Ragtop Rarity

Olds Starfire Restored to Mid-‘60s Glory

By Jeff Barnes

(Originally published in the Omaha World-Herald, December 2010)

Unless you were an Oldsmobile dealer, you probably haven’t seen a car like Dennis Heath’s.

The Omahan says his 1964 Olds Starfire convertible was and is a rarity. Popularity for the model had declined since its introduction in 1961, and by 1964 only 2,410 Starfire convertibles were built. He said it was the most expensive Oldsmobile you could buy in 1964, and at $5,800, “it even cost more than a Corvette at the time.”

What made the car so expensive was some tooling unique to the Starfire and a galaxy of options. Heath’s car is loaded, with a tachometer in the dash (not available in any other Olds), a 394 cid V-8 high-compression engine, turning lights, an automatic headlight dimmer, power vent windows, vacuum-powered transmission release, seat belts and about a dozen others. Among the more curious are the radio’s “wonder bar”; push the bar (or a button on the floor) and the radio changes to a random station. The speedometer has something called a “safety sentinel” which lets you set a speed limit then audibly warns you when you reach it.

“There are probably no more than a hundred cars like this one,” said Heath, 52. “It’s a rare car, but for those not familiar with it, it’s just a big car.”

This was the fourth restoration for Heath, who had also done a couple mid-‘60s T-Birds and an SS Chevelle. Those were all sold, but the Starfire he kept. “I’d always wanted a convertible,” he said. “There’s just something about them. Plus I couldn’t afford another one.”

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Unbelievably enough, his Olds was first used as a chase car for an assistant police chief in West Des Moines. After a few years of public service, it wound up with a Council Bluffs friend of his who wanted to restore it. “It sat in his barn for years, but that’s the way it is when you’ve got a lot of projects,” he said. Heath asked the friend about the car and ended up buying it from him for $800; he technically became only the second owner on the car since the friend never titled it.

That was in 1989. Every week, for the next three years, Heath – a service writer for Superior Honda – worked on the frame-up restoration, taking out every nut and bolt he could. The project was all done in his driveway, except for the painting which was done by his brother-in-law.

The result is an all-original beauty. On the inside, the carpeting and side panels are original and only the front of the front seats needed replacement. Heath has the original owner’s manual and service manuals; he even has the original pouch to hold the convertible top’s cover.

After he had finished the restoration, he took the car to the Mid-America Olds Nationals in 1992, that year held in Omaha. He won a first-place trophy.

Heath and his wife Carol don’t drive it a lot – it has 88,741 miles on it now and that’s very close to what it was when he bought it. “I take it out on nice days and for the occasional car show, just to keep the battery up,” he said.

Carol said the car wasn’t particularly loved by their daughters Megan and Kara when they were young (daughter Allison has come along since then). “They always complained about freezing in the back seat,” she said. “We almost always had to pull over to Target to buy them more clothes to keep warm.”

Of course, when the girls grew up and got married, the Starfire became the “just married” car for photographs – it just didn’t get too far out of Heath’s eyesight, however.

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Cinderella Porsche

Omahan Shares Rare 356 Pre-A with Midlands International

By Jeff Barnes

(Originally published in the Omaha World-Herald, January 2016)

When you attend the Midlands International Auto Show at the CenturyLink Center (January 28-31) you’ll see what’s truly a Cinderella story of automobiles – a workaday car suddenly invited to the big dance by a prince, with that new existence just as abruptly snatched away by misfortune.

To be sure, Loren Fairbanks’ 1953 Porsche 356 Pre-A has always been a highly desired luxury sports car as Porsche’s first production model. It’s almost amazing that after the car was imported to the United States, it was used as a daily driver for many years in Atlanta. But then the Fishsilver-Grey auto took a turn that borders on the amazing.

“It came into the possession of Olaf Lang, an American who became fascinated with Porsche as a teenager,” said Fairbanks. “He traveled to Germany for Porsche, stayed on as an apprentice and to work with the company, and went on to become their lead historian.”

