Tuesday, May 22, 2012


I haven't done a lot on my blog recently, mainly because I've been snowed under with a lot of work here, and to tell the truth, just didn't feel like it. I've had a bunch of stuff that I've had stashed away, but in and of themselves, wouldn't have made good, seperate posts. So, I thought I'd sit down and combine them all in one big post for you. They all do however, have a collective, connecting thread in them. They involve guys who were buddies, that hung out together, worked on cars and motorcycles and drank together, and were lifelong friends. Those guys were Dick Hirschberg, Von Dutch, and Earl Bruce. I hope you don't get bored......

The Schritchfield Roadster
The Scritchfield Roadster, as it was originally built by Bob McGee.

Bob McGee originally built this '32 Deuce highboy that later became better known as the Schritchfield Roadster before he headed off to WW II. When he returned in '46, McGee found out that the buddy he had entrusted with the care of his roadster before he left had rolled it, inflicting some pretty heavy damage. McGee went right to work on the wreck, did some further modifications, and painted it bright red with a hot stroker Flathead for power.

In 1955, McGee sold the Deuce to Dick Hirschberg, who in turn painted the roadster bright yellow, and in typical Hirschberg flair, dropped in a brand-new '55 Corvette V-8. Hirschberg drove it like this for a year, and then traded it straight-up to L.A. Roadster Club founder, and then NHRA rep Dick Schritchfield for a '48 Lincoln Continental. The Schritchfield version of the roadster was the inspiration for the L.A. Roadster plaque that has been on member's cars from then on up to today. Schritchfield drove the car on the street, and raced it on the dry lakes, and in the '70's dropped in a rodded Chevy 350 to replace the tired 'vette engine that Hirschberg had put in.

The Scritchfield Roadster today belongs to Bruce Meyers, who had SoCal Speed Shop several years ago do a full restoration on the highboy, to the configuration when McGee owned it, complete with it's red paintjob, and hot Flathead power with the same type of cast bronze heads that McGee had installed back in '46.

Earl Bruce

Earl Bruce (sometimes you see his first name spelled Earle) was a pretty flamboyant character. Among other things, Earl was a one-time movie actor and singer under contract, race car driver, and drinking buddy of both Von Dutch and Dick Hirschberg (who also owned a bar across from L.A.'s Union Station rail terminal in the '40's.). Bruce owned a bar on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood, called the Big Top, a kind of combination beer hall/jazz club. Von Dutch would work at his shop until around 11:00pm, then wander down to the Big Top after that to drink and play his flute.

Another thing that Earl Bruce was noted for, was his taste in fast and exotic cars, and the company of ladies of the same persuasion. in 1955, Earl purchased what is said to have been the first Mercedes Benz 300SL Gullwing coupe in California. He bought it for $11.000.00 back then, which would be around $93,000.00 in today's dollars. Now, Mercedes Benz made 1,400 300SL coupes between '1955 and '57, and they were rare and sought after cars even then. Well, Earl Bruce owned six Gullwings!

The most famous of those 300SL's that Bruce owned was the one that Von Dutch painted with the white flamejob and pinstriped. When the Gullwing was new, Bruce had Barris' shop paint it in "Sam Bronze". It was one of the early candy jobs, and basically it was paint toner over a bronze powdered base. The paint didn't last on the street, so Bruce had Dutch flame it to cover up the worst of the fading, which was on the rocker and sides of the car. To do this, Dutch started the flames from the rockers, and went up and over the sides of the car with them, instead of starting at the nose of the car.

Sport car and 300SL afficianados back then, on seeing the car in it's "Dutched" form, accused both Von Dutch and Earl Bruce of "Desecrating a shrine", to which both guys could have given a fuck less about in response. But, the one car of Bruce's I wanted to talk about was one that you might not know about, and is one that Earl Bruce owned from 1939 until he died. And, that car is the '40 Ford that was named......

The Armored Car
Earl Bruce poses with the Armored Car in front of his bar The Big Top, located at 5336 Sunset Blvd., just East of the 101 Freeway in Hollywood, sometime in the '50's. Bruce owned the Big Top from 1950-1964.

