Current car projects:
- 1961 Chrysler New Yorker
- 1951 Chevy 5-window pickup
- 1959 Mercury Commuter Wagon
- 1952 Dodge Coronet
- 1949 Dodge Coronet
- 1973 Datsun 240z
- 1961 Corvette
You might be familiar with Pati through El Camino College where she teaches auto body, or through her shop, Rosie’s Great Body and Paint, or through the free Girls in the Garage seminars she hosts—something the Gasoline Girls have participated in from the beginning. She’s been doing bodywork and paint for over 20 years, but never had much patience for engines. Consequently she has five project cars and none of them run worth a dang! She’s hoping that some friendly Gasoline Girl competition will get her motivated to finish the projects. Her gorgeous Chrysler New Yorker is on the road and generally what she uses as her daily.
I used to have just one love, but now I work to keep SEVEN happy! I can’t choose- they each have their own distinct look and personality, are good for different things depending on what mood I’m in or where I want to go… how can a girl be expected to stop at just one when there are just so many out there?
No, I’m not talking about men. Or shoes. I’m talking about cars! Lots of ‘em! They’re in my driveway, in my garage, on the street, behind my shop, even in other people’s garages. I don’t have any car parts in my bedroom, so I wouldn’t consider myself a hoarder yet, but I do have (too many? No, can’t have too many) a lot of cars.
I have always liked cars. When I was little, I wanted a Stingray Corvette and no other. My first car at 15 was a red ’69 Camaro convertible that my dad and I went halves on even though I had saved enough to buy it myself. The car was his idea and I’m sure midlife crises had nothing to do with it. Since that car was too restored to drive in anything but nice weather (which is about 5 weeks a year in Minnesota where I grew up), I decided I wanted a winter beater and ended up with a rusty ’79 Blazer 4×4. That cancer-ridden Rumbletruck from Bumblef*ck was my first 4-wheeled love.
Of course I decided I was going to ‘fix it up’. Car people know what I mean and will laugh because they know what a can of worms that mentality can be. It didn’t help that I had no idea how to fix it and had no tools or place to work on it. I started in on the rust with a screwdriver to break away the crumbling rust and a can of aerosol rust converter. When I was done, I had holes in the floor so big I could reach up through the floor to my shoulder to grab my keys in the ignition when I locked them in the truck by accident. I fixed the holes with a rivet gun and patch metal, reupholstered the seats and side panels, cut new carpet, and painted the interior. It looked great until I noticed my rust converter was a big fat waste of money. Over the next ten years I worked on every inch of that truck and learned how to restore old cars the right way. I moved to California to earn my Bachelors Degree, and I started taking autobody and mechanics classes at a community college and was hooked.
That truck and I were inseparable. I had such plans. Then I got engaged. He was not a car guy but liked 1961 Corvettes, so I bought him one as a wedding present.
It was a secret. I fixed the fiberglass dents and cracks and repainted it Fawn Beige with white coves. My first complete paint job! No pressure. It was standing room only around the school paint booth windows that night, and when I asked my teacher if he could shoo the boys away for me he said no. “Get over it,” he said; being the only girl in the shop would be like working in a fish bowl every day. Like it or not.
My next car was a 1973 Datsun 240z.
I’m not a big import fan, but I’ve admired the Z since high school. Opportunity knocked and $2000 later I was driving off in my new daily driver. This car was my first real lesson in how not to buy a used car. The guy I bought it from would have given it to my autobody teacher since they were friends. He wanted full price from me, though. If I had been smart and had some patience, I could have asked my teacher to accept the car and buy it from him for much, much less. “Buy a car with your brain, not your heart” is advice I’ve still never taken. I fixed rust and dents and repainted the car. My intention was to sell it when it was finished, so I did a short-term restoration and cut some corners that I now know I shouldn’t have. As fate would have it, I liked the car so much when it was done that despite everyone asking I couldn’t sell it and still drive it daily. I never even hung a for sale sign.
At this point, I was getting pretty good at autobody and wanted to take another shot at flipping a project car. Buy, fix, sell, profit. Sounds so easy, right? The advice I was given was “Buy one that’s complete, not 99% there- complete. A Chevy or a Ford, nothing weird.” Instead of looking at resale values and parts catalogs, I browsed eBay and found a 1952 Dodge Coronet 2-door in Nevada outside Las Vegas that might run if it had a 6-volt battery and was only missing a front bumper. Some people just have to learn the hard way. The car cost $2000, plus renting a truck and trailer, plus gas, and then I could start spending money to restore it. Turns out hardly anyone has parts for these cars and the resale value for a show-quality one is about $5000. So guess who is $9500 into this car and again too sentimentally attached to sell it? It’s done right, though. Cloth covered wire like original, NOS original wool broadcloth upholstery, candy apple red over metallic maroon paint.
In my quest for parts for the Dodge, namely the front bumper, I was back on eBay and found a 1949 Dodge 4-door project car with a 1951 Plymouth parts car for the exorbitant sum of $650 in central California.
