Custom Car Chronicle
Icons of the 80s and 90s

Walter Leeman 53 Chevy


This ’53 Chevy’s striking color combination,¬†perfect lines and Traditional Custom Car looks stood out in 1983 when it was built, and it still does today.

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n our series on 80’s and 90’s Custom Car Icons, we would like to share¬†Walter Leeman’s¬†1953 Chevy. I consider¬†Walter’s Chevy an Icon, a personal feeling perhaps, but this Chevy has played an important part in my Custom Car schooling. Walter’s Chevy has played an important role in the way people looked at Custom Cars in the mid 1980’s up to the mid 1990’s.
I first saw Walter’s Chevy when I opened the October 1985 issue of Hot Rod magazine at bookstore in the city I was studying at the time. Walter’s Chevy was part of the Gray Baskerville Cars! Cars! Cars! the summer of ’85 article. Only two relatively small photos of alters Chevy appeared in the magazine of which one had the center spine going thru the rear fenders. But the car’s looks and the color choice made an really big impact on me, the car was absolutely perfect. Back then there was not much Custom Car related info available for me, so I decided to¬†buy¬†the magazine just for those two photos. Many years later I got in contact with Walter thru my website, the Custom Car Photo Archive and Walter shared some more info an photos of his Chevy with me.

CCC-walter-leeman-53-chevy-hrmThis is how I first saw Walter’s Chevy in the October 1985 issue of Hot Rod Magazine. These two photos and few words by Gray Baskerville made a HUGE impression on me.

Building the Chevy

CCC-walter-leeman-53-chevy-01The ’53 Chevy in the wrecking yard, the way Walter found it in the early 1980’s.
In the early 1980’s Walter¬†went on a few business trips with his wife and came across this small, out of the way wrecking yard. It was there when he spotted a 1953 Chevy Hardtop, and started to day dream about his version of the Moonglow. Walter had never done any major bodywork, but he figured since the car was from a wrecking yard and he only paid $250.- for it, that¬†even if he failed it was not a big loss, and he could go back and find another project car. But it turned out he was a natural customizer.

CCC-walter-leeman-53-chevy-02After taking the car back home Walter started by striping the car and taping the sections to remove from the posts.
CCC-walter-leeman-53-chevy-03And off came the top, there is no way back now. Thats the ’54 Chevy four door donor car in the back. Walter used the engine and several other pieces from it for his ’53 Chevy.
Walter had always loved Custom Cars, he grew up around the Ayala and Barris shop, so he knew how a good Custom should look like. Later Walter spend a lot of time striping cars, and doing many paint jobs including scallops and flames. Everything would come in very handy in the early 1980’s when he set out to built his own dream custom. Walter was¬†living in a small town in the Colorado mountains and did not have a garage at the time, so most of the work on the car had to be done outside in his yard, as we can see in the progress photos. It would take Walter 8 month working on and off on the Chevy to finish it.

CCC-walter-leeman-53-chevy-04This photo illustrates how Walter had to work on his car due to the fact he did not have a garage at the time he built the car. This sure did not prevent him from creating a striking Custom.
Walter started by cutting off the top and cutting 3.5 inches of the pillars. One of the things he did not like on some of these 43-54 Chopped Chevys was the dip they had on the rear window to top. So Walter made enough relieve cuts on the rear of the roof to make the metal flow at the same angle as the rear window glass. Not easy, but Water succeeded in creating a very pleasant flow of the rear window into the top as well as the trunk. He removed the ’53 grille and replaced it with an ’54 Chevy unit which he had found at a wrecking yard.¬†He¬†molded the surround to the 1953 body, modified the grille bar with ‚Äô74 Comet parking lights at the ends and added 15 ’54 Chevy grille teeth. The front splash-pan was reshaped at the ends and molded to the body. The headlights were molded to the front fender and ’53 Ford headlight rims used to tunnel the headlights. The two part hood was welded and peaked in the center. At the back Walter reshaped the rear fenders to accept a set of ’53 Chrysler taillights, which look amazingly well on the car, and the splash pan was molded to the body, just as he did in the front. All body emblems and handles were removed and the whole body smoothed and primered. Walter modified a set of Chevy fender skirts, extending them on the bottom to sit level with the lower edge of the rear fender.

CCC-walter-leeman-53-chevy-07Two Polaroids show the cuts Walter had to make to get the now much lower top to flow perfect with the rear window.
CCC-walter-leeman-53-chevy-06Molded in headlight rings and ’54 Chevy grille surround. This photo shows that it needed quite a bit of work to make it look just right. Walter did well for his first Custom body project.
CCC-walter-leeman-53-chevy-05The ’53 Chrysler taillights require some slicing and dicing to be able to fit right onto the ’53 Chevy rear fenders.
Walter used a ’54 Chevy parts car for the front clip and 6 cyl motor and three speed stick Some other parts were also used from this ’53 Chevy. So far all the work was done by Walter, outside in his yard. But now it was time for paint he asked¬†Ram Auto Body in Hotchkiss to do thefinal paint work on the car. Walter had chosen ’79 Pontiac Piedmont Green Metallic for the main body and white for the top and rear fender side trim insert. Once the car came back Walter installed a one pice California front bumper with a ’49 Chevy license plate guard . The rear bumper is the stock ’53 Chevy unit, but Walter replaced the bumper guards with ’54 Chevy units. The only other job on the car that Walter felt not comfortable with was the upholstery, which was done by¬†Fosters of Grand Junction.


