1970s Chevrolet Monte Carlo “Custom Cloud”

My fellow editors spotted this car in a random driveway while we were cruising around one night. Since I had my camera and took a picture, I get to write about it. The car was not immediately recognizable and the guys spent several minutes speculating about what it might be.

As it turns out, this odd-looking vehicle is actually a very rare luxury car called a Custom Cloud, which was built on a 1970s Chevrolet Monte Carlo chassis. In a lot of ways, this car is similar to the Stutz Blackhawk, only with a more down-to-earth price.

So here’s what happened: it is Miami, Florida in the early 1970s and hot rod builder Jon Tedesco founds a club called South Florida Street Rods. He meets a bunch of cool people and they all help each other out, wrenching on each others’ T-buckets and having a great time. He builds a social network of friends: a paint and body guy, a wiring guy, a welding and fabricating guy.

Jon becomes involved with building some Volkswagen kit cars when he gets an offer from the South Florida Chevrolet Dealer Association to come up with a way to get more people into the showrooms. It was Tedesco who came up with the idea of customizing a current model vehicle which, with the right promotion, would draw in new customers. Jon founds Custom Cloud Motors with his friend and business partner Lenny Borger in 1974.

The prototype car was built around a 1975 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Jon and his friends came up with a completely new front end that included an authentic Rolls-Royce grille. They also re-styled the back end to produce a very unique looking automobile.

They showed an early version of the car at the Miami International Motor Show in late 1975 and at the New York Auto Show in early 1976. The N.Y. Show proved to be a pivotal moment as the car was seen by several Rolls-Royce executives who were not too happy with Jon’s creation.

You see, Custom Cloud borrowed more than Rolls’ waterfall grille – they also ripped off the logo and emblem. This was a major mis-step that drew the attention of Rolls-Royce’s legal team. Rolls-Royce filed an infringement suit against for Custom Cloud in 1976.

As a result of the lawsuit, Custom Cloud received a lot of media attention and the orders came pouring in! At the height of production, over 100 people worked 24×7 shifts for about six months to keep up with demand. This being South Florida, Custom Cloud hired a boat building company to mass-produce the fiberglass front and rear body panels. The car was even featured on the cover of Car and Driver magazine in March 1976!

Rolls-Royce won the infringement suit against Custom Cloud “without hesitation” and the company was forced to temporarily stop building the cars. Jon Tedesco made some design changes to the car which, pending approval from Rolls-Royce, was allowed to resume production. Now known as the “Classic Coach,” the car featured different hood ornaments and emblems, different taillamps, a revised grille, and different turn signals.

After the lawsuit, Jon and his business partner sold the company in 1978. Jon moved out to California and his friend went back into the custom jewelry business.

According to the company’s founders, they estimate that the number of completed cars was over 100, but they don’t know the exact number. Only 42 of the cars are known to exist today. I searched online and found a few for sale, ranging from about $10 to $15,000 in good condition.

This car is missing its grille, bumper, and headlights and appears to have been off the roads for a long time. As it turns out, this random car we spotted in someone’s driveway is an incredibly rare car with an interesting history behind it!

Hat tip to Charlie Wolters, author of The Custom Cloud Story, without whom I would have never figured out what this car was or anything about its history.

2022 Update

I’ve finally come across a Custom Cloud that is not in total disrepair! There is a 1976 Monte Carlo Custom Cloud at the Martin Auto Museum’s new location in North Phoenix! This one is painted a nice silver color and features the iconic “waterfall grille” that was the centerpiece of the lawsuit that ultimately brought down the company.