1953 Porsche 356 Pre-ALang actually became very well known and respected in the 1990s as THE source of accurate, definitive information on individual Porsches, with historians and writers frequently consulting him on confusing details of early models. He was highly adept at translating Porsche literature into English, and on weekends he even offered instruction at the company’s customer driving schools.

Lang was also a successful race driver, and it was with this very 356 Pre-A that he planned to enter the Carrera Panamerican race in Mexico with Austrian Porsche Cup driver Thomas Gruber. After acquiring the car in 1999, he sent it to a race shop in Sarasota, Florida, to be prepared for the grueling race.

“They took the engine out and a shop in California turned it into a high-performance race engine, adapted from the C-Class 356,” Fairbanks said. “They were using the suspension from the C-Class. The brakes were modified entirely without changing their appearance. All of the glass was replaced with Lexan except the windshield. They installed an oil cooler down low in the front. The fuel tank was modified into a fuel cell, and a roll cage was installed. But otherwise it was stripped down as much as possible – they even took the Porsche emblem off the dash.”

1953 Porsche 356 Pre-AAnd then – quite unexpectedly – Olaf Lang died. The joint racing venture ended and the Porsche 356 –on the fast track for racing – was instead sent to the pits as an uncompleted orphan. The car was sold by the shop to a local collector and then got passed around between three different parties for a number of years before Fairbanks’ son Trent found the car for him in Columbus, Ohio, and persuaded him to make the buy about a year and a half ago.

“It’s a beautiful example of what can be done to modify one of these,” said Fairbanks. “It has so many different and special modifications to it, but it still maintains as original an appearance as possible to how a Pre-A race car looked. We’ve tried to make it more street ready, and took out the roll cage but left the race seat belt restraints. But we haven’t really done too much to it.”

Fairbanks is the former owner of a farm equipment dealership in Kearney before moving to Omaha to be closer to family. He’s currently restoring a 1965 Porsche 356C Coupe, and also has an Austin-Healey 100-4 and 1962 Triumph TR3V.

The ’53 Porsche, however, is getting the attention right now. “I love it and enjoy driving it, just a little every now and then,” Fairbanks said. “I’ve had it at just a few local shows, had it at the Joslyn Castle (Car Classic) last year. It is truly a beautiful car.”

Devil in Black

1956 Cadillac Coupe de Ville more stylish than sinister

By Jeff Barnes

(Originally published in the Omaha World-Herald in May 2012)

To be honest, Doug Steensma’s 1956 Cadillac Coupe de Ville looks more like something one of his clients would be driving a half century ago rather than what he’d be driving today. The black-on-black Caddy almost seems more suited to an underworld boss than for someone who serves as a U.S. probation officer.

Steensma, 43, isn’t sure why he had the craving for a Caddy. “I wasn’t around when these were around,” he said. “No one in the family had one. I once asked my grandfather about them and he said ‘Cadillacs are for rich people and we’re not rich’.”

But he’s been fascinated by the cars since the ‘80s, looking them up at auto shows and doing research on them. He came to think it would be cool to have a Cadillac, in particular one of the Series 62 made from 1954-’56. “Its fins were subtle, not pointed like the following year. I knew this was the period that I wanted.”

Finding one locally proved impossible. While visiting his sister in Minneapolis in 2006, however, he was able to track this one down at a consignment auto dealer in nearby Watertown, Minn.

“It was in a huge warehouse and the place was a dump,” Steensma said. “I walked in and there it was in the middle of about 75 other cars. It was covered in dust, but it was a dream for me.” Unfortunately, the price tag was $35,000 and entirely out of his price range.

He came home to Omaha and continued to look without success for about a year. After discussing the car with his father, he decided to call the dealership with a much lower offer. “I was offering $24,500; the dealer said ‘Let me call the owner and see what he says’,” Steensma said. “The call came back and he said the owner would sell it for $25,000. I pretty much had to take it at that price – all that was left was to sell it to my wife (Tami).”

