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Barney’s Auto Blog features a wide variety of wheels with their owners. I write about Chevys, Fords, and Chryslers, but also foreign makes, “orphans” and even fantasy cars when I find them. I think you’ll like this page if you love cars, so please share with your friends and enjoy the ride!  ~ Jeff Barnes

Back to School

Owners Share Antique Autos with History Students

By Jeff Barnes

The students of Scott Wilson’s honors history class at Central High had no idea of what awaited them when their teacher walked in and asked them to follow.

They already knew Wilson had a reputation for bringing the unusual to the study of history, but where could you find a tie-in at school with the Industrial Revolution? It turns out in the Joslyn Museum parking lot next door with eight Ford Model Ts and As, one more than a century old.

DSC_0105For the last ten years, members of the Meadowlark Model A Club and Centennial Model T Club have brought autos to Central to give history students a hands-on experience with American ingenuity and manufacturing. After the club members answer a few questions about the cars, some ask “Want to go for a ride?” That’s when the smiles pop out and the riders hop in.

Barney Deden brought one of his cars for the third year and now organizes the event. “The guys love it because the kids get so involved,” he said. “It’s the first time many of them have even seen one of these cars in person. They’ve seen films and photos of the cars, but there’s nothing like being up close, touching them, and riding in them.”

For the recent visit, the club members brought eight Fords manufactured from 1914 to 1931, including a rare 1931 Model A Sedan, one of only around 300 still in operation.

Students can see how the technology, the design, and even the marketing evolved rapidly during the Industrial Revolution through the cars. They can see how the 20 horsepower of the Model T engine doubled with the Model A. They hear about the advertisements promoting the Model A for women as being easier to drive than the Model T.

Classes had discussed Henry Ford and both cars, talked about how the manufacturing changed in a very short period of time – Model T was manufactured for 20 years before it sold 15 million; Model A sold five million in three years

They even learn about Omaha’s involvement in Ford manufacturing – the city hosted a Ford assembly plant from 1916 to 1931 which still stands, the building and water tower of which are visible from Central High’s location on Capitol Hill.

Deden said his history with the cars goes back to school. He bought his Model A coupe in high school for $5 “and then I ruined it. Then back in the ‘90s I took it apart and put it back together… and if I can, anyone can.” Deden’s grandson was a student at Central seven years ago, making it a personal trip for the car owner; now it’s an annual trip that he and club members look forward to every year.

Wilson said the visit of the cars coincides with his instruction on the post-World War I when industry was just hitting its stride. “This was at the time when America started to develop its car culture,” he said.

DSC_0012Holden Fershee, 14, one of the honors history students, said his class had learned about Henry Ford and how he started his business, why he started it, an why people wanted cars. “We had seen one of the cars in a film, but we didn’t know we’d be seeing one until we got here,” he said.

Fershee said he was impressed at how good of condition the cars were in, considering some of them were built more than a century ago. “And we learned that even as old as they are, they’re not that different from driving a manual car today,” he said.

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Gran Torino Sport Gets Second Life

Barn-Find Ford Spared from Parts-Car Finish

By Jeff Barnes

When Andrew Crouch first spotted his car on an internet forum in 2001, his plans for it were less than spectacular. The car – a 1972 Ford Gran Torino Sport – was stashed in an Iowa barn, beat up from years of drag racing. Its windows were shot out and even the rear quarter panels were a mess, dented out from a beer keg thrown around in its trunk.

Given the condition, this was going to be a parts car for Crouch, but after a week of looking at the coke-bottle styling and considering the NASCAR history of model, the Omahan decided to give the Torino another shot at life. Today, after a nine-year build and another nine on the road, he’s got a midsize muscle that finds fans everywhere it goes.

DSC_0117Crouch, 42, knows most of its history. He said the original owner in Dana, Iowa, got the car on special order, taking every performance option except the TracLok rear end. “He got the heavy duty ‘police package’ competition suspension, which was the top of the line,” he said. “He bought it for driving, but the second owner made sure that it truly lived. It got street raced and dragged raced.”

The second owner quit driving it when the cost of gas became prohibitive, buying a Ford Escort and parking the Torino in a barn in the mid 1980s. “At that point, it took a 17-year barn nap,” Crouch said.

Crouch bought the car in June 2001 and ended up spending 12 hours in unearthing it from its nap. “I aired up all four tires and got it into the light,” he said. “It had literally an inch of dust on it. Kids had knocked out its glass and mice had packed the engine compartment with walnuts, at least fifty pounds.”

