Leroy Semas 37 Chevy

 

LEROY SEMAS 37 CHEVY

 

In the late 1940’s Harry Westergard creates what appears to be a mildly restyled 1937 Chevy. But on closer inspection it turns out there is a lot more going on on Leroy Semas his 1937 Chevy Coupe.



In one of the Don Montgomery books there are a couple of photos of an extremely low 1937 Chevy un-chopped 3-window coupe with beautifully integrated Packard grille. When I first spotted those photos in the book I was hooked immediately. I soon learned that none other than Harry Westergard had restyled the car for Thunderbolts member Leroy Semas. The car had that typical Westergard look with small high nose, and low in the back. Many years later I found out that at one point, in the early 1950’s the Chevy had been chopped by Riley Collins of Riley’s Custom Shop in Chico, California.



Restyled by Harry Westergard

Harry Westergard restyled Leroy’s ’37 Chevy 5-window coupe by filling in the rear quarter windows for a sleeker look. Harry then went to work at the body sides completely removing the factory molded in character line and belt-line for an ultra smooth body. The character line on the lower edge of the hood was also modified to fit the new smooth body sides. He also removed the running boards and created filler panels to cover the frame and molded those into the body The filler panel Harry created almost looks like a belly pan with the lower parts rolled under, a very nice touch. The front and rear fenders were molded to the body and extended down where the running boards had been and nicely rolled under.

Original version with the rear quarter windows filled, the belt line and character lines at the belt line completely removed. A typical Harry Westergard Custom. This photo shows the wonderful reshaped lower edge of the front fenders really well.
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The new much lower and further from the grille location of the headlights looks very good on the Chevy. It shows that Harry Westergard was not only a gifted craftsman but an excellent designer as well.
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The looks of the Chevy changed dramatically, for the better in my eyes with the removal of the running boards and reshaping of the front fenders.
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The rear fenders were also molded to the body, enhancing the new super smooth look. And at the leading edge of the rear fenders Harry added a a stainless or chrome plated guard to protected the paint. A set of Buick teardrop fender skirts was adapted to fit the Chevy

Harry modified the front sheet metal to accept an 1939-40 Packard grille, the stock hood sides were replaced with smooth units and the center strip of the hood was removed. Teardrop shape headlights were sunken into the front fenders at a much lower than stock location. The headlights now flow really nice with the cowl and door¬† character line. A very nice design detail. At the back Harry created a set in license plate mounted low in the trunk, just about the ’37 DeSoto bumper. All the handles were removed and a set of Appleton Spotlights were installed.

Interior with the Chevy Butterfly steering wheel and chrome plated glove box door. The upholstery looks very nicely done, sadly we do not know who was responsible for it at this moment.
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Harry Westergard Style at its best. Notice the beautiful stance of the car with nose high up. The ’37 DeSoto bumpers have ’49 Chevy license plate frames added.
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Wide white wall tires with Cadillac Sombrero’s were installed and the car was lowered a lot. Most likely the rear of the frame had to be z-ed and the drive shaft tunnel raised to get the car this low. The interior photos show that the car was not channeled. Most likely the car was painted a deep maroon, but we are not 100% sure about the exact color. The interior was upholstered in two tone tuck & roll, the steering wheel replaced with a 1950 Chevy Butterfly unit and the dash was detailed with a chrome plated glove box door.

From what we know Leroy drove the car a lot, possibly it was his only car, It might not have been easy with a car this low on the late 1940’s early 1950’s roads. Leroy went to the Bonneville races with the car in 1949 and 1950. He also entered his car at several shows including the first Sacramento Autorama (Held at Capitol Chevrolet, before it was named Autorama) where he was awarded with the Best Custom award. At one point in 1950 Harry Westergard modified the hood side with a single row of louvers, most likely the engine ran a little too hot.

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Beautiful rear angle photo shows how super smooth the ’37 Chevy is with the belt-line and character-lines removed and the rear fenders molded in. The taillights could be 1940 Chevy units.
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Lawrence Brocchini (Lawrence Fears’ uncle) owned this ’31 A-V8 roadster on Deuce rails. This photo from 1950 shows it hitched to Leroy Semas’ Chevy custom, possibly in preparation for their trip to Bonneville. (Rodders Journal info)
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A good look at the molded in and rolled under pan Harry Westergard made to cover the frames after the running boards had been removed. (stillrunners)
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The stock steering wheel was replaced by with an 1950 Chevrolet Butterfly Steering Wheel. This picture gives us a good look at the nice tuck & roll upholstery. (stillrunners)
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Leroy’s Chevy appeared in one of the snapshot taken at one of the club rod runs around 1950. (stillrunners)
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Photo taken a Thunderbolts Auto Show at the Capitol Chevrolet Company showroom. (This was basically the first Sacramento Autorama) Most likely the engine got a little too hot with the solid hood sides, so a single row of Louvers had been added before the show.
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Chopped by Riley Collins

