The Reyes Carillo Way

Fontana's Reyes Carillo, a Chevy enthusiast / craftsman / guy who gets stuff done     Photo Credit: R. Carillo
Every once in a while a person comes along who not only shows an interest in the car hobby, but they also breathe new life into cars that others gave up on or time forgot. Folks with a huge bankroll often show up at shows with cars that they claim to have "totally restored themselves", and sure they look great and drive nice. They go home with a trophy and throw it in their Mahogany display case, light up a Cohiba and call it a day.

Then there's the kind of car guys like 30 year-old Reyes Carillo of Fontana, California. He's one of the younger hobbyists that rebuilds cars inside and out in his driveway, working on everything from metal fabrication to paint to interiors, whenever he can...and doing it with enough style that others take notice. Where some folks claim it, others own it, and Reyes cetainly owns the phrase "Do it Yourself". His build threads have drawn more than 50,000 views on the HAMB and Eastwood forums, and I've been checking the progress of his '48 Chevy build daily thanks to his great documentation.

Here's a little taste of his work on a trio of classic Chevrolets...

Reyes first got into classic cars when he was a kid after watching older Impalas and tricked-out Chevy bombs driving around his neighborhood. Many of us can relate to being 'bitten by the car bug at a young age. Starting out as a young hobbyist, he acquired a '65 Chevy Impala and began working to add touches to make it stand out...and lay down on the streets. It certainly does.

Reyes' Impala captures the vintage low-rider look perfectly.
The interior was redone to original specs with a few custom touches.
Praise the lowered.

My favorite feature is what's become Reyes' signature underhood treatment. The checked flag-themed '65 really blows me away as the perfect eye candy when you pop the hood.


After! What a difference a little airbrushing makes.

A true car guy knows he can't have just one project, so eventually the hunt for another one began...

The '59 as delivered in May, 2011

Reyes acquired a 1959 Chevrolet Impala Sport Coupe in May of 2011 after wanting one for many years. The cat eye taillights and unique styling of the '59 Chevy features possibly the most radical styling ever to wear the Chevrolet name. Here's a brief snapshot of how Reyes put this one back on the road.

Reyes sanded the car to bare metal, only to discover some creative uses a previous owner had for Bondo. They were corrected.

This is what we call a 'blank canvas' in the car world. The possibilities at this stage in the build are endless. Reyes had a vision for the car, and you'll eventually see how it evolves.

The car was torn down, sanded, primed, painted and given a new heart & soul. The dirty parts became shiny parts with some TLC and cash.

Rust sealing the floors and trunk

 After investing in a professional sewing machine and materials, Reyes started the upholstery work, something that 80% of car restorers farm out to someone else. Not Reyes. With not much original material to use as a template, the new interior was created using  two-tone vinyl to match the upcoming paint scheme. Check out the finished product below.

The rear armrests of the '59 in rough shape

The finished rear armrests and side panels custom-built by Reyes.
Some 70's GM car seat cushions were sourced for padding to build up.

The newly upholstered front seat, complete with side trim installed.

After spending plenty of time correcting some botched metal work and removing body filler, the '59 finally was waring a color change and reassembly was next. Again, Reyes doesn't have a fancy 40,000 square foot shop...he's got an easy-up awning and a driveway and it works just the same!

The Impala comes together under the cover of night.

Summer 2013: The '59 goes out for its first drive and is nearly complete.

This past summer, the Impala made its return to the road, and is nearly finished, although most car nuts are never really finished with their projects. Remember the checkered flag underhood treatment on the '65? After using some inspiration from a cartoon character and a 90 year-old Southern California Chevy dealer's mascot, Reyes was inspired to do another custom airbrush treatment to the underside of his '59 hood. 

Felix the Cat still lights up the sky off South Figueroa Street in Los Angeles. 
Stock '59 Impala hood.
Reyes Carrying out his vision.
The finished product. Note the effect of the film sprocket holes on the side.

Installed, this custom detail will wow anyone who pops the hood to get a better look.

As Reyes continued to work on his Impala, another old Chevy entered his life. This time, it was an earlier model build a decade before his sport coupe's. Reyes brought home a tired 1948 Chevrolet Fleetmaster Sport Sedan with lots of potential to become a curvacious cruiser once again. The work that's simultaneously gone into reviving this post-war classic is nothing short of amazing.

