Moonglow recreation by Graeme Tait
Having owned many Hot Rods in his youth, including a custom 51 Chevy, custom 48 Plymouth 3 passenger Business coupe and a 32 Ford 5 window coupe painted fire engine red with a 48 Merc ¾ race for go. In 1972 Tait completely restored a 32 Ford 3 window coupe show car that had been featured in Car Crarft in 1960. In the 1990’s Graeme Tait had the desire, the time and money to build another one. This was not going to be some lowered 32 with the mandatory big block, nor was it going to be some wild custom he dreamed up. He had long been a fan of the late 50’s customs that were based on the 53-54 Chevys.
Rod and custom did a complete computer comparison of the top customs from the 40`s and 50`s and the Hirohata Merc and Moonglow were the most famous. Tait remembers the 1957 Car Craft with the white Moonglow on the cover . Knowing it was built by a Commercial Artist named Duane Steck in his spare time and at his own house seemed to be too good to be true.
Reading about the Moonglow as a kid, and then finding out it was one of the most recognizable customs ever built was the starting point. The original was not to be found so a tribute car was carefully planned. To recreate the Moonglow Tait poured over every magazine and then a friend from California got the original photos from Tom Taylor. These photos were original enlargements and they worked from these to pefect the tribute car. The pics were taken at Larry Watsons shop and showed the Moonglow in it’s “Silver with scallops phase”.
The moonglow was built in the driveway of Duane Steck in Bellflower California part of the LA sprawl. He was a member of the car Club the Long Beach Renegades and it was a budget build with most work being done outside on the driveway. The car was only one year old when the modifications began.
The 1954 Chevrolet Bel Air Sport Coupe was a good looking car to begin with and it had many subtle modifications to enhance its look but the radical chop gave it the classification of radical Kustom. Interestingly to keep the car fresh it had been constantly tweaked and shown extensively and then Steck sold it and never built another custom.
But custom cars were much different in 1996 when this project started and the banging and mudding of body panels was not the way it was done anymore. Using the photos as guides Tait saw some of the subtle details that others also building copies of the Moonglow failed to get `Right“
There were 5 versions of Moonglow…the first was painted white by Earl Schieb with powder blue trim. Steck had heard of a talented kid from George Barris who was an up and coming pinstriper and did Scallops. This was Larry Watson working out of his parents driveway, and was asked by Steck to paint nudes on the Moonglow. Watson accomplished the nudes to perfection and followed up with some amazing pinstriping. The next version had some body mods including a bigger reshaped grille opening and anther coat of white enamel and striped this time by the same Larry Watson“ of `Watson’s House of Style“
During 1959 the fifth and final version of Moonglow was again painted by Larry Watson and was painted candy blue over silver pearl. Watson has said it was his best candy blue paint-job ever and has told Tait that of all the colours the Moonglow has been the blue was the best.. This version of the car was featured on the cover of Custom Cars March 1960.
Shortly after this Steck traded the car for a sportscar and later on his brother saw it being crushed at a wrecking yard.
Knowing the original was gone send Tait on a hunt for the perfect car to create his own Moonglow and found a cherry California car with tinted glass from Riverside. It was far enough away from the ocean not to have any rust at all. The car had been brought to Canada by a buddy of Taits that was convinced to sell it to Tait.
Of course the new Moonglow is the bright blue of the fifth version but without the 55 chevy headlights…preferring the frenched headlights of the earlier versions. Another decision was to go high end…no plexiglass rear windows heated in his mom`s oven like the original Steck version.
The car was completely stripped apart and 2 minor creases in the front fender caused Tait to find perfect NOS fenders for his creation. This car was all built on a English wheel and power hammer and uses lead. Not over the counter lead, the English trained panel beater had a special formula for the lead.
The frame was sent to Doug McLanders shop in Cloverdale where the frame was customised including some tubular components with 4 bar links with a lowering system using Airride technologies on all four corners.
Built in 5 private garages instead of a “driveway” depending on what work was being performed and at various times the 3.5”chop was done at a friend`s garage as well as the taillights and other extensive mods, then onto another friends shop to perfect the chop.