In the early 1950’s Leroy took the Chevy over to Riley Collins in Chico, California to have him chop the top on his car. The young Riley Collins handled the job beautifully, he took few inches out of the top and got it all back in place with the perfect balance. The chop was performed at Ray Orput’s home, where Riley Collins learned how to do body work from Ray. He added the primer to the top and the car went back to Leroy. At some point the straight six engine was replaced with an Oldmobile V8 with hydro, a job done by Leroys friend Lawrence Brocchini. In the mid 1950’s Lawrence Brocchini bought the Chevy, which was still partly in primer from Leroy and he owned the car till around 1958. Around 1955 Dick bertolucci re-painted the car in his signature deep maroon. And according the rumors the car is still around today, last seen painted green. Anybody recognized it and knows more about Leroy’s ’37 Chevy current whereabouts? Please let us know.

Special thanks to Kent Collins, Riley Collins son, who recently found and shared three photos of his father chopping the top on the Leroy Semas 1937 Chevy.

Riley Collins on the Left with Ray Orput standing next to him with Leroy’s Chevy with the chop in progress.
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Ray Orput in the car and Kent Collins was not sure who the guy on the barrel is. Perhaps the car owner Leroy Semas, anybody recognized the guy on the right?
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Ray Orput is sitting in the Chevy while Riley Collins sits on the barrel besides the car. (Kent Collins info)
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The chop all finished, but still in primer and new smooth aftermarket hubcaps replace the Sombrero hubcaps Westergard had originally installed. (stillrunners)
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Leroy Semas posing with his ’37 Westergard Chevy around 1952 after Riley Collins had chopped the top.
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Close up showing the curved filler panel below the body that covered the frame rails after the running boards had been removed. Notice the primer spots from the Riley Collins performed chop, and overall the car looks to be in need of a new paint-job.
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Lawrence Brocchini owned the Chevy Coupe when it was photographed here at an mid 1950’s Sacramento Autorama. Notice that the Appleton Spotlights are missing for the car. After a fender bender the front end had to be rebuild and a set of ’40 Chevy headlights was installed. Dick Bertolucci repainted the car his signature maroon after it was chopped.
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Close up of the sign showing that Bertolucci painted this version of the Chevy.
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Jim Roten, who was close friend with Riley Collins remembers the Leroy Semas ’37 Chevy very well. This is his story he shared with the Custom Car Chronicle after looking at the in progress photos of Riley Collins chopping the top on the car.

“This car made a huge impression on me at age 14 as it was the very first custom that I actually saw in person. The time was 1949-51. It was often seen parked on weekends at the Shell gasoline station within the old triangle at Main Street and Broadway in Chico, California. I knew nothing of its history. Always assumed that it was one of Westergard’s cars.

These are youthful images of Riley Collins and Ray Orput as late teenagers or in their early ’20s. I didn’t even meet Riley until two or three years later. Ray was a skilled body and fender man at Volpato’s Chrysler-Plymouth dealership in Chico. Riley worked as a lineman for the electrical utility company and during off hours learned bodywork from Ray. The location for the photos appears to the small wooden garage behind Ray Orput’s home. A lot of significant work emerged from there including Ron Zimmerman’s ’54 Ford Skyliner and the rear of Ray Cress’ ’56 Mercury before the owner had the car completed by Collins. A friendly but fierce rivalry emerged out of the Collins/Orput relationship which ultimately produced an amazing number of highly recognized Northern California custom cars. It was prolific.

And don’t forget, those were the days of acetylene torches, hammer welding and lead… no MIG, TIG or Bondo!”

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Special thanks to Kent Collins and Lawrence Fears




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Jim Roten 52 Ford

 

JIM ROTEN 52 FORD

 

Jim Roten Acquired his 1952 Ford Convertible in 1954. He started customizing it right away. Over the next few years the car developed in a wonderful styled Mild Custom.



By Jim Roten


Jim Roten from Chico California has been¬†into custom cars since he was a teenager. In 1954 Jim bought an slightly used 1952 Ford Convertible, and of course he could not leave it alone and started to do some mild restyling right away, to improve the looks of his new ride.¬†Jim Roten has a keen eye when it comes to Custom Restyling, he would be come close friends with Chico Customizer Riley Collin’s for which Jim did a lot of design work in the 1950’s. Riley Collins was also responsible for the more serious Custom Restyling on Jim’s 1952 Ford that would be done in the mid 1950’s. Jim took plenty of photos along the way to document the changes made to his Ford from 1954 till around 1956.


