ATLANTA — Oh, go ahead and tool about in your Camry. Not everyone, dear driver, aspires to be like you in your cookie-cutter car.
Give those other guys a '67 Corvette, a '49 Merc, a rocking '32 deuce coupe. For them, a car is as much testimony as transportation. Their mechanics understand that.
It's a truism that they don't make them like they used to. Today's vehicles accelerate faster, stop better and have fewer breakdowns than earlier models. With air bags, backup cameras and cruise control, they're safer, too.
OK. Point made. But people still like old cars, said Steve Moskowitz, executive director of the Antique Automobile Club of America. "There are a lot more people who are quietly collecting cars," said Moskowitz, an Oldsmobile guy whose oldest car was built in 1903. "They're not in any clubs at all."
Some publications have estimated that more than 1 million people collect vintage vehicles, and "the number of collectors is not going down," he said.
Some colleges and technical schools recognize the popularity of old cars and offer courses for aspiring mechanics. McPherson College in McPherson, Kan., for example, offers an auto-restoration curriculum that includes everything from rebuilding engines to learning the nuances of paint restoration.
Let us not forget guys such as Mike Bland and Travis Owen, owners and operators of Village Garage & Custom in East Atlanta. They're walking examples of on-the-job training.
Bland is a former salesman who's worked on cars all his life. One day, he decided that he was spending so much time at the garage that he might as well get paid for being there. "He quit his job," said Owen, who learned the trade from older mechanics, "and started hanging out here."
It's hard not to hang out at the garage, which shares its parking lot with a fellow who restores and sells vintage bicycles. The one-story building has theater seats out front, perfect for loiterers.
It also has an array of vintage iron: '50s Chevys, some Mopar muscle from the mid-'60s, a handful of fat-fendered trucks and more. Many are immaculate; others, dented and rusted, bear the scars of old age. The inventory is, in a metaphorical sense, life itself. The restored cars remind us of what we were; the heaps are harbingers of what we'll be.
Driving an old car "is tasteful," said Owen, who has more tattoos than a back seat full of sailors.
"It's unique," Bland said. "It identifies you as ... "
"An individual," said mechanic Chalon Furtado, interrupting the boss.
They're folks such as Brent Thomason. This summer, Thomason, who researches real estate titles, bought a '74 Ford pickup. When he's not driving his Toyota Tacoma, he's either behind the wheel of the truck or under its hood. He does the simple stuff but leaves more complicated work to the pros at Village Garage.
"I probably wouldn't have (bought the truck) if I didn't know those guys," said Thomason, who lives in Grant Park. "They're good for consultation when I screw things up."
Hutch Hall is a consultant, too; decades of turning wrenches does that.
On a recent morning, he bent a thin tube in a vise, eyeing it closely to make sure it arched correctly. A brake line, it would snake along the rear end of a '65 Mustang to ensure the bright-red convertible stopped properly.
Hall, 74, is a master mechanic and one of the reasons why people bring their old cars to Fraser Dante Ltd. The Roswell dealership has been selling and repairing vintage cars for 27 years. It ships vehicles across the nation and world.
The proof is in its showroom, where cars glitter like hard candy. A red 1952 Chevy 3100 pickup, bound for a buyer in Norway; a silver 1931 Rolls-Royce Phantom II (with a General Motors power plant tucked underneath a hood the length and width of a bedroom door); a black '55 Ford Sunliner convertible.
And, of course, Mustangs — hardtops, ragtops, most from the icon's earliest years, the mid- to late '60s. They are Fraser Dante's No. 1 seller.
"We sell memories here," said Tevie Dante Fraser, who, along with her husband and partner, Tom Fraser, maintain a database of cars for sale and of people looking for particular vehicles.
They also service them. On a trip to Charleston, S.C., last year, Decatur lawyer Mary Ellen Cates saw a baby-blue reminder of her youth.
"We did not need another car," said Cates, who's owned a '65 Porsche 356 and a '66 Corvette. "But I don't think you can own too many old cars."
She didn't hesitate. In nearly no time at all, the '65 Mustang, a pony car with the cool 289 V-8 and white interior, was hers.
Cates had it trucked it to Fraser Dante, where specialists replaced all the hoses and gave the car a thorough going-over. They also removed the car's drum brakes, standard equipment a half-century ago, and replaced them with modern disc brakes. Now, the car still looks old but stops new.
There's something about an old car, agreed Mike Lewis, who should know: For several decades, he and his dad, Gary, have operated Gary's Body Shop. The garage, on the outskirts of Decatur, Ga., has two specialties: repairing cars for insurance companies and restoring vintage machines.
At the moment, it's got a '66 Chevelle awaiting restoration. The owner, Lewis said, is raising the cash.
"When you start a project like that, you need some money in the bank," said Lewis, whose '67 Buick Riviera has won more trophies than he can fit in its trunk. "An old car, it's kind of a leisure thing."
It's also a fun thing, an ego thing, a goofy thing. So unroll your window, pal - it's that little crank on the side of the door; forget about electric buttons - and let your good times roll.
Don't worry. Mechanics are standing by.
)2013 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)
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