Among everything that the ’70s embraced—from horrid polyester to the great oil shocks—traditional custom cars will likely not be amongst the popular topics of the era that will go down in the annals of history. Well, with one exception … STREET RODDER magazine (more specifically, Pat Ganahl) and its efforts to not only revive the “street custom” trend, but to keep the topic fresh in readers’ minds.
It may just be that without the editorial contributions of Ganahl himself, a true custom connoisseur, the ’70s would have come and gone without any periodical paper real estate dedicated to the custom car scene. And furthermore, who knows to what extent that scene, overshadowed by the budding pre-’49 street rod movement that R&C and others were fully supporting, would have been revived by the mid ’70s (if at all) without his input. (It should be noted that outside of the publishing world, Jerry Titus and his organization, the KKOA—Kustom Kemps of America—are to be credited for keeping the “kustom” flame lit as the decade came to a close.)
On the other hand, folks like Richard Zocchi and John D’Agostino apparently didn’t need any magazine motivation to further fuel their aspirations to keep the custom car alive and, well, in a time when Street is Neat did not apply to tail draggers. Matter of fact, it was Richard’s 1950 Mercury, aptly named “Cool 50,” that graced the July ’78 cover of STREET RODDER (the magazine’s second 1949-1951 Merc cover in two years, the first featuring Steve Gonzalez’s chopped 1951, which also included Richard’s in-progress 1950 along with 13 other custom Mercs). Both Richard and D’Agostino hail from Northern California, and both enlisted local Bay Area legends such as Bill Reasoner and Rod Powell to bring their ’70s customs to life. D’Agostino’s Merc would later become what is now known as “Midnight Sensation,” while Richard’s first version featured a primitive form of suede … tinted primer. By 1976, the Cool 50, as we know it today, was born. Throughout the following decades, and still to this day even, the two have continually contributed to the custom car scene with one amazing build after another—and both Mercs are still around after all these years as well.
Fortunately, Richard’s custom tastes and influences run in his bloodline. His nephew, Dave, actually got his first dose of the candy-colored drug with Cool 50 at the age of 16. And while the thought may have never crossed his mind then, 40-some years later Cool 50 has a new lease on life, thanks to his instilled fascination that fueled recent attempts of bringing the car back into the Zocchi family. Actually, a majority of the thanks go to Marco Garcia and Lucky 7 Customs (Antioch, California), the top-notch talent behind the Merc’s most recent yearlong restoration process. (Following Richard’s ownership, the car found its way to show promoter Bill Larivee, Sr.’s collection in the ’80s, at which point Rod Powell and Butch Hurley were called upon to freshen it up for the ISCA circuit it became part of.)
Soft-spoken and as humble as can be (a stark contrast to many namesake custom builders), Marcos Garcia lets his work speak for itself—and that it does, rather loudly yet in the most tasteful manner. More often than not, he and Lucky 7 undertake builds from start to finish, so when tasked with Dave’s newly acquired family heirloom, his process went from “design” to “refine”, and as you can see—whether you’re familiar with the original car or not—adding Lucky 7’s name to the list of contributors who’ve put their hands on Cool 50 over the last four decades is more than fitting.
Garcia admitted that there were a few subtle modifications that were done to the car since Richard’s last version of it—but nothing major that wasn’t easily “backdated” to its two-toned candy red and silver with ’70s Riviera side-trimmed form. The original (for Cool 50) 1953 DeSoto grille is complemented by the latter version’s same-make bumper (all brightened up by Sherm’s Custom Plating), and it still wears the same Olds Fiesta caps that graced it on our cover in 1978. The interior, originally done by Kenny Foster, got its revive—and update—courtesy of Bob Divine, following the exterior’s facelift.
Appropriately enough, Dave and Garcia celebrated the 40th anniversary of Cool 50 by debuting it at the 2016 Grand National Roadster Show where it sat in all its glory directly across from Dave’s son Joe’s custom, a 1953 Bel Air built by none other than Lucky 7 Customs. Looks like the Zocchi custom bloodline is far from running out.
(Editor’s note: The following day after this feature was written, we got the terrible news that on October 20, 2016, Richard Zocchi had died. Our condolences to his wife, Cherrie, and the entire Zocchi family. His nephew, David, told us after his passing: “Cool 50 will always be Richard’s crown jewel … I’m just so blessed to be the current caretaker.” –Rob Fortier.)