Memory lane finds traffic via vehicle restoration

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Restoring cars time, cash intensive

By Robert Villanueva





HARDIN COUNTY — Cruisin’ in a ’55 Chevy on a Saturday night isn’t a thing of the past for some people.

“I think most people coming in want to restore as a sentimental thing,” Terry Spriggs, owner of Downtown Classic Cars in Radcliff, said. “It’s wanting to live in the past.”

Spriggs mainly buys and re-sells restored vehicles. Though he does not do much restoring these days, he still hears from people who are looking for parts or interested in restoring their own vehicles.

“A lot of people don’t understand what it costs to restore cars,” Spriggs said.

Because of the cost and time involved in restoring vehicles, many people choose to have the work done by a shop that specializes in restoration.

Bill Strader, owner of Strader Classics in Elizabethtown, said vehicle restoration can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. The value of a restored car, once it is finished, can climb to six digits.

A current project at Strader’s shop involves restoring a ’55 Chevy 210 for a man from Williamsburg.

Like Spriggs, Strader sees nostalgia as the drawing point for restoration among his customers. The man from Williamsburg, for instance, has had his vehicle since 1959.

“He used to take his mom to church in it,” Strader said. A retired school teacher, the man also dated his future wife in that car.

For Gary Burba of Cub Run, who began having vehicles restored after meeting Strader, the process represents a bit of his personal history.

Burba has a restored ’55 Chevy 210 and is working on restoring a ’57 Bel Air.

“It’s what I grew up with,” Burba said.

Doug Yates, of Yates Body Shop in Elizabethtown, recently restored an old Jeep CJ-5 that used to be a city vehicle.

The shop takes on about two projects a year.

Restoration can be time-intensive, involving locating authentic parts or good reproductions. Often original parts are sandblasted and repainted.

“You don’t rush into this,” Strader said. He is more than 30 weeks into his current project.

Colors schemes for particular makes and models are adhered to in many cases, and original parts are brought back to usable condition when possible.

Upholstery and flooring might be replaced, but some things might get an upgrade. Brake systems can be upgraded to make them safer.

In some cases, a project might involve updates of convenience. These include things like air conditioning and an AM/FM stereo system with CD player.

“A lot of them are doing modifications to them,” Strader said.

At Strader’s shop, the “tri-fives” — 1955, 1956 and 1957 Chevy’s — are the most popular vehicles being restored.

“A lot of baby boomers are the ones doing these,” he said.

Often people are restoring vehicles to get out and go “cruising in them.” He cited Russellville as a case in point.

“That’s all they do now,” Strader said.

Some muscle cars, such as Camaros, are also being restored, he said

That seems to be the case at Downtown Classic Cars, too.

Spriggs has seen a lot of interest in muscle cars of the 60s. These include Camaros, Chevelles and Chargers.

Often, Spriggs said, people take on projects themselves only to find they haven’t got the time or money to invest. The vehicles then sit in a garage for years.

“They have no clue when they get started,” Spriggs said.

Whether the current economy has any effect on the market for restored cars remains to be seen, Spriggs said. But those with the time and financial means seem to continue to stroll down memory lane in restored vehicles.

Like his customers and others in the restoration business, Strader has restored some of his own vehicles, including a ’57 Bel Air convertible.

“I’ve always loved these old cars,” Strader said.

Robert Villanueva can be

reached at (270) 505-1743.