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The Alexander Brothers

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Mike and Larry Alexander

The Alexander Brothers was a customizing duo consisting of the brothers Mike and Larry Alexander. In 1948 Larry, who was the eldest brother, joined the Army. After being discharged he began to study body and fender work at a trade school under the GI Bill. Mike joined the Army in 1952, and after his discharge in 1954 Larry convinced Mike to also study bodywork and paint theory under the GI Bill at the Wolverine Trade School. After learning the trade of bodywork and paint, Larry and Mike began to work in their father's one-car garage after hours, shaving trim, filling holes, and doing regular repairs. Larry's burgeoning family prompted him to buy a house, and the brothers quickly reestablished the shop in its two-car garage. At one point they realized the work coming in was enough to sustain a full-time endeavor, so in 1957 they quit their day jobs and concentrated on growing their business. Later on the same year, Mike and Larry opened up the "Alexander Brothers Custom Shop" on Northwestern Highway near Evergreen Road in Detroit.

The first creation to roll out of the Alexander Brothers new shop was a Model-A Ford with a modified four-cylinder engine. The A bone was painted Glade Green Metallic. The following year, in 1958, the bought and buillt a 1931 Ford Model A pickup in order to promote their new venture. The purpose of the car was to attract higher end business. The car, called Grasshopper, won a trophy for best paint at the 1958 Detroit Autorama. The Grasshopper got its name from the paint job, who was also done in Glade Green Metallic. They showed the car in the 1958 season, before they sold it in 1959 in order to buy a brand new 1959 Chevrolet El Camino.

The Alexander Brothers had a hard time getting press in the West Coast magazines. This changed one day when Bob Larivee Sr. called and said he had some people he'd like them to meet. The people were George Barris and his crew that was attending the Detroit Autorama with the XPAK 400. The air car was broken, and George headed over to the brothers shop in order to fix it. George was impressed by their work, and got the brothers into the West Coast magazines.

The Victorian, Sy Gregorich's 1955 Ford Crown Victoria gave the brothers good West Coast coverage. The Victorian was the first car ever to wear the Alexander Brothers' Trademark Badge. Mike and Larry redid the Victorian three times. About the time when Mike and Larry was working on the Victorian, Bill Hines moved back to Detroit from California. Bill had a lot of work painting candy, so he hired the Alexander Brothers to do bodywork. Mike and Larry didn't paint candy, so Bill traded work for candy instructions and paint on their jobs.

In 1959 Clarence Catallo brought the "Silver Sapphire" to the Alexander Bros. After a successful drag-race career, the body of the 1932 Ford Coupe had been sectioned and channeled. Mike and Larry formed the unique grille, before George Barris performed the three-inch chop, and paint. The "Silver Sapphire" is most famous for posing on the cover of the Beach Boys record "Little Deuce Coupe".

Booming business forced the brothers into their second shop on Littlefield and Grand River. It was here that they built the Adonis for Bill Whetstone in 1961. Things were going the right way for the brothers, and they got more and more big jobs. One day the city stepped in and made things more complicated. They wanted to expand the freeway, so the brothers' lost their shop. They moved to Westbrook and Schoolcraft in to a four lots shop. The state promised that they'd never encroach on the new land, so Mike and Larry decided to invest in a spray booth.

In 1962 Larry and Mike got to know Harry Bradley, a talented designer that proved very important to the brothers' heavy hitters style. Harry moved to Detroit in July 1962 to work as a designer for General Motors. Ford was trying to get into the youth market, something that led them to work with AMT's Bud Anderson. The result of this collaboration was the Ford Custom Caravan. The Ford Custom Caravan included a few influential guys such as Bill Cushenbery, Gene Winfield, George Barris, Dean Jeffries, Ak Miller and so on. AMT paid a retainer and ran the Caravan. The builders would propose a drawing, and if Ford liked it, they'd give out a car for a dollar. Harry Bradley drew a car called the Alexa for the Alexander Brothers. The Alexa was a 1964 Ford Galaxie Fastback. Ford like it, and Mike and Larry got a car for a dollar. Since Harry Bradley was working for General Motors at the time Mike and Larry had to credit Harry as Designer X.

In 1964 Mike and Larry hired 14 year old Ken Yanez. The same year they built the Venturian for Bobby Massaron. The Venturian won the prestigious Don Ridler Memorial Award in 1965.

Ford wasn't the only company to recognize the brothers' name equity and talent. Chrysler had the brothers doing sheetmetal and paintwork on the Ramchargers racecars and other competition vehicles. The brothers figured out that if Chrysler had race money, they could probably afford to let the Alexander Brothers build them a car too. They asked Harry Bradley to design a vehicle based on Chrysler's recently launched Dodge A100, figuring they'd get the company to supply them with a truck if they liked what they saw. But if Chrysler wouldn't play, the Alexanders had a back-up plan: They would approach cross-town rival Ford, which had its own cab-over pickup, the Econoline. Chrylser liked Harry's design, and Mike and Larry received a stripped down Dodge A100 pickup. The creation was called the Dodge Deora. The truck took three years to build. After winning all the major trophies at the 1967 Detroit Autorama, including the Don Ridler Memorial Award, Dodge put it out on a tour.

After the Dodge Deora Chrysler gave Mike and Larry a 1966 Dodge Barracuda for their next project. The duo pocketed the door handles, worked a clear bubble into the hood, and gave it an Indy-style fuel filler cap. After building the Barracuda, the city reneged on its promise and sought the brother' property for yet another freeway expansion. The series of moves and heavy workload over the years prompted Larry to find a straight job at Ford in 1968, one that gave him the chance to work in the body engineering department as a metal model maker. Mike kept the shop going with Ken Yanez as the city planned its highway. Before the brothers split apart they built a 1923 Ford Model T that they called Top Banana due to its yellow paint job. The Top Banana took their third Don Ridler Memorial Award in 1969.

Once the city razed the shop in 1969 Mike also found legit work. When Bunkie Knudsen left GM to run Ford he brought Larry Shinoda with him. Larry Shinoda hired Mike to run the Kar Kraft Design Center. The job was short lifed, and in 1970 Mike transferred to Heinz Pretcher's American Sunroof Corporation. The company started a new division called Custom Craft Division. Mike worked for Custom Craft Division for 25 years.

From 1957 to 1969, around 60 fully customized cars rolled out of the Alexander Bros. Custom Shop.



RIP, Larry Alexander

Written by Daniel Strohl
August 26th, 2010 at 8:59 am

Customs were not purely a West Coast phenomenon, as a pair of brothers from Detroit proved. Larry and Mike Alexander, the famed Alexander brothers, began customizing cars out of their father’s garage in the mid-1950s and went on to land enough business customizing cars to quit their day jobs and open a shop of their own. Over the course of the late 1950s and 1960s, they turned out some of the more iconic customs of the day, including the Victorian, Chili Catallo’s Silver Sapphire, the Adonis and the Venturian, but they gained nationwide fame through the Deora show truck they built for Chrysler.
Larry Alexander, the older of the two, later went on to work at Ford as a model builder. After suffering a stroke earlier this week, he died yesterday at the age of 79.




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