One of the few things that...
One of the few things that Carter didn't do himself was the interior. He hired Dante's Modern Auto Top Shop in Stockton to reproduce what he could see in the only half-identifiable photo that existed. He came fairly close, too; photos that appeared later show fat pleats that turn into narrower pleats at about mid-seat level.
"They laid the frame out, which was two pieces of steel, right on the garage floor out here. I can remember real well when they started. When I say they, there were some guys who worked for him at the time who had helped with it, but [Rico] did most of the mechanical work. Of course, Westergard did the bodywork. He's the one who did that Kurtis-type front end on the car." He's also the one responsible for eliminating the false-door bead on the driver side, shaving the passenger-side door, and molding the cowl top to the body, just to name a few modifications.
"From what I understood, they didn't get it done in time. [Al and Mary Slonaker] wanted it at that show, and they were screwing around with it in December of 1950, and it had to be in there by January." Reportedly under the gun to make the car presentable, Rico forewent everything not visible once the car was buttoned up. The important part was that the car looked good. As the records show, it did.
The car's life with Rico wasn't all that long though. Carter says, "In 1952, Rico sold it to another friend of mine, a farmer named Augie Correa. Augie owned it until 1956. He sold it to another friend of mine, actually two friends of mine, two brothers named Frankie and Joey Ferreira."
The Ferreira brothers were pivotal to the car's legend-at least among the people who knew them at the time. Rather than a priceless artifact, the car was just a means for the brothers and their friends-Carter among them-to tear around on farm roads. "In the early '60s-before I even had a license-I was trying to buy Rico's car from Joey," he says. "I didn't know anything about America's Most Beautiful; it was just a cute little red car. I knew my dad would foot the bill, but they wouldn't sell it.
It's priceless anymore, but...
It's priceless anymore, but once upon a time the "Perpetual Trophy" for Most Beautiful Roadster went home with its winner until the following year's event. More than likely that's the Ford agency where Rico and Harry worked.
"Anyway, I forgot about the car-I'd say '65 was about the last time I saw it. But one day Joey and I were just bs'ing and he said 'You still wanna buy my roadster?' After 20 years, I thought, 'What roadster?' I didn't register what he was talking about. 'The little red roadster, America's Most Beautiful, you know,' he tells me. 'Oh yeah, yeah I want to buy it. What do you want for it?' Carter asked. 'Oh, $1,500,' he tells me. So I said, 'You don't move; I'll be right back.' "
Unfortunately, Carter's silver lining had a cloud-a sort of dark one at that. " 'Well, it's been apart for 20 years,' Joey told me. 'We took it apart to rebuild it.' " And in the meantime a sort of low-grade disaster struck: Carter says it was in a garage in Isleton when the delta flooded. Making matters worse, "It spent three months underwater. It's apart, in boxes, but most of it's there."
The car's restoration presented some challenges, even for a seasoned fabricator. "When it was built, if it didn't show it was junk," Carter says. "I mean like the frame and stuff never showed so it was never detailed. It had a million holes from the factory. They'd changed motors so it had things welded to it and cut off. The firewall looked like something off a local tractor. If it wasn't a show item, it didn't look good." So not only did Carter have to restore the car, he had to tie up a lot of loose ends that Rico overlooked in the car's rushed construction.
So too did he have to reinvent some things. For example, the rarity that makes the '40s-era Kinmont disc brakes desirable also makes missing parts like the ones Carter needed to repair them exceedingly hard to find. "I found some, and for a handful of parts the guy wanted $2,000," Carter says. "So I said, 'Nah, I'll make my own,' and the guy tells me, 'You can't just make 'em.' 'Oh yes I can,' " Carter told him. "I was already a machinist so I learned to sand cast. I'm notorious for not letting anybody work on my projects."