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1952 Ford Version One

CCC-jim-roten-52-ford-conv-01Jim with his near new 1952 Ford in 1954. Mostly stock, but there are some custom hubcaps and accessory bumper guards, and many custom dreams.
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CCC-jim-roten-52-ford-conv-02All the emblems and handles were still in place.
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CCC-jim-roten-52-ford-conv-03A little later the hood was nosed,the bumper guards removed and stock grille was replaced with a 1953 unit with custom center piece.
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1952 Ford Version Two

After driving the car around with just a few small Custom Restyling touches it was time to get a little more serious. Jim had his friend Riley Collins in Chico remove all the emblems, trunk handle and side trim on the rear quarters. As was the norm for most Custom Restyled cars in those days, the fresh body work was covered in primer and the car was ready for more cruising. Jim’s white car had dark gray primer spots for some time, it was cool to drive the car like that, it showed you were working on your car, improving its looks.¬†Back in those days¬†most people¬†proceeded on a custom build only as they¬†could afford it, which was usually a series of small steps at a time. Throughout the process the¬†cars were used as daily transportation.

CCC-jim-roten-52-ford-conv-04The stock taillights lenses had been replaced with 1956 Oldsmobile Starfire units.
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CCC-jim-roten-52-ford-conv-05Jim replaced the moon hubcaps with¬†1956 Oldsmobile hubcaps. Here Jim’s in progress Ford is parked behind his¬†friend Joe Navarro’s¬†Chevy Hard-Top. Primer spot parade…
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CCC-jim-roten-52-ford-conv-06Joe Navarro¬†Chevy Hard-Top with primer spots shows it was really common to drive your car around like this for some time. .¬† It too, was in the early stages of customizing by Riley Collins.¬†Notice that Jim’s Ford has a slight tail dragging stance, while his friends Chevy has a slight forward rake (California Rake).
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CCC-jim-roten-52-ford-conv-07A little more work was done, but it still was not time for a full paint-job yet….
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CCC-jim-roten-52-ford-conv-08Some more fine tuning on the molded headlights, new 1953 Ford spear on the rear quarter and now it was time to get the interior and new top done Bill Luckenbill did the interior work as well as the really great looking Carson-type folding top in white canvas.
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CCC-jim-roten-52-ford-conv-24Looking good.. and almost ready for paint. Only the door handles needed to come of and then the car was ready for it first copper paint job.
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CCC-jim-roten-chico-lancers-plaqueJim Roten was a member of the Chico Lancers Car Club.
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CCC-jim-roten-52-ford-conv-09By now the door handles were shaved and Riley Collins painted the car in a wonderful copper color.
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CCC-jim-roten-52-ford-conv-10Jim also added a set of fender skirts at this time, and the taillight rings were molded to the rear fender for an smoother look, similar to that of the front fender / headlight.
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CCC-jim-roten-52-ford-conv-12Some time later Jim added 1956 Dodge grille bar teeth to the grille, added white pin-striping an replaced the hubcaps with 1954 Mercury units to which he added center bullets. Jim Also added a second spotlight on the passenger side of the car.
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CCC-jim-roten-52-ford-conv-13A good look at the Bill Luckenbill interior and the Carson-type folding top.
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CCC-jim-roten-52-ford-conv-14Close up photo shows the 1956 Dodge grille teeth added to the grille bar and the pin-striping on the hood and front fender.
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CCC-jim-roten-52-ford-conv-15Only one color photo remained of this version of the car.
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CCC-jim-roten-52-ford-conv-11October 1956 ooops…. time for some more custom restyling.
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1952 Ford Version Three

Before the accident Jim’s Car had all the emblems and door handles shaved. It had solenoid-operated doors and deck lid. The headlights and taillights were frenched. Taillight lenses were 1956 Oldsmobile Starfire. For the new updated version Jim took his Ford of course to his friend Riley Collins who would round the hood¬†corners and fabricated a new¬†grill surround and molded splash pan. A new¬†floating grill was made up from ’53 Studebaker grill bars with turn signals for the top portions. These two units were neatly freched into round rod shaped openings. An¬†1952 Oldsmobile center bar was used on the bottom of the opening. To the grille bar Jim added¬†1956 Dodge grill teeth. Forward side trim on the doors came from a 1956 Pontiac.

The rear quarter panels were reshaped and teeth from a 1954 Mercury were used.¬†The side trim on the rear quarters comes from a 1953 Ford. The hubcaps for this version are 1956 Oldsmobile again. The smaller spotlights were replaced with real Appletons. The car was lowered all around about four inches. And when it came time for¬†paint, Jim was inspired by Geore Sein’s Barris Kustoms restyled 1932 Ford 5-window coupe. Paint job was done by Riley Collins in nitrocellulose lacquert¬†two-tone copper¬†and¬†lime gold.¬†Customization was completed by July 1957.