When he and his wife Melanie got married in Las Vegas, he took half of the wedding-gift money for a side trip to California and a parts car for the Torino. Another trip was made to Niagara Falls to buy what Crouch believes were the last new quarter panels in existence for the car. The two-barrel 351 Cleveland engine came from a co-worker’s mother’s ’71 Torino. Front seats came from a Lincoln Mark VII and the rear seats from a mix of a ‘90s Thunderbird and a Crown Vic.

DSC_0121He spent two years block-sanding the car after taking off the vinyl roof and side trim. He credits his wife for making the push back in 2008 to get it painted for the Hot Rod Power Tour which was coming to Lincoln. Crouch got it painted in the original Medium Bright Yellow, adding black to the scheme for the hood; the paint was only seven days old when the two put 3,900 miles on it, driving from Newton, Iowa, to Mobile, Alabama and back.

“We were getting only 136 miles to the tank, too,” Crouch said, thanks to the car being geared for drag racing. The couple and the car have been on the tour every year since.

Nostalgia weighs heavy with the car. Crouch always meets those whose families or friends had a Torino, yet he doesn’t find a lot of the cars. “A lot of people bought the Torino for the transmission or engine that they put in their Mustangs, or the rear ends for other project cars,” he said. “For that reason, there’s not a lot of Torinos around. It has an amazing amount of steel, but it’s actually lighter than a Mustang of today. It’s just as wide as a brand new Mustang with a little higher roof line.”

Crouch absolutely loves driving the car. “It’s comfortable and you can still drive it fast, and if you take it up to 125 mph it wants more,” he said. “You can cruise 100 mph all day long and it won’t break a sweat.”

Cameo Takes a Starring Role

Rare Chevy Pickup Gets Rescued from North Dakota Shed

By Jeff Barnes

When Gene Schneiderman first spotted his Chevy Cameo pickup truck sitting in a North Dakota shed in 1996, he had no idea of what was really there.

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“It was covered with crap and building materials and had been sitting there for ten to twelve years,” he said, and returned to Bellevue. “My brother called me later and said the owner didn’t want it and his kids didn’t want it. The Hemmings guide said it would be worth $10,000 – I told my brother to offer him $3,000, but I wouldn’t take it if it was a basket case.”

It was anything but a basket case. What the original owner sold for the offering price was a 1958 Chevrolet Cameo Carrier, what many consider the premiere of the “sport truck” and among the most coveted trucks of the era.

DSC_0207Obviously Schneiderman got his Bombay-White-and-Cardinal-Red truck for a song. He considers his “barn find” typical of North Dakota farm culture, however. “The farmers up there buy cars-trucks-tractors and run ‘em and park them when they’re done,” chuckled Schneiderman, a North Dakota native himself. “They don’t trade them in – they just stick them in a shed or under a tree.”

The Cameo came out during the burgeoning days of Detroit in the ‘50s, when the auto manufacturers were flush with cash and willing to invest in new designs and new models, including pickup trucks. Introduced in 1955, the Cameo was meant as a luxury truck for town as well as country, sort of a “take the hogs to market on Saturday and the family to church on Sunday.” The streamlined design – featuring flat fiberglass side panels, chrome wheels, whitewalls, wraparound windshields and rear windows, carpeting, a radio and more – was an instant success with more than 5,000 sold.

By 1956, however, the novelty was starting to thin with just 1,460 sold. Chevrolet added more colors and options for 1957, boosted the engine to a 283 c.i. V8 and saw an uptick in sales, as well as competition from Ford and Dodge. But in 1958 only 1,405 Cameos were built, due to be replaced by the El Camino the following year. That means Schneiderman’s year is the rarest, with his probably the only one sold in North Dakota.

DSC_0193After his brother bought the truck for him, Schneiderman flew north, spent around $500 to get the truck running to drive back to Bellevue, and then ran into a blizzard crossing North Dakota.

“I woke up the next morning from my stay in Jamestown and found the engine packed with snow,” he said. “I was already getting about 80 miles to the quart of oil and didn’t have any heat in the truck.”

DSC_0245Schneiderman didn’t have to do much to it and used it as his daily driver for many years until its overhaul in 2008 and a repainting in the original colors. He made a painting error himself along the way. While getting the bumper re-chromed, he got the painted headlight wells chromed at the same time. “I’d never seen a truck with them painted and figured the first owner had it done, so I had them chromed too – and then found out the Cameos DID have them painted, unlike the regular Chevy trucks.”