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The car really was in great shape, said Steensma. The owner said he’d spent $25,000 getting it to look like it did with new upholstery, a rebuilt engine, rebuilt gauges, a new headliner, and restored chrome. “The chrome itself was $14,000,” he said. “He had all the receipts so I knew the work had been done. I drove it and had no idea about how it should ride or what it should sound like, but felt like I was buying something I’d feel good about.”

He trailered it home to Omaha because he had some suspicions about the transmission. Sure enough, the transmission went out the following year and cost almost $3,000 to fix.

Steensma’s Coupe de Ville is one of 25,000 built in 1956. “It wasn’t Cadillac’s best seller that year,” he said. “The Sedan de Ville was – it was built without the ‘B’ column allowing the side windows to be completely open like the coupe.” Still, this is a BIG car – 221 inches long and weighing 4,500 pounds.

The car is unique enough to appear at the upcoming Joslyn Castle Classic Show on Sunday, July 29, 2012, featuring specially selected automobiles and motorcycles from the 1900s to the 1960s.

Steensma said the car runs great at 60 mph, but he has never taken it outside of Douglas County. “The Joslyn show will be the furthest I’ve driven it,” he said. “It has some electrical problems and some leaks. If those were fixed I’d feel comfortable taking it further.”

He’s done some research on the car since buying it. After making contact with the two previous owners in Minnesota, he found out the car had once been in a museum in Kentucky and was purchased new by a Pasadena, Cal., man. “He got it with the differential allowing better acceleration, so he obviously wanted more speed,” Steensma said.

Ragtop Resurrection

Austin-Healey Owner Hangs On in Restoration Nightmare

By Jeff Barnes

(Originally published in the Omaha World-Herald, July 2014)

It’s doubtful many more of the cars featured at the July 27th Joslyn Castle Car Classic went through the restoration hell of John Rued’s 1953 Austin-Healey.

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At 6’5 ½”, Rued moved the driver’s seat back and the foot well forward to sit comfortably in his ’53 Austin-Healey. The car is no longer a “ragtop” since the adjustment took away the top’s storage space.

The retired Air Force navigator has owned the car for 33 years, only five which had it on the road. The rest of those years were spent getting passed from restoration shop to restoration shop, almost always to the detriment of the spunky little sports car.

Rued grew up in California with a love for an Austin-Healey convertible. “It goes back to my mom,” said the 51-year-old, now a flight instructor at Advanced Air at the Council Bluffs Airport. “She had a ‘54 in college and told us of her exploits with it and pointed them out on the road every time we saw one. As far as I was concerned, it was the only car I ever wanted.”

He finally had his chance at age 18 when pedaling his bike past the home of a collector with four of the British imports in his front drive. The owner said he was interested in selling, “but added there was no way I’d be able to afford any of them,” Rued said. “He did say, however, that he had another one in a chicken shed and if he could get it started, he’d sell it to me for two-thousand dollars.”

The chicken-shed special DID start. Rued bought it and drove the ragtop for the first two years, but it was while cruising with a buddy along scenic California Highway 1 that the car blew a head gasket. “I was trying to get home as fast as I could on three cylinders,” he said, “when I sheared a hub stud and we started to fishtail wildly.”

The car sat while Rued began his Air Force career. He finally got the Austin-Healey into a restoration shop in southern California – and saw about 25 years of misfortune take place. The first shop went out of business, so the car was moved to a second shop that was hit and closed by the Northridge earthquake of 1994. The next shop went out of business when the owner died (causing Rued to wrestle with a realtor, insurer, and executor before getting it back).

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“That guy wasn’t truly a restorer, though,” he said. “For example, I found Bondo was used on the frame. I got it into a quality shop at that point, but that guy was used to people who threw money at their cars – I was a navigator in the Air Force and very budget inclined. I had to pull the car back.”

