1950 Sacramento Autorama



The Capitol City Auto Club, better known as the Thunderbolts organized a two day Auto Show in 1950. Held at a Sacramento Chevy dealer the show hosted 23 top class Customs and Hot Rods.


Special thanks to Lawrence Fears.

The title of this article is 1950 Sacramento Autorama, which is not precisely accurate. But, many people refer to this small 1950 Auto show organized by the Capitol City Auto Club “Thunderbolts” as the first Sacramento Autorama. Hence the name of this article.

In 1950 Car Shows was still brand new. The first of these shows were held just two years earlier. The Sacramento Custom Car and Hot Rod scene was very active, a lot was going on, rod runs, street drag racing, and some of the countries leading Customizers had their shop in or around Sacramento. The Capitol City Auto Club better known as the “Thunderbolts” had a great number of high quality cars in their club. Harold “Baggy” Bagdasarian was one of the club members and president of the club. He was one of the leading forces in organizing this first Sacramento Auto Show.


The club members just wanted to know who had the nicest car among them. What better way to find out during a Car Show. Plus they really wanted to show off their cars, and not just at the local hang out places, but at a nice indoor event. The Capitol Chevrolet Company dealership at 13th and K Streets in downtown Sacramento had the perfect space for the show the members had in mind. In total the club brought together 23 cars this first show. And among these 23 cars there were some top Customs and Rods. The cars displayed at the show represented the high quality, and creative minds of the Nor Cal car builders. Custom builders Harry Westergard, and Dick Bertolucci were well represented at the show. Of all the Customs, many had been based on convertibles and all had Hall of Oakland Padded Tops. According different sources the two day show drew between 500 and 1000 visitors.

The show was held on November 4th and 5th, 1950. Saturday from 3:00 P.M. until 10:00 PM and Sunday from 10:00 A.M. until 10:00 P.M. The admission was 60 cent. The story goes that the entrance had to be kept below a certain amount, because otherwise everything had to be done official and Federal Amusement Tax would have to be paid. This first show was not about making money, it was about having a good time for the attendees as well as the visitors.

There were two trophies awarded.  One for Best Custom Car and Leroy Semas won the Custom Class with his 1937 Chevy. Burton Davis won the Best Rod with his 1931 Ford Roadster.

Rod Dust newsletter dated November 1, 1950. This was the issue that mentions the first Sacramento Auto Show in 1950.



Local newspaper from Friday November 3rd, 1950 announcing the Sacramento Auto Show.


On the top right we can see Al Garcia Westergard restyled 1939 Ford,  #5 Lawrence Brocchini ’31 A-V8 roadster on Deuce rails V-Windshield, Vern Haversack 1927 Model T with track nose with #11,  #1 Burton E. Davis 1931 Ford Roadster, and on the left is #19 Harold Casarang’s ‘25 Model T. bottom right shows the #14 of Jack Odbert’s 36 Ford, behind it the engine and front of #15 Ronnie Brown’s ’32 Ford 5-window.


Show overview

The nice thing about the Capitol Chevrolet dealer ship location is that there was a second floor, from where some nice overview photos could be taken. These overview photos show that this small show was jam-packed with the best of the best. Amazing padded topped Customs created by the countries leading Customizers. Harry Westergard and Dick Bertolucci. The photos taken at the two day show also show that the cars were actually moved around a bit during the weekend. Some cars were added, like the two ’32 Ford 5-window Hot Rod’s in the photo below. In some photos those two cars are missing.

The cars at the show were mostly local cars, but some came as far as Oakland. Hot Rod magazine devoted some space to the Sacramento Auto Show in the Januari 1951 issue. The feature included the beautiful overview photo (below) which showed the nation that Sacramento was packed with beautiful Custom Cars… just as well as Los Angeles, which was always much more represented in the early magazines.
I have been collecting photos and info on this show for many years, and all I have is included in this article. I know there is more out there, and hopefully we will be able to share more in the near future.

Overview of part of the Chevrolet Dealer Show illustrates the great number of Custom Cars invited to this show. A perfect balance.


Same photo as above, now with numbers, perhaps somebody will be able to identify some more. We still need to know # A on the far left, # B on the top right center, and from car # C we know that that is Butler Rugard’s 1940 Mercury, but we do not have a show number. (The number – car – identification list is shown further down in the article)


This overview photo was taken either earlier or late as the one above. The two ’32 Ford 5-windows are missing sitting behind the #14 Jack Odbert’s ’36 Ford.


Custom Cars at the Show

The Custom Cars shows we have been able to identify were all top of the line, and are now mostly considered historical Customs. Created by Harry Westergard, Les Crane, and Dick Bertolucci. The Barris Brothers had already been moved south for a few years, so their work was not represented at this show. It is really remarkable that a great number of the Custom Car show entries are Convertibles with chopped padded tops, which were all created by C.A. Hall Auto Tops in Oakland, Ca.

