Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Challenging restoration

Local firefighter offers cautionary fixer-upper tale

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Restoring a classic car is never an easy task, but the challenges Chris Payne faced restoring his 1970 Dodge Challenger is the stuff of horror movies.

Payne, 47, and a 27-year veteran Winnipeg firefighter, bought his Challenger online out of South Dakota in 2005. It was in decent shape, with a running 318-cubic-inch engine under the hood. He figured all it needed was some minor rust repair and a good cleaning.

Six years and almost $50,000 later, the car is finally on the road.

The nightmare began when Payne took the car to a local body shop to get the rust repairs done.

"The guy told me he could refinish the body in his spare time over a year and that it would cost $9,000," Payne said. Three years later the car still wasn't completed and the bill had racked up to more than $28,000.

"I just gave my head a shake, said to him 'you're not the guy I thought you were', paid the bill and got the car out of there."

Now, before you go on about how things like this could never happen to an experienced car guy, it's important to note that Payne is no automotive neophyte. He was bitten by the car bug as a kid riding around in the rumble seat of his father Tom's 1931 Chevrolet. He also took an automotive mechanics course in high school. His rolling resume has included former beauties like a 1968 Chevrolet Camaro RS SS convertible and a stable of cool old trucks.

The moral is this: Much like the shady contractors that TV star Mike Holmes cleans up after on his hit show Holmes on Homes, a small number of people in the automotive restoration trade either take advantage of their customers or simply take on jobs that are beyond their capabilities.

In his case, Payne figures it was a combination of both. Similar issues also occurred when he hired a friend of a friend to complete the Challenger's interior. The guy made a total mess of the job, never completed it and ultimately wanted more money than he originally quoted.

After learning a few lessons the hard and expensive way, Payne finally found the right guys for the job last summer. He credits Ralph Sommerfeld from Auto Resurrection for getting the job done right. Sommerfeld did the final bodywork and applied the eye-popping original Hemi orange paint.

"Ralph told me he would take the car on May 1 and have it completed by June 30 and he completed the car on time and totally in line with the original price he quoted me," Payne said.

Payne opted to swap out the 318 engine in favor of a 340 engine. Competition Engines rebuilt the motor, while Great Rate Transmission rebuilt the AT. Otto's Custom Upholstery was commissioned to complete the interior and did a fantastic job.

Payne is also quick to thank his friend, Gary, for wiring the car and helping out with many of the little things required to get it back on the road.

"I can tell you that whatever could go wrong on this project did, and I could fill a whole section of your paper with my woes. But my friends and family have stuck with me through it all and I could never have done it without them."

If Payne could do it all over again, he said he'd probably buy a finished car. With the battered U.S. economy and depressed classic-car prices, he figures it would have been far less than the cost of the restoration.

But, if you do opt to have your car restored, Payne has some wise advice to offer following his challenging Challenger restoration: Get the job details in writing with a firm time-line, and get receipts for everything -- no matter how much you like the person you're dealing with and no matter how much you trust them.

Another wise piece of advice Payne offered is to shop locally.

"I dealt with both Walker Auto Parts and Piston Ring, and many of the parts required for the restoration were available locally for half the price of American companies like Year One," he said.

Chris, his wife Anita and their teenage children, Keith and Caley, look forward to going for Sunday cruises and mingling with others in the hobby.

"I don't know what drives the passion, but it's nice to know I am not alone," Payne said.

While his journey has been long, and he probably could have bought a small island for what he has invested in the Challenger, one thumbs-up from an admirer makes it all worthwhile.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 30, 2011 G6

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