Reyes' Fleetmaster features fog lights, an accessory hood ornament, and ventshades among other options.

While the paint has seen better days, the car appears solid.

For the repaint, Reyes chose a simple yellow & black matte finish after sanding and priming the car.

Chevy runs deep. Three cars deep. The '48 gets primed and ready for paint outside in the Cali desert. 

After the repaint, another vintage Chevy is ready to cruise the streets once again.

The Fleetmaster standing proud with new wide whites and a coat of paint.

The '48 gets fueled up for a test fire.

As many car guys know, restoration isn't just about new paint...its about being able to enjoy your car in style. True to form, Reyes once again created a full-blown hand-made interior in the original upholstery style. This time, there was more of it left for a template, but this work is time-consuming. The attention to detail is spot-on. 

The original door panels before, and the custom-built new ones on the right. Note the original trim has been re-used.

Reyes does it again, from scratch!

The rear seat area of the '48 prior to restoration.

The same area with new uphoulstry, windlace headliner and trim reinstalled. This looks like a Cadillac

Perhaps the most fascinating part of watching Reyes' build thread on this '48 Fleetmaster has been watching him tackle the difficult task of woodgraining. Chevrolets of this era used a pattern they called butt walnut and was originally applied using a thin translucent decal over metal interior parts such as the dashboard, window trim and glovebox. Over time, this decal broke down with exposure to sunlight, and to replicate it is an artform. Using tools and some research, Reyes performed a miracle with his interior woodgrain.

After the woodgrain restoration prior to clear coat.

The finished dashboard gleams after the clear coat.

Dashboard before woodgraining restoration.

Dashboard and steering wheel after restoration.

Reyes liked the look of the woodgrain so much, that he added a few embelishments on the exterior of the car, which gives it a look similar to the hand-painted caning on the doors of British saloons of the 20's, 30's and 40's.

The woodgrained door pillars from the exterior.

All this talk about custom treatments has probably gotten some of you wondering what Reyes is going to do with the underhood of the '48, right? Don't worry, he already has the hood off and is working with a concept that features two of America's favorite past and Chevrolets. Here's a sneak peek.

The cavernous hood of the '48 Chevy leaves an artist plenty of room to work with!
Reyes is toying with doing something with a theme of "The Sandlot" under the hood. Everybody loves baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet! 

And that brings us to today, where Reyes continues to put the finishing touches on the car. After buttoning up the engine and getting the timing and valves set, he'll be ready to take the old Chevy out to the shows and cruise to Pomona swap meet to find his next project! 

Reyes takes a seat for the first time in his finished Fleetmaster interior. Enjoy the ride, brother. You've earned it. 

That's just a fraction of the work that Reyes Carillo has put into his Chevrolets over the years. I'm not kidding, I really had a tough time pairing down all the how-to and all the images Reyes has shared. At the end of the day, he's got a lot to be proud of. He's put together a few machines that otherwise would have been scrapped or left to rot somewhere, and no doubt he'll enjoy these rides for many years to come.

What's so inspiring about Reyes's projects is that he's got a can-do attitude and a lot of courage to tackle something he's never done. Metal shaping? Get a hammer and dolly and go to town. Paint? Get a spray gun and a compressor and just do it. Interior? Get a sewing machine and material to make it happen. Sure you may have some roadblocks or trial-and-error episodes, but the lessons you learn and the teaching opportunities you're given will pay you back over a lifetime. Often we're quick to give up on a restoration or large task because we just don't have the room or an ideal workshop. That's what a good friend used to call "chicken-shitting" out of something. Reyes' projects are proof that most of us can accomplish great things in a short amount of time and with the bare essentials...a pair of hands and a desire to leave your mark on the world. We're all born with those two things, but its our choice to follow through.

What's your choice going to be?

Note: A special thanks goes out to Reyes for being willing to share his talents. If I ever get out to Cali, I'll definitely give you a shout. Thanks, buddy.


Follow Along With Reyes' Build Progress  


  1. Awesome woodgraining but is this dahs spot welded in? If so howd you get it back in without wrecking your good work

  2. The dashboard on these cars are not spot welded in, I believe later model Chevies are, but I couldn't tell you the date that started. These can be bolted in and removed and reinstalled, but he did this very carefully!


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