CCC-jim-roten-52-ford-conv-16Riley Collins¬†with Jim’s Ford.¬†He was preparing the car at an auto show¬†shortly after he¬†finished it in Copper and lime gold ’53 Ford in the summer of 1957. Jim had already joined the Navy by then.
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CCC-jim-roten-52-ford-conv-17Wonderful lines on Jim’s Ford created by the custom side trim and body work. It really shows Jim design skills.
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CCC-jim-roten-52-ford-conv-18Notice how nice the side trim follows the shape of the new top. Jim also added new bumper guards to the bumpers for the final version.
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CCC-jim-roten-52-ford-conv-19Jim’s Ford was for both shows as well as regular road use.
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CCC-jim-roten-52-ford-conv-20This final version has the fender skirts removed again, which gives the car a more sporty look.
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CCC-jim-roten-52-ford-conv-21Good look at the new grille in Jim’s Ford. ’53 Studebaker bars on the top, ’52 Olds bar on the bottom with 56 Dodge teeth. The new rounded hood corners have the same radius as the headlights.¬†
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CCC-jim-roten-52-ford-conv-23Jim Roten with his 1952 Ford final version in April 1957.
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Not too long after the car was¬†completed in¬†July 1957, Jim enlisted in the US Navy¬†and soon after that he sold the car. Jim¬†was only 17 years old when I¬†acquired the car and 20 when it was sold.¬†He has no idea what happened to it after that, and its¬†present day whereabouts are unknown. Hopefully one of our readers might know more about Jim’s old 1952 Ford and knows what happened to it after 1957.
Click HERE to see more of Jim Roten’s amazing Collection.




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Jim Roten – 57 Mercury photos

JIM ROTEN – 57 MERCURY PHOTOS

Chico California had some very interesting Custom Cars in the later part of the 1950’s. Fortunately Jim Roten took photos of them, including these two 1957 Mercury mild Customs.

 
[dropcap]The[/dropcap] Mercury’s from 1957 have never really been a popular choice for customizing. They were huge cars to begin with, and when customized as in lowered they were a lot harder to drive than they already were straight from the factory. However that did not stop some people to turn their ’57 Mercury into show stopping Custom Cars. Jim Roten photographed two mild ’57 Mercury Montclair’s from his home town Chico. The first one we are highlighting here, was already customized when the car was brand new in 1957-58. This car was owned by Jim’s school mate¬†and friend,¬†Willis Kingsley Baker III. Willis was also known as¬†“King” Baker. The second Mercury, an rather¬†mild, an very stylish one¬†was probably¬†owned by¬†John Vincent at the time, who might have bought the Mercury to replace his customized ’54 Oldsmobile 88.
 
Many thanks to Jim Rotan for taking the photos back in the late 1950’s and his son Mike for sharing them.
 

Willis Kingsley Baker III Mercury – version one

Willis bought his 1957 Mercury new from the dealer and started to customize it right away. The car came from the factory as a two tone, in white and a darker color. Jim could not remember what the darker color was originally. Riley Collins shave all the emblems and removed the door handles, which he replaced with electric door openers. This all was done just weeks after Willis had bought the car. He had to work carefully since the idea was to leave the factory stock white in place, and only paint the darker color sections to hide the body work. With the soothing done, the body was taped off and Riley added a dark purple which was later scalloped and striped by Jim Roten. Jim thinks he scalloped the car in light purple, or lavender. 1957 Oldmobile¬†hubcaps were installed on medium wide white wall tires. The finishing touch for the outside was a set of Dummy Spotlights, an absolute mandatory item in the later part of the 1950’s.¬†The interior was re-upholstered with wonderful tuck & roll panels in white leatherette,¬†with a cover over the rear seats by Luckenbill’s Upholstery of Chico, California
 
CCC-jim-roten-58-merc-amn-02The early version of the car done in a simple two tone with elegant scallops. The long painted spread running from the front fender towards the rear quarter side trim created optical length. Possibly this was done to cover the shaved door handles. The hubcaps are stock 1957 Oldsmobile units.
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CCC-jim-roten-58-merc-amn-03A subtile scallop accentuates the recessed section on the trunk. The exhaust tips are moved from exiting on the lower side of the bumper, to the rear of the bumper where new tips exit thru the bumper.
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CCC-jim-roten-58-merc-amn-22At the rear we can see a LANCERS Chico club-plaque and some pin-striping by Jim Roten.
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CCC-jim-roten-58-merc-amn-04Willis Baker’s middle name was Kingsley, hence the nickname of “King”. ¬†Baker cleverly reversed the “M” in the grill to a “W”.¬†
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CCC-jim-roten-58-merc-amn-09The hood an top of the fenders show some very elegant scallops. Two rows of louvres where punched in the hood, and accentuated with thin scallops.
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CCC-jim-roten-58-merc-amn-05A little later a set of spotlights was added as well as a KUSTOMS of America plaque on the front bumper which was bought from George Barris in Los Angeles.
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CCC-jim-roten-58-merc-amn-06A better look at the wonderful subtile scallops on the hood and fender tops. This high view also shows that later the recess in the roof was painted in a different color.¬†Car owner Willis “King” Baker posing here with his freshly customized new ’57 Mercury. ¬†The car was driven regularly which explains¬†the bug splatted windshield.
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CCC-jim-roten-58-merc-amn-07King Baker demonstration how low the car was… LOW… but not low enough as the photos below show.
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Version two

