Love and Chrome: Dorseys keep Chevy memories alive

Michael O'Donnell/For the Journal Sue and Clay Dorsey show off the 1948 Chevy Fleetmaster they have restored at the Chrome in the Dome showcase at Idaho State University's Holt Arena in Pocatello. The event continues through today.

Michael O’Donnell/For the Journal
Sue and Clay Dorsey show off the 1948 Chevy Fleetmaster they have restored at the Chrome in the Dome showcase at Idaho State University’s Holt Arena in Pocatello. The event continues through today.

POCATELLO — There are many love stories on wheels on display at the annual Chrome in the Dome event inside Idaho State University’s Holt Arena, which started Friday and will continue today from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Among them is a 1948 Chevy Fleetmaster with the optional wood paneling kit restored by Clay and Susan Dorsey of Pocatello. The love affair dates back to Sue’s college days at Idaho State College, where she met her husband, Clay.

In 1959, Sue Herzog had graduated from Pocatello High School and had started her classes to obtain a degree in special education from Idaho State. Sue’s father, Jim Herzog, owned and operated an auto service shop on South Fifth Avenue near the campus. So he told her she didn’t need to worry about getting to and from classes. He’d drive her to campus each day.

“That lasted three days,” Sue recalled.

Her father decided his college daughter needed her own car, so he purchased a blue 1948 Chevy Fleetmaster for her to drive. And the car kept going for years.

It had its quirks, including windshield wipers based on a vacuum system that would stop clearing the windows as soon as she hit the accelerator. Since Sue’s family lived up in the Johnny Creek area, winter driving could be a little tricky when punching the accelerator brought an instant lack of visibility.

“She got pretty good at it,” Clay said about the driving abilities of his wife of nearly 55 years.

After they married in June 1962 and started raising a family of four children, the old Chevy was replaced by a station wagon. But Clay — a car nut who rebuilt his first car at age 13 — always wanted to bring the ‘48 Chevy back into Sue’s life.

Clay shopped hard. And one day about 12 years ago he saw an ad in the Thrifty Nickel that listed a 1948 Chevy Fleetmaster for sale in Blackfoot.

“The ad said it was 90 percent restored,” Clay said with a chuckle.

Although the exterior was in pretty good shape with a quality paint job, the interior was trashed. And the mechanical systems needed a lot of TLC. A project was born and Clay and his oldest son, Clay Jr., went to work.

And that project went the extra mile.

According to Clay, the Fleetmaster at the time had a dealer option to add wood panels to the exterior.

“It was supposed to compete with the Chrysler Town and Country, and the Ford Sportsman,” Clay said.

However, securing the original “woody” look proved to be a challenge. Clay said he spent hours on the Internet talking to other auto enthusiasts before finally securing a kit in California that was shipped to him.

The panel system is attached to the car with 36 stainless steel screws on each side.

“The hardest thing was to drill that first hole in the side of a car with no flaws,” Clay said.

Of course, the father-and-son team made a lot of mock-ups and test fittings before pushing a drill bit into the body of that Chevy. The end result is a show stopper at Chrome in the Dome.

The wood panels on the shiny black Chevy are protected by layers of marine spar varnish and set the vehicle apart from the many stunning trucks and cars on display inside Holt Arena.

“Sue liked it when it was just black, but she really likes the wood,” Clay said.

“When I saw this again, I was tickled to death,” Sue said.

To help people understand the history of the 1948 Chevy, Clay has reconstructed the original sticker tag and has it affixed to the rear window of the two-door beauty.

The car came with an inline six-cylinder engine and a three-speed manual transmission. Adding to its external looks was a large visor over the front windshield. Options included the banjo-style steering wheel and chrome fender guards.

The price of the Chevy the day it rolled off the lot — without the wood panels — was $1,776.

But it’s impossible to put a price on the smiles that the fully restored car brings to the faces of Clay and Sue.

They both graduated from Idaho State — Clay with the degree in marketing and Sue with one in special education. He’s retired from his job as an industrial sales representative and 28 years in the National Guard. Sue spent three years as a full-time teacher at Lincoln Elementary and many years as a substitute in School District 25 before retiring.

The Dorseys have four children, Clay Jr., Karen, Chris and Katie, all Pocatello residents, and 14 grandchildren.

And they also have a handsome Chevrolet that ties their past and present together.