fueled by

restoration

This gearhead’s on a journey to restore his 1950 coupe from a rusty shell to a shiny showpiece. It might take forever. That’s fine by him.

This gearhead’s on a journey to restore his 1950 coupe from a rusty shell to a shiny showpiece. It might take forever. That’s fine by him.

The Motor City breeds guys like Tim McElmeel, a Detroit-based automotive enthusiast who’s downright obsessed with fully restoring his classic 1950 coupe. When he found the car, or at least what was left of it, he saw opportunity where most people might only see tetanus.

One day, he’ll roll it up to the Woodward Dream Cruise. By the 1950s, Detroit’s Woodward Avenue was one of the most popular drag racing streets in America. Now, every August, the weekend event attracts more than a million people — and their classic cars — from around the globe.

McElmeel will get his 1950 bomber to the Cruise one of these years. But he’s in no hurry. The man is mechanically meticulous with this restoration, employing all kinds of petroleum-based products to bring it to life, including rust and leather treatments, as well as body-filler compounds, body paint, polish and wax.

He says that his passion is the process.

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FUELEDBY has five questions for Detroit motorhead Tim McElmeel.

FUELEDBY: How did you get into building classic cars and what fuels this passion of yours?

Tim McElmeel: I was into cars before I can remember. I had two older brothers who were also into them, and we constantly sketched cars and shared our drawings with one another. We lived in a blue-collar neighborhood surrounded by employees of the Big Three American automakers — and the cool kids were hot-rodding muscle cars. And then there's my cousin who lived in Pennsylvania that was restoring a muscle car in his garage. When I first laid eyes on it, I remember thinking to myself “I can do that.” I'll never forget that moment.

FB: What do you enjoy more, driving your classic cars or wrenching on them, and why?

TM: I like wrenching on them more than driving them. When I’m wrenching, I’m bringing something back to life. It’s purely personal gratification in making something ugly, beautiful again.

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FB: Give us the story: Where’d you find it, what did you see in it, and how long do you think the restoration will take?

TM: In the past, I’ve always rebuilt cars from the 1970s and ’80s, and I wanted to tackle something older. I bought an Auto Trader magazine, and my eyes immediately spotted a 1950 two-door coupe. It had a bullet nose and I loved it. I called the guy. He said it was sold. But he said he had about 40 more cars to choose from in his huge warehouse down in Arkansas, including a 1950 Studebaker Champion. I asked him to send me a picture in the mail, but he said he could do better than that. For $20 he would walk around the entire car with a camcorder and send me a tape. When the tape arrived, I watched it like a hawk. I called him back, and he said he wanted $2,500 for it. I said I’d give him $2,000. He paused for a moment, then said he’d take it. When the car arrived, the transporter driver said people were staring at the trailer all the way from Arkansas. I figured the project would take 10 years, but now it’s going on 20. I’m in no rush — doing the work is what I enjoy the most.

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FB: What inspired you to track the progress of your restoration, and how’s that going?

TM: The classic car community consists of amazing folks that will do almost anything to help the cause of bringing cars back to life. Starting my own website is kind of a pay-it-forward effort. Instead of asking people questions on Internet forums, I’m now able to answer other people’s questions. Lately, I’ve been talking with a guy from Nova Scotia who has the same car. I’ve never met him and I don’t even know what he looks like. But I still consider him to be a good friend.

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FB: What are you going to do when you’re finally done restoring it?

TM: The Studebaker project was such a big undertaking that I will keep this one forever and hopefully pass it down to a next-generation family member who will preserve it. When I’m finally finished with it, I expect it to be “trailer queen” condition. But even though I consider this restoration to be a work of art, I believe it needs to be driven. Sure, there are a lot of reasons to put it on a trailer and take it places that way because after all, art should be protected. But more importantly, it should be enjoyed and the best way to do that is to put it on the road.

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