Compounding the problems was Rued’s being stationed at Dallas “and every time I moved the car from one business to another in California, I was losing pieces from it.”

Rued eventually was stationed at Offutt AFB and found a top-notch Austin-Healey restorer in Eagle, Nebr., who finally got the job done. “I did throw a rod about a half mile from my home while on my way to Road America,” he said, leading to an engine rebuild last year. “I’m basically shaking out the car now.”

So why hang on to a car that seemingly appears cursed, at least as far as getting it rolling again? “This car was a piece of history that I didn’t want to be lost,” Rued said. “You just don’t see them much anymore. They’re part of automotive racing history, of man and machine’s interface against nature and no guarantee you’ll make it.”

There’s also something very personal. “About a year after I got it,” he said, “I started tracking down its history and previous owners, and found out one of them was one a mom in our neighborhood who carpooled kids to school. I remember riding in a really small car with two other kids and a convertible top – this was that car.”

Rued said he’s easily spent more on his Austin-Healey than it’s worth, “but I’ll never part with it.”

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Licensed Legacy

Family Tradition Tags a Rare 1962½ Fairlane Sports Coupe

by Jeff Barnes

George Rogers wants to talk about his car – but first let him tell you about its plates.

Beginning almost a hundred years ago, a Rogers has driven a car with Nebraska license plates reading “1962.” The tradition started in 1919 when his grandfather Edgar took on a very interesting job – that of chauffeur to George and Sara Joslyn (yes, THE Joslyns of Joslyn Castle fame).

“My grandfather lived above the estate’s carriage house,” said Rogers, a professor at Clarkson College. “I have pictures of my grandfather and father in the picture, at the castle. I recently identified a photo at the castle’s archives, with my grandfather holding open the door of a 1919 Packard for the Joslyns.”

The first car the “1962” plates went on was the couple’s 1913 Stevens-Duryea, and as used to be the custom, always received that number when renewing the plates. They were transferred to Edgar after Sara Joslyn’s death in 1940. He regularly renewed the plates and they stayed with the family not only through time but a tornado. “They went through the ’75 tornado at 84th and L, on a 1970 Maverick flipped upside down,” Rogers said.

The Maverick was, of course, a Ford and Rogers has always been a Ford guy, and the plates now sit, not too coincidentally, on Rogers’ 1962 ½ Ford Fairlane Sports Coupe. Having the number on the model year is a neat trick, but his first car actually was a 1962 Fairlane that his grandfather gave him. Years after selling it, he went looking for one again in the 1990s.

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“My sons knew I was looking for one and found it in the paper for $250,” said Rogers, then a professor at UNL. “It was a piece of crap – it still had 1975 plates on it so hadn’t been run since then. There was no engine in it, and my wife wouldn’t even let it in the garage for the mice she thought would be in it.”

Still teaching full-time, it was only partially restored when he took a job at Purdue University. He finished it in 2004 while still there, making it an eight-year restoration.

“It was hard to budget out the time while working, but I did everything myself,” Rogers said, with the exception of MAACO doing the paint job, recreating the original “Heritage Burgundy” color. That color was originally intended for the Thunderbird, he said, but he identified it from the VIN and the build sheet found under the back seat.

Rogers’ Fairlane is the Sports Coupe, coming out in mid-year 1962. “This was rare – Ford took the Falcon bucket seats and console, put them in, and called it a sports coupe,” he said. “In 1963 they added a lot more refinements to it.”

He installed a rebuilt 221 c.i. Engine, rebuilt the transmission, put in all new suspension and new leaf springs, and redid the whole electrical system. “I rewired it for a modern fuse box so it would be safer to drive,” Rogers said, “and put in an alternator for better driveability and halogen lights. I also replaced the single-bowl with a dual-bowl master brake cylinder so brakes wouldn’t go out completely on me.”

He drives about 700 miles a year with the car, with the occasional local show but especially trips like the Fairlane Nationals. The next Fairlane Nationals is at Dearborn, Mich., he said, so next year will be one of the rare times he has the car on a trailer. “It’s not a show car, it’s a driver,” Rogers said, “and that was always the plan.”