Certainly one of these cars would have a bumper for my Dodge, right? They look the same. Sort of. Car people know where this is going. I should mention that I am living in an urban apartment at this time and have no garage. So again I am in a rental truck with trailer and on a mission to retrieve these cars. I brought the ’49, Rose, to my parents’ new place in Jacksonville, Oregon. Yes, Oregon. I brought the parts car to my friend Mike who wants the parts I don’t need, which it turns out is all of them since Plymouth and Dodge don’t interchange as much as I thought. 1949 and 1952 Dodges don’t interchange either and now I have another project car on four flat tires in my driveway after my folks moved to Washington. I can’t get rid of it either because I promised the sentimental seller I would send him pictures of his Midnight Rose when she’s finished. It’s OK, I have plans. Custom plans.
Pretty soon I have my own shop/work space and have started restoring cars for other people. Since I obviously can’t get the hang of that buy-fix-sell-profit thing, I figured fixing cars I didn’t own on someone else’s dime was certainly the way to go. Unless those people don’t have dimes, in which case I ended up with a 1951 Chevrolet 5-window pickup in exchange for paint and bodywork on a 1953 Suburban. The pickup was in loosely bolted-together pieces, but it seems to be all there and the resale value is good.
At some point, I discovered junk yards. There are no ’52 Dodges in junk yards, not even one, but there are 1962 Chryslers. Oh, be still my heart. It was an avocado green 4-door, but that jukebox bubble-pod dash was something right out of outer space heaven. They wouldn’t sell me the whole car and I don’t know why I didn’t buy the dash. No point without the car, I guess. I hadn’t discovered the heroin shot of swap meets yet. But after some research online I knew my next car would be a 1960 Chrysler 300F. The 1962’s are almost the same but have no fins. When I found out I could have that dash AND fins there was really no sense wanting anything else. It was the ultimate car. Period. The end. After watching eBay and Hemmings on and off for years depending on my finances, I found a 1961 Chrysler New Yorker 4-door hardtop in black with white interior, fins and that dash. EBay again, Oceanside this time. And it ran!
Prices for the 300s had gone through the roof and I thought this one-step-removed New Yorker was a steal at under $9K. I was off to Oceanside to buy and drive home my new love. It ran all right, but the owner didn’t happen to mention that there were no brakes. They were “soft,” he said. He said her name was “Christine, after the movie, but she has not killed anyone.”Five hours and $500 later the flatbed tow truck and I were unloading my new car at my shop.
Speaking of dangerous situations and swap meets, I was at the San Diego Big 3 meet last year with a wad of cash to buy parts to resell. I have gotten pretty good at this and it seems parts are easier to let go of than whole cars. My new hobby. Of course I would find a car. A 1959 Mercury Commuter station wagon, the likes of which I had never seen.
Running, braking, big fins, complete save one tail light and a tailgate window crank, and needing… everything. $3200. I talked to the guy but was able to say no for two whole days. On the third and last day of the meet, when I had run out of money of course, I couldn’t bear to see it go home with anyone else. Hey, I gave them plenty of time. I sat on bare springs during the test drive and left a trail of power steering fluid wherever I went, but the Mercury 383 V-8 sounded good and certainly that cracked windshield can’t be that hard to replace…
’69 Camaro: Sold just before the price of these went through the roof when my parents moved to Oregon and didn’t want to trailer the car with them. I had no safe place to park it, so now it sits in a new owner’s garage with a black and white checkered tile floor.
’79 Blazer: Stolen just before it was painted. Recovered in pieces, like my heart. Sold to a guy who wants to “fix it up.”
’61 Corvette: Sits in my mother-in-law’s garage in Phoenix where no one can drive it. Even me. Lame.
’73 Datsun 240z: Still my daily driver. My budget restoration has fallen apart and every cut corner haunts me every time I get in it. It’s time to do it right, but is it worth the money? The time? The trouble? Will I be able to sell it this time, or will I wait until it gets its first scratch and then it’s too late to get full price?
’52 Dodge: Restoration is almost finished. All the hardware and small parts were in the Blazer when it was stolen, so reassembly is frustrating and slow. I am still learning how to use an industrial sewing machine to finish the upholstery.
’49 Dodge: I have plans. Custom plans.
’51 Plymouth: Parted out. The frame went to an older guy restoring his dad’s Plymouth for one last father-son cruise before his dad died. I’m told he didn’t make it.
’51 Pickup: Got a 235 engine to replace the 216 and the cab is jambed and mounted to the frame. The new bed pieces are painted, and I have plans for a custom dash to replace that boring stock one. The truck needs to be chopped, but if I did, it would set off a whole chain reaction of customizations that would never end. As of this minute, I’m leaving it stock. Don’t ask me tomorrow.
’61 Chrysler: Needs an engine rebuild which, again, sets off a chain reaction of restoration. It had sat a long time before I got it. It doesn’t smoke much anymore and I fixed the brakes, so I drive it every once in a while. She still has not killed anyone.
’59 Mercury wagon: New windshields are $1100 and no one makes the gasket. I found an NOS tailgate window crank though for 40 bucks. At a swap meet.