He continues to enjoy and show the truck, and has taken it to shows across the area and as far north as Canada, winning more than fifty trophies and plaques. He plans to keep showing the Cameo and has no plans to ever sell it. “I’m giving it to my grandson,” says Schneiderman. “He manages a body shop in New Mexico, so it’ll be in the family for a long time.”

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‘Munster’ Fun with Co-Star Cars

TV Star Butch Patrick Brings in Munster Koach and Drag-U-La 

By Jeff Barnes

Alert drivers on the Northwest Radial last week might have noticed an unusual car in the next lane, looking like an elongated hot rod but also something like an old-time hearse. It’s weird enough to share the traffic with the family car from the ‘60s TV sitcom “The Munsters,” but how about knowing it was driven by Butch “Eddie Munster” Patrick?

DSC_0139Patrick was in town with both the Munster Koach and “Drag-U-La,” the coffin-theme dragster driven by “Grandpa” on the show. He owns both tribute cars, created to honor the original vehicles which appeared on the TV show. Since the original coach is between museums and no one knows the whereabouts of the dragster,  tributes are the closest true fans can come to seeing the cars. And there IS only one Eddie Munster.

Patrick – joined by his wife Leila – has been tooling across the country for the last few years with his cars. He bought them four years ago after a few years of attending events with the builder and previous owner of the cars, Rucker Posey.

DSC_0130“I met him at an event we were both attending – he was dressed as ‘Grandpa’,” said Patrick. “We made a number of appearances over the years and one day he asked if I knew anyone who might be interested in buying them.”

As a true member of the Munsters family and making appearances as such, it made sense for Patrick to buy the cars, along with the truck and trailer (which has Eddie’s pet dragon “Spot” at its front).

Patrick came to know and become friends with the “Kustom Car King” George Barris, whose shop built the originals. “I’d known him since I was on the TV show, but we reconnected at a car show when I was 30 and became friends,” said Patrick, now 65. “In fact, he introduced my wife and me to each other at a car show we were all attending.” (Barris passed away in 2015.)

A child actor starting at age 7, Patrick appeared on many TV shows of the ‘60s including “My Favorite Martian,” “Bonanza,” “Gunsmoke,” and others. But it was his casting as “Edward Wolfgang Munster,” the werewolf offspring of Herman and Lily on “The Munsters” that gave him an alternate identity for likely the rest of his life. The show ran from 1964 to 1966 and is still seen in syndication more than fifty years later, ensuring its popularity.

For a time, Patrick put the role and show business behind him, but eventually came back to embrace “Eddie” including in a cameo on “The Simpsons.” Hek now makes at least one hundred appearances a year, typically with the cars in tow. Halloween is usually booked up – in fact he was last in Omaha seven years ago for the Haunted Hallow theme park – but he’s constantly booking via his website, http://www.Munsters.com.

Weekends are filled with promoted stops at car dealerships, race tracks, festivals, and exhibitions, but he fills the weeks and routes with “mom-and-pop” stops that are easy tie-ins. For example, while on their way to the Kearney Raceway Park for July 20, the Patricks stopped in Omaha at Voodoo’s Odd Shop on the Northwest Radial Highway and at Quaker Steak and Lube in Council Bluffs for its regular Thursday night car show. At both sites, he signed autographs, sold photos, and gave rides in the coach car for a nominal fee.

DSC_0097“It lets me meet fans who can’t make it to the Comicons, and makes a few bucks to offset the cost of travel,” Patrick said. The costs do add up, with him averaging around fifty thousand miles a year with his truck and trailer. And those are some monster miles.

The Mopar Family of Malvern

Keeping Cars is Baer Family Tradition

By Jeff Barnes

An inability to part with family cars has given the Baer family of Malvern, Iowa, a fascinating sampling of Chrysler car history.

DSC_0811Starting with their grandfather’s ’37 Plymouth that he bought in 1938, the Baers always bought new and kept a 1954 Dodge Coronet, a 1966 Dodge Monaco station wagon, a 1965 Dodge pickup, and a 1970 Dodge pickup. It’s only because their father bought the Malvern Ford dealership in 1973 that the Baers didn’t keep buying a Chrysler brand.

Tom Baer, one of four brothers in the family, said their longevity with the cars was typical to many families in “going with what you know.” Baer – along with brothers Bill Jr., Linn, and Bob, their sister Sue Lawson, and mother Donna – all reunited in Malvern recently for the town’s sesquicentennial and to drive the cars in the town parade.

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The Baers with Mom – Bill Jr., Donna, Sue, Bob, Linn, and Tom.

