Spencer "Spence" Murray (01.05.1927 - 10.14.2020) was the first editor of Rod & Custom Magazine. He bought his first custom car in 1943 and learned the custom trade from Link Paola in the late 1940s. He gave us the Rod & Custom Dream Truck in the 1950s, and he wrote more than 2000 magazine articles for numerous publications.
As an only child, Spence moved to La Cañada at the age of seven with his parents, Ambrose Spencer Murray III and Marie Vandebergh Murray. He attended La Cañada Elementary School and then Flintridge Preparatory School, from which he graduated. Spence was into custom cars as long as he could remember, and he bought his first car, a 1941 Ford Convertible in 1943. Later the same year he sold the mildly customized Ford and bought a 1941 Chevrolet Convertible that he had Link Paola restyle slightly. The work was done just before Spence got drafted into the U.S. Navy.
Rear seat tail gunner
In October of 1944, at the age of 17, Spence enlisted in the US Navy. He attended gunnery school and was trained as a rear seat tail gunner. He was based out of Moffett Field in Santa Clara County, assigned to protect the California coast throughout WWII. Spence was honorably discharged in July 1946, and he and his “Patrol Bombing Squad” remained lifelong buddies.
Spence + Ursula
In August 1947, Spence married Ursula Carsten, a beautiful young woman from LA he met at a party. Spence and Ursula were blessed with three children, Spencer, Bonnie, and Bob, each born three years apart. "At a very young age, we kids grew to understand our dad’s passions for cars, boating, racing, off-roading in Baja California, and unusual pets," Bonnie told Sondre Kvipt of Kustomrama in October of 2020.
After becoming a civilian, Spence sold the 1941 Chevrolet and bought a 1946 Chevrolet that he also had Link Paola customize. In early 1948 Spence went to work for Link Paola at Link's Custom Shop after hours. At the shop Spence sanded cars and drove the tow truck. When the new 1949 Chevrolet was released Spence decided to sell his mildly customized 1946 Chevrolet in favor for a 1949 Chevrolet fastback DeLuxe. After swapping the body for a 2 door sedan with Link, the guys at Link's Custom Shop customized the car for Spence as a favor. After customizing the Chevy, Spence entered it at the 3rd annual Oakland Roadster Show in 1952. At the show Spencer's car took 2nd place behind Joe Bailon's 1941 Chevrolet Coupe, Miss Elegance. Dean Batchelor of Hop Up Magazine saw Spencer's Chevy at the show, and had Ralph Poole photograph it for Hop Up June 1952. After attending the Oakland Roadster Show Spencer entered his Chevy at the 1952 Indianapolis Custom Auto Show that ran the week before the 500-mile race. Dean Batchelor thought the long trip in a taildragging custom would make a cool story, so he sent Ralph with Spence to take photos along the way. The result was published in Hop Up September 1952 under the title "6000 miles in a Custom". Dean had Spence write the story, and it inspired him to ask Spence if he would consider leaving Link's Custom Shop to work at Hop Up. It was an easy decision for Spence, and he started to work for Hop Up on his 26th birthday January 5th, 1953. Spence was listed as Hop Up's Associate Editor in the April 1953 issue, and his job was to write photo captions, and help the secretary Mabel typing labels for subscriber copies. At Hop Up Spence was paid $35.00 a week. Work started at 8:30, and went on to 5:00. Lunch was 30 minutes from exactly noon. Due to its small size, the circulation and ad revenue of Hop Up was limited. Growth was needed, and Hop Up became a full-size magazine by March 1953. The new size did not become a hit with dedicated readers who demanded the staff to bring back the little Hop Up. Since it was physically impossible to resurrect the small size, the guys at Quinn Publications decided to give born to a brand new pint-sized magazine named Rods and Customs. Rods and Customs made its debut May 1953, and In order to avoid hiring new people, Bill Quinn assigned the new magazine to Spencer without lessening his Hop Up duties. 
Spencer eventually sold the Chevy, but can't remember who bought it or the circumstances for selling it. His next car was a 1954 Chevrolet hardtop that he had Von Dutch stripe. Spence and his wife shared the Chevy for a while, but when he went to work at Hop Up Magazine they needed another set of wheels, so Spence bought the 1950 Chevrolet Pickup that was eventually turned in to the The Rod & Custom Magazine’s Dream Truck.
In 1955 Robert E. Petersen bought Quinn Publications, and Spence and the rest of the Hop Up staff moved into Petersen's office at 5959 Hollywood Blvd. Spencer stayed with Rod & Custom until 1959. After the April 1959 issue, Spencer took a hiatus, but returned once more as editor after Rod & Custom became full-sized in August 1961.
