Project to restore car turns into a family classic
Some things bring families closer together.
Imagine a father, son and grandfather working five years in a standard two-car garage in St. Peters restoring a classic muscle car. Imagine the car looking like a million bucks when they were finished. Now imagine them putting it up for sale at a collector car auction.
When Drew Stahlheber was 14, he decided he wanted to restore a car. His grandfather, John Thousand of Crestwood, had restored a couple of Mustangs and three Austin Healeys, so Drew knew he would have some expert advice, plus Grandpa had many of the tools.
In the spring of 2001, Drew had to decide what model of muscle car he wanted to buy and restore.
"I wanted something that nobody had," he said. "You see a lot of Camaros and Mustangs. I was looking for something with a big engine and a 4-speed transmission."
Well, how about a 1970 Dodge Challenger RT with a 440 cubic-inch engine?
Dodge only made this model from 1970-74, so there wouldn't be a whole lot of them out there. Drew began searching on the Internet, as did his father, Tom Stahlheber. It took them six months, but they finally found the car in Seattle. They bought it sight unseen for $4,000 and paid another $1,000 to ship it to St. Peters. They got it just before Christmas in 2001.
Oh, did it need restoring. It had been a show car, but had sat outside for several years. The body was rusted, the interior was a mess and the gas tank was missing, among other things.
No problem. Tom bought a commercial heater for his garage so they could work year round on the Challenger.
"It needed lots of attention," Tom said. He began what he calls "an international scavenger hunt" for parts on his lunch break. Most were bought on the Internet, via eBay. "A lot of people don't understand how much restoring a car costs," he said. "Just the headers (for the engine) were $900."
Grandpa was the expert on restoring the body, and he concocted "spits" so the car could be turned on its side and rotated. It was sandblasted and dipped to remove all of the rust and three decades of paint buildup from at least two color changes. A mass of thick undercoating also had to be removed.
The car needed new sheet metal patches on the quarter panels, and new floorboards were welded on. After the sheet metal work, a completely rebuilt drivetrain was installed, followed by the installation of an entirely new interior and all new glass. The body was given a top-drawer paint job, and all new exterior trim was put in place.
"There wasn't a bolt or nut left" from the original body, Grandpa said.
Drew says the car remains about 90 percent stock. Some engine parts were upgraded, and an AM-FM radio with a CD player was installed on the dashboard. Drew was a freshman at Fort Zumwalt South High School when he got the car, and he was driving it his senior year.
It's now back in their garage on Ardennais Road in the Dovers Crossing subdivision so they can do some detail work in preparation for Saturday's St. Charles Collector Car Auction at the St. Charles Convention Center. About 150 collector cars will be available at the auction, which will run from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The price is $40,000 for the 1970 Challenger, which looks brand new.
Drew's not exactly happy about selling it, but his dad said it's an economic necessity. Plus, it's sort of a family business. "I bought a Mustang for $2,100 and sold it for $16,000," Grandpa said.
Not that it's exactly an easy way to make a buck, however. Five years worth of blood, sweat and tears, plus a ton of money, were poured into Drew's dream car.
His 19th birthday will be Sunday and he's now a freshman at St. Charles Community College. How does he feel about selling his classic muscle car?
"Not all that great," he said.
Source: St.Louis Post-Dispatch
By John Sonderegger