brown color ended up blushing pretty bad over time and needed to be replaced. At the end of show season, Harry sanded the roof back down and started looking into different combinations of metalflake that would help stick down the unique feel that he was after. After selecting a few different colors of flake that worked well together, they went back into the shop after hours and took their experimentation even further,

 It was pretty cool, I mean that shop usually painted wheels and bumpers on Lexus’ and such, they’d never really done anything with big flakes before, so my buddy had his best painter try the roof. It was sorta the blind leading the blind. I remember by the time it was done, it was around two in the morning. After he shot a layer of flake, he’d ask if it was enough and I’d say no, and we went back over it until it was pretty much full coverage, and it looked insane. Then I asked him to take that base, the purple pearl, and aim the fan of the spray gun around the drip rail as sorta a poor-man’s candy fade, so he did it and it turned out amazing. Like the guy stopped and said “Holy shit, I never would have thought of that” and then he cleared it and it looked incredible.

 

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The Catalina with it’s newly flaked roof, sporting Chrome Slots and redline tires.

 

The well executed roof and period-possible wheel swaps had whetted Harry’s appetite to address the bodywork and imagine the next phase of the project. Harry was a founding member of Los Boulevardos Car Club, and this phase of the build was happening at the same time that the club was starting to pick up momentum and get a little more attention, which Harry felt put a little more pressure on him to elevate his car and take it into it’s next phase:

With the roof now actually looking pretty good I started feeling like the rest of the car needed to catch up. I mean, I was fortunate to be a part of the clubs founding out here, and it made me feel like since I was the only one way out here in Chicago at the time that I had to put in a little more effort into the car if I was going to be the only one in the area with a spade in the back window. I mean, there are a lot of beat up cars out here and I felt like as a club car this should be a little nicer.

So Harry decided that he wanted the car to be a nice suede finish, but wasn’t quite sure how that idea would manifest.

As far as the body, the original plan was to do it in sorta a silvery-blue, but then again I was kinda thinking about doing it gold (like the Rod & Custom dream truck), and maybe even thinking about paneling the body later and reversing the two colors, but I really wasn’t sure. To sort it all out, eventually I made a photo grid where I took a picture of the car and photoshopped a shit load of colors just to try different  color combinations so I could look at them side by side. As I was filling the grid I didn’t have quite enough colors to make a full rectangle, I needed two more colors, so I real quick made like a dark blue and I needed one more. I remembered when  my girlfriend had the car it was always ratty and beat up I’d ask her if money was no object, what would you do? Without hesitation her answer was always the same: cotton candy pink. When she’d say that back then I always thought that although I imagined it to be striking, I’d never consider doing it if the car was mine. Back then I probably would have just wanted it to be some kind of dirty drag-racer. Thinking of those old conversations I photoshopped it in that cotton candy pink color just for fun to fill that empty space. But when I saw it it just clicked- Oh shit, that was it, there was no question. When I saw it on the screen, it was clear. I’d never considered it before for my car, but when I saw it next to the blue, the gold, the silver, it just stood out against the others unmatched, that was it.

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Now that he had found the color he wanted the next tough part was figuring out how to make it a reality. He and his friend hunted around until they found an Alsa base pearl that was a deep rich magenta with a subtle blue shift to it called “Cotton Candy Pink”, and found through experimentation that if they used a white pearl over the base they could lighten the color a bit, and after a few tests they found the recipe that they needed to achieve the final pearl pink color that had stood out so well in the photo-grid.

 

When Harry first drove the car out of the shop late at night on the edge of Chicago, he instantly knew that things were going to be different:

I really wasn’t sure how people were going to react to it, I mean we all had a lot of fun and were really impressed with what we came up with, but mentally it took a minute to realize that this was my car now–this was what my car looked like. I mean, before, my car was sorta invisible, but now in the pink it was like the circus came to town. It really changed everything. I remember the first time I drove it dressed in its new clothes. I was leaving the garage at night in a desolate part of Chicago and as I crept back into population there was a distinct change in peoples reactions compared to the previous dark and dingy version.

The Catalina as it sits today.

The Catalina as it sits today.

 

There were a bunch of people that were smoking outside of a bar got all excited and started yelling shit as I rolled by. I mean, I’d been aware before with the GTO which was flashy and loud that people were going to pay attention, but its like there’s something magic about this car. It just makes people happy. Some people are confused by it, but more often than not people just smile. It was a really neat bonus that making the car into something I really like would have such a positive impact on others. Little kids smile and jump up and down when you drive by in this car. Adults smile and wave. People’s reactions to it at car shows are interesting too. Out here there were a lot of nice restored cars, some nice 50’s-ish customs, a lot of hot rods, and a good amount of lowriders, but there’s not a lot of cross-over. I mean, out here lowriders build lowriders, like later model G-bodies on 100-spokes. Traditional custom-type builds are typically influenced by eras earlier than the late-60s. Regionally there’s not much of that late 60’s, early 70’s custom-lowrider crossover history, so when people react to my car they’re often drawing parallels with other cars from other regions, like my car might remind them of their Uncle’s car from Texas or something.

Since Harry himself hadn’t seen many cars in the area that had this look or style, he wasn’t sure how it would be received by the rest of the Chicago community.

I remember the first cruise that I took the car to. For whatever reason there are actually a lot of very nicely restored early 60s Pontiacs in the area, most guys here would have taken this car back to the original paint, kept it way up in the air with big bias ply tires and restore it. When I was cruising to the show, I remember seeing this nice restored red GTO on the way there, and I actually stayed back in traffic trying to avoid him, thinking I really didn’t want to hear what that guy might have to say about my car. I got to the show and snuck into the back of the lot, like way in the back by the train tracks and the guy in the red GTO pulls up right next to me. It turned out that it was actually a guy that I casually knew from local Pontiac circles. He got out of the GTO, sorta squinted at the car, and when I expected to hear some kind of sideways comment, he nodded his head and said “wow, I love this car”. Then I let the air out, which sorta confused him more, but he still chuckled and really dug it. I was surprised, I mean I never thought I’d get such a positive response from resto guys on this car. Eventually I started to realize that I was ignorant for thinking that the reason there weren’t more cars customized in this style around here was because people didn’t like them. It was because the style was just not represented. I think the big difference is they just hadn’t ever seen anything like it before. It made me realize with this club, and this style, out here whatever you do is possibly the first time some people are ever going to see it. So as a member of Los Boulevardos you’re not only a kind of an ambassador for this style out here, but you also have an incidental obligation to educate. It’s like this extra unexpected responsibility to show people that there’s more than one way to build a custom car. 

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Why is the name Enola Gay lettered on the windows?

I was in the garage one night and the name just popped into my head. Not necessarily as a name for a car, let alone one of my cars, as I’ve never been one to name cars before. But then I started to think of possible connotations associated with having that name on the Catalina and it just seemed right. Since the build of this car was heavily influenced by customs currently being built in Japan I’ve been asked by some people why I’d choose to name it after the plane that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. I’m not a fan of war or the horrible devastation that an atomic bomb can produce so the name isn’t so much a celebration of destruction but more-so of the peace that followed. A part of me also wonders if the environment in Japan would allow for American-influenced custom cars to be built today if WWII didn’t end the way it did. Based on the notion of an act of devastation ending a war, I also thought the name was fitting due to the reactions the car receives from people that have never seen it before. There’s initially a look of shock and surprise that regularly turns into a peaceful smile. When driving this car in traffic it leaves a metaphoric crater as it pulls away from every stoplight.

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