“Rare Air” 1956 Plymouth
Owner: Gil Losi
Photo by : Eric Geisert
Location: Murrieta, CA
The Swan Song
Gil Losi’s ’56 Plymouth Convertible
By Eric Geisert
When you play word association and you say “hot rod,” it’s probably a safe bet most people would not come up with “Plymouth” as their associative word. And even though there is a small but very passionate group of individuals who prefer building a car from the combined houses of Plymouth, Dodge, or Chrysler, it’s just typically not most folks’ first choice. Or second. Or third.
But Gil Losi looks at the world a little differently. A transplant to Southern California from Connecticut in 1952, he didn’t really have any family members who were into cars. But the 12-year-old was lucky enough to land in SoCal’s San Fernando Valley, which was very close to the epicenter of the golden age of hot rodding.
By 14 he owned his first car (a ’35 Plymouth five-window coupe he paid $1 and traded some yardwork for) and, by 16, was president of a car club (The Drifters). Soon he could be found where all the heavyweight automotive giants hung out—up to Toluca Lake where Norm Grabowski was holding court or out to Hollywood and Van Nuys for some old fashioned street cruising. The local San Fernando drag strip is where he saw Tommy Ivo light up the track doing smokey burnouts with his Showboat four-engine dragster.
By the time he was 18 he owned a ’32 Ford sedan powered by a Red Ram Hemi, but he had so little money he had to make payments on the trans adapter he’d installed in the car! The custom scene was alive and booming, too, and Gil was there with a ’49 Ford that featured heated coil springs so the car was pegged on the ground. He also found time to do some racing at the famed Ascot race track and also built a 283-powered Fad T that was painted a Metalflake orange.
Luckily for Gil, he also found a girl who not only tolerated his obsession with cars, but actually liked them and the people that owned them. In 1962, Gil and Janet would marry. Like most young couples, hobbies and extraneous expenditures soon gave way to starting a family and having a career.
But Gil’s life would change in the late ‘70s when he decided to race some remote-controlled cars at a hobby shop, mostly because they reminded him of his time racing at Ascot. Not only was he a natural at racing the small-scale cars, he saw a business opportunity in supplying RC parts to others and The Ranch Pit Shop was born.
Soon to become a very successful supplier to the growing RC market, Gil also saw the writing on the wall when skateboarding was making its resurgence in the early ‘80s and, with his brother, became co-owners of VariFlex, which would become an international skateboard manufacturing success. He got involved in Indy racing and owned a ’93 Lola that ran Indy for several years but, by the end of the millennium, Gil sold his company and, with the extra time and money, decided to get back into building cars for himself. And though his choice of builds might not be most folks’ “first choice”, Gil has certainly demonstrated there are some great hot rods out there lurking under some questionable factory body designs.
After building a sleek ’60 Sunliner in 2000, Gil commissioned a couple of Boydster roadsters (both a II and a III) and a ’67 Buick Riviera and, more recently, a show-level ’54 Mercury and an even-nicer ’61 Chevy bubbletop, powered by a twin-turbo 540 engine. The Chevy debuted at the Detroit Autorama in 2014 and, in a very strong year for competition for the show’s Ridler award, finished just outside the group of Great 8 contenders.
But besides Gil’s great eye for design, there was another common thread with his last three cars: they were all built at Steve Cook Creations in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. So when he thought of his next ride, naturally it was going to fall to Steve’s capable hands. But this time ‘round Gil would really give Cook a challenge: to build and, more importantly, make attractive, a ’56 Plymouth Belvedere convertible—a car Gil readily admits is the ugliest car ever made.
Losi’s father had owned a ’54 Plymouth, which Gil used to steal when he was 15, about the same time frame when Plymouth was releasing their ’55s and ‘56s to the buying public. Gil liked them then and now thought he could finally afford to have one, so the search was on. But finding a suitable donor to the cause was not easy, and it took years of hit and miss across the country before finding the “right” one on e-Bay, which he purchased.
Besides building the past few cars for Losi, Steve Cook had also recently done well in the customization and awards department when he built the Suncammer—the 2011 Don Ridler Memorial Award winner for Bruce Ricks. Always starting from the ground up, Cook began Losi’s Plymouth project with ordering a spec-built chassis from Art Morrison. The rearend was a Ford 9-inch equipped with a Detroit Locker differential, Strange axles, a four-link, and a Panhard bar.
Up front the Morrison independent system uses Mustang spindles, and all four corners received RideTech air bags and Baer disc brakes. Detroit Speed supplied the rack and pinion, which connects to an ididit column. An 18-gallon gas tank fab’d by Cook is located out back, and the car rolls on a set of Curtis Speed-milled, Foose-designed, one-off 18 x 8 and 20 x 10 wheels wrapped in Pirelli 225/40-18 and 275/40-20 rubber, which have had their side walls shaved smooth. Look close at the wheel’s centercap and you might recognize the Plymouth sailing ship logo used by Plymouth for years at their dealerships.