“My grandpa was a veterinarian,” said Baer, himself an MD. “He bought the ’37 Plymouth in 1938 from a guy in Randolph and drove it all over Mills County.”

The ’54 Coronet was his grandmother’s car that she drove until her death in 1969; his brother Bill Jr. inherited the car at that point, driving it to high school and his first years of college.

 

The ’66 Dodge wagon was the Baer family, but Bill Jr. eventually replaced the ’54 with it, driving it to community college and then the University of Iowa while earning his pharmacy degree. Tom then used the car to drive to Morningside College in Sioux City and then Iowa City for his medical degree from Iowa. “My dad used to joke that this was the most educated car in southwest Iowa,” Baer said. The car still has eight years of college parking stickers on the side window.

The Baers bought the ’65 Dodge pickup to host a camper that became the home on wheels for the family; it was traded in for a ’70 Dodge pickup which still has the camper. Bill Sr. then bought the Ford dealership in ’73 and the family has bought only Fords since then.

DSC_0846In 1993, Bill Jr. and Tom decided to restore the ’37 for their father. The car was rusting away in storage and in pretty sad shape, but a successful restoration made it the senior Baer’s pride and joy. “It’s the cream of the crop of all our cars,” says Bill Jr. “Dad would never let us drive it while he was alive (Bill Sr. passed four years ago). He took it took it to several national shows and won several top awards.”

Naturally, once the first family car was restored, the others got the treatment. The pickup was finished in the early 2000s, the station wagon around 2013, and the ’54 was just restored. “We have yet to do the 4-door pickup, and it only has 40,000 miles on it,” Tom said.

The brothers are quick to point out that they don’t do the restorations themselves (“I just write the checks,” Tom jokes). But all four brothers say their love of cars is a direct gift from their father.

“Dad was a car fanatic and we grew up with that heritage,” said Bill Jr. “Lots of guys have memories of fishing with their dad; mine are of being under a car with him, holding a flashlight and handing him tools.”

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Originally published in the Omaha World-Herald, July 13, 2019

Gasser ‘n Go

Papillion Man Fulfills Hot-Rod Dream

By Jeff Barnes

Every since he was 16, Gary Sortino wanted a gasser.

The stock-appearing hot-rods reigned the drag strips from the ‘50s through the ‘70s until the emergence of Pro Stock, but the Papillion man could never keep the idea of getting a gasser from his mind.

“And I could never find one with what I wanted on it,” said Sortino, 63. “When I did find one, it would take too much work to get it where I wanted it. I flew as far as California to find one.”

Surprisingly, Sortino found one just down Interstate 80 in Lincoln in the form of a 1955 Chevy Bel Air. “I knew he had it but didn’t know he wanted to sell it,” he said. Once the deal was made last year, Sortino drove it for two to three months… and then completely gutted it in November.

DSC_0671“All I really wanted was the shell and that’s what it was,” he said. “I didn’t want to spend two to three years at a body shop – I wanted to get a gasser with the body ready to go because I can do everything else.”
And Sortino can do everything else. His first car came as a 14-year-old when his grandpa bought him a ’57 Chevy and told him to work on it until it was running; he’s been under the hood since. For the past 31 years, he’s worked for Papillion dentist Joel Janssen in rebuilding and restoring the cars and tractors in his collection, in addition to helping many four-fendered friends in their auto projects. Sortino’s had his hands on countless cars and had a better than average idea of what he wanted for his.

“Starting in the engine compartment, I got rid of everything and put in a 383 stroker with an 871 blower,” he said. “I chrome plated the front axle, added a chrome bumper, and I’m not done yet – I plan to put in as much chrome as I can.”

DSC_0646He put a fake fuel tank above the bumper which actually serves as an overflow for the radiator. “I wanted it to look functional, even if it isn’t used for fuel,” he said. The new fuel tank itself was made of polished aluminum as well as the radiator.

For the interior, Sortino tore out the steering column to replace it (naturally) with a chrome column, topped with a steering wheel Christmas present from his wife. Mickey Thompson street slicks went on the back along with chrome shocks.

“I didn’t like the bucket seats so I replaced them,” he said. “I tore the carpet out and redid the back seat so everything would be black – really a nice contrast with the yellow paint.”

DSC_0664Initially, Sortino wanted an orange car. The yellow has grown on him now and he wouldn’t dream of changing it. “It’s a perfect gasser color.”

Thanks to friends Andy, Ed, and Larry, Sortino’s extreme underbody makeover was completed by May. He said there are a couple more chrome projects he plans for the car and will continue to tinker on it to get the bugs out while taking it to car shows and cruises.

