In 1994, young Victor Ramey and his father, Phillip, purchased a decrepit old '62 Bel Air station wagon. As with most projects, the intention was to restore the old Chevy and sprinkle it with a little hot rodding magic.
However, unlike most restos, which get delayed by a lack time or a loss in interest, the Rameys were first stymied by Phillip's heart attack. And though he recovered, the family was thrown another medical curveball-prior to his 18th birthday, Victor was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. A lymph-attacking cancer that can spread to organs throughout the body, Hodgkins Lymphoma is a life-threatening disease. And it's the reason the Make-A-Wish Foundation got involved in the project.
A non-profit organization that grants wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses, the Make-A-Wish Foundatin of Greater Ohio, as well as the Kentucky chapter, took on Victor's desire to see the '62 wagon restored. Problem was, the Make-A-Wish folks never restored a car before and didn't know where to turn for assistance.
Dale Schaller, a Make-A-Wish rep from the Youngstown, Ohio, area became the project's champion. A guy with an interest in cars, but no experience in building them, Schaller reached out and found Bill Conklin, owner of Pro Car Race Shop in Columbiana, Ohio, and Joe Brenneman, a soon-to-be retired employee at GM's Lordstown Assembly Plant.
Although dozens of others contributed to the car's restoration, it was these three men who lived with the Chevy during its eight-month transformation. According to Conklin, restoring the '62 in eight months didn't seem possible when the project began: "To be honest, it wouldn't even have made a good parts car," Conklin says of the wagon. "Every major body panel had to be replaced-the doors, quarters, front fenders. Even the roof was bad."
"You Name It""
Conklin, who's worked on cars for 30 years and briefly on Don Garlits' race team, says he went through three rolls of MIG wire and two tanks of gas for the bodywork's welding needs. Workspace for the project was donated by Mahoning County Career and Technical Center.
"Bondo, fiberglass, lead, brass-you name it, it was in there," Conklin says of the car's rough body. "And where there wasn't a patched panel, there was nothing. The space was rotted away."
As work progressed, local enthusiast John Pavlov, a Lordstown employee who also runs a resto parts business for vintage Bow-Ties, was able to provide some of the wagon's rare trim pieces. Other restoration parts were generously donated by Year One. In fact, at the vehicle's presentation ceremony Year One generously presented the Make-A-Wish Foundation with a financial donation that will help fund future wishes.
With the sheetmetal just about straight, the team realized it would have to be painted. Luckily, Harvey Kulkin, from Sherwin Williams' nearby headquarters in Cleveland, read about the project in a local paper. He was authorized to donate the paint, while another Sherwin Williams employee, Marc Holbury, agreed to spray it.
A special color called "Make-A-Wish Blue" was mixed with Sherwan Williams' Helicon color-shifting paint. The spiral pattern of the pigment not only creates a deep hue but adds more depth and subtlety when viewing the color's shade changes. Also, the color-shifting flakes in the paint are larger, which creates different tones compared to other color-shifting paints.
All told, Holbury went around the car 36 times with the spray gun, laying down primer, basecoats, color, and clear. Sherwin Williams permitted the car to be painted at its headquarters, even giving Holbury time on the clock to finish the job.
When it came to the engine, Summit Racing got involved by supplying a Recon 355 small-block and some polished goodies to dress up the Mouse motor. Conklin again worked his magic on the project by swapping the cam for a milder one that would provide better driveability. A Holley four-barrel rests atop the engine, drawing air through a billet aluminum air cleaner.
The engine is joined to a Turbo 350 automatic, which spins a 3.55-geared rearend. Steamroller treads and giant 18-inch Billet Specialties wheels are the rolling stock, while a custom Air Ride Technologies airbag system allows the car's cruising height to be adjusted with a couple of dash-mounted switches. Other suspension components include donations from Hotchkis and Energy Suspension.
Inside, a "pleather" interior set was stitched in record time by Cyclone TNT Auto Restyling. A Vintage Air A/C system blows cold on the new upholstery, and there's a Jensen stereo system for tunes, too. "I couldn't believe how quickly they did it," says Joe Brenneman, of Cyclone TNT's work. "One person cut the pattern and the next was sewing it up. It was amazing. They really did a great job for us."
When all was said and done, more than 70 companies contributed to the project, including some behind-the-scenes support by General Motors: "They were instrumental in getting this car done," says Schaller. "We can't thank them enough."
Victor Ramey says he can't thank the volunteers enough, either. When the car was unveiled, he was all grins. "I didn't know what to expect," he says. "But this is just awesome." Ramey says the experience has invigorated him, and he pledges to support the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the volunteers who helped complete his Chevy: "I'll do anything for anybody at any time," he says.
As fate would have it, however, the story of this car's transformation has an unfortunate twist. During the course of the project, Joe Brenneman and Bill Conklin were both diagnosed with cancer. And though each was facing a life-altering challenge, neither thought for a moment about withdrawing from the Chevy project before its completion-a project with more than 3,000 hours of labor in it. "More than restoring the car, it was the relationships that formed with the project that are most important to me," says Brenneman. "I'm good friends now with people I wouldn't have met otherwise."
Old cars have always brought people together. This '62 Chevy Bel Air has done more than that. It's the embodiment not only of a young man's wish but the power of commitment and sacrifice.
It's a lesson from which every one of us can learn.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation thanks the following companies for the contributions to Victor Ramey's wish. Additional kudos go out to the nameless individuals behind these companies and the selfless work and time they donated:
Aamco Transmission-Refuge Rd.,Columbus, Ohio
Advance Auto Parts
Air Ride Technologies
Atwood Metal Prep Inc.
Auto. Dealers Assoc. of Eastern Ohio
Automotive Racing Products
Bedford Anodizing Co.
Classic Chevy Int'l.
Classic Performance Products
Cyclone TNT Auto Restyling
Industrial Radiator & Air Cond.
Lordstown Assembly Plant
Lutty's Chevy Warehouse
Mahoning County Career & Technical Center
Mr. Gasket Inc.
Pro Car Race Shop
Repair That Glass
Summit Racing Equipment
Tip Tools Inc.
Towing & Recovery Assoc. of Eastern Ohio
True 2 Form Body Shop
UAW Local 1112