Losi has always liked the exotic when it comes to powerplants for his rides, but he kept it “in the family” with his choice of a 6.1 Hemi out of a 2006 Dodge Charger SRT-8, capable of over 400 horsepower out of the box. Cook made it fit along with a 545RFE five-speed automatic transmission and a driveshaft from Inland Driveline.
Cook also smoothed everything you could see on the engine before painting it, and then assembled it with Curtis Speed valve covers and one-off air cleaner, a Bob Reem intake and fuel injection system, Taylor wires, a Ron Davis radiator, and a Billet Specialties alternator. Cook then finished the engine off with a set of one-off headers and Magna Flow mufflers.
But the real challenge for Steve Cook was update and modify the body of the convertible without taking away its character—taking out the ugly, but not too much. To that end everywhere you look on the exterior you see some kind of modification or, more accurately, you don’t. Cook’s expertise allowed him to wedge cut the entire car 5 inches without making it look goofy.
The top was sectioned to follow a lower line and headlights and trim rings from a ’56 Chrysler 300 were added while the body was nosed and decked. The gas filler was moved inside, the hood’s sheetmetal was hand fab’d (which included the addition of the Billet Specialties hood hinges), and both bumpers were sectioned and smoothed out. Cook, along with Allen Childers, Cody McClain, and Mike Cook performed the bodywork before the convertible was rolled into their paint booth where Steve applied the Axalta Burning Brick paint.
The car was shipped cross country to Gabe’s Street Rod Custom Interiors in San Bernardino, California, where Gabe Lopez and crew used two shades of brown leather in creating a unique interior for the Plymouth, which revolves around two reworked T-bird pleated buckets up front (separated by a custom console) and a bucket-like custom bench seat in the rear. Lopez also stitched up a new top for the car, using a glass rear window in its construction. Once back at Steve Cook Creations, the vehicle got its final assembly, wiring (from American Autowire) for the one-off Dakota Digital gauges, the Kicker-based stereo system, and a Vintage Air AC system. Loads of chrome from Advanced Plating in Nashville was then added to finish off the ride.
The Plymouth received its final detail, it was off for its debut at the 2015 Detroit Autorama, where it received a Pirelli Great 8 award—one of the highest honors in the country for customized cars. Once back in Losi’s garage in Murrieta, California, Gil and Janet started planning out which few shows they’ll be taking the car to before racking up “regular” miles on the odometer. Gil has always driven his cars (he still owns the Sunliner—it has 150,000 miles on it!), so he expects to roll up a few in his Plymouth as well. At 75 years old, Gil says this is his last car but, to anyone that knows him, they’re not sure if that statement is true. After all he did recently mention he knew where a real nice ’54 Mercury was just cross town . . .
Steve Cook’s early school years included football, baseball & wrestling. His father was into sportsman drag racing with a 57 Chevy. Steve preferred semi-pro motocross dirt bike racing, where he met his future wife Kim. They have been married over 34 years now. Kim helped with sanding and finish work as well as the office duties their first 15 years.
Steve not only loved the look of the early street rods, but historical Pebble Beach cars as well. He has won several first place awards at Meadow Brook de Concourse, a second place at Pebble Beach and several first’s at Emilia Island de Concourse with a 1931 Model J Duisenberg, and four 1931 Cadillac V 16. He won the Ford Corporate Engineering Design for a 1937 Ford Darren.
He started painting cars out of his garage, then full restorations and modifying in 1992. He built a blue 1964 GMC pickup which won Good Guys Truck of the year in 2000. Later a with a 1955 yellow & white Chevy, he was a finalist for Good Guys Custom Rod of the Year and finalist for Street Machine of the year in 2004. That car set a record at Barrett Jackson in the Resto Mod sales.
Other Good Guys Custom Rod of the year finalist are: 1967 Black/Silver Buick Riviera, 1954 Black Mercury, and 1961 Black Chevy Bubble Top. His 1969 Yellow Camaro was a finalist in Good Guys Street Machine of the year in 2006.
Steve built Bruce Rick’s 1956 Ford convertible “Suncammer” which won the 2011 Detroit Riddler award, the Good Guys Custom Rod of the year (2011), the Triple Gun award at Grand National Roadster Show and the Mothers Shine Award at Sema.
Steve’s mission statement:
Building cars is more than assembling panels and applying paint. For us it’s passion for cars, a period in time when a design of a car demands your attention and appreciation for the ground work they laid.
At Steve Cook Creations we don’t restyle a car beyond recognition, we finesse them to perfection, paying homage to the past, but refining them to a look unseen before.
We have the same level of passion for craftsmanship in the work we produce.
Steve’s mission statement best describes his passion for tasteful automobiles.