About a¬†year after the first version of the King’s¬†Mercury had been finished,¬†it was time for a complete more radical redo. Riley painted the entire car in show quality dark metallic purple lacquer and Jim Roten¬†did the extensive scallops in light purple, or lavender metallic. We lowered the car as far as possible. The lower edge of the lake pipes was now about half the height of a pack of cigarettes above the ground! ¬†The “King’s Kart” logo on the decklid was applied by a sign painter. ¬†The car drew a lot of attention in Northern California but as a mild custom, eventually went to the scrapyard.
 
CCC-jim-roten-58-merc-amn-11Car was repainted dark purple metallic by Riley Collins. Jim Roten did the scallops and layout by hand using 1/4 inch masking tape. He then masked the entire car so light metallic purple scallops could be sprayed. Jim outlined the scallops with brush applied pin stripes.
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CCC-jim-roten-58-merc-amn-08This package of cigarettes demonstrates how low the car is. The lake pipes became protection for the lower body from getting damaged.
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CCC-jim-roten-58-merc-amn-17This is the only photo that has a date on it.  March 1958, and by that time the car was already in its second version. That is Jim Roten posing with the car shortly after he had finished striping the car.
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CCC-jim-roten-58-merc-amn-18Dead on side view of the car shows the nice scallops and outlines Jim Roten Designed. The car has a slight forward rake. Paint was show quality nitrocellulose lacquer.
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CCC-jim-roten-58-merc-amn-16The top of the fenders and hood show an well designed Scalloped layout which looks amazing on the smoothed body. Seemingly endless miles of striping.
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CCC-jim-roten-58-merc-amn-15The 1958 Mercury was named “Kings Kart” after Willis his nickname “King” Baker.
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CCC-jim-roten-58-merc-amn-14Another good look at the scallops on the hood and fender tops. The outlined section gives completely different proportions to the body. This photo also shows that the Oldsmobile hubcaps are now updated with some large bullets on the center.¬†The new tuck and roll interior was done by by Luckenbill’s Upholstery of Chico, California
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CCC-jim-roten-58-merc-amn-13King Baker with his freshly re-customized ’57 Mercury. ¬†The paint job was considered radical at the time. ¬†So was the low ride height. The lake pipes on Kings Mercury were actually functional.
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The¬†other ’57 Mercury Custom

Jim Roten took two photos of another 1957 Mercury Custom. This car was more subtile, and not as low as the one Willis owned. This Mercury was lowered only mildly, with all the handles and emblems shaved of the body and everything was smoothed. A very simple and elegant two tone was chosen for this car. The main body in a darker color and contrasting white only in the rear quarter/fender cove. Jim could not remember the colors of this Mercury.
 
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CCC-jim-roten-58-merc-bku-01Turnpike cruiser skirts give this Merc a completely different look as well.
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Riley Collins 55 Chevy Cameo

RILEY COLLINS 55 CHEVY

In the later part of the 1950’s Riley Collins Custom Shop in¬†Chico California created some outstanding Custom Cars. Jim Roten designed many of them, including Riley’s personal 1955 Chevy Cameo shop truck.

 
[dropcap]Riley[/dropcap] Collins built this 1955 Chevy Cameo pick up truck for himself. And like a most of his other project cars his good friend Jim Roten was responsible for the the design. Mike Roten, Jim’s son shared one quick sketch Jim made in late 1958 for Riley’s Truck. It showed the use of 1958 Edsel taillights Caddy styled bumper ends and possible plans for full fender skirts. The Skirts and the Caddy bumper ends did not make it to the final version of the truck. But the whole rear fender / taillight treatment Jim designed sure did.
 
