Remembering “Memories”

May 2019

The unique and fitting tribute to the late West Coast Kustoms founder Rich Pichette has reached a critical crossroad if it is to be ever completed. Pichette’s rust-bucket 1954 Mercury project car was hauled from his backyard and now is being transformed into a radically customized mix of vintage Mercury and Chevy parts, plus parts so radical and costly many need to be hand-crafted to fit on the car. Once assembled, the collectible named “Memories” will be auctioned off with proceeds donated to the Alzheimer Association in Pichette’s memory. He died of this disease in 2010.

It’s a dream project that initially rallied Southern California’s custom car crowd who loved and respected Pichette and his wife Penny, and vowed to help to keep his memory alive.

The devastating disease robbed the businessman-car guru’s remarkable memory in which Pichette could rattle off hundreds of names of club members and the precise make, model and color of each one’s super cool hotrods dating back to the earliest days of the rod runs.

As word spread, “Memories” generated a big buzz at every custom car club and its members.

“This is so incredibly important and it has to be completed by 2020,” said John D’Agostino of Celebrity Kustoms whose classic designs are coveted worldwide. “Rich was one of the icons in the business, and his car club is Number One on the West Coast.” He has pledged his support, ideas and labor to see the “Memories” finished. But the project, in various stages since starting in 2011, has stalled as funds and critically needed parts slowed to a trickle, and promises that prospective donors made faded over time. “Memories” is desperately in need of a jump-start. “From start to finish,” says project manager Alan Johnson, “we would need $200,000. Most of the body work is done.” Only $60,000 in parts and funds has been donated so far, he says.

Because the custom design is so wildly creative, the necessary parts are rare or must be created. The design may he a work of art, Johnson says, but it’s a nightmare to replicate.

“Everybody says they want to help, but then back away,” says Johnson, who took over the stalled project four years ago. He owns Woodcrest Collision Center in Riverside, and has personally built 40 custom hot rods for clients. He and a small elite team, regarded as the “best of the best” custom car specialists, meet regularly on weekends to take on design and bodywork, and mull over how to make “Memories” a reality.

Penny Pichette of Moreno Valley, still active in the custom car circle with her son Rit in their West Coast Kustoms’ annual meet every Memorial Day weekend in May, is getting discouraged at the pace of the project. “It just bothers me,” she says “I just don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.” Thinking about what needs to be accomplished brings tears of frustration. “I just want to get this project done!”

She and her late husband, and now son Rit, are an important part of the Southern California hot rod scene, forming the West Coast Kustoms car club in 1981, then networking with all the big names in the Southern California car customizing

But even with important industry connections, fund-raising has been painstakingly slow.

With a rapid transfusion of funds and parts, Johnson estimates he and his team of specialists could finish within two years.

The project has the backing of some of the legends in custom cars. And Penny and Rit are working the phones to refresh memories about the project and drum up more support.

“I’ll paint the car. I’ll get the paint donated and I’ll paint it,” said hot rod legend Gene Winfield of Mohave who has been customizing cars since buying his first junker in 1942. Winfield says he is confidant donations will return once word spreads again about the project and momentum builds once more. He and the Pichettes are friends and Winfield was among the handful of car fanatics to attend the first West Coast Kustoms rally in Paso Robles in 1982. The frustration level is so keen because Penny Pichette has received interest from a collector who says he will bid on the car at the Barrett Jackson auction in Scottsdale.

And the need to find a cure to Alzheimer’s grows as the Baby Boomer generation ages and more cases affect virtually every family.

Project manager Johnson has a list of needed parts and is anxious to enlist any new donors who want to participate in this unique project that could make a huge difference in research.

Alan Lee, one of the world’s top custom motorcycle designers and builders and owner of Alan Lee Designs, is another legend helping the project. “If you create interest again, momentum will occur,” he says.

But the problem today is that the public is inundated with information from all media forms and interest in a project can peak quickly and taper off just as fast, he says.

“We are so blasted with information. We need to refresh memories,” he says. Lee, who builds award-winning motorcycles that can start at $100,000, believes that once sufficient funds are donated, the project can move fairly quickly. He and his friend Alan Johnson built a custom ’32 Ford in 17 days. Once a major donor provides funding, both men believe it will be a “no brainer” to complete “Memories” in a matter of months.

“As far as the car is concerned,” Lee says, “you get qualified people – and we have the best of the best – we can finish this.”

Johnson says all the parts he needs to finish are available on the market. His team will be able to cut, chop and modify them to complete what could be described as the ultimate “wow” car among car custom fans. The winner will be Alzheimer’s research. An Inland official for Alzheimer’s charities was impressed and gratified when told of the scope of “Memories” project.


Parts are being gathered and we're on our way to starting this historical build as a tribute to one of the Kustom car hobby’s biggest enthusiasts Rich Pichette, and to build awareness to one of society's worst illnesses Alzheimer’s. Financial support is still needed in order to complete the build on time for its debut.

With Rich’s passing, (July 28, 2010) the project name “Memories” is now more meaningful than ever.

The chassis went to BIO Kustumz and thanks to Max and the crew they installed an air bag suspension. Thanks to the following companies for donating parts: AccuAir, RCD Classics, Slam Specialties, Napa Auto Parts and Currie Enterprises. Now we have our air bag suspension to get that proper low Kustom stance.

The 302 Ford engine is being built by Wayne's Engines in Riverside, Ca. using an intake manifold, Carburetor and water pump from Edelbrock. We also used their “Classic series” finned valve covers and air cleaner to keep the nostalgia look.
The B&M Supplied C-6 automatic transmission and torque converter was installed to round off the drive train. Now we just need a drive shaft to connect it all.

The body has been mounted on the frame and the car is at Keith Dean’s South End Kustoms to start on the body.
Keith and the talented build team, under the direction of Rick Dore, will start the transformation of the stock "54 Mercury" into a one of a kind Kustom.

The entire body has been stripped of all paint and rust. The removal of the roof section along with the B & C pillars has been done and the windshield frame has been chopped.

In addition Keith will be installing the 57 Chevy quarter panels to create the heart beat belt line.
Then it’s off to the Grand National Roadster Show to be displayed in it’s under construction state.

“Memories” was on display at the 62nd Grand National Roadster Show in Pomona, Ca. The car was in bare metal to show the progress of the project.

Many of the builders involved in the project were on hand to discuss the time line of the build so the 2012 deadline can be made. We also received inquiries from other on how they can assist. Pertronix has agreed to supply the ignition system and Patriot will supply the exhaust.

This spring the Memories project was taken to Jason Pall at Bear Metal Kustoms in Morro Bay. This is the progress he has done thus far.

Bear Metal Kustoms : bearmetalkustoms.com

Mounted and aligned front sheet metal, modified front bumper, grill and the mounts, modified the hood, molded lower front edge of hood into grill, finished tail lights, boxed ends of frame and steering box mount, smoothed fire wall, boxed ends of hinge mounts, and started work on the headlights.

Johnson's Rod & Custom: johnsonscustoms.com

The Project has been taken to Alan Johnson of Johnson's Rod & Custom in Riverside Ca. He has inserted a 1956 Chevy which acquired from Rich Evans into the Merc body for an original smooth flow look of the heartbeat. Alan Johnson will be completing all the rest of the body modifications to the project. Also Brandon McGill of Spotlite Kustom Accessories has donated some much needed new Hood hinges.

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