Unknown number for Butler Rugard’s 1940 Mercury restyled by Harry Westergard and Les Crane. More on Butler’s ’40 Mercury can be seen in this CCC-Article.
#2 Custom 1946 Chevy Convertible Butler Rugard restyled by Harry Westergard. (Listed in the program as Bob Ghilotti)
A little more clear photo of Butler Rugard’s ’46 Chevy Convertible restyled by Harry Westergard. Harry used a set of the Jimmy Summers fade away fenders on this Custom.
#4 1948 Johnny Lehman Mercury Convertible with padded top restyled by Dick Bertolucci. Most likely the Hall padded top of Al Garcia Westergard restyled 1939 Ford is showing on the left of the photo.
Johnny Lehman’s Mercury seen from the back shows the ’49 Mercury bumpers and taillights. The top was done by Hall of Oakland. On the right we can see the ’37 Chevy Coupe from Leroy Semas. More on Johnny Lehman’s ’48 Mercury in this CCC-Article.
#4 Enlarged section of another photo shows another peak at the Johnny Lehman Mercury and behind that on the right showing a small portions of Mel Falconer’s 41 Lincoln.
#14 Jack Odbert 1936 Ford Convertible restyled by Harry Westergard with Hall Padded top. More on Jack’s Beautiful ’36 Ford in this CCC-Article.
#18 Mel Falconer /Bruce Glenn 1939 Ford Convertible restyled by Harry Westergard with a then new metal top replacing the Hall padded top that was on the car originally.
#21 Mel Falconer 1941 Lincoln with 1948 Cadillac rear fenders, 1949 Mercury bumpers. Restyled by Harry Westergard, and the car is supposed to be still around, anybody knows more about this?
#23 Leroy Semas 1937 Chevy restyled by Harry Westergard. Leroy was the winner of the big Custom Car trophy at the show. One of the two trophies awarded at the show. More on Leroy’s Harry Westergard Restyled Custom can be seen in this CCC-Article.
Interior of Leroy Semas his ’37 Chevy Coupe.

Cars in the show
According the the information we have been able to find 23 car were entered. 14 of them we have been able to identify, hopefully some of our readers can help name the others that were at this 1950 Sacramento Auto Show. From the 23 cars entered at least 8 were Customs, high end Customs. Below is a list of the cars and numbers we have been able to identify.

1 Burton E. Davis 1931 Ford Roadster
2 Butler Rugard / Bob Ghilotti 1946 Chevy Convertible
3 Dick King 1929 Roadster with tracknose
4 ?
5 Lawrence Brocchini 1931 A-V8 roadster on Deuce rails V-Windshield
6 ?
7 Herk Vigienzone 1924 Model T Roadster
8 Rico Squalia 1924 T Roadster.
9 – 13 ?
14 Jack Odbert 1936 Ford Convertible
15 Ronnie Brown 1932 Ford 5-window
16 – 17 ?
18 Mel Falconer / Bruce Glenn 1939 Ford Convertible
19 Harold Casarang 1925 Model T
20 ?
21 Mel Falconer 1941 Lincoln
22 ?
23 Leroy Semas 1937 Chevy Coupe


The Program
The 8 page, text only First annual Auto Show program generously donated by David E/ Zivot shown below, has a list of all the people and cars that planned to be at the show. Most of the numbers in the program correspond with the numbers we have seen in the show pictures, but apparently more cars were added to the show after the Program had been printed. The Program only lists 20 cars.


In early 2020 David Zivot donated a 1950 Thunderbolts First Annual Auto Show Program. The 8 page program has a list of the cars and people that planned to have their car displayed at the event.


The Hot Rods at the show

The Thunderbolts Auto Club had both Custom Car as well as Hot Rod oriented members. The Sacramento erea has been big on Custom Cars from the early beginnings, but Hot Rodding was very popular as well, and the Hot Rod and Race scene grew bigger every year. The show displayed some of the best Hot Rods and Race Cars in the wide area.

#1 Burton E. Davis 1931 Ford Roadster, the winner of the big Hot Rod award at the show.


#3 Dick King 1929 Roadster with tracknose.


A better look at the Dick King 1929 Roadster with tracknose.


#5 Lawrence Brocchini ’31 A-V8 roadster on Deuce rails V-Windshield.


The actual number 5 sign from the 1950 Sacramento Thunderbolts Auto Show, used on Lawrence Brocchini’s Hot Rod.


#5 Lawrence Brocchini’s ’31 Ford.


#15 Ronnie Brown’s ’32 Ford channeled 5-window coupe showing off its kilmont brakes. On the left is Johnny Lehman #4 ’48 Mercury and on the right we see the Buick trim on the skirts of Jack Odbert’s  #14 1936 Ford Convertible


#15 Ronnie Brown posing with his channeled ’32 Ford 5-window Coupe.


#19 Harold Casarang Oakland Roadster club member took his ‘25 Model T to the Sacramento Auto Show.
January 1951 Hot Rod Magazine article on the show.


Sources and more information

  • Garage Magazine
  • Classic & Custom Magazine
  • Don Montgomery books



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 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.

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.

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.


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.

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)

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)

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)

Leroy’s Chevy appeared in one of the snapshot taken at one of the club rod runs around 1950. (stillrunners)

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.

Riley Collins on the Left with Ray Orput standing next to him with Leroy’s Chevy with the chop in progress.

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?

Ray Orput is sitting in the Chevy while Riley Collins sits on the barrel besides the car. (Kent Collins info)

The chop all finished, but still in primer and new smooth aftermarket hubcaps replace the Sombrero hubcaps Westergard had originally installed. (stillrunners)

Leroy Semas posing with his ’37 Westergard Chevy around 1952 after Riley Collins had chopped the top.

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.

Close up of the sign showing that Bertolucci painted this version of the Chevy.


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

(This article is made possible by)