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(Originally published in the Omaha World-Herald, October 2013)

Twice in a Blue Stude

Omahan revives a classic Commander

By Jeff Barnes

Frank van Doorn is a Studebaker man, but he didn’t really want another one. He already owns three that he restored himself, and adding and restoring a fourth was more car and work than he wanted.

But a good friend had a 1952 Commander for sale and there were some heartstrings there. “The car’s significant to me because I received one for (high school) graduation in 1959,” van Doorn said. “It was the same model and color, but it was a convertible.” Van Doorn admits he didn’t treat that car as well as he should have and regrets not having it today.

In addition to the admiration and nostalgia for the friend’s car, he hated seeing what was happening to it. The friend owned the Commander for ten years, but sat in a garage for the last eight of them. “He said the brakes were not up to his standards – he went to slow down and it passed through an intersection,” said van Doorn. “Sitting for eight years is worse for a car than moving for eight years, though.”

It was too nice a car to let pass, so van Doorn – a retired professional mechanic – bought it four months ago. Much of this summer was spent in getting to the shape that he wanted. “It was rust-free – a dry ‘Southwest’ car, but I had a lot of little things to do to it,” he said, including new lights, overdrive, steering wheel, and – of course – brakes. “There’s no problem in stopping now.”

He also did something he’s never done before in wet sanding the car. The Commander had fairly poor paint job, he said, with a lot of texture, kind of an “orange peel” effect. “I tried to get a shop that was free to wet sand it, to smooth and buff it out. “I didn’t want to wait, so I did it myself,” van Doorn said, admitting to some fear in the project. “It made a lot of difference – it’s not perfect, but respectable.”

It’s the kind of car you want to show off. The ’52 was built in the year of the Studebaker centennial (the company started as a manufacturer of wagons for farmers and the military). The Commander was a two-door hardtop with no “B” (center) pillar, “and was the next best thing to a convertible back then,” van Doorn said.

“Its basic body shell came out in 1947, making it the first car company after World War II with a new model,” he added. “The Champion was the basic model, but for a hundred dollars more, you could move up to the Commander. This model was the first year of the hardtops but the last year of the ‘upright’ cars before went to the low-slung model.”

The engine is a 232 c.i., V-8 with 120 horsepower. “That’s relatively small for a V-8 but it has a lot of get up and go,” said van Doorn. “It can run 70 on the freeway with overdrive.”

He and his wife Elizabeth truly enjoy the car and the results of the restoration. They haven’t driven it on any big trips yet, but are planning a 1,000-mile round trip to Gering next year for a regional Studebaker meet, celebrating the car’s 60th year.

“We still have to work up some confidence for a long trip,” van Doorn said, “but we’ll do it. It’s just an adventure to head out on a long trip with a car this old.”

(Published originally in the Omaha World-Herald, October 2011)

All in the Family

1.5-Ton Dodge Farm Truck Restored to Former Beauty

(Originally published in the Omaha World-Herald, November 2008)

By Jeff Barnes

It’s sometimes a long way for a pickup truck to get from the farm to the city, but it’s even longer from if you go through 60 years and three generations.

That’s exactly what Bert Freed of Bellevue did with his 1947 Dodge WD-20 pick-up truck, completely restoring the vehicle that was bought new by his wife Kathy’s grandfather.

Freed’s truck is one-and-a-half tons, BIG for a pickup truck. “These are few and far between,” he said. “The last one I saw was on eBay in California, but it was in really bad shape. And I’ve only seen one with the stock rack.”

The truck was purchased by William Grothe Sr. in 1947 for use on the family farmstead near Emmet, Neb. “He bought it new – we still have the original owner’s manual,” Freed said. Grothe and his sons used the truck for hauling livestock, transportation and for grinding feed using the rear axle.

