A slight change of plans for this Chevy

Don Heersche's gorgeous 1940 Chevy show car was originally intended to be a primered straight-axle drag car. Sourced as a bare shell from a nearby farm yard, it gradually grew out of the competition car mode and morphed into this stunning street rod.
Don Heersche's gorgeous 1940 Chevy show car was originally intended to be a primered straight-axle drag car. Sourced as a bare shell from a nearby farm yard, it gradually grew out of the competition car mode and morphed into this stunning street rod. The Wichita Eagle

DERBY – One of Don Heersche’s earliest hot rods was a 1940 Chevy sedan, a straight axle drag car that ran in D/Gas. So when his son Steve spotted a ’40 Chevy sedan for sale in his company want ads back in 2010, it got his attention.

“He wondered if it might be my old car,” Heersche said. When it turned out it was only a half mile from the family farm near Mulvane, it looked promising.

“I knew the guy for 25 years and never knew he had a car,” said Heersche. Turns out, it wasn’t the same car, but he bought it anyway.

“It was just a shell, really, no interior or motor, but it did have a transmission,” he said. They hooked a tractor up to the old Chevy and dragged it home.

“My wife, Sue, thought I had lost my marbles,” Heersche chuckled. But he had a plan for the old car, a different approach than the show-quality cars he had built in more recent times, like his ’57 Chevy 2-door sedan and his ’58 Chevy station wagon painted a distinctive pearl peach color.

His idea was to build a primered “rat rod.”

“I was just going to stick a 350 motor in there and drive it,” he said. But his plans changed after the engine was installed and the primer sprayed on the body.

“I just couldn’t stop with something half done. A rat rod, well, it’s just not in my blood to build one,” Heersche explained.

He and his son had already installed a Mustang II-style front suspension, complete with dropped spindles, coil-over-shocks, disc brakes and rack and pinion steering, from a Speedway Motors conversion kit. Heersche had also fixed the rusted floorboards, fenders and trunk when the decision was made to finish the car to a much higher standard.

He took it to Chris Carlson Hot Rods in Mulvane, where the ideas began to flow freely.

“They started from scratch, pulled the motor back out, smoothed the firewall, took the air vent out of the cowl. I wasn’t afraid to let them do it, because they had done such nice work in the past,” Heersche said.

Despite that, he initially resisted Carlson’s recommendation that the top be chopped on the old Chevy. But once he was shown how it could be done without destroying the lines of the car, he told Carlson to “go for it.”

The roof was cut in several places in the back and then leaned forward to rejoin the A pillars, which had been tilted back about 4 inches. The result was a roof that sits 3 inches lower, giving the car a pleasing lower profile.

“Once the roof was done, the hood just didn’t look right,” Heersche said, so it was pie-cut and pancaked, with the nose of the hood cut off and welded to the front fenders, which also had the removable hood sides welded solidly to them. The rear fenders were widened 2 inches to fit wider tires under the rear end, borrowed from the ’57 Chevy.

Heersche had a set of early vintage Halibrand window-style mag wheels with knock-off spinners that he bought from a car buddy, David Boone, and they were fitted with modern radial tires. Heersche installed a later model 700R4 automatic overdrive transmission, which combined with the 3:73 rear gear, gives the Chevy good highway legs.

The headlights were lowered and molded into the front fenders, while a set of ’48 Ford tail lights were frenched into the rear fenders. Although he had a set of bumpers replated and ready to use, they just didn’t look right on the car, so the car was finished without bumpers, using roll pans instead.

The Carlson crew also fabricated new sheet metal running boards for the car and installed a refurbished original Chevy grille. Once all the body work was done, everything was sprayed with 2008 Land Rover Lucerne Green, a solid, vintage-looking color.

“It was better than the bright lime green and dark blue that I had picked out,” said Heersche. Bair’s Glass in Winfield cut and installed the custom V-butted two-piece windshield and Chad Ward laid down some ultra-fine gold pinstripes to accent the Chevy’s contours.

Inside, the interior was designed and built by Walt’s Upholstery in Mulvane, using Speedway Motors bucket seats and a custom-built rear seat and center console. It’s all wrapped in two-tone man-made beige leather, with an embossed panel in the headliner and custom swooshes in the door panels. Blue LED lights highlight the beautiful upholstery work inside and in the upholstered trunk.

A downsized ’40 Ford two-spoke steering wheel is mounted atop a ’72 Monte Carlo tilt steering column and painted to match the interior. A rectangular ’46 Chevy truck instrument panel was refurbished and installed in the smoothed dashboard. Vintage Air air conditioning cools things off in the summer months.

The Chevy crate motor was upgraded with shorty headers and a set of pipes fabricated by Kevin Kaiser’s American Muffler Shop, with old-school Cherry Bomb mufflers producing a nice, low rumble.

So now that the car is finished to the same high standards as his other Chevies, is the ’40 Deluxe Sedan Heersche’s favorite?

“No, that ’57 has been in my family way too long. It’s really hard for me to pick a favorite,” he said.

In any case, the stunning greenish-gray ’40 Chevy sedan will be on display at this weekend’s Starbird-Devlin show. Stop by and check it out.

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