No drags are planned for the gasser, however. “It costs too much to break parts,” Sortino says.

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Beauty and the Beast

By Jeff Barnes

Among the 150 rare finds and collectibles of the Father’s Day Car Show at the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum are two gems from Speedway Motors’ Museum of American Speed, one sparing color and the other exploding with it.

The 1957 Chevy “Black Widow” and 1937 Studebaker “Extremeliner” are both extremes on the automotive spectrum meant to wow anyone who sees them, says Dylan Schwarzenbach, restoration shop manager for Speedway which is co-sponsoring the event.

DSC_0252The Black Widow is really a beast, says Schwarzenbach, built in 1997 as a stripped-down, street-legal race car. “It’s REALLY stripped down – no radio, no AC, manual locks, no heater, Pontiac Grand Prix seats,” he said. It was built by noted car builder Dale Boesch of Humphrey, Neb., wanting to create a modern version of one that Chevy put out in ’57. Once finished, the owner of Speedway Motors, the late Bill “Speedy” Smith, immediately bought it for his collection.

Exterior- and interior-wise, this car is BLACK; there is a moss-green tinge to it which mostly shows in sunlight. The only break from the color comes when you pop the hood to see the fuel-injected, 502 crate engine and find chrome EVERYWHERE. “The intake, valve covers, everything is chrome,” Schwarzenbach says. “It’s kind of like a jewelry box.”

The SAC Car Show is also somewhat of a coming-out party for the ’37 Studebaker Extremeliner. This build is also from the ‘90s, completed by Ken Fenical of the famed Posies Rods and Customs and its one-off art-deco cars.

Typical of much of Fenical’s work, the finished car looks little like the original. Indeed, the Extremeliner looks like a butterfly that could have emerged from a caterpillar’s chrysalis. The most obvious feature of the car is its shimmering paint job of “Luminescent Gold Razzleberry,” a special paint made by PPG made for the car at about $2,000 a gallon. But the effect is worth it – the car flip-flops its colors, going from an extreme gold to bright pink to yellow in the sunlight.

Even under museum lighting the car shines, but it’s there that the styling truly speaks for itself. The car has elements of a ’30 Cord 810/812 and a Lincoln Zephyr. It’s built on a one-off tubular steel frame, with coil-over-shocks front suspension. The car rides incredibly low, Schwarzenbach says, “but it drives right along and doesn’t rub anywhere – it drives like a Civic.

He said the neat part of the car is that the wood frame is simulated. “It’s fiberglass, airbrushed and hand-painted, right down to the knotholes,” he said.

Speedway Motors was a longtime supplier of Posies’ shop and the owners of both businesses were friends. “Bill Smith was there when the car was unveiled at SEMA in 1999 and was always a fan,” Schwarzenbach said. “The car was sold in 2006 at auction and then again in 2010 and that’s when Bill bought it.”

The museum hadn’t done much with the car since Smith’s passing in 2014, but then came an invite to display it at this year’s annual Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance for a Posies retrospective. “We won the Corporate Award for the Most Audacious Exterior at the Concours,” Schwarzenbach said. “The Concours show sort of breathed new life into the car and we really want to show it off more.”

The auto show will be at the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum on Saturday, June 15 and Sunday, June 16, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. General admission applies but the show is included in admission.

Originally published in the Omaha World-Herald, June 1, 2019.

’59 VW Beetle Turns on the Charm

By Jeff Barnes

Dan Nedved’s Volkswagen Beetle is a little special, and then a little more special.

It’s a 1959 convertible, which starts out as being hard to find. His is a Karmann Cabriolet, which is a bit more than a Beetle with a folding top. And making it even more special, this is a bug not meant for America – this is the European version.

That means Nedved’s bug is one with differences that aren’t readily apparent. The biggest one is that it doesn’t indicate turns via the taillights but on the side with semaphores. A flip of the turn switch flips up a little lighted wing on the appropriate side, giving the bug just that much more charm.

“I’m a gadgets guy,” says Nedved. “This version would never have come to the states, so it’s really neat to have one.”

Developed by Wilhelm Karmann in 1948, the car compensates for the lack of a roof by strengthening the sills, the edge of the rear seat, and the side cowl-panels below the instrument panel. The canvas cover itself is of three layers including a mohair headliner, which conceals the folding mechanism and crossbars.

“It has as nice a top as you would have found on a Mercedes,” Nedved states. “To put one on is not for a novice.”

