There is a multitude of ways that people come into the car hobby. There are collectors, investors, and builders, just to name a few. Some come to the hobby late in life, some earlier, and some, like Kurt McCormick, can never remember a time when they were not interested. Before he was able to own or drive a car, Kurt was poring over the buff books, reading about them, studying their lines, learning the terminology, and dreaming of days to come. He visualized himself behind the wheel of one of these sleek beauties, the rolled vinyl pressed against his body and the mellow sound of a slightly muffled V-8 purring in his ear. He could even visualize the multiple carbs sitting atop that heavily chromed vintage OHV engine. Yeah, those were the dreams of a young Kurt McCormick.
Over the years, Kurt has had a boatload of cars; there have been classics, musclecars, street rods, and customs, but his real and first love has always been customs. And, of the wide variety of customs out there, it's the early vehicles that really fascinate him. Best known as a collector of all things Barris, Kurt has put together an impressive collection of restored Barris vehicles and associated memorabilia over the years. So, at first it seemed a little odd that he would purchase a Westergard car. That is until you remember that Harry Westergard was a forerunner to the Barris brothers and is considered by many to have had a huge influence on those first (mid- to late-'30s) round-fendered, low-slung, tail-dragger cars that were the early custom movement.
As you may have guessed by now, surviving Westergard cars are highly sought-after prizes in custom collector circles, so there was no hesitation on Kurt's part when this one came along. As a matter of fact, the convoluted deal that Kurt made to get the car is an interesting story itself. When Kurt tracked it down, Steve Woodburn in Danville, California, had owned it for about four years. In the course of their early conversations, Kurt realized Steve wasn't really interested in selling the car outright but might be up for a tempting trade. He also discovered that Steve had a real passion for Joe Wilhelm cars and that level of trade could be the key to this deal.
Well, it just so happened Kurt knew Wilhelm's widow was ready to part with the Mark Mist '36 Ford coupe, so he purchased it from her, and with her knowledge, used the Mark Mist as the bargaining chip that got him this Westergard Cadillac. By the time Kurt got to the car, there wasn't a lot left-the top covering was gone, the interior was in a shambles, the drivetrain was either missing or nonfunctional, and one side had sustained some serious body damage. But, much of the original Westergard work was still intact, and when all else was said it was still one of a handful of remaining examples of his craft.
This was no simple scuff and buff restoration; it needed everything. The frame had to be boxed, all the suspension freshened, mechanical systems refurbished, sheetmetal fabricated, an interior installed, and a Hall top recreated. There would also be nods to modernization-nothing too far out, just enough to make the car more appealing in a 21st century world. For instance, rather than hunt down an era Flathead V-8 and obsolete Hydramatic transmission, Kurt opted for a freshened '62 Cadillac engine backed by a B&M enhanced 700-R4 overdrive transmission and a lockup converter. Of course, the '60s overhead-valve V-8 was nicely blended into the period piece with the liberal application of vintage speed parts to the exterior of the engine. Kurt also restyled the top to take some of the fullness out of the C-pillar area, selected a period-correct body color (all the bodywork was completed in the late '40s, but color was not applied) in a modern finish, and no doubt moved the interior a bit beyond its original state of finish. In the overall scheme of things, these are minor concessions and serve to enhance rather than detract from the car. If you're a fan of early customs, this is your kind of car.
The finished product is a stunner; the round fenders, full fadeaways, C.A. Hall top, and tail-dragger attitude are the definition of Westergard styling. It's also a fitting tribute to the skills and design savvy of its original builder and the talented people who brought it back to life.
And, check this out if you think the value of customs is not rising. When Hub Johnson bought the car from Tom Ball in 1987, it was residing on a turkey farm in Roseville, California. Hub paid $3,500 for it. By 1991, when Steve Woodburn bought it, the price had risen to $10,000 . . . and a boat.