CCC-jim-roten-illustrations-09Jim Roten created this, and possibly a few more design sketches for the Riley Collin’s 1955 Chevy Cameo truck.¬†
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CCC-riley-collins-truck-01-jim-rotenThis is the earliest photo we have of Riley’s shop truck. Mostly stock with some of the bright work removed and the headlight treatment started.
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CCC-riley-collins-truck-09-jim-rotenTest fitting the Chrysler headlight in the opened up front fender.
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CCC-riley-collins-truck-02-jim-rotenAn early photo shows the work that was needed to install the 1958 Chrysler Imperial headlights. It also shows that at this point there were no plans for the Oldmobile grille surround/bumper set up yet, hence the metal work below the headlights.
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Riley started the truck with dropping the car 3 inches front using a dropped axle and the same amount at rear using a different set up for the springs, to get the perfect ride height. Jim had designed the car with a set of lake pipes, so Riley knew those would optical drop the car even further. All the stainless trim and door handles were shaved and the holes filled and smoothed for an nice smooth look. The doors are now operated using an electrical push button system.The front fenders were reshaped to accept a set of quad headlights taken from a 1958 Chrysler Imperial. The hood corners were rounded and now flow nicely into the shape of the Chevy headlights.
 
CCC-riley-collins-truck-06-jim-rotenThe early version finished in primer. The hood corners had not been rounded at this time.
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CCC-riley-collins-truck-03-jim-rotenBirds eye point of view shows the front end restyling on the truck. Spotlights have now also been added.
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CCC-riley-collins-truck-05-jim-rotenNotice how smooth the transition fro the Olds grille surround to the body is. I particular like the shape just underneath the hood and how it flows into the grille surround and headlights. This is very well designed and very well grafted restyling. Kudos to the Riley Collins and Jim Roten team.
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The whole grille unit was removed and an 1956 Olds front bumper/grille surround was installed. Riley hand made the body surround around this unit from round rod and sheet metal. The new front end changed the looks of the truck completely and gave it a very elegant appearance.

Another typical Jim Rotan design feature is the hand made grille. We have seen several of those in other Jim Rotan design sketches. (take a look at the¬†CCC-Article¬†on some of Jim Roten’s Custom Car designs sketches) Most of the grille was made from round rod, bend to shaped and welded into a single unit. Combined with two 1955 Buick bumper bullets¬†¬†before it was smoothed and send out to be plated. The new grille was place on to of a sheet of perforated chrome plated metal.
 
CCC-riley-collins-truck-07-jim-rotenRiley Collins standing with his 1955 Chevy Cameo.
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CCC-riley-collins-truck-08-jim-rotenSome fine tuning was done on the body work and Riley had the grille roughed in, still in need of smoothing and plating. The perforated metal sheet back section is still missing when Jim took this photo at Riley Collins Body shop.
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CCC-riley-collins-55-chevy-truck-01The finished truck at the Sacramento Autorama show, just after the car was finished in pearl white, and Jim Roten had taped the scallops with 1/4 inch tape and Riley Collins painted them withe 3-part candy red lacquer. (photo courtesy of Kent Collins)
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CCC-riley-collins-55-chevy-truck-02Great side view in front of the California National Guard building shows the nice flow of the candy red scallops. (photo courtesy of Kent Collins)
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CCC-riley-collins-55-chevy-truck-03A good look at the front of the truck with the hand made grille and very nicely done scallops which enhance the body styling Wheels are reversed chrome units with color detailed hubcaps added. (photo courtesy of Kent Collins)
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At the back Riley set out to duplicate Jim’s sketch as close as possible. He extended the fenders at the top with a hooded section. He later would fill this section with a very fine wire mesh insert. Below that he reshaped the rear fender and the tailgate to accept 1958 Edsel taillights flipped from side to side so that the downward section is now at the sides of the car and not towards the middle¬†as they are on the stock Edsel’s. The whole tailgate unit was completely reshaped and the shape of the rear quarter panels was extended onto the tailgate, and followed the shape of the Edsel taillights. The stock 1955 Chevy rear bumper-ettes were modified with round exhaust tips at the bottom. The non chrome center section was reshaped with a round rod license plate cover in the middle.
 
CCC-riley-collins-55-chevy-truck-04A lot of work went into the back of the truck as well where the flipped 1958 Edsel taillights are the center piece. Notice the roof insert in contrasting red. (photo courtesy of Kent Collins)
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CCC-riley-collins-55-chevy-truck-05Rer 3/4 view of Riley Collins 1955 Chevy Cameo. Not shown in these photos is the special made tonneau cover. (photo courtesy of Kent Collins)
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With all the body work completed Riley primered the body work and drove it around for a bit before he would paint it “mother of pearl” white with candy red accents. The interior was done in white naugahide with red inserts. Jim Roten mentioned that the engine compartment looked as good as the exterior. It had a 265 Chevy small block equipped with a Duntov cam, solid lifters, multiple carburetion, Corvette valve covers, headers, and glasspack mufflers. And it sounded as good as it looked. Even the front fender liners were chromed plated. Basically a ’56 Corvette engine in a truck! In those days few customs had hot engines, but this one did.