Earl Bruce bought his '40 Ford brand-new in Downtown Los Angles, in Sept. of 1939. He walked into the Ford dealership, looked at the car, said "I'll take it", and handed the salesman a $1,000.00 bill. The salesman was stunned, as was everyone at the dealership who looked at the note, all having never ever seen one. But the salesman went to the finance office, got the paperwork sorted, and returned with the title and $45.00 change, then he filled up the '40 with gas for Bruce. Nice gesture....

Earl was asked how long he had the car before he had the custom work performed, and he said "About 18 minutes", which is the time it took him to drive over to Jimmy Summer's shop with it. As with the dealership, Bruce told Summers "Chop the top 4 3/4", fill the quarter windows, and shrink the back window". All of which Summers did, along with removing the running boards, flairing the front fender edges into the body, filling the grille's side panels, rounding the door corners, shortening the drip rails, fashioning the rear fender stone guard panels, and having Chuck Porter fill the hood, and punch it full of louvers...no small task. All the work was done in metal, and by that I mean there was no lead used as filler in the modifications whatsoever. Once the work was finished up, the car was dubbed "The Armored Car"

Once Bruce had the custom work finished up, he then went to work punching up the Flathead V-8's performance. This was no "lead sled', it went as well as it looked. Bruce went 120 mph in 1949 in it at El Mirage dry lake, with the timing plaque affixed to the dashboard to testify to that fact for anyone who doubted it.
Earl Bruce's '40 in "Bruce Red" in the '70's. Bruce repainted the Armored Car in various colors dozens of times over through the years , along with about the same number of changes in the interior/trunk upholstery, and wheel/tire combinations.

When the original work was done to the car, the deck lid was left smooth, but one day Bruce and his buddy Von Dutch decided that the deck lid needed ventilation as well. Now, I don't know if you know anything about louvering sheetmetal like this deck lid, but it's not an easy job. First, you have to strip the finish down to bare steel inside and out. Then, you have to remove any bracing or anything else that's in the way underneath. Next, you have to lay out the pattern for the louvers, then you can start punching.

With a piece of curved sheetmetal the size of this deck lid, with the bracing removed, most shops (if they'd even want to do this job, or could get it in their press) would use two people to guide the lid upside down as it was punched, and one guy to do the actual punching.

Well, Von Dutch wasn't a normal guy, and somehow he and Bruce managed to do the job one day, just the two of them....drunk! When asked how many louvers his '40 had in total, Bruce said " I'm no mathematician, there's a lot...". When pressed to explain how the two were able to get those louvers punched in the deck lid, in an arrow-straight pattern to boot, Earl said "Between the beer and wine we consumed that day, and Dutch playing on that damned flute of his, I can't remember how we did it...".
Earl Bruce goes out the window of his beloved '40 at El Mirage, at 100 mph.. His friends remarked he went out in an "angel halo", and it looks like it in the photo, huh? What a great shot.

I couldn't find how old Bruce was when he passed away, or what year, but I know that Earl Bruce owned this car up until the day he died. I did find his '40 is now owned by "a close friend", and it is still being driven to rod events by that same "friend". It's still painted in the med. blue metallic that Bruce had it finished in in 1996. '96 was also the year that American Rodder did an interview with Bruce, and his age in the article was given at 87 years old.
One of Earl Bruce's last requests was to be cremated, and his ashes scattered at El Mirage dry lake. Sometime in 2009, his friends gathered at El Mirage, and Earl was put into his coupe, driven at 100 mph, and then his last wish was granted. Pretty cool, I think.
Here's a screenshot of Bruce's old Big Top building today, right on the corner of Sunset and Serrano. It's now Bill's Liquor Market. The photo of Earl standing next to his '40 was taken just to the right, out of this picture. The arrow points to the window that had the red & white awning in the original shot, now covered by some crappy metal security screen. I thought the original striped awnings over the windows, and the "circus pennants" on the roof when Earl Bruce owned it were pretty classy. I'd have drank there!


Brubble said...

I like Hirschberg's two bikes (very clean knuckle and panhead)and the 32 I have seen in magazine pics.The knuckle was impressive in its simplicity(2 into 1 pipe, Harley 125 tank,etc.
I thought I had seen a picture of the 32 once where it was painted orange. Maybe another car or just poor color in the mag?

Irish Rich said...

Hirschberg had several Deuces, as well as a '34 Cabriolet, as well as god knows what else. I'm always looking.....

mindpill said...

i can read this stuff all day.....more.

Guy@GK said...

Yep... keep it up Rich. Great stuff.