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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
Special thanks to Kent Collins and Lawrence Fears
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