At some point in the future, the hobby of restoring old cars will disappear, but Wayne Boonstra hopes one or both of his grandsons will catch his enthusiasm.
Boonstra, 56, owner of Black Rose Automotive at 5229 Portage Ave. in Headingley, said his business puts bread on the table, but bringing old cars back to life is his passion.
Saying he dropped out of school to pursue his interest in cars, his first car was a 1957 Austin Cambridge that he began working on when he was 15.
Boonstra recalls the days in the 1970s when he and other young car enthusiasts would gather in a store parking lot in St. James to check out each other’s cars and trade
information on fixing and souping up their rides.
That went on until the police decided to take an interest in making sure that the modifications that young owners had made were all legal.
Mainly self-taught, he said he worked as a mechanics apprentice for Gulf Oil and, later in a body shop where he learned how to restore the body of a vehicle.
He said he and his friends would customize vans and worked together to restore a 1968 Shelby Cobra.
"A lot of what we did was self-taught," he said, but he also picked up tips at car shows and show and shines.
Over the years, Boonstra has restored a 1964 Ford Galaxie 500XL convertible, 1954 Plymouth, 1969 GMC panel truck, 1970 Camaro, 1958 Chevrolet Delray, 1967 Dodge Monaco, and the 1954 Chevrolet five window half-ton that he used in his company’s logo.
He has a 1966 Thunderbird and a 1969 Ranchero and he’s gradually collecting the parts needed to restore them through online research. Being able to use a computer to look for parts makes things much easier, Boonstra said, but there is a downside: the ability to compare prices online has made it more expensive to find a diamond in the rough that might once have been stored in a barn and sold for a few hundred bucks.
"If people know what they have, it costs more now," he said.
Boonstra and other classic car fans will work on cars dating back to the 1920s and 30s because it’s possible to rebuild them and get them back on the road. He said over the past 30 years, car manufacturers have built disposable cars that run well but don’t last as long. The use of computer parts in engines means that once these parts can’t be replaced, the engine simply won’t work.
"We seem to be going into a bit of a classic car depression," Boonstra said. "But the diehards are still passionate."
The North American car culture that prevailed in the 1950s to 70s has disappeared, and today’s young people mostly view cars as a way of getting from A to B, not as treasured possessions to polish and show off.
"The culture that sprouted muscle cars and classic cars is dying," he said.
He has operated his garage at the same location in Headingley for 12 years after moving from his original site on the other side of the highway. Most of his business comes from servicing vehicles for nearby car dealerships, and he’s pleased to be in that situation although he’s hoping to retire in a few years.
He’s now in the process of building a house in Brunkild with plans to include a heated garage so he can continue to work on his projects, and invite his grandsons to join him.