The Cabriolet got a lot more features than the typical sedan, including dual rear ashtrays, twin map pockets, a visor vanity mirror on the passenger side, and rear stone shields. Nedved says he’s a big fan of bells and buzzers, so this has all kinds of little tricks to it, like a locking glove box, a locking steering column, and a locking stick shift.

The restored ’59 just had its coming-out party last month’s World of Wheels. The restoration only has 13 miles on it and – meeting at Memorial Park for a photo shoot under drizzly skies – “it’s never had rain on it,” Nedved added.

Although he knows the date and place of manufacture, Nedved has no idea of how the European-market car made it stateside. He does know the previous owner in Denver spent about ten years trying to do a restoration for the project car but not quite to perfection. For example, using fenders from a ’67 Beetle instead of finding the correct ones.

Nedved – who’s owned two Beetles and seven VW buses – bought it in 2008 and then put a decade into it himself as he attempted to make it as stock as possible. He got the interior done via Lenny Copp in California, for period-correct seats and door panels and Chuck’s Convertibles for the unusual trim required for the top. Finally, the car’s been at Air-Cooled Express in Bennington for its 1300-cc engine and more for the last two years.

“It’s actually taken that long to repair it,” Nedved said. “Mike (at Air-Cooled Express) would get something done and find he needed a part, and then I’d have to track down the part.”

The car’s color – Stratus Silver – is period correct for the car but has a little metal flake to it. The wheels aren’t period correct and neither is the lowering of the front end,”but I thought it was a nice touch,” Nedved said.

The owner of Faces Day Spa in Omaha, Nedved said his Beetle is the automotive equivalent of what his shop does for people. “It’s aesthetics of taking care, and providing beauty and style… and that’s what this car is doing for me,” he said.

Originally published in the Omaha World-Herald, April 13, 2019

Gremlin Grabs a Return Trip

X marks the spot for ’72 AMC Gremlin’s resto-mod

by Jeff Barnes

You never forget your high-school car. Sometimes if you want it bad enough, you can get it back. Other times if you want it bad enough and can’t find it, you just rebuild it.

Ed Veneck had a great little high-school hot rod in his 1972 AMC Gremlin X. He bought one new in 1972 and hot-rodded it out with a new intake, cam, header and four-speed.

 

“Then I got into stock car racing and sold it when I needed a truck,” he said. “I tried to find it in the ‘90s. This was pre-internet – I was placing ads in the Thrifty Nickel and other places to see if anyone had it or knew where it was.”

Not giving up on the search for his original, Veneck decided he couldn’t wait to re-create his long-lost love. After finding a white ’72 Gremlin in Pender, Nebraska, he spent much of the last thirteen years in recreating his ex-X for its debut at this month’s World of Wheels show at the CHI Health Center.

“I drove it onto the floor with one mile on the odometer,” said Veneck, 65. “The best compliment I got when I fired it up was ‘G—d—, that thing is bada–!”

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The aggressiveness Veneck put into his car belies its subcompact status. The Gremlin debuted in 1970 as a kind-of-cute, kind-of-controversial competitor to the Chevy Vega and Ford Pinto. AMC wanted a car to meet the subcompact demand but took some shortcuts along the way, the biggest of which was taking its Hornet and making it shorter, lobbing a foot and a half off the end and shortening its wheelbase by a foot. Retaining the hood length of the Hornet and raising its tail made it seem like a longer car, although it was only two inches longer than a VW beetle.

Veneck bought his second Gremlin in 2006 after being told it was a Texas car and rust-free. Well, just a little rust. OK, when home and on the rotisserie, quite a bit more rust. Veneck ended up replacing both rockers, “but otherwise it was mostly little nicks and dings.”

 

He had sort of a start-stop relationship with the restoration but went at it in earnest in 2015, “and I’ve been at it since putting the last hose right before the World of Wheels,” he said.

Veneck did the paint job himself, covering the car with the “Stardust Silver” paint used on his first ’72 Gremlin and available only that year. Naturally, he had to add the Gremlin X trim package for side stripes, front facia, 70-inch tires, and other appearance features. He dyed the blue panels black, replaced the bench seat with buckets (to be replaced with original buckets once refinished), and built his own dash display. Under the hood, the new 401 engine is joined with a new aluminum radiator and Edelbrock headers, and a T-5 five-speed transmission. Everything else in the power and drive train is era-appropriate, right down to the stickers.

