Williams, California, could be accurately described as a sleepy little farming community. Thing is, there’s not much going on up there other than rice and nut farming. One distinct exception is an enterprise that has made its way onto the hot rod stage with a series of exceptional cars in recent years.
Nissen’s Hot Rod Garage is a small shop with a really big output. Volume is not their forte, quality is. John Nissen and his crew have produced show cars that ride the edge in that they are unusual choices for hot rod projects. Their first success in this realm was a ’40 Packard four-door sedan that relied on Viper power to hurtle it through space and that is not much of an exaggeration. They followed that with something called the Stugatti. That car was a Bugatti influenced Studebaker sedan that rose from the ashes as a V-10 Ford-powered dual-cowl phaeton. The Stugatti caused about as much head scratching as is possible at the car shows. Although the car never existed in real time, many showgoers, eager to display their expertise and equally anxious to hide their ignorance, were heard to claim that their grandfathers had told them all about that car!
Tom Stephens, longtime member of the Nissen crew, has been with John for more than a decade. Tom’s skills have grown exponentially since he first began working at the shop and he and John felt the time had come for Tom to be able to individually showcase his ability to design and build a car.
Tom, at some time in the dark and distant past, had acquired a ’48 Ford F-1 that he wanted to put together “as a daily driver, something to have some fun with.” Sound familiar? Many a good marriage has been damaged by that idea! Tom’s first hot rod was a ’48 Ford F-1 pickup. He built it, drove it, and of course, he sold it. Flush with success, he bought another one as a project car, something that would be done his own way, a fast driver that showed off his ideas and talents. On a visit to his cousin, young Tom spotted a ’37 La Salle sedan in the garage. The front bumper looked like it would be put to better use on the front of the pickup so Tom asked to buy the bumper. The cousin said he had to get rid of the whole car, so Tom bought it at a scandalous discount and began the scavenging process. He decided to keep the whole front end thinking he might be able to use it on a custom someday and continued on with his somewhat conventional hot rod pickup.
When shop owner, John Nissen, heard about a ’36 pickup for sale, Tom asked him if he thought the La Salle tin would mate to the ’36 in a full custom application. John’s response was that he thought the cab was too square to blend with the voluptuous curves of the La Salle, but the rounded features of Tom’s ’48 truck might just be the appropriate configuration that would fit the styling criteria. That was when the trouble started. The daily driver idea went under the bus and all hell broke loose at what was to become Nissen’s wild ride and amusement park.
Suddenly, a multi car scavenging mission began. A second La Salle was discovered and relieved of its front fenders with the intention of applying them to the rear of the truck. A ’39 Merc sedan was butchered for its windshield and the truck’s body began to be sectioned and chopped to accommodate the divided glass. A 2-inch chop and a 2-inch section combined with a hand-fabricated frame channel brought Tom’s dream to its new, low-down profile. At this point, the truck’s destiny became a Grand National Roadster Show debut. Thirteen different cars and a boat lent parts to the truck and that combination produced the singular look of this custom.