The finished Chevy


CCC-walter-leeman-53-chevy-09The¬†‚Äô74 Comet parking lights look amazing well inside the molded ’54 Chevy grille shell. The ’49 Chevy license plate overrider is the perfect finishing touch on the one piece California front bumper.
CCC-walter-leeman-53-chevy-08The ’53 Chrysler taillights look like they always belonged on this ’53 Chevy. The¬†’54 Chevy bumper guards and overrider look perfect as well.

The finishing touch was a set of ’53 Cadillac hubcaps with were detailed with ‚Äô53 Ford truck grille teeth added. Walter had to use something on the center of the hubcaps because it¬†would not fit the Chevy wheel. The dust cap over the outer bearing hit the hub cap so he eventually came up with the chrome egg shaped bullet from Legs Panty Hose packaging¬†which gave him the room he¬†needed. Remember this is 1983, and there was no aftermarket chrome bullets available back then. The centers of the hubcaps were painted body color. It is like this how the car was photographed for the 1985 issue of Hot Rod magazine which I saw and fell in love with. Walter drove the car all over, to shows thru-out the US, including many KKOA events. Its at events like this that Walter’s Chevy started to spread the word of how a great Custom Car should look like. Walters¬†Chevy has inspired many others car owners to built similar styled Customs.¬†Some time Later, after a trip to Ohio Walter decided it was time for an mechanical update. He¬†pulled the 6 cyl and three speed stick and put in a SB Chevy with¬†a 360 turbo and a ’57 Chevy rear end¬†in the car, and it was ready for more road trips.¬†The fact that Walter drove his Custom all over helped a lot as well.

Sadly Walter did not have any close up shots of his Chevy. Here we can see the customized ’53 Cadillac hubcaps. Three ’53 Ford grille teeth and a chrome bullet from a Legg’s pantyhose packaging (see below) were used for better looks and to make the hubcap fit the Chevy wheels.
CCC-walter-leeman-53-chevy-11This dark snapshot shows that all the extra work on the rear of the top Walter did to his Chevy really payed off. His rear window fits absolutely perfect with a great flow.

The Second version

In 1993, after about ten years of being used on the road¬†the paint started to show its age, the huge amount of rock chips just could not be touched up again. So Walter decided it was time for a new paint job. This time the main body was painted in a three stage Nissan off white pearl paint. And the top and rear quarter inset panel was painted metallic teal/green. The new paint job gave the car a completely different look. Walter really loved it, perhaps even better than the first colors. Many more road trips and car shows followed. After a couple of more years on the road the road rash on the front of the car decided Walter to add some well designed flames to cover up the chipped paint. Walter designed, taped, painted and striped the flames himself. Some time after the new flames Walter decided it was time for something new. He sold the ’53 Chevy to be able to work on a 1940 Ford Coupe. The car had 125 K on it when he sold it… a well traveled Traditional Custom that inspired any people all over the country to built their own Custom.

CCC-walter-leeman-53-chevy-15The new color combination gives the car a completely different look It makes the car look bigger as well. Walter liked these colors better than the first combination from 1983.

CCC-walter-leeman-53-chevy-19After some heavy road use Walter decided to cover up the rock chips with a set of very elegant long lick flames.

CCC-walter-leeman-53-chevy-mag-01Walter’s Chevy was featured in the August¬†’85 issue of Street Rodder magazine.
CCC-walter-leeman-53-chevy-20The Chevy was also shown on the cover (not inside) of the Swedish magazine Start & Speed from 1986, as well as on the cover of Lowrider Arte magazine from 1998 with Richard Crawford’s artwork of the second version of the Chevy.

After Walter sold the car the Chevy has been repainted at least once. The last time we saw it it was painted two tone mauve with scallops covering the front of the car.











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)

3 thoughts on “Walter Leeman 53 Chevy

  • Thanks for another great article. I love the first version and the fact that he kept the stock rear window.

  • I saw this ’53 Chev in Street Rodder when it first came out and I really liked it. I always thought the ’53 Chrysler taillights were a nice choice for this car.

  • Great story Rik.
    Here is a question for you Rik or anyone out there who might know the answer.
    How did he do the chop and still use the stock wrap around rear wiindow?
    Did it get cut down? I have a friend who wants to chop one just like this.

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