Larry Neville of the Legendary Neville Brothers

By: Abigail Murphy and Harrison Power

In 1947, twin brothers Willis and Willard Neville opened up the classic institution that we know today as Neville Brothers. Located at 723 Needham Street and recognizable by the beautiful cars and murals that grace the exterior of the building, Neville Bros is known as a historical landmark and a staple for those in the Modesto Graffiti and Classic Car community. Today, Larry Neville, car expert and classic car restorer and owner, owns and operates the legendary shop started by his family. Many classic car owners only trust Neville Bros. to work on and respect their classic cars. The stories and cars that have passed through Neville Bros over the years have been at the heart of Modesto USA. We talked with owner Larry to learn more about his experiences growing up in Modesto and how Neville Bros. has evolved over the years.

ModestoView: Did you work in the shop when you were young?
Larry Neville: Yeah, my uncle, Willis, and dad, Willard, ran the shop. I was going down there, heck, when I was 8-10 and crawling over things and washing windows and checking the air in the tires. My dad was more of the business guy and my uncle was more of the prankster who worked on the cars. The Neville family was a big family in Modesto back in the day, in the late 20s and 30s. A lot of businesses opened in the late 40s. The war was over and people got their GI bill and opened up businesses in town. When I was old enough to drive, I wanted a blue and white 1955 Chevy, but I got my uncle’s car instead, it was a puke green 1947 truck. You know what they say, the guys who work on cars are the last to work on their own. I still have it. I always say I’m going to fix it up again, but I still have it at the shop.

MV: Has Neville Bros been continuously open since 1947?
LN: Oh yeah. It’s always been my dad and my uncle, then my dad and me, and now just me. It was just a standard garage, it started as a Hancock gas station.

MV: Where did you go to high school?
LN: Downey – Class of 1973. Then I went to MJC for a couple years, but I always knew where I was going to end up. I learned at the shop as I went and it was neat.

MV: Were you a regular “cruiser”? If so, what was the best part?
LN: Oh yeah. When the movie [American Graffiti] came out, people got excited about cruising again. It wasn’t like the original cruising like the movie out on 10th Street, but more down McHenry down to McHenry Village by where To-Gos is now. When the mall opened up, it really spread out the cruise that way, but a lot of downtown businesses suffered. We had a great time in those days. Some of the cops definitely knew my car around town. That part is like the movie. But, we started a car club called the Modesto Area Truckers and we would all hang out. In the 1980s, we started hosting car shows for charity. It was a nice way to have fun together, but also to raise money for causes that did good in our community.

MV: We have heard of the Modesto Area Truckers! How did you come up with the logo – we love it.
LN: It was a little bit of everybody – there were about three or four of us that came up with it. We took a little bit of each. The guy stomping his foot – that was a big thing then. At the time it was all VANS and the buses were worth nothing at the time, but we still have our trucks and get together from time to time.

MV: What’s your favorite car you’ve ever owned? Do you have a dream car?
LN: I love corvettes. It’s what I drive today, but I guess if I had a dream car…that’s a tough question. I guess something really classic and over the top like an old Duesenberg or a classic Ferrari.

MV: A lot of people are stuck at home working on house and car projects, but Graffiti Summer has gone “virtual”, has that changed the work on the classic cars in your shop?
LN: No, it’s a little this a little of that. They would always keep their car together because they couldn’t take it apart because Graffiti was coming up. But right now, people have a little more time on their hands and are taking on some projects they have waited to do for awhile.

MV: Your family and your shop are Modesto legends. How have you seen the community change over the years? Is there anything you miss? Anything you are happy has changed?
LN: Well, back in the 50s, 60s, and 70s it was so different – everything operated on a handshake. If you still had work on a car and it was 6-8 o’clock, you would stay and get it done because you said you would. Now cars are more of just transportation to people. Back in the day, your car was a lot of money to spend and we all had a lot of pride for our cars. Sometimes I like seeing the new cars, you know, the 2019 and 2020 models, but they’re all automatic and they don’t make the same sounds and it’s not the same experience.

Larry is one of the best and classic car guys in town, operating a business that has been at the heart of Modesto since 1947 – call him today at 209-523-5038 for some classic Modestocana tune ups and to support local business!

About the Author: