The Baby Blue Bomb Is Back in the Family

Albert Bertagnolli

Hagerty is celebrating its first-ever HDC Days from June 21 to June 23, with great discounts from our partners, choose-your-own adventure experiences, contests, and more. We’re also celebrating all this week online with some terrific cars and trucks owned by Hagerty Drivers Club members. Like this one . . .

Albert Bertagnolli
Lander, Wyoming

In 1956, my dad, Jack Bertagnolli, was a mechanical engineering student at Colorado A&M University. For months that year he was holed up in his garage customizing what would become the Baby Blue Bomb—the car of his dreams and the beginning of a tale that would span decades and generations.   

“Bomb, of course, is hot rod parlance for a souped-up, hopped-up, be-decked and be-dizened motor car, complete with chrome-plated sprinklers (or jugs, if you prefer) and racing cams,” reported The Rock Springs Miner, a Sunday newspaper serving western Wyoming in its July 17, 1955, edition. In his interview with the paper, Dad predicted he’d hit 130 mph and 250 horsepower when it came time to finally fire up the car. “It should be all right,” he said, “if it doesn’t blow up.”  

1934 Ford 5-window coupe Jack Bertagnolli b/w
Albert Bertagnolli

The 1934 Ford 5-window coupe was a hybrid hot rod with a ’51 Hemi 331 married to a Columbia two-speed rear end from a ’37 Lincoln Zephyr. His creation was channeled with a six-inch drop-front axle and a ’32 Ford grille.   

Additional innovative features for the time, as reported by the Miner, included a racing cam that could lift the valves higher and hold them open for a longer time than on a conventional engine, a custom design that created more power and more acceleration. Dad also installed door openers and a trunk raiser, with the doors opening with the push of button, and the trunk lid raised electrically by the mechanism from an old convertible top. When he was asked about the cost of the Baby Blue Bomb, he replied, “The cost? Just fantastic, that’s all. Just fantastic.”  

When he finally fired up the coupe, it performed even better than he had hoped. He drove it daily and used it to travel around Fort Collins.  

In 1958, when he and my mom got married, Dad sold his little blue hot rod for $1500 and used the money for a down payment on a home, where they could start their family. 

1934 Ford 5-window coupe front half Jack Bertagnolli
Albert Bertagnolli

Dad was so proud of that car, and while I was growing up, he talked about it all the time, often with an old photo in his hand. He shared so many details, too, like how he reversed the rear wheels to bring the tires closer to the fender, and how he hand-built the intake manifold to use four Stromberg 97 carburetors. I think the best record of that hot rod, however, was the story that ran in the Rock Springs Miner

I spent years trying to locate his old hot rod, and I always theorized it might still be somewhere in Wyoming. Well, on July 5, 2015, while searching a social media site that focused on the history of Rock Springs, I came across a post showing a young man standing next to a baby blue ’34 Ford. I sent the poster a message, and after several back-and-forths and a phone call, I was confident this was Dad’s car. 

It was owned by a fellow named Gus Hernandez, the very same guy who had purchased it from my dad in 1958, and through the years he had moved several times, always storing the car safely in a shed and only making minor changes to it along the way. When I found him, he and the car were in Billings, Montana. 

1934 Ford 5-window coupe storage
The Ford in storage at Gus Hernandez’s place.Albert Bertagnolli

Gus was a classic hot-rodder, and in addition to the ’34 Ford, he had a ’66 Corvette and a big-block T-bucket. He was also so certain that he was going to get the ’34 back on the road “next summer,” that he easily declined my offers to buy it.

Finally, on September 11, 2018, after three years of trying to convince Gus that the hot rod should be returned to a Bertagnolli, he relented, and the Baby Blue Bomb arrived back in Wyoming—60 years after its original sale. It was partially disassembled, but all of the components were there, just the same as when Dad had sold it.  

1934 Ford 5-window coupe Gus Hernandez Albert Bertagnolli
Albert (right) with Gus on the day he picked up his dad’s ’34 Ford.Stefan Lombard

Immediately I got to work restoring and enhancing the car. The channeling job was rather crude, so I installed a new floor. The engine, transmission, and rear end have all been rebuilt. I kept the original hydraulic “juice brakes” in the front and early drum brakes in the rear but made some safety modifications to the master cylinder and slave cylinder for the brakes and clutch.

During the disassembly process, I was treated to a great surprise while removing the original headliner: Dad had tucked several fraternity decals from Colorado A&M up there in the ’50s.   

My dad gave up his dream car in the name of family more than 60 years ago. Today, my wife Angie and I travel to car shows across the west to show off the great work he did to build this legendary ’34 Ford 5-window coupe, the Baby Blue Bomb.  

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Comments

    What a beautiful car that’s when cars were built by home schooled mechanics. Not like these cars today if you have the money you can have a shop build it for you. I’m glad you found it after all these years and the gentleman who owned it was nice enough to sell back to you. Your father would be so proud enjoy it and keep it in the family.

    What a nice momento to have of your dad’s work and your refresh in keeping with the original build! Definitely a family heirloom to be driven and enjoyed.

    In 3 years of local car shows, I have 15 trophies. Got Best Hot Rod this last weekend at a 120 car show in Craig Colorado

    Great story! I’m so glad you stuck with finding the car, which could well have been a donor for another build, and convincing the owner to let go of it for you.

    Of course, you also end up discovering what sort of short cuts the old man was taking at the time. His knowledge and the available tools probably had something to do with the channelling job and the hydraulics. Discovering some of your dad’s quirks is always interesting.

    It wasn’t quite the car he made it out to be, Poor channel job, columbia never hooked up properly, questionable suspension work. But I made it the car he always talked about. To his credit, he was 21 years old with a torch and a chisel. Alot of the things he talked about were still there – like the reversed rear rims that were hand rivited back together. Still usingthem.

    Great car and story. Its nice to see his son got it back and works on it–as his dad did-it would bring back alot of memories

    I’ve heard a lot of stories about the “one that got away” but few about the one that came back. Guys like your dad are part of the fabric of North American car culture that has spread to the whole world. We would be lost without them. It is great to know there are people like Mr. Hernandez who looked after your car so well. So many were not. Your find was timely in that the hot rod scene has returned to the look of cars like the Bomb.

    I’d like to know what happened to your dad. Doesn’t sound as if he saw the return of his Bomb. Did he ever try to locate it while he was alive?

    Sadly, he passed away after I found the car, but before I could purchase it. I showed some pictures of it to him and he remembered it fondly

    What an awesome story! It absolutely warmed my icy old car guy heart & actually brought a tear to my eye. I lost my hardcore car lovin Father 5yrs ago & I miss him dearly every day, he would have loved you triumphant story of finding your Pop’s long lost hot rod just as much as I do! Congratulations my friend & happy motoring 🙏

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