Dave Puhl was born in Ohio. Since his early teen years, cars was his major interest. Evenings and weekends were spent revamping the body as well as the engines of his own cars, using what ever tools were available in his Dad's garage. This was done in between his part-time jobs as mechanic and station attendent.
Because of his practical experience and his natural knack with cars, Dave was hired at a Chicago body shop. Convinced there was a need for a decent custom shop in the area, Dave tried to share his enthusiasm with his doubtful but understanding employer. Possibly for this reason, Dave was allowed to work after hours in the shop on his own car. Heeding the occasional words of advice and encouragement, Dave built his first true custom car, a 1955 Ford Thunderbird in 1958, which went out to take the majority of trophies offered at all the local shows, not to mention the requests for custom work that began coming into the shop.
Realizing how true his beliefs were, Dave opened his own shop, Trend Customs in Lyons, Illinois in the summer of 1960. At the time, Dave was a member of the Bearing Busters of Berwyn car club. Finally, not just evenings and weekends any more, Dave now did custom work on a full time basis. During this period such show cars as "Brandy's Chariot" a 1936 Ford chosen one of the Top Ten of 1960; "Trendero" a 1957 Ford Ranchero - AHRA 1961 Custom Sweepstakes; and "Starfire" a 1954 Oldsmobile - 1962 NHRA Custom Sweepstakes, were attesting to Dave's ability as a custom builder and painter.
In mid 1962, Dave moved to Wichita, Kansas, to take on the challenging position as Shop Foreman for one of the Country's top customizers, Darryl Starbird at Star Kustom Shop. While there, Dave's ideas and supervision helped produce such cars for Monogram Models of Morton Grove, Illionois, as the "Big T", "Big Duce", "Ultra", "Predicta II", and the 1963 Experimental winner "Futurista". Having the opportunity of working with a man he respected, Dave was reluctant, but decided to get back into his own shop.
1964 saw Dave opening the doors of the House of Kustoms in Palatine, Illinois.. From those doors rolled such cars as the "XCell" a 1958 Ford Thunderbird - 1964 NHRA Best Custom; the "XTreme" a 1930 Ford - 1964 NHRA Best Rod; "Xaltered" a 1934 Ford - 1965 NHRA Competition Sweepstakes; "XTeec" a hand built roadster - 1966 NHRA Rod Sweepstakes", just to name a few. Because of the quality of the workmanship, the House of Kustoms twice received the coveted Body Shop Award, once in 1965 and again in 1966.
In 1965, Dave's own designed and hand built "Illusion" won the 1965 Experimental Sweepstakes at the Indianapolis Summer Nationals. In 1966 it won the Sweepstakes at the Los Angeles Winter Nationals. After that it was leased out, touring the United States and Canada.
In February of 1966 Dave was formerly invited to the 18th annual Oakland Roadster Show. Because of his creative design and craftsmanship, the automotive field paid honor to Dave's unique talents by electing him into the Automobile Achievement Association of America Hall of Fame. An honor reserved for those in any pursuit who have made a significant contribution to the automotive field. Dave was the youngest member at that time.
Many of the Nation's top race car drivers came to Dave for a quality paint job. The House of Kustoms was solely responsible to the "All American" colors on the American Motors Trans Am race cars during the 1968 - 1969 race season.
There were many unique projects that were undertaken at the House of Kustoms. During December of 1966, Dave designed and built a prototype of a new quarter midget race car for Detroit Engine Corporation. In September of 1967 Dave was asked to customize a new Javelin as a Rod & Custom Magazine project sponsored by American Motors, just 6 weeks before release date. Time was at a minimum, so Dave himself drove the restyled but yet unreleased Javelin to Los Angeles for its debut at the Hollywood Palladium. The project went so well, that Dave was approached a few months later to customize an AMX, which was introduced at the Oakland Roadster Show in February of 1968, on the same day the production AMX was unveiled to the public.