One of the sons, Herman Grothe, purchased the farm along with the pickup after his parents passed away. It continued duty as a work truck, but his son Herman Jr. also used it in the mid-‘60s to drive to high school in nearby Atkinson – that is, until he lost control on a gravel road and did considerable damage to the cab and driver’s side door. From that point, the truck was only used to grind feed and for odd tasks on the farm.

Retired in Hawaii from a 30-year career as a chief warrant officer in the Navy, Freed and his family returned to the Omaha area in 1986 to allow their kids to be closer to their grandparents.  He bought the truck from Herman Sr., his father-in-law, in 1993, but left it in the farm’s corn crib until Herman and his wife Lela passed away in 2003. After the Grothe siblings sold the farm, the truck (with 22,000 original miles) was hauled to Omaha that year and the restoration began.

Freed hired Marv’s Body Shop, then at 30th and L streets, for the restoration; the work began in September 2003 and was completed in June 2006. The restoration was never on a fast track, and was once almost completely derailed. A reckless driver went out of control at a high speed on L Street and slammed into the building in early 2006, causing the structure to partially collapse. “My truck was in a corner,” Freed said. “A VW that was parked next to it saved it from getting hit.”

The rarity of the truck came into play when replacing the seat, which was in bad shape itself. The upholstery shop couldn’t fix it, and a replacement seat from a three-quarter-ton pickup was too small; the solution was adding 12 additional springs to the replacement seat.

The only other things added to the Dodge truck were new turn signals to the front fenders, seat belts and carpet to the cab. “Otherwise,” said Freed, “it’s restored to its originality.”

The engine was good and not in need of restoration. “I put gas in it and cranked it, and it still has 40 pounds of oil pressure,” he said. “I overhauled the carburetor but I haven’t touched the engine.”

Freed, 70, started going to shows as soon as the truck was back. In the past two years, he’s won 14 trophies and plaques, including a “people’s choice award” at the 26th Annual RTS Mopar Meet in Omaha in September 2007.

A native of Atkinson, Freed’s lifelong interest in cars began with a little horse trading – he actually traded his saddle horse for a Model A with 18,000 miles on it. “He wanted his grandkids to have a horse to ride,” he explained, “and I wanted a car.”

Sticker Shocker

1970 Olds Cutlass S restored to assembly line with all options

by Jeff Barnes

There isn’t anything particularly rare about Ron Beasley’s 1970 Olds Cutlass S. It’s not a convertible or a 442. But what’s impressive is that it’s been restored to just-off-of-the-assembly-line condition and he’s found every single option available to the car, including the sampler 8-track tape and the child seat.

Anchors (and Tractors) Aweigh

Seabee-Spec’d John Deere Tractors Shine for Show

By Jeff Barnes

If you take in the upcoming World of Wheels at the CenturyLink Center (March 18-20, 2016), be sure to visit the tractors that plow the waves instead of the fields.

Papillion dentist Joel Janssen and his restorer Gary Sortino are bringing three John Deere tractors built and painted specifically for the U.S. Navy Seabees during the Vietnam war. “Seabee” is from the initials “C.B.” which is short for “Construction Battalion.” These were the naval personnel who built the bases, bulldozed the roads and runways, and handled the other construction projects required by the U.S. Navy.

Janssen is a long-time collector and restorer of cars and tractors and stumbled across military tractors as a collection category. “I like the industrial version,” he said, referring to John Deere’s series painted yellow for industrial markets. “But then I found out about this, and found out they were even more rare, and that’s when I had to get them,” he said.

“Rare” as in his 400 magnet tractor is one of only four known, and his 600 is one of only seven known. It seems the military doesn’t really hang onto obsolete equipment and will typically abandon much of it when it leaves a combat zone. For example, Janssen said, many of the tractors on ships in Vietnam were dumped overboard when the war ended. Others stateside were sold to smaller government entities and others for scrap.

The 600 (built in 1970) was found at Indian Head Naval Station in Maryland. “It only has 160 hours on it, which is like nothing in the life of a tractor,” Janssen said. “We think it was headed to Vietnam but then the war ended and it was just stuck there, and basically sat outside for forty years. There was no air in the tires but they were still up because the rubber was so hard.”

The 500 (built in 1969) was in use by a township near North Platte — they found it in a military salvage yard. The 400 (1972) magnet tractor was found in a military salvage yard in Wisconsin with only 441 hours. This has a 2,500-lb. capacity magnet, used to sweep roads and runways of metal debris, and a generator on the back of the tractor powers the magnet.

The Navy doesn’t have much on record about the tractors and even John Deere can’t confirm much more than that they made them. The tractors have brass plaques listing Navy specifications and a brass plaque on the tractor showing where to hook the lifting chains to haul it up to the ship deck. There are other distinctions from the usual tractors built by John Deere at the time, such as the tires having a grid tread rather than the usual serrated tread, due to their typically pushing and pulling on deck or paved surfaces rather than working in fields. Even the paint is distinctive from the typical Navy drab green – the Seabees specified a shiny coat.

Janssen goes the extra distance for his tractor display, adding a restored military trailer to carry a generator, tools, ammo box, sandbags (filled with Styrofoam), and an M-1 Grand and 30-caliber carbine.

He’s also bringing a restored 1000-pound bomb carrier and a reproduction fiberglass bomb to go on it. “The trailer is real – we actually found that in Eagle, Nebraska,” Janssen said. “I looked forever online for the bomb to go on it until we found someone in California who makes the reproductions. While I was looking for a real one, though, I was waiting for Homeland Security to knock on my door.”

(Originally printed in the Omaha World-Herald, March 12, 2016)

An Impala to Impress

1963 Chevy Impala SS is Super Sweet

By Jeff Barnes

It’s kind of funny how Mike White’s 1963 Chevy Impala SS gets people to open up.

When he picked it up from a consignor after buying it in May 2007, he barely had the keys in his hands before a man pulled up and asked him if he wanted to sell it. “I told him no and then he asked ‘Can I drive it?’” White said. “Another guy wanted to buy it while I was gassing it up, and a neighbor that I hadn’t talked to for eight to nine years came over and wanted to talk about it. Everywhere I go, people want to talk.”

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It’s probably because White has quite the conversation piece. The light blue two-door Chevy with the Super Sport package is completely original and immaculate. It’s got the original paint and original interior, highlighting a car with 31,000 miles. If you were wondering, that’s less than 700 miles a year since the assembly line.

“The engine and transmission have been redone,” says White, human resource manager for Pederson Power Products in Omaha, “but they’re matching numbers. It’s very rare to find a car like this – the appraiser (who examined the car before he bought it) told me that he never sees them.”

The pristine nature of the car has its downside, White said. “I can’t do anything to it. I wanted to put a dual exhaust on it, but the one place in town that can do it refused. ‘You do NOT want to do that,’ he told me.”

White, 59, said he was looking for some fun on wheels before buying the car, but intended it to be of the two-wheel variety.  He had a Harley Davidson when he and his wife Rose were married, “but after our son (Stephen) was born, I had had a couple of close calls and we decided it probably wasn’t good to continue with it.”

With Stephen now grown, White began thinking he’d like to get another Harley. He and Rose eventually agreed that when their pet dog died, she could get a new dog and he could get a new “hog.” When the dog eventually died, and a replacement puppy was found, their son suggested naming him “Harley.”

“He told us ’That way you can both get what you want’,” said White. “Now we have a Shi Tzu named Harley that’s afraid of squirrels. I’ve written Stephen out of the will.”

As a new old-car owner, White joined the Chevrolet Classics Club in Omaha. “It’s the oldest car club in America and it started right here in Omaha,” he said. “It was the smartest thing to do – they know cars and have a ton of experience.”

Rose White is known by many motorists for her automotive comments as the public affairs director for AAA Nebraska. As part of their shared hobby, she is building an educational display on the year 1963.