When he bought this car, the only option it had with it was an AM radio. Veneck found an original AMC air conditioner in a Hornet at a U-Pull-It. The Gremlin X came with an inflatable spare and canned air just to give it a little more space in its trunk. Veneck actually found a 45-year-old bottle of air and the spare in a junkyard in Minnesota.

Veneck said he still has to shake out some bugs with the car and tone down the muffler a bit, but it’s now on tap to hit the show-and-shines and the cruises. Is the enjoyment from 45 years ago still there? “OH yeah,” he grins. “Gremlins are amazing to drive.”

Triple Timer

’38 Chevy Coupe Back with Family for Third Time

By Jeff Barnes

It’s not unusual for someone to sell a collector car and buy it back if they miss it enough. For the Chaleks of Bellevue, that turned into three different family members selling and buying it over 60 years.

Dave Chalek is the newest owner of the 1938 Chevrolet coupe after his dad owned it in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s and his brother in the ‘70s and ‘80s. The return to town is more than thirty years after the Chaleks thought they’d seen the last of the Chevy.

_DSC0017The story begins in 1956 when Bob Chalek Sr. bought it as a junker for $85. “I had a ’55 Chevy that I drove to work until someone keyed it,” he said. “(The coupe) was running on five cylinders, just a high-school kid’s car and in primer when I got it.” It became his daily driver but he also used it to take his wife to the hospital when his first son, Bob Jr., was born.

The senior Chalek began working on the car and got it running right, trading out the original engine for a ’54 235 hp 6-cylinder and then a ’55 V-8, and having body and upholstery finished off. He painted it Limefire Green, which was used as a 1957 Pontiac color. He sold the car in 1961 and saw its second owner taking it to shows and winning trophies, and even getting a feature story in Car Craft magazine.

In 1977, a family friend saw the coupe on an Omaha car lot. Bob Jr. had graduated from high school and he bought it this time for $1,600. He completed the resto-mod, with new glass, mechanics, transmission train and interior, plus putting regular bumpers back on the car. He got it to the point where it was displayed at the World of Wheels at the Civic Auditorium in the mid ‘80s, but then sold it in 1986 when buying a house. Unfortunately, street rods weren’t hot then, at least if you were a seller. “I gave it away,” he said. “I knew how much I’d put into it – I asked $14,000 but only got $8,500.”

The Chaleks (owners of Chalek’s Auto Body in Bellevue) said the car stuck around Omaha for about a month before it went off to California and disappeared for three decades. Then – two years ago – a California friend found the car at a swap meet. “He sent us a photo and I blew up the photo to get the phone number off the window sign,” Dave said. He immediately called and found out it had sold; the seller wouldn’t name the buyer but said it was going to Bakersfield.

Dave then played a waiting game. He watched Craig’s List for two years and sure enough, the owner listed the car on Craig’s List this past January. After first balking, the seller relented in April and the ’38 coupe was back in Bellevue in May.

Dave declined to say what he paid for the car, “but he pretty much knew he could get his asking price.” He’s happy with the buy, however, getting an appraisal that’s higher than his purchase price.  “It’s unheard of to find a body like this and it weathered well,” he said. “It was in storage for the last twenty years so the only thing I really had to do was buff it out.”

Dave did change out the tires (“I’m not a whitewall guy.”) but was happy to see the last owner added air conditioning, stereo, and new gauges. “The only thing I might do is add turn signals,” he said.

Harley Heaven

Jeweler sets two-wheeled gems in shop basement

By Jeff Barnes

As soon as Russ Kathol restored his first Harley, he knew he’d be doing another. Now the Plattsmouth jeweler doesn’t know when he’ll stop.

Within his “dungeon” – aka, the basement of his Main Street jewelry store – Kathol has spent the last few years building motorcycles, specifically late ‘40s/early ‘50s-era two-stroke Harley Davidsons. The count is at six so far, but he’s got a couple more waiting in the wings.

Kathol finished his first Harley two years ago; it was a ’48 once owned by his father as a teenager to commute to school. The bike had deteriorated badly over years of being outdoors and being in storage until Kathol decided to restore it for his dad as a Thanksgiving gift. Repainted yellow (based on the color of a Skittles candy), Kathol was hooked on restoration/modification of the Harleys.

Kathol doesn’t buy intact bikes. “Everything I have was either pieced together or bought partially completed,” he said. “I’ll buy a whole motorcycle just to get the rack and gas tank.” Some parts are common – like brakes, levers, and horns – while seats and light assemblies are hard to find, with headlight assemblies going for up to $800. He’s on the Internet at least twice daily looking for parts he needs, getting original whenever possible.

