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As Tennyson might have written, if he lived in 2013 and wasn’t a very good poet, “in the spring, and summer, and fall and winter, one’s fancy turns to thoughts of automobiles.”
There’s a lot to be said, in other words, for the romance of the open road.
And for as long as there have been cars, there have been men and women who have felt the need to alter, improve, manipulate—in short, to trick out their vehicles with accouterments and ornamentation that the manufacturer did not feel compelled to include in even its most crazily deluxe models. For some, these additional touches might be spinning hubcaps. For others, it might be furry dice hanging from the rear-view mirror, or animal-print upholstery, or flames painted on the hood.
For the braver among us, it’s a hydraulic system that helps a chopped ’65 Impala hop around like garlic in a hot skillet. But whatever the augmentation, the aim is always the same: to personalize a ride. To make it stand out. To make it one’s own.
And then there was Louie Mattar, who turned his 1947 Cadillac into a how-to guide for four-wheeled DIYers everywhere. As LIFE told its readers in a March 1952 article, “A Car That has Everything,” Mattar was “a San Diego garage owner with a big imagination.”
One additional note: Later that year, in Sept. 1952, Mattar’s ultra-tricked-out Caddy set a world endurance non-stop record (since eclipsed) when three drivers, working in shifts, traveled round-trip from San Diego to New York and back—6,300 miles—in one week. It later traveled—virtually non-stop, due to Mattar’s innovations that allowed it to refuel while driving, etc.—from Anchorage, Alaska, to Mexico City. Today, Mattar’s wild ride is on display at the San Diego Automotive Museum in Balboa Park.