Then to Ted Sorensons where Tait had a panel beater come in to stretch the deck and French the headlight header bar and taillights…and all the other body mods. The Panel Beater was trained in England to work on Coaches including some for the Royal Family. That “just right look” took lot’s of time because the chopped “compound curved” rear window does not come off a parts shelve anywhere on this planet. The rear window took 2 years to complete and was a real challenge. First a custom mold was created that looked like cribbing for the Brooklyn Bridge. Then came the metal refinishing to complete the contour for the mold. The rear glass was molded and then sent to the US for lamination. No Expense was spared and was well worth it as the rear window is perfect to the line of the body.
The hood was nosed and decked and finished off underneath to show quality. The upper grill bar was frenched into the body and comprises of 15 teeth. Door handles shaved, Gas gate eliminated and 1953 Ford headlights frenched and peaked to match the fender line. The taillights are 1956 Chrysler inverted and placed into custom one piece handcrafted housings.
The rear deck was extended forward and widened to move the rear window forward for a correct Stock appearing Roof line. The front bumper is frenched and bolt holes front and rear are filled. Bumper. The rear bumper has 1956 Chev Bumperettes with a 1957 Caddy over rider Bridge. On either side of the bumper were port holes for exhaust, all is frenched in seamlessly. The Gas gate and Rock guards were eliminated and totally custom made skirts were fabricated.
Powered by a well documented professionally rebuilt 261 cu. in. 6 cylinder Chevy breathing through dual Carter Weber 2 barrels on an Offenhauser manifold with a Fenton split exhaust manifold. Balanced and Blueprinted with a High Compression GM Factory head and a “Torquey” cam designed to run with a 700R4 Transmission. All period correct high performance and many “Concours” chrome dress up pieces were used to make a one of a kind engine. Tait lived by the motto “if it doesn’t go, chrome it”
Some of the under hood goodies include:
1959 – 261 cu. in. Chevy inline 6 cylinder (new Rebuild)
- Torquey cam by Shadbolt – the best in the business
- Factory GM high compression 868 head
- 2 Carter Weber 2 barrels carbs with 1950’s real Hellings and Stellings Carb air cleaners (chrome) over brass
- Offenhauser manifold and valve cover and rare Offenhauser side cover
- Beehive oil filter (finned) and Power steering reservoir .
- Chrome coil, alternator, compressor, pulley, Fenton headers, bellhousing
- All braided stainless hoses were used on the motor
- Polished stainless hoodsprings
- All custom Ceramic coated dual exhaust by Muffler Tech
Mustang II front end with Camaro Disc brakes. A 57 Chevy rear end with 3:70 gears offers the best for city and highway driving. Firestone Air Bag suspension on all four corners, allows for correct cruising height and wicked “dropped show” height. “Vintage Air “ Gen-II air conditioning and a great stereo compatible with i-pods completes the driving experience.
Trimmed in snow white naughahide with 1.5 inch full roll and pleated and this continues to the backs of the seats and the package tray and carpeted in Bright royal blue carpet for a striking contrast. The knobs for the heater Radio shifter etc were ordered from a cottage business in the states and took well over 2 years to finally arrive but they look so Fifties!.
With the top being chopped and air bagged, the lowering works out to 10 ½” in total, so a Heavy duty wiring harness by Clearhead Enterprises Inc was installed. Gen II by Vintage Air complete components with custom made condenser and brackets keep the cruising cool and the 52 spoke 1954 Buick Skylark wire wheels make sure it looks cool.
The paint took 4 months as numerous hours were spent block sanding and perfecting the car before the bright “China blue” pearl, base clear paint was applied. The final result is stunning and after 12 years and 6,000 hours this is truly a one of kind Custom literally taking every trick Duane Steck used and going way beyond it quality wise.
Since hitting the road in 2007 it has been the Winner of the “Coolest Custom”, “Street Rod Award” and the “Best of a hundred” at the 2008 Good Guys Puyallip car show. Moonglow also won “Best Custom”, Winner of “Ladies Choice” and “Outstanding Custom” at the Abbotsford World of Wheels and numerous other US awards for Customs.. This car has been driven and trailered to shows (depending on distance) and it’s road manners are impeccable…this is a trailer queen that loves to be driven.