The following first-hand account was provided by Bob Nugent who is the Senior Website Administrator of www.HotRodsOnline.com ... The Oldest and Largest hot rod website on the internet
I was fortunate to be a part of the very beginnings of this legendary coupe and here is the story of the early years of the car. Clarence "Chili" Catallo was a good friend during the fifties. His parents bought a grocery store from my parents and that is how we met. I went to work for a gas station next door to the grocery store and that is where the beginnings of the "Lil Deuce Coupe" began.
This coupe sat for many years beside the house of a local customizer in Dearborn, Mich. His name was "Ziggy" and he did most of the local guys work in a little shed out behind his mom's house. Clarence and I drug that coupe out of the weeds and began the work of kids everywhere, turning a piece of junk into a "Hot Rod". We put an Olds engine into the coupe, hooked to the stock Ford transmission. I learned how to rebuild Ford transmissions that way, because we immediately blew five of them. It seemed whenever you gave the thing some gas, it scattered the tranny everywhere.
We got it running and I can remember driving the car to high school because "Chili" wasn't old enough to get his license! I drove it to school using a coat hanger through the dash as a gas pedal. The lower part of the channeled body was quite rusty, so "Chili" took the car to Pete's custom collision and had the first stages of the body work done. Paul Hatton the famous Detroit striper, worked out of Pete custom collision and we all hung out there drinking coffee to keep from freezing to death.
The coupe was first painted in white primer and I had watched Paul Hatton stripe, so I started my striping career by striping the trunk of the coupe.
I remember one night that Don Vargo came by the gas station in his 34 Cabriolet and it was also painted in white primer and striped by a guy from Dearborn by the name of Pacetti. None of us in the group that night realized that these two hotrods would become two of the most famous showcars in history. What is amazing is that over a period of about 4 years, "Chili" would finish the car to show condition 4 different times!
The next phase had the Alexander Bros. continuing the work on the coupe and placing that famous nose piece on it. The years had taken their toll on the lower body, so the famous fins were fitted and this was long before Ferrari came up with the styling trick. During this period the car was called the "Silver Sapphire".
The scallops and striping was done by Paul Hatton of Detroit and the best striper I have ever seen, and the guy that got me into striping in my young days.
I left Michigan about this time and moved to Florida and I lost touch with the car and "Chili".
The famous phase was when the car was chopped and remodeled by George Barris in California, and sprayed a beautiful transluscent blue with white pearl scallops by Jr. Herschel. ( I hope that spelling is correct) This then became the famous Lil Deuce coupe that was on the cover of the Beach Boys Album and also on the cover of the July 1961 Hot Rod Magazine. "Chili" and Ed Roth himself took the car to the photo shoot and that became the cover shot for both Hot Rod and the Beach Boys cover.
Shortly after, the car was sold to a car club. Ray Woloszak, then bought and owned it for 30 years and kept the car in show condition, but not exactly as it was in the sixties. He had a Chrysler engine and ran black walls. I ragged him for years that he needed to get those whitewalls back on.
I got a call from "Chili" asking if I knew where the car was and I put him in contact with Ray. Ray had been going to The Turkey Rod Run in Daytona and always parked the car in front of the Old Farts Car Club tent, where I was always on staff, and I knew exactly where the car was. Clarence " Chili" Catallo repurchased the "Lil Deuce coupe" from Ray Woloszak in July of 1997.
Unfortunately Clarence passed away shortly after he repurchased the coupe. His son Curt and his family, as a tribute to their father, restored the coupe to the exact specifications of the car in it's glory days. This is one of the rare examples of the Hotrod that has graced to the grounds at Pebble Beach. It also was in the 50th anniversary Autorama as one of the feature cars. Currently it is in a special presentation at the Petersen Museum as part of the Music and Rods display. Probably the most recognized Hotrod ever built and a great tribute to a nice guy. Clarence was my buddy in my teen years and I shall never forget the good times that we had.