Old cars restore good old memories

A few years back, these two old guys who liked to fix up old cars got tired of driving across town on Sunday mornings to hang out with other old guys who liked to fix up cars.

So, they parked their hot rods at the Dunkin’ Donuts near where they lived in the northwest part of town.

"Just buying coffee, having a good Sunday morning," said one of those guys, Trent Fewks, 71, a retired IRS auditor and gaming specialist.

Soon, someone else parked a hot rod there, too. And then someone else.

"That only lasted a week," Fewks said. "Because the next week, we had a dozen cars."

They moved to a bigger parking lot, then a bigger lot, and eventually a couple of hundred people pulled their hot rods into a parking lot for no particular reason.

This thing has become an event. And it’s not the only one. You’ll find similar groups all over town, in probably every town in America. Some groups are more organized than others, but they’re all centered on old guys and their cars.

"It’s not necessarily the cars," Fewks said a couple of Sundays ago, hanging out with his 1970 Volkswagen van and a bunch of friends in a church parking lot across the street from Santa Fe Station. "It just brings people together with a common interest."

Danny Marcoux, 62, a heavy-equipment mechanic, is still there almost every week, even though he can’t drive his 1936 Chevy sedan because he’s temporarily in a wheelchair. His wife or daughter usually drives him.

He was crushed at work two and a half years ago, breaking both legs. Surgery after surgery followed.

Still, he’s working on his hot rods.

"I enjoy this probably as much or more than anything else," he said.

PRIDE AND SANITY

It’s not really about the cars.

Sure, there is satisfaction in taking the steel hulk of a 1936 Chevy and turning it into a modern car, complete with power steering, an independent suspension, air conditioning, fuel injection and cruise control, as Marcoux has done.

There is a certain amount of pride, too, in making a 1967 Volkswagen Bug into the car it used to be, as Fewks did. He’s into Volkswagens.

But really, said John Ventura, the automotive program director at the College of Southern Nevada, restoring cars is about the people, not the metal.

"Memories of family drive people," Ventura said. "Cars become personal."

Take Fewks, the 71-year-old former IRS guy.

He grew up in Southern California. He bought his first car, a 1947 Chevy, for $25 . He paid for it with money he’d earned from his paper route. He was 14 .

His dad, who worked as a janitor and grew up on a farm, was handy, so the two spent a couple of years fixing up the old Chevy.

They rebuilt the motor, put new fenders on it, painted it real nice.

Fewks grew up, of course, and got rid of that car. Went to college. Got a job. Moved around a bunch.

But he never forgot his first car. Never forgot those times with his dad.

By the time he settled down in Las Vegas 30 years ago, he made sure the house he bought had a garage out back.

That’s where he’s fixed up dozens of cars over the years.

Right now, he’s got a 1948 Chevy pickup in there, as well as the two VWs.

It’s not all that different for most of these guys.

Marcoux grew up in rural Massachusetts. Fixing up cars is just what he and his brothers did.

Now, it’s what he does.

He has two old Chevys in the garage – the 1936 and a nearly identical 1937 model.

"There was nothing but a pile of parts," he said of the 1937 model, which still isn’t finished. He’s been working on it for 10 years, but finishing isn’t really the point. It’s the work that counts.

He said that since the accident, he’s spent a lot of time in his garage.

"This has helped me keep my sanity," he said. "Just being out here."

FUTURE FIXER-UPPERS

These guys won’t be around forever, and neither will their cars. There were only so many 1936 Chevy sedans manufactured.

What’s next?

Ventura said he thinks the specifics will change, but the big picture won’t.

There will always be guys, and there will always be cars, and the two will always meet in the garage to bring back old memories.

The really old cars, those from the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s? They’ll lose their popularity as the older generation dies off, as they become more scarce and more expensive.

The cars from the ’60s and ’70s are popular now. Look at the current Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro models. Both are homages to their former selves.

"In 10 years," Ventura said, "we’ll move into the ’80s cars."

He said he’s starting to see 1980s and early ’90s model Hondas getting restored now. Who would have thought that 20 years ago?

People will want to relive their teenage years, to recreate memories they have of their dads, he said.

Even today’s cars, with the computerized engines, won’t be impossible to crack, to turn into hot rods.

The tools to fix them are becoming cheaper, just like all technology does. It’s possible to go into an auto parts store and buy a diagnostic machine for less than $100 that would have cost thousands just a few years ago.

A NEW GENERATION

Ventura also pointed out that these informal hot rod clubs like the one Fewks and Marcoux belong to aren’t exclusive to old guys. There’s usually a young person or two hanging about, picking up a few tips and a love for fixing cars.

That’s true. Jake Linton, 13, is a perfect example. He said he usually comes to the Sunday morning gathering with his grandfather, Richard, 69.

"I like hot rods," Jake declared while sitting in front of a 1955 Ford pickup on which he helped put a new front end.

Jake said his dad has a 1947 Chevy he’s fixing up, and he’ll soon be fixing up his own car, a 1941 Chevy.

"He’s got three years to get it built," he grandpa said.

Ventura, 48, said he and his son just recently finished restoring a 1997 Toyota Tacoma pickup, proof that not all such projects are limited to old cars.

"The memory’s worth more than the truck will ever be," he said.

Contact reporter Richard Lake at rlake@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0307.

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