Some custom cars assault your senses like a hot tamale, with bright colors and an abrasive taste that's enough to make your eyes water. Others are cooler and more nuanced, like a smooth mint that leaves you feeling relaxed and refreshed.
Walter Leeman's '51 Chevy Fleetline is, thankfully, one of the latter. It's not just the subdued color that gives this fastback a cool sense of style; the thoughtful and well-integrated modifications impart a subtle, understated grace that's classy rather than crass. It's one of those rare custom cars that is so smartly designed and well executed that it might not even appear modified to the untrained eye.
Walter drove a similar Chevy as his first car in high school similar, that is, only in that it was also a '51 Fleetline. Like many of his friends, Walter never quite got that Chevy finished to the level he envisioned. And while he built and owned several other rods and customs in the ensuing decades (including a chopped '53 Chevy featured in the Aug. '85 issue of Street Rodder), he waited until he retired before embarking on the quest to build the Chevy custom of his teenage dreams.
It's not all that unusual for a guy Walter's age to build the custom he wanted in high school, but it can be surprisingly difficult to actually adhere to the early-'50s custom aesthetic as strongly as Walter has here. Starting at the front, the fastback features a filled and peaked hood flanked by headlights that are frenched, but not tunneled. When combined with the molded grille opening, these modifications clean and smooth the car's appearance by eliminating excess brightwork. The grille itself, built from a '51 Packard main bar with '51 Ford grille bullets and '49 Chevy parking light lenses, provides a confident centerpiece that gives the Chevy the look of a more upscale marquee, a common goal of early customizing.
A one-piece Olds windshield, shaved door handles and extended fender skirts do more to streamline the Chevy's shape, while modified '51 Packard side trim and scooped rear fenders lend touches of elegance. A pair of '50 Ford taillights and windsplits integrated into the rear fenders help to visually widen and lower car's aft appearance. Walter gets credit for the substantial list of bodywork (which included plenty of rust repair, too), while Mylars Automotive Refinishing in Montrose, Colorado, is responsible for the smooth and minty Spies-Hecker finish.
Scooped rear fenders with stainless teeth are a cool traditional touch.
Of course, all of those modifications look much more appetizing with the body hunkered down low over the Coker wide whitewalls and modified '53 Cadillac hubcaps. The slinky stance is achieved with a relatively contemporary mix of suspension components, including an RB's Obsolete Mustang II front suspension with Heidts spindles and Master Power disc brakes. A combination of Chassis Engineering springs and lowering blocks support the Granada rear axle assembly.
There's another modern surprise lurking under the Chevy's hood: a small-block Ford V-8! It's an engine selection that's sure to pucker the palettes of Bow-Tie fans, though Walter insists the decision was primarily practical. "I was a Ford tech for 20 years and worked with the electronics," Walt says. "The Ford motor was what I knew." Besides, the fuel-injected 5.0L provides a good combination of power and fuel economy.
The Chevy's cabin is as tasty as the exterior, with clean white tuck 'n' roll vinyl stitched over stock seats and simple black carpet on the floor. Modern concessions to comfort include a Flaming River tilt steering column and wheel, Vintage Air climate control and Custom Autosound tunes. Walter has even installed three-point Juliano's seat belts for extra safety, because this Chevy gets driven wherever it goes.
That last sentence speaks volumes when you consider that Walter lives in Delta, Colorado, on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains, a pretty long jaunt from any major rod or custom event. He has steered the creamy smooth Chevy "over the hill" several times already, with a Pro's Pick at the 2008 Goodguys Colorado Nationals in Loveland and the Steve Stanford Pick at the 2008 KKOA Leadsled Spectacular in Kansas to show for it. In a world where many customs rely on flashy paint schemes and extreme restyling to scream for attention, it's reassuring to know that a simple, subtle custom like this can still earn such praise. It certainly leaves a good taste in our mouth.
Minty on the outside, creamy on the inside! Tasty white rolls and pleats were stitiched by
Frenched headlights, a filled and peaked hood and a molded grille opening give the front e
Walter reversed a common street rod recipe when he dropped a small-block Ford mill between
The classic Fleetline fastback curves are enhanced with '50 Ford taillights and windsplits
Walter hinged the original speaker grille to hide the Custom Autosound stereo and Vintage
Just a little dig at the diehard Bow-tie guys...