He takes around five months to complete each restoration, aided by a friend who Kathol says knows much more about the bikes and their operation than he ever will. “He has taught me SO much,” he said, “but I know pieces, parts, and what I need.” Another friend with a tire shop helps out with the welding and powder coating.

After completing a few bikes to add different colors of the Skittle spectrum (green, orange, and purple), Kathol decided to branch out a bit and make bikes with a theme. A long-time employee who died of breast cancer was the inspiration of a pink memorial Harley. The next one will have a Huskers theme, painted in white with a red stripe down the center, and a genuine stitched pigskin leather seat. The one after that is a military tribute, and adds a sidecar to a 1965 Harley 50cc.

He just bought a blue one to fully restore but has no plans for red. “There are so many of those out there already,” Kathol said.

Kathol admits that his motorcycles are an addiction that he’s not willing to kick – not just yet anyway. “I’m NOT trying to become a museum,” he laughed. “My wife and I bought an old church that’ll become our home. It’s got a 9,000-square-foot garage and we’ll have most of them displayed there.”

He said the orange cycle will be his daily driver to work and they will always have one on display in the jewelry store, typically in the front window where the yellow one is now located.

The nostalgia factor is huge with the bikes – their size and price made them popular with first-time motorcycle owners and many of those who rode one in their youth love to see them again.

“I always have customers walking in to see what I’m working on now, and once in awhile they might buy a ring or something,” Kathol said. “I’m always hoping someone will walk by, see the bike, and walk in saying ‘Hey, I’ve got an old Harley you might be interested in…’”

Patriotic Spirit

Omahan Restores 1924 Ford Model TT Truck

By Jeff Barnes

It was six years ago that Barney Deden had finished a 1925 Model T pickup and announced in a feature article on the truck that he was looking for another project.

“I got a call about two months later from a man who said ‘I’ve got your project’,” Deden said. What was offered was a 1924 Ford Model TT truck; for the previous thirty years the owner drove it sporadically with plans to restore it but never did and now wanted to sell it.

Deden took the bait. “It was old and different and I was ready for another restoration,” he said. This one WAS different. He’s not 100-percent sure, but strongly suspects the truck is a Patriot, manufactured in Lincoln.

The Patriot was built by Lincoln businessman A. G. Hebb to take advantage of the versatility of the Model T. Starting in 1913, Hebb manufactured truck bodies that fit on the chassis, providing a new hauler for farmers who’d previously relied on horses; Ford and Chevy didn’t even offer trucks until 1917. The Lincolnite did booming business through World War I until a post-war depression brought bankruptcy and a forced sale in 1924, the year of Deden’s truck. The new owners continued manufacture of the Patriot through 1932.

Deden knows most of its history. A Ford dealer in Beatrice sold it to a Crete farmer named T. A. Moneypenny, and when he died it went to his step-son and wife in Pleasant Dale. That man sold it to Jerry Martin in Omaha around 1980 and that’s the man who contacted Deden in 2011 to sell it.

Deden immediately went to work on a complete restoration for the truck. Friends helped move it to his shop off Grover Street where he did the disassembly, cleaning and restoration from the frame up. The chassis was in fairly decent shape except for a badly worn worm-drive/crown-wheel rear axle for which a friend had a replacement with a Ruckstell differential.

There were just a few dents in the fenders and hood that had to be repaired. Most of the attention was spent on restoring the crank engine and Deden did a great job – in both instances during the interview in which he needed to start it, it started on the first and only crank.

Deden repaired the wooden cab himself, replacing the roof, back and some of the side windows with poplar. The truck originally was a dark green, one of two colors offered at the time along with black. “I thought that was kind of boring,” he said. “My last truck was a caramel color and I kind of liked that, so I made this just a little darker.”

He replaced the entire the wooden box, using red oak. “I did it for my last truck, too,” he said. “I’m not a woodworker – I just took my time.” He also stripped the spoke wheels of their black paint for the original natural hickory. The finished restoration was completed in March 2015.

The cab has a very simple construction. The doors swing open on hinges and are held open by a simple clasp on the cab. There’s no crank for the window on the driver’s side – you slide it by hand to have it open or closed.

Deden is fairly tall and with the narrow door and protruding steering wheel, he can only enter the truck from the passenger side. “I originally had the (bench) seat with four inches of foam on the back, but when I got in I found I was being pressed into the steering wheel,” he said. “I had to replace it with about an inch so I could sit to drive it.”

(Originally published in the Omaha World-Herald, Sept. 10, 2017)

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