In the world of custom cars, John D'Agostino is a household name. What you might consider a second-gen connoisseur, he's been collaborating traditional customs since he was fresh out of college in 1970.
Early on, John developed a trademark style with wire-wheeled, candy-colored 1960s-70s mild customs (his first official, an off-the-lot 1970 Grand Prix) in his native Bay Area hometown of Pittsburg, California. It wasn't long, however—inspired by the movie American Graffiti (which he was taken to see by, of all people, legendary customizer, Bill Hines)—that John's tastes regressed era-wise into 1950s customs. By 1975, his resumé of traditional customs began with "Midnight Sensation", a 1951 Mercury that, ironically, just happened to be Rod Powell's first 1949-51 Merc chop job, among other things. But what many may remember John most for was still to come.
In 1986, John found himself in possession of Winfield's "Jade Idol". Despite his desire to restore the 1956 Merc back to its former glory, he followed through with another project that had already started taking shape: "Stardust", John's memorable 1940 Merc coupe. On almost a yearly basis it seemed, John pumped out one elaborate custom after another, working with Bay Area notables John Aiello, Darryl Hollenbeck, and Frank DeRosa, producing cars that wound up not only on magazine covers, but in celebrities' collections as well.
By the 2000s, John's collaborative efforts found their way to Oz Kustoms, and to date, John and shop owner Oz Welch have produced more than a handful of top-shelf customs, including one that, at the time, appeared to have been John's greatest achievement, "Gable", his Carson-topped 1941 Packard, which debuted in 2004. But, whether he or Welch knew it at the time, the best was yet to come.
January 2013; Pomona, California's Grand National Roadster Show. Outside the perimeter of the AMBR buzz, amongst a collaborative of both mild and wild customs stood "Sophia", sat a mint mist pearl 62 Series 1940 Cadillac coupe. To say it's John's crowning achievement would be selling him short, as we're sure there's still more to come from the mind of John D'Agostino and the hands of Oz Welch—but it's definitely top echelon. While his goal was to "equal or surpass Stardust and Gable", as he claimed, it all boils down to personal taste, as each one of his cars have had unique touches that set them apart from all the rest.
Sophia began her role as traditional custom star after John acquired the coupe from Frank DeRosa Jr. in 2009. From DeRosa's shop in Pittsburg, the Cad went straight to Oz Kustoms in Oroville to undergo its "luxurious" custom transformation before coming full circle, winding up at Divine Custom Interiors in Pittsburg. Their efforts ultimately garnered a slew of awards, ranging from the Sam Barris Memorial to the Triple Crown, following Sophia's GNRS debut at the Sacramento Autorama this past February.
For sure, there has to come a time when one simply can't top their previous achievements. But when it comes to customs, where perception varies from one person to the next, who's to say what's "best"? And as long as there's vintage tin in which to customize, John D'Agostino's definitely apt to outdo himself yet again. Only time will tell.
Rod & Custom Feature Car
Discovery Bay, California
1940 Cadillac 62 Series Coupe
Under the direction of Oz Welch and crew at Oz Kustoms in Oroville, CA, John D'Agostino had his svelte Caddy brought closer to Mother Earth, in an adjustable manner no less, with a custom-fit IFS, four-linked '70 Chevelle rear, and RideTech air suspension at all four corners. Steering is power rack-and-pinion, while the brake system is, of course, a disc-drum combo.
Keeping with the Cadillac provenance, John kept the forward-most portion of Sophia's drivetrain just that, all Caddy. Just aft of her shiny grille lies a 500ci V-8 circa 1970 rebuilt by Taylor's Automotive in Modesto; forward her curvy rearend a same-year Caddy Turbo 400 courtesy Brentwood Transmission in Brentwood, CA. (Engine assembly/installation and exhaust was done at the second Taylor's Automotive in Riverbank, CA.) Some underhood incidentals include an Edelbrock four-barrel, Sanderson headers, and a four-row cross flow from U.S. Radiator.
Wheels & Tires
Sophia's classy footwear consists of a quartet of custom-made steel wheels from Pete Paulsen, each wrapped in 700-15 BFGoodrich Silvertown wide whitewalls from Coker Tire and capped with 1953 Cadillac full disc covers, otherwise known as Sombreros (the other Caddy Sombreros!).
Body & Paint
Every movie star goes through extensive "body" work prior to his/her big screen performance, and Sophia's no exception. Welch handled everything from the metalwork to the mud work, prepwork to the lavish paintwork. The list of custom modifications is quite long, but here are just some of her makeover mods: chopped 'n' hardtopped roof (obviously) with scratchbuilt side window frames, body channeled, front/rear fenders widened, hand-fabbed skirts, all seams filled, corners rounded, hood/fender tops peaked, custom-made running boards, and more. The paint, based on House of Kolor materials, is a custom mix of Ice Mint Pearl with Candy Emerald blends highlighted with White Ice Pearl and, for added glamor 'n' glitz, crushed glass. Sophia's nails, er, brightwork, is courtesy of Sherm's Custom Plating (Sacramento, CA); her glass all custom cut by Jackson Glass (Oroville, CA); and Kustom Kraft Series 112 Appleton spots were done 30 years ago by Bill Layman.
Complementing the gorgeous, curvaceous exterior of John's Cad is an equally eye-pleasing interior by Bob Divine of Divine's Custom Interiors in Pittsburg, CA, in pearl white/mint Naugahyde with mint-colored wool carpet. Set in a custom-painted dash are modern-resto gauges redone by Classic Instruments, while a '47 Caddy steering wheel, revived by Quality Restorations, tops its factory mate steering column. Hidden are a Pioneer sound system (by Pantel's Music Box) and a Vintage Air A/C unit.