Riley sold his truck in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s. And we have no idea what happened to it after that. Does anybody have a clue where this one is today? Or what happened to it?

CCC-riley-collins-55-chevy-truck-06An other paint job shows a different design for the scallops and all white around the grille surround. (photo courtesy of the Barris Collection)
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CCC-jim-roten-illustrations-19This version of the Riley Collins Shop Truck was featured in the Custom Show-Cars Trend book 181 from 1959.
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Special thanks to Jim and Mike Roten and Kent Collins for sharing the photos for this article.
 
 
 

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Ray Cress 56 Mercury

 

RAY CRESS 56 MERCURY

 

Designed by Jim Roten and built, mostly by the Riley Colins Custom shop for owner Ray Cress, this uniquely restyled Mercury was published frequently and could be seen on several magazine covers in the late 1950’s.



(Special thanks to Mike Roten, Jim’s son for scanning his father’s photos and illustrations)


[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he first time I saw a photo of the Ray Cress ’56 Mercury was in Pat Ganahl’s the American Custom Car book in 2001. I was very impressed with this mild but well restyled Custom. And especially the color, lime gold with subtile gold scallops made a huge impression on me. There were two photos in the book. One, full spread on the title page and a smaller one inside. Both scanned from nice color slides. The photo caption mentioned the car was built by Riley Custom Shop in Chico, California. I have to admit that back then I had never heard of this Custom Shop. But later I sure would find out much more about it.

¬†Ray’s Mercury

Ray Cress took his near new ’56 Mercury Hardtop to the Ray’s Custom Shop in Chico California. Here the back pat of the car was roughly restyled. Later Ray Cress took the car to Riley Collins in Chico California (Chico is around 75 miles north of Sacramento). Ray wanted a full custom, but still on the mild side, not chop, but with new front and rear and many other body restyling. Close friend and shop employee of Riley, Jim Rotan was asked to make some design sketches of what the Owner had asked for and Jim¬†came up with together with Riley. A wonderful low creation with some new body lines and a very elegant redesigned front end. Ray approved the final design for his new Custom, and Riley went to work.¬†The approved sketch¬†Jim Roten made in 1957 can be seen below.



CCC-ray-cress-56-mercury-06The original Jim Roten design sketch from 1957. This version was approved by Ray Cress.
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Starting at the front Riley removed the stock bumpers and replaced them with an ’56 Oldsmobile bumper. The lower grille opening in the Old bumper dictated the shape of the new grille opening on the top, which was created from bended round tubing welded and molded to the front fenders and lower hood section. The front lower hood section was welded to the fenders, and a new higher hood line was cut , in the process the corners were rounded for a more elegant look. The front fenders were extended and a new opening was created using round tubing for an “hooded” effect. The original headlights was set in a chrome plated mesh screen. A new grille was created according Jim’s designs. Chrome expanded metal was used as a background, and in front of that hand shaped chrome tubing was used. On the lower corners two small diameter chrome bullets were added.



CCC-ray-cress-56-mercury-14Parked in front of the Riley Collins Custom Shop in Chico is the freshly painted and assembled Mercury. Still missing are the gold scallops at this point Jim took this photo.
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CCC-ray-cress-56-mercury-12Jim Roten took this photo of the nearly completed Mercury. The expanded metal and the two bullets are still missing from the grille and so are the Olds parking light.
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CCC-ray-cress-56-mercury-13Again parked at Riley’s shop, but now the gold scallops have been added.
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At the rear,¬†Ray’s Body Shop had previously installed a set of ’56 Packard taillights in extended rear fenders. Below the Packard taillights Riley used 1954 Cadillac bumper ends and routed the exhaust from the mercury to fit the new Cadillac bumper end exhaust tips. The center section of the bumper was replaced with an body colored splash pan/roll pan. Round tubing was used to made an double roll on this panel that optically leads to the license plate on the back. Moving to the side of the car we can see that Jim had re-disigned the quarter panels to have working scoops front and rear, and long fender skirts. Riley removed the chrome from the quarter panels and cut out the top leading edge and created the¬†elegantly¬†shaped scoops. He reworked a set of 1957 Mercury¬†cruiser skirts to fit the ’56 Mercury. A¬†1957 Ford side trim was cut down at the back and used instead of the stock unit.




CCC-ray-cress-56-mercury-11Completely finished with new completed grille and scallops.
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All handles and emblems were shaved and Riley sprayed the car in a wonderful lime gold color. Later followed by scallops, designed and taped by Jim Roten, in metallic gold. The scallops were outlined in dark gold by Jim. The car was lowered to the max and a set of wide white wall tires with chrome reverse wheels with¬†custom hubcaps and¬†chrome fake knock-offs was added. To make the car look even lower a set of full length lake pipes was added.¬†Luckinbill‚Äôs Custom Upholstery Shop in Chico is responsible for the fine white and lime gold tuck & roll interior.¬†Ray’s mercury¬†was on the cover of the May 1958 Motor Life magazine and Custom Cars magazine Jan, 1959 (small photo) with two pages inside. The car was also feature in the May 1959 issue of¬†Car Craft¬†magazine and a full page with three photos in the Trend Book 181 Custom Show-Cars published in 1959.



