John D’Agostino: Biography of a Legendary Car Customizer


Born in Pittsburg, California, and now residing in Discovery Bay, California, John D’Agostino got into building and customizing model cars when he was a child. John was lucky because his hometown of Pittsburg and nearby Antioch were hot spots for custom cars when he grew up. Cars built by Barris, Bailon, Winfield and others showed up at the local Hazel’s and Panther drive-ins through the 1950s and 1960s.


Inspired by the works of Barris, Winfield, Hines, Starbird, and Watson, D’Agostino’s first custom was a ’56 Chevy hardtop that was lowered, molded, and painted in a two-tone royal triton purple and white by Frank DeRosa in Pittsburg. John was driving his kustom to high school and showing it at local shows. When he attended college in Phoenix, Arizona, he drove a mildly customized pearl white and gold ’63 Pontiac Grand Prix, cruising the streets with cool tunes spun on his 45-rpm record player, which was installed in the car.




Just before leaving college, however, John ordered a brand new ’70 Pontiac Grand Prix and took it straight to Art Himsl in Concord, California, to be customized. It was first shown at the ’70 Oakland Roadster Show, where it won “OUTSTANDING CUSTOM.” The car was lowered, molded, and painted different shades of candy gold and tangerine. Even in those early days, this car had D’Agostino’s trademark, chromed wire wheels. He showed the Pontiac at all the ISCA shows on the West Coast during 1970 and 1971 (about 14 shows in all).





After owning two older-style customs, a black ’49 Olds Coupe and a ’60 Buick in midnight blue pearl Invicta, John got another new car, a ’72 Buick Riviera “Boattail” that he took to Himsl for some wild customizing. “This time, I had a top designer sketch an artist’s rendering of the car for me, before we got started,” says John. Among the modifications were the grille, headlights, taillights, and the wheel wells, which were radiused and flared. Art Himsl and Mike Hass also painted the Buick in candy red metalflake, toned to different shades of tangerine with silver scallops. It was awarded “INTERNATIONAL CLASS CHAMPION” in the full custom category in the 1972-73 season. “I can remember taking pictures alongside baseball great Reggie Jackson in front of the Buick at the San Mateo show that year” says John. “Customs were scarce in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I showed my customized Lincoln ’72 Mark IV that was built at Himsl’s Custom Paint Studio in Concord, California. The Lincoln was sold right out of the Oakland show to a Lincoln dealer in San Francisco.”









In the summer of 1973, John spent some time with car customizer Bill Hines and his son Mike in Los Angeles. One night they took John to see the movie American Graffiti. “I immediately wanted a custom ’51 Mercury,” he says. He found one nearly restored in nearby Concord, but the car was so nice that he simply finished the restoration and showed it for the first time at the 1973 Santa Rosa Autorama. He decided to buy another Mercury to customize; this one was owned by a fireman in Castro Valley, CA, and would later become the “Midnight Sensation.” D’Agostino took that Merc to Rod Powell’s shop in Salinas, California, for a top chop–the first such surgery on a Merc that was done at Powell’s. Next John took the Merc to Bill Hines’ shop in Bellflower, California, for a lowering job. At the shop he decided to have some additional customizing work done, including the installation of a ’54 Pontiac grille, ’52 Lincoln taillights, and ’53 Buick teardrop headlights. “With all the work done and the car in white primer,” John recalls, “I remember cruising down to the parking lot at the 1975 Oakland Roadster Show, then finding the car.



After the ’82 Oakland show, John owned and showed the custom Winfield-built ’58 Chrysler “Golden Sunrise.” “It just happened that I traded the Chrysler to Harry later for my old Merc,” he says. The “Midnight Sensation” was taken back to Powell’s again to be completed and painted. With a candy ultraviolet and lavender pearl paint job and a new Kenny Foster sculptured interior, it finally made its debut at the November 1983 San Francisco Rod & Custom show. Later, at the ’84 Oakland show, the “Midnight Sensation” won several top awards, including the Sam Barris Memorial Award, presented at the Sacramento Autorama.


















Show Hours

Friday         5pm to  10pm

Saturday   10am to  10pm

Sunday     10am to    5pm

Admission Prices

Adults (19 - 55 years old) $18

Seniors (55 and up) $15

Youth (13-18 years old) $10

Children 12 and under FREE when accompanied by an Adult

2 Day Adult pass $30

3 Day Adult pass $40



Tradex Parking is only $6 per vehicle. Pre 1979 Specialty Vehicles get extra wide VIP Parking on the Grass in front of Tradex (Saturday & Sunday only)



Next Event: 22nd Annual BC Classic and Custom Car Show Fri- Sun April 20-22, 2018
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