Family life and unique pets
Bonnie, Spencer, and Bob remember car parts being scattered in their garage and backyard because of their dad's passion for restoring old cars. "We loved helping him remodel a run-down shack near "La Bufadora," a blowhole just outside Ensenada. Spencer and Bob still laugh about their unforgettable experience helping Dad build his fireplace and porch during one great stay at the shack. We all agree it was probably in Mexico where Spence discovered his love of unique pets because in addition to various breeds of dogs and cats, he had a myna bird that would say "Come in" whenever someone knocked on the front door. And in his backyard was his pet burrow. One day he came home with a young calf that he "won" because he lost some sort of competition."
A passion for writing and racing
After 28 on and off years at Petersen Publishing, Spence worked for Road & Track twice for a total of seven years. He worked for Argus Publishers Corporation in between, as well as freelancing back to Petersen from Hawaii for a year. Up until he passed away, Spence was only semi-retired, contributing regularly to The Rodders Journal. His family has memories of him always writing and sharing stories about a wide variety of races and competitions. "Some of our favorites include his record-setting run with his dear friend Ralph Poole in a Rambler off-roader for the grueling Baja 1000 in just 31 hours. He had many good times at the Bonneville Salt Flats, and races with his competitive buddy, the late actor Steve McQueen. We also remember fun times spent with him at car shows, even the Demolition Derby in Saugus."
A dreamer and a traveler
Spence was known as a dreamer and a traveler. According to his kids, "His life was about his wildest ideas and fantasies, most of which involved hotrods, custom cars, deserts, oceans and Mexico." He and Ursula eventually grew apart and divorced when Bonnie, Spencer, and Bob were still very young. He married two more times and became father to three more kids, Rose, Margie, and John. According to Bonnie, one of Spence's dreams that captured her and her siblings' imagination was his ardent desire to visit one of the most isolated and mysterious places on the planet, Pitcairn Island, made famous by the 1935 and 1962 films, Mutiny on the Bounty. "This remote island in the South Pacific is home to the descendants of the HMS Bounty mutineers who landed on the island in 1789. Spence had always loved boating as well as cars. His first book was titled Cruising the Sea of Cortez. We knew he was committed to visiting Pitcairn, which was not an easy journey to plan and execute because of the high costs of getting there and a very long, arduous voyage in a small sailboat. He did a tremendous amount of research, and not only visited Pitcairn but spent time getting to know the families of the legendary mutiny leader, Fletcher Christian, and other sailors who stayed on the island after abandoning Captain Bligh and the rest of the Bounty crew. Spence’s fascinating exploration and study resulted in his book, Pitcairn Island: The First 200 Years."
"To my dear daughter Bonnie - This is what Dad was doing while you were growing up"
Spencer, Bonnie, and Bob didn’t get to see a lot of their dad when he was working as a rodder journalist and traveling the world. When the editors of The Rodder’s Journal and renowned car designer and author Thom Taylor published their book, 50 Years of Rod & Custom in 2004, Spence's handwritten message to Bonnie on the first page reads, "To my dear daughter Bonnie – this is what Dad was doing while you were growing up. Love, Dad ~September 2006." "We always knew he cared and loved us. Dad was a humble man who shied away from any kind of praise or recognition, even when he was presented with major awards and named a member of multiple automotive halls of fame." As his son Spencer put it, "Dad never grew up. He spent his life doing what he loved."
Dave Wallace Jr. stopped by Spencer in May of 2019 to interview and photograph him for a story. Spencer and Carolyn were still living at home, but after a major stroke, Spencer had a hard time getting around the house alone. His mind was full strength, Dave assured Sondre Kvipt of Kustomrama.
Spencer Murray's Cars
Spencer Murray's 1936 Ford Roadster
Spencer Murray's 1941 Ford Convertible
Spencer Murray's 1941 Chevrolet Convertible
Spencer Murray's 1946 Chevrolet Fastback
Spencer Murray's 1949 Chevrolet
Spencer Murray's 1950 Chevrolet - The Rod & Custom Magazine’s Dream Truck
Spencer Murray's 1954 Chevrolet Hardtop
Did you enjoy this article?
Kustomrama is an encyclopedia dedicated to preserve, share and protect traditional hot rod and custom car history from all over the world.
- Help us keep history alive. For as little as 2.99 USD a month you can become a monthly supporter. Click here to learn more.
- Subscribe to our free newsletter and receive regular updates and stories from Kustomrama.
- Do you know someone who would enjoy this article? Click here to forward it.
Can you help us make this article better?
Please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have additional information or photos to share about Spencer Murray.
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 advertise your business on Kustomrama.