CCC-ray-cress-56-mercury-02In 1958 Ray’s Mercury was nominated as one of 28 “Top Customs of the Year” in Motor Life July 1958, and a photo of the car was featured on the cover of the magazine. Ray’s Mercury ended at the third place, not bad at all.
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CCC-ray-cress-56-mercury-05A closer look at the ’54 Cadillac bumper ends, ’56 Packard taillights and hand made scoops. Notice how the lower edge of the scoop swoops into the bottom of the Packard taillight and top of the Caddy bumper. Nice touch.
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CCC-ray-cress-56-mercury-151957 Ford side trim was cut off so it would fit the Mercury body and disappear in the custom scoop. 
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The Stan Duncan Version

After showing the car for a few seasons Ray Cress sold the Mercury to Stan Duncan. Stan had the car repainted in a deep tangerine with different shaped scallops than before done in gold fades and gold outlines. The car in the Stan Duncan version appeared on the cover of the March 1959 and had a full spread on the inside.



CCC-ray-cress-56-mercury-01The new tangerine paint with gold fading scallops. The rest of the car remained as Ray had it first.
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CCC-ray-cress-56-mercury-10Stan nick-named the Mercury the “Golden Touch”.
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CCC-ray-cress-56-mercury-09 CCC-ray-cress-56-mercury-08Car Speed and Style magazine spread.
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Resources and more info

  • Motor Life, magazine July 1958
  • Custom Cars, magazine Januari 1959
  • Car Speed and Style, magazine March 1959
  • Car Craft, magazine May 1959
  • Custom Show-Cars, booklet Trend Book 181 ¬†published in 1959
  • Classic & Custom, magazine Jan, 1984
  • American Custom Car, book Pat Ganahl, 2001


 

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John Vincent 1954 Oldsmobile

 

VINCENT 1954 OLDSMOBILE

 

Riley Collins from Chico, California created this 1954 Oldsmobile semi-custom. Jim Roten took the photos.



Riley Collins, had a body show in Chico California. Riley was a famous custom car builder, mostly in the Chico area, but he also created some customs that made it in the magazines.  His good friend, Jim Roten worked part-time with him in the shop. Jim was the designer of the team. And Riley the guy doing the actual metal work and paint. The Riley Collins Custom Car we are highlighting here is an 1954 Oldsmobile 88. It was originally built for John Vincent and later owned by Calvin Keeman. The car, classified as semi-custom, was subtile, but the team of Riley and Jim restyled it enough to make this car a show winner at many shows.

Riley smoothed the body, shaved the handles. At the front he installed 1953 Buick headlights and molded in the top grille bar. The bumper guards where removed and replaced with bullet units from a 1955 Cadillac. The opening was filled with a rectangular mesh chrome plated grille. In the later version some smaller bullets were added to it. At the rear the rear fenders were reshaped to accept 1954 Packard taillights. The back up lights were removed in the process as well. The car was painted maroon for the first edition. The lighter color on the top and above the side trim is unknown. In the later version the car was repainted in Candy Red. The photos below show to car in three different stages.
The photos were all taken by Jim Roten and come from his personal Collection. 


CCC-ron-vincent-54-olds-02-WThe 1954 Packard taillights make the rear of the Oldsmobile really interesting.


CCC-ron-vincent-54-olds-09-WTo get the car low the rear of the frame was z-ed.


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CCC-ron-vincent-54-olds-06-WThis photo shows a small portion of the wonderful wide pleated interior done in two tone maroon. This photo shows the newly added lake pipes.


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CCC-ron-vincent-54-olds-07-WOwner demonstrates how low the car is, especially with the new lake pipes installed. This photo gives us a good look at the Buick headlights and how great they look on this Oldsmobile.


CCC-ron-vincent-54-olds-05-WJohn Vincent’s ’54 Olds 88 at the 1956 Sacramento Autorama


CCC-ron-vincent-54-olds-03-WSome times later small scallops with bold white pin-striping was added to the car.


CCC-ron-vincent-54-olds-04-WSubtile scallops on the top of the rear fenders.


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Rod & Custom Magazine featured the ’54 Oldsmobile in the March 1961 issue. By then the car was owned by Calvin Keeman. The car was now repainted in candy for the complete body. New for this version are the addition of¬†Cruiser Skirts and the bullets on the mesh grille.


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