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Down but not out: a dogged and determined big block ’37 coupe

19 September 2015


This 37 Chev coupe has had its share of hard times. But it has plenty of fight left in it yet

I was standing next to a mate on the day of Drag Masters 2 in January, 2007, discussing how bummed out I was that I wasn’t there. A matter of minutes after that conversation he received a text from a mutual friend at the drags, which simply read “massive crash”. Well my head started racing just hoping that it was a Japanese vehicle that was destroyed, but alas it wasn’t to be. I spoke with the editor but he had left before the crash and wasn’t sure who it was either. A few more calls and bingo, I found out that the ’37 Chev Coupe of Phil Grimmer had rolled at high speed several times as a result of an unfortunate hit from another vehicle. 

Let the dust settle

I got in touch with Phil a few days after the accident, allowing him time to assess the damage. We spoke for a while on the phone and he agreed to let us pop over and take some pictures of the coupe and do a story for our NZV8 readers. I was taken aback as to how willing he was to share his misfortune so openly. But, Phil is a quiet, unassuming fellow who knows that his coupe has history and that a lot of our readers would be extremely interested to know the future of the car. 

Phil has been around fast cars most of his life and runs with Wheels Inc Car Club. His brother is the infamous Wayne Grimmer, who has been at the forefront of drag racing with his many Hemi-powered machines. Phil also has a few nice rides in his shed, including a 1970 Dodge Challenger and a 1970 Pontiac circuit car. 

A new master

Now, let’s step back a little to around the time that Phil took ownership of the coupe. Paul Smith had owned the car for about a year and had decided to sell it in July 2006. While it was in Paul’s possession, the 468 big block received a full rebuild at the hands of Papakura Engine Specialists, who left no stone unturned. You name it and it has been done. I have personally read through the list of jobs performed, and frankly it would be easier to decipher the DaVinci Code if I was blind. It reads like a V8 lovers dream shopping list. Yella Terra, Milodon, Manley, ARP, Crow, JE, the list goes on. The guys at Papakura Engine Specialists built that big block to handle any torture sent its way. 

Phil had seen the car race, and when he spied the coupe for sale, he made an offer and took ownership on July 1, 2006. The coupe had found a new Master. Phil jumped in full steam ahead once getting it home. The first thing on the list was to sort out a new colour scheme. Phil is a panel beater by trade and works for long-time drag racer Ivan Jujnovich. So the coupe was stripped down and sent to Dave Levien of Levien Sand Blasters to take it back to a clean starting point.  

Getting it right

Once returned, Phil hooked into the body and got everything straight and ready for paint. Phil can’t thank Ivan and Christine Jujnovich enough for allowing him to use their facilities to prep and paint the coupe.  Paul Kendall, a work colleague, also helped to prepare the car. Phil had chosen a shade of red and shown it to painter Wayne Butler. Wayne wasn’t taken by it, so mixed up a custom red hue, which Phil just loved. Wayne worked his magic and the ’37 rolled out of the booth looking mint. The body then made its way home for assembly.

With the coupe back together, Phil felt there was something missing from the look of the coupe. Running boards. There were none. Phil enlisted Mark Blakely of B&M Engineering to fold up some custom running boards to give the body lines a more classic look. With the coupe back in one piece, lexan windows went in all round.   

The ’37 was then sent to Brendan at Rad Rides to have the rear end inspected. “Brendan did a fantastic job of setting it up,” says Phil. “I would recommend everyone I know to go to him, he is a perfectionist.”

From there it was off to Western Auto Electrical, which is owned by Phil’s brother Wayne, for a complete tidy up of all wiring. With that out of the way, the coupe was near completion. 

Phil still had another thing on his mind though, wheels and tyres. What to do, what to do? After a lot of deliberation, he finally decided to make a change. Phil searched the web until he settled on a set of Weld Racing Pro Star wheels. Tires of choice were Mickey Thompson 25/4.5R15 up front. And getting all the power to ground out back is a pair of very healthy Hoosier 32/14R15 race slicks. 

Phil was now able to stand back and admire his beautiful ’37 Chev coupe, and anticipated its first race down the track. Christmas rolled by and on December 27, 2006 the coupe was taken down to Taupo and propelled down the track, cutting a 9.769 @ 131.34mph. The coupe ran like a dream. Neil Waters had spent a lot of time fine-tuning the motor and getting the coupe to handle right. So breaking into the nines for its maiden trip out was a sure sign of better things to come.  

That fateful day

So after those initial runs at Taupo, it was time to get ready for the coupe’s next race at the Nationals in February. But before the Nationals rolled around, the opportunity arose to take the coupe down to Drag Masters. Well known drag racer Neil Waters hadn’t quite finished getting his 1970 Dodge Challenger ready, and Phil stepped up and said “Hey, why don’t you race my coupe?” Neil thought long and hard about the offer before accepting. Neil obviously knew the car well, and had already taken it down the strip several times, so eventually accepted Phil’s offer. 

Well, the coupe ran pretty well all day, and was pulling good times and straight lines. But it was that unfortunate run against Dale Buckley where the dread of all drag racers occurred. Dale’s car lost traction at the end of the track and unfortunately hit the right-hand side of the coupe. Sending it on a high-speed roll, slide, and then flip to a hard landing. The coupe didn’t appear to be in good shape at all. Most importantly however, both drivers were OK and Neil had a quick visit to Auckland Hospital and was later released with the A-OK. 

Can’t keep a good coupe down

Well, days later Phil, his brother Wayne, and Neil took another look over the coupe at home. Things didn’t look as bad as initially thought, and Phil made the decision to resurrect the coupe and not let it fade into obscurity. So the search was on for either a replacement steel body (as Phil wanted to keep it how it was built), or a coupe roof to graft on top of the otherwise pretty straight body. 

The hood, sides, and guards were all fiberglass, so those vould be remade with ease. The rear end was a bit bent from the crash, so that needed replacing. All reports indicated that the chassis was still straight and sound, so that’s a real testament to Dave Bray who built it almost two decades prior. Fortunately the engine seemed to be all 100 per cent sweet too, which is very lucky considering the amount of time and money that went into it. It wasn’t going to be cheap to put it all back together, and it required some hard yakka. But Phil was determined to get the coupe up and running as soon as possible. 

Phil extended a huge thanks to all those who helped him get the coupe ready first time round. Wayne Grimmer and Western Auto Electrical. Neil Waters for his endless commitment to helping get everything running right. Ivan and Christine Jujnovich. Dave Levien, Brendan at Rad Rides, and Mark Blakely at B&M engineering. Murray Pervan, and a huge kudos to Wayne Butler for an absolutely standout paint job. A big thanks to Lez Herst for putting together an awesome package in the first place. The coupe is a true credit to Lez and everyone that has worked on the car from its inception. And of course, Phil’s wife Sue and their children for giving him the time and support he needed to get the car finished.

Photos: Quinn Hamill /

1937 Chevrolet Coupe

  • Engine: 486ci big block Chevrolet
  • Driveline: two-stage Powerglide (built by Lez Herst). Ford nine-inch rear end. 
  • Suspension: Front: Anderson Industries front end. Custom tubular A arms, Rear: four-bar link
  • Brakes: HQ Holden discs, Austin drums. 
  • Wheels/Tyres: Front: Weld Racing Pro Star, Mickey Thompson 25/4.5R15, Rear: Weld Racing Pro Star, Hoosier 32/14R15

This article was originally published in a previous issue of NZV8. Pick up a copy of the edition here: