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  • Writer's pictureEric Grimm

Metal Revival

Updated: Mar 5, 2022

New life from abandoned wrecks

Classic cars drive memory journeys, but the real magic is the craftsmanship that makes the old new once again – a timeless story of restoration when all was thought lost.

1929 REO Flying Cloud grill and engine compartmentg
1929 REO Flying Cloud is a spinoff from Oldsmobile

Car people build their cars on the framework of personal stories. The more materialistic want every original detail meticulously preserved to enhance resale value, and the extremely artistic build radical new creations from rusted and abandoned automobile carcasses.

Walking around a restored classic treasure, a grandfather tells his grandson about the times when the vehicle was built. He wanted to own one so badly but couldn’t afford it. Fifty years later he searches out a completed restoration and buys it outright. Lost in entangled emotions of rougher days, he smiles triumphantly over his victory of possession at an acceptable cost 20 times the original value. The bold lines of the extravagant design reflect a long-gone culture. Yet, because every knob, foot pedal, and button are the same as the original, it somehow freezes adolescent desires in a moment of satisfaction and relief. It’s his, and it’s parked in his garage. He owns time.

Wrenchers are much different. They resurrect new metallic bodies from neglected wrecks thought gone forever. Restoring to original condition is artistic creation, but the wrenchers’ renovation is a fresh canvas that re-energizes everything. From the underlying infrastructure to computer technology, the old becomes a statement of new not yet imagined and power not often seen.

Max Nicely of Nicely Custom Rods in Pagosa Springs, CO, does that. One client was a top executive in Toyota’s racing program, but his project was a 1935 Dodge Brothers business coupe. His dad sold those cars in the old days and as a tribute to pops and the legacy of the Dodge Brothers, Nicely and his client embarked on a remarkable five-year transition that touched every square inch of the classic coupe.

Nicely installed a second-generation 507-horsepower Viper V-10 engine. Narrower and longer than new Dodge hemi blocks, the 488-cubic-inch engine with its Lamborghini legacy fit perfectly with a few engine-well adjustments and a complete power train makeover. Modernized with sound, GPS, and other electronics, high-end Wilwood racing brakes, a Tremec TR606 six-speed manual transmission, plus more, the Viper-35 exceeds today’s top-performance vehicles.

Lake Havasu City, Arizona, known as the hot rod capital of the world, reportedly has the largest per capita ownership of hot rods and classic cars in the world. It’s cruise city. Thursday evenings on historic Main Street attract parades of vintage customs and restorations. Some rumble with modern big-block powerhouses, some putter with original 85 horsepower engines.

Car-club members, enthusiasts, and the curious enjoy the street show, outdoor restaurants, and bars blasting music at the cruise-night party.

Local clubs and organizations host three major car shows annually, including the Race to the Sun run by the Relics & Rods Car Club in October. The club formed in 1975 and hosted its first car show in 1978. The event has grown to present as many as 1,000 vehicles. You also can find club members Saturdays cruising the Wienerschnitzel hot dog stand on Lake Havasu Avenue near Palo Verde Boulevard South.

The Havasu Deuces hosts the annual spring Havasu Deuce Show featuring mostly 1932 Fords but also welcoming cars from 1957 and earlier.

The Crossroads Car & Bike Show each spring features about 800 classics parked on the paved track of the Havasu 95 Speedway.

Seeing the craftsmanship, the creativity, the innovation of classic-car restoration, you can’t help but admire and truly appreciate the links across time that classic cars create. You see our past and once-important materials and technologies. You imagine the hands that once shifted those gears, the passengers’ dress-up clothing, and the thrill they enjoyed driving the time’s best-available personal transportation.

Looking back through bygone ages, these cars also offer a hope. Despite the mileage and rough roads traveled, these restored cars demonstrate life is good at every age.

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