Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Diamond in the rough

Local police officer transforms ugly duckling into rare swan

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Many an auto buff has brought an old car home with the intention of restoring it, only to be greeted by looks of utter disbelief by friends and family.

That was certainly the case when Rod Hourd brought his new/old 1967 Pontiac Firebird home.

In fact, the heavily customized 'bird was such a mess that in 1989 Car and Driver magazine had called it one of the top 10 ugliest cars ever produced.

"When we received this frightful entry from Manitoba we knew immediately that its utter lack of pulchritude would earn it a spot on our list," the magazine said. "This neo-classic abomination sports more than enough grotesque add-ons -- a gawky grille, heinous headlamps and a scandalous spoked spare -- to ensure that it will one day be committed to the Ugly Cars Hall of Defame."

Harsh words, to be sure. But for Hourd, a Winnipeg police sergeant with 25 years on the job, the one-of-a-kind creation was the proverbial diamond in the rough.

Beneath all that hideous custom bodywork Hourd wisely determined that the car was actually a rare 1967 Pontiac Firebird Sprint complete with a nice interior and a rare, factory, numbers-matching inline 6-cylinder overhead cam engine with aluminum block and 4-barrel carburetor.

Hourd tried to buy the car the day he saw it more than a decade ago, but the owner, a retired Brandon police officer, wasn't ready to part with it just yet. Persistence paid off and Hourd finally brought the car home in 2006.

With help from his youngest son Colin, a corrections officer at the Winnipeg Remand Centre, and his eldest son Adam, a fellow police officer, Hourd stripped the Firebird of its former 'custom' bodywork and embarked on a complete restoration that returned it to its former glory.

For Hourd, a country boy who was raised in Ile de Chenes and attended high school in Lorette, cars and trucks have always been a passion. His rolling resume has included a '56 Chevy, a '68 Nova, and a pair of vintage Chevrolet trucks he restored for his sons.

With the car stripped down and ready for restoration, Hourd commissioned J.C Custom Fibreglass to do all of the bodywork, which included replacement panels on pretty much the entire car. After the body was back to square one, the crew at J.C. repainted the car in its original colour, Cameo Ivory, which was sourced out by the paint professionals at Rondex Limited.

Many of the body parts and the small odds and ends, including factory-correct nuts and bolts, were ordered from U.S.-based National Auto Parts. Hourd used Pembina Parcel Post in nearby Pembina, N.D. to cut down on shipping costs. National provides free shipping within the U.S. and Pembina Parcel Post acts as a mailing address for Canadian shoppers. The company only charged $5 per box to accept and hold the items until Hourd could pick them up. Hourd estimates he made more than 15 trips to Pembina for pickups, but saved substantially on the cost of having parts delivered to his door.

Hourd also shopped locally when possible, and credits Aimes Auto, Pro Auto Parts and Dynamic Auto for helping him source many of the required parts. Local jobbers involved in the restoration also included Standard Auto Springs, IDC Auto Electric, Best Auto Glass, J.B. Transmission, Baker Upholstery and Extreme Performance Exhaust.

Hourd, who spent many late nights in the garage tinkering with the Firebird, credits his patient wife Colleen with helping him see the restoration through to completion last fall. The car was shown for the first time this spring at Piston Ring's annual World of Wheels Car Show, where it took home best-in-class honours.

Although Hourd could have opted to simply replace Firebird's body panels and drop in a V8 engine, he chose to restore it to original factory specs.

"Sixty-seven Firebirds are rare cars to begin with, but Sprint models with the original inline 6-cylinder engine and a 4-speed transmission are extremely rare," he said. "And although it was more expensive to restore it to original, in the end it is a much more valuable car."

While it took more than five years to complete the restoration, Hourd said the entire process went fairly smoothly. But he's also vowed that the Firebird is the last car he will ever restore.

The only question that remains now is which one of his sons will one day inherit the car.

"One gets the Harley and the other gets the Firebird," he said with a chuckle. "They can work it out amongst themselves."

willy@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 22, 2011 F13

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