A devastating fire at the House of Kustoms on December 3, 1968, set Dave back. The tools and equipment accumulated through the years were gone along with 8 cars. Much seemed destined to come out of those ashes, for within a year, six of the cars were already replaced, and ground work had been laid and construction almost completed on Dave's idea, a true innovation in styling, a streetable mid'engined car named Phaze II. Along with an A.M. experimental engine and various parts, Dave used several hundred feet of tubing to form a space type chassis. Dave then formed 20 gauge sheet metal into his idea of the most advanced styled roadster body. Rod & Custom Magazine intensively covered the seven months of construction, so that anticipation was greatly felt as Dave introduced the Phaze II at the Oakland Roadster Show in February of 1970.
One of the most "different" customizing projects performed by House of Kustoms found place in September of 1969, when Dave undertook the restoration of a 1932 Chevrolet truck into a checkout counter and a 1930 Durant Sedan into a lady's powder room, for the Chicago based woman's boutique, Garage Inc.
In 1971 Tom Kelly of St. Louis, Missouri commissioned Dave to restyled his 1969 Chevrolet Corvette. He trailered the car to Palatine, Illinois in August of 1971 to have Dave design and do the work. "I wanted it ready for the 1972 NCCC Convention in Dallas, Texas," Tom told Sondre Kvipt of Kustomrama in 2019. The build was delayed, and in February of 1972 Tom received a letter from Dave with an apology; "Super sorry about the delay - but I couldn't avoid it - just before Christmas the property that my shop was on was sold and I was informed that I had thirty days to vacate the premises as I didn't have a lease - so after being in business some seventeen years I suddenly found myself without a shop." Dave had to clean out all the small jobs and let Tom's Corvette go till he found another shop. "As it turned out I still haven't found the shop I want so I asked a friend of mine if I could work out of his shop till I finished your car - He has a super neat shop - about three years old that holds about ten cars and has a spray booth - I finally got everything moved out of my old shop and can start working on your car again - As of this writing - the rear end is almost finished - the front end will be glassed and finished within the next two weeks - then the wheel wells, scoops, etc. The car should be finished towards the end of March - If you could come here - say the weekend of March 4th we could go over the interior, paint, details - etc. SORRY AGAIN! Dave. Your car is at and I can be reached at Scully's Kustom's, 201 Industrial Lane, Wheeling, Illinois - 60090." Puhl completed the build at Dick Scully's shop in July of 1972, and Tom picked it up and headed to Texas in record time.
Dave found exploring the wildness of Mexico a good way to "get away" from the pressure of the shop. In Mexico he experienced driving the tedious and grueling 1000 miles of Baja. When relaxing, Dave enjoyed a good fotball game. He also used the unique colors he developed at House of Kustoms in paintings that could be found gracing the walls of his home in the suburb of Hoffman Estates, Illinois were Dave lived with his wife Pauline and their three children.
Dave Puhl's Cars
Cars Restyled by Dave Puhl at Trend Customs
Rich Vachata's 1936 Ford Convertible - The Beach Comber
William Block's 1936 Ford - Brandy's Chariet
Ralph Ferks' 1954 Oldsmobile - The Startling Starfire
Bob Dzemske's 1956 Lincoln Capri
Cars Restyled by Dave Puhl at House of Kustoms
Did you enjoy this article?
Kustomrama is an online encyclopedia dedicated to traditional hot rod and custom cars. Our mission is to protect, preserve and share traditional hot rod custom car history from all over the world.
- Find out how you can become a contributor.
- Forward this article to a friend.
- Subscribe to our newsletter and receive updates on Dave Puhl and other subjects featured on Kustomrama.
Help us make this article better
If you have additional information, photos, feedback or corrections about Dave Puhl, please get in touch with Kustomrama at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This Article Was Made Possible By:
SunTec Auto Glass - Auto Glass Services on Vintage and Classic Cars
Finding a replacement windshield, back or side glass can be a difficult task when restoring your vintage or custom classic car. It doesn't have to be though now with auto glass specialist companies like www.suntecautoglass.com. They can source OEM or OEM-equivalent glass for older makes/models; which will ensure a proper fit every time. Check them out for more details!
Do you want to see your company here? Click here for more info about how you can become a Kustomrama advertiser and supporter.