Custom Car Designers

November 19, 2014

Riley Collins 55 Chevy Cameo


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.



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. 


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.


CCC-riley-collins-truck-09-jim-rotenTest fitting the Chrysler headlight in the opened up front fender.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)



CCC-jim-roten-illustrations-19This version of the Riley Collins Shop Truck was featured in the Custom Show-Cars Trend book 181 from 1959.


Special thanks to Jim and Mike Roten and Kent Collins for sharing the photos for this article.








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About the Author

Rik Hoving
Rik is the CCC editor in chief. As a custom car historian he is researching custom car history for many years. In 2004 he started the Custom Car Photo Archive that has become a place of joy for many custom car enthousiasts. Here at CCC Rik will bring you inspiring articles on the history of custom cars and builders. Like a true photo detective he will show us what's going on in all those amazing photos. He will write stories about everything you want to know in the realm of customizing. In daily life Rik is a Graphic Designer. He is married to the CCC webmaster and the father of a 10 year old son (they are both very happy with his excellent cooking skills)


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