Seems like whatever facet of the automobile hobby you’re into, whether it be restoration, hot rodding, race cars, or whatever, everyone has a “body and paint” story to tell. Jim Portelny is no different, with the extended build time of his ’37 Chevy owing mainly to his experience with a nameless bodyman. Unlike some others though, his project did make it to fruition. This is said with some experience, too. As an ex-body and paint shop owner, I was guilty of having a couple of, ahem, “long-term” customer projects over the years, though they did get finished. Why does almost every body shop seem to have such a project in the corner?

But I digress. Jim always liked the ’37 Chevy body style, and has a soft spot for the 235ci inline six-cylinder Chevy engine (he owns his father’s old ’48 Fleetline with a 235 and twin carbs) , so when he saw this particular coupe drive into the Donut Derelicts Meet in Pismo Beach a few years ago, he was smitten. At the time it was green with black fenders, with older but very nice upholstery redone in the stock material and pattern. It had a straight-axle, with the stock closed driveline and rearend, though the engine had been replaced with the later 235, the very engine still in the car today.

It didn’t take him and the then-owner long to strike a deal, the car was used for about a year before Jim decided to replace the front suspension with a Heidts IFS. Yeah, here comes the slippery slope! In the owner’s own words: “Once the front clip was off the car and the new suspension installed, I thought it best to pull the motor to paint the rest of the frame, and while the motor was out I pulled the pan to check the bearings. They were pretty well worn, so it was off to the machine shop for a rebuild. Curt Kiser from Classic Auto and I assembled it in my home shop, installing an Isky cam and three Rochester carbs in the process.

“While painting the frame I could only go so far, and it didn’t seem too much of a problem to take the body off. Some minor rust was found in the usual places so I sent it off to a bodyman to take care of this and touch up the paint.” All good so far, and Jim planned on having the coupe back on the road in two to three months. Then he went on vacation …

“I returned to find my car stripped to bare metal, the body guy saying he had found more cancer and thought he should strip the car since he knew I wanted a good, solid body. A month later my car was still in bare metal and the body guy had moved on. Luckily, I knew of a longtime body and paintman, Ray Cano, in Santa Maria, with a very good reputation. He and I hit it off, and as we discussed the ’37 he saw my vision of what was now a complete ground-up rebuild.” Cano discovered some hidden damage in the lower driver-side cowl, repairing this along with the rest of the body, while Kiser and Jim continued to work on the motor and chassis, then assembling the coupe once the body returned.

After a trip to Rick Simmons Upholstery in Nipomo, California, for a simple and period-correct trim—“I think he hit the mark and gave the car a great look,” Jim says—the 4 1/2-year rebuild culminated with the coupe’s debut at the West Coast Kustoms show in Santa Maria, on Jim and wife Carol’s 44th wedding anniversary. What could be better than that?

Rod & Custom Feature Car
Jim Portelny
Arroyo Grande, California
1937 Chevy Coupe

Chassis

Swapping the front suspension for an IFS was the start of this coupe’s 4 1/2-year unplanned rebuild! There’s now a Heidts IFS with an antiroll bar and QA1 adjustable coilover shocks under the front fenders, attached to the stock ’37 chassis. CPP 2 1/2-inch dropped spindles lower the car, while disc brakes from the same company handle stopping duties. The pedal assembly was homemade, while out back there’s a Rock Valley stainless 16-gallon gas tank feeding aluminum fuel lines via an electric pump.

Drivetrain

Engine Tech in Santa Maria, CA, machined the ’61 235ci six, with Curt Kiser and the owner taking care of assembly. An Isky cam was added to the otherwise-stock internals, with an Offenhauser intake and a trio of Rochester carbs bolted on the side of the head. Speedway headers hook to a 2-inch system fabbed by Currie Mufflers in Oceano, CA, using MagnaFlow mufflers. A 200-4R trans makes up the next link in the “drive-chain”, followed by a Coast Clutch (Santa Maria) driveshaft and a narrowed 12-bolt from a ’73 Chevy truck, hung on QA1 adjustable coilovers and using more CPP brakes.

Wheels & Tires

Artillery wheels from Wheelsmith, with Diamondback rubber, are at each corner, the 15x6 fronts wearing 195/65R15s, and 225/70R15s on the 16x8 rears.

Body & Paint

After the first, somewhat less than satisfactory experience with a bodyman, Jim had Ray Cano work his magic, shaving the driprails, removing and smoothing the hood rivets, and adding a polished stainless ’40 Ford truck rear bumper, mounted closer to the body with custom brackets. Following minor rust repairs and some not-so minor accident damage to the lower cowl and doorsill were repaired, Cano sprayed the PPG Jet Black. Cal State supplied the glass, while swan neck mirrors and headlights from I & I Reproduction were installed.

Interior

Rick Simmons used saddle tan cloth to upholster the stock seats and custom door panels, complemented by taupe carpet. Stewart-Warner gauges in a Speedway insert fill the stock dash, while a LimeWorks steering column and wheel are bolted to its underside. Curt Kiser installed the Ron Francis Wiring harness, while Juliano’s seatbelts, Vintage Air A/C, and a Secret Audio/Pioneer audio system complete the interior amenities.