“It was a big year, with Kennedy’s assassination and Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech,” she said. “There were major developments in science, technology, politics, culture, and fashion, so I plan to create a display of that year to compliment the car.” She’s presently scouring eBay and antique shops for display items, which currently includes record albums, Life magazine and Barbie dolls.

White says he hasn’t done any car shows yet and isn’t sure he will. “If I did, especially the big shows, I’d have to keep it spotless,” he said. “You have to stick around the car for that, and I’d rather go around and talk to the other car owners.”

(Originally published in the Omaha World-Herald, November 2008)

Back in Time

A look at the 1981 DeLorean DMC-12

by Jeff Barnes

There was a fellow at the 2015 Joslyn Castle Classic Car Show in 2015 with a DeLorean. You don’t see those all that often in Omaha and I asked about featuring it for the World-Herald. He didn’t want any attention for himself (that’s kind of what goes with the story) but was happy to let me photograph the car itself.

Please click through the photos – I’ll have a little on the car with each image.

Jolly Rodder

(Click here to see and hear the “Pirate Pickup”)

Boat Shop Owner Turns ’29 Ford into Pirate Pickup

By Jeff Barnes

For the last six winters, Brad Tuttle has built hot rods in his Louisville boat shop. No one’s boating in winter in Nebraska, anyway, and a friend wanted him to use his hot-rod building skills to build him one. That car ended up being a $150,000 show car and inspired Tuttle to build one for himself.

“I couldn’t afford to build a car like that,” he said, “but I started looking at building a rat rod. I thought it would be kind of fun – you can drive it to Walmart and don’t have to worry about getting it dinged or picking up rock chips.”

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He found a 1929 Ford pickup on Craig’s List in 2012 with – unbelievably – only one owner. “The guy’s grandpa had bought it brand new,” Tuttle explained, “and he was hauling a cow in the 1950s with it and got pulled over, probably doing no more than 40 mph. The grandson said the cop said it shouldn’t be on the road so the grandpa parked it.”

The result was an 83-year-old truck with virtually no rust. Tuttle sanded it down to bare metal, which he originally thought he wanted for the finish; it didn’t look as good as he’d expected and went to flat black, completing the entire project that winter, building the engine, the frame and pretty much the rest.

During the build, Tuttle decided he needed a theme for the car. As the owner of Louisville Marine, it was kind of natural to come up with something nautical to go with the shop’s name on the door. That and the black soon led to pirates and that’s when he started to have fun with it, from front to back.

The hood ornament with an eye-patched skull is actually desk decoration from “Pirates of the Caribbean” found at a Disney store. The radiator overflow is an empty Captain Morgan rum bottle.

“All of these have a visor (for the windshield),” he said, “but I have an old saw blade” which is kind of reminiscent of a tattered sail.

A saber handle acts as the gearshift; its blade is the flagstaff for the Jolly Roger on the roof. The bed of the truck holds a treasure chest “because I needed someplace to put the battery,” he said. A Chris-Craft window acts as the rear window. Propellers frame the taillights and giant fishhooks are pins for the tailgate. Finally, the personalized plate “ARRRR” finishes it out.

“The funny thing is that I’ll take it to an auto show and be parked next to a much nicer car,” Tuttle said. “People will look at that car for a second, then come over and spend all kinds of time looking at mine.”

He loves to show it – it and its skeleton man and dog mascots will on Louisville’s main street for kindergarteners when they make their Halloween walk. He shows the car regularly and took it to nine shows this summer, bringing home eight first-place trophies and one second-place.

He drives it frequently, putting around 18,000 miles on the car every year, and once got pulled over in Lincoln for speeding. The troopers visited with Tuttle during the stop, with one asking if it was fast. “’Fast enough to get a speeding ticket,’ I said. They laughed and said, ‘Nah, we’re just giving you a warning’.”

(Previously appeared in the Oct. 29, 2016, Omaha World-Herald)

 

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