When the topic of early customizers arises, one of the first names that comes to mind for most is Harry Westergard, who’s thought to have been the creator of the classic ’30s tail-dragger. Whether that’s true or not is speculative, but what isn’t questionable is the fact that he wasn’t the only custom builder in Sacramento at that time, nor was he necessarily the best. While Westergard was credited for doing the majority of the customizing in NorCal during the late ’30s and early ’40s, ultimately he wasn’t able to capitalize on his craft financially, so to speak As he was trading in his customizer’s cap for that of body man, one of his competitors, Dick Bertolucci, was doing just the opposite—he was not only continually honing his skills customizing cars, he was also developing quite a talent for making cars go fast on the salt and on the asphalt. And whether he was slinging lead or burning rubber, when it came to his own set of wheels, he was and still is a good old Bow Tie boy with a true passion for straight-sixes—especially the big inline GMCs.
To this very day, Dick’s still puttin’ the hammer down, both figuratively and literally, and his vast collection of all things Chevrolet has grown into a museum that features everything from 100-point restos to race engines and rare speed equipment. But before all of that, before he even had a driver’s license, there was this little 1933 Chevy roadster that started it all.
“I bought my first car when I was 13 years old in 1943 before I could even legally drive. The day after I first spotted the car, and got my dad’s permission, I pulled $125 out of my dresser drawer and then had my dad drive me down to the used car lot to get it. It was a ’33 Chevrolet roadster. I updated it to be current for those days. The first thing my father made me do was pull off the front sheetmetal. When I asked him why, he said, ‘We are going to swap out the motor to a ’41 high-torque truck engine!’
“My dad worked for the Vogel Chevrolet Company in Sacramento from 1933-59. While he was working there, a farmer friend of his gave him his 1 1/2-ton truck engine. He overhauled the motor and then put it in the ’33. He had to use the truck bellhousing to fit the roadster’s transmission. After we got it in the car, we drove it around to break it in. It had so much torque, you didn’t need to use low gear—you’d take off in Second, hit high, and before you knew it, you were going flat-out at 80 mph! If we’d had an overdrive, I don’t know how fast it would have gone.
“Next we put on 6.00-16 tires and wheels with beauty rings and ’41 Chevy hubcaps. It looked great. Dad screwed and glued some of the wood around the body and tightened it up. We put in red leatherette upholstery and a black top with red piping. This was my first car, and I was so proud of it.
“Since that ’33 I had as a youngster I’ve always wanted another one. I finally bought one out of North Carolina around 1982, but when it arrived, I was so disappointed with its condition that I ended up storing it for 20 years as I tried to figure out what I was going to do with it. Eight years ago, I decided to patch it up and get rid of it. After we worked on it for a while, it started to grow on me again, so I kept working on it, and it kept looking better. At some point during this process, I knew I was going to keep it for myself. I started out by putting a ’50 270ci GMC truck motor in the roadster. The GMC is what I used in my ’35 Chevy coupe to race at Kingdon Airstrip in Lodi back in the early ’50s. I won the ’53 Northern California Championship with that coupe, but that’s another story in itself!”
1933 Chevy roadster