Thursday, September 17, 2009

Restoration by DRS FantomWorks

I had my venerable old 1982 Checker Marathon restored this summer. Dan Short, the fellow who owns and operates DRS FantomWorks, did a fantastic job of the restoration. I sent him the following blurb as an appreciation for the job he did. I will append pictures at the end.


Hello, fellow antique car enthusiasts!

I love vintage cars. Not that I don't respect the modern automobiles. Many of them are very reliable, very fuel-efficient and comfortable. But I just don't see them as real cars; they're more like appliances. You don't fall in love with an appliance; you just use it until it wears out. Same with these new-fangled motor vehicles. Sufficient substance, but no style. Lots of engineering, but no soul. I have trouble with the whole concept of "planned obsolescence" -- I just don't like it when, before the car's even assembled, the engineers have already calculated the number of years before the junkyard beckons. It just seems wrong. I prefer cars that are modern enough to perform well and be comfortable, but simple enough to be fixed and sturdy enough to last.

After many years of using my beloved 1982 Checker Marathon as a daily driver, it really began to show some serious age: faded paint; leaky windshield; holes behind the rear window; crummy carpet; bent hood; dreary, delapidated headliner. It's hard watching your "loved ones" get old.

I wanted to consider restoring the Checker, and interviewed several people who were in that line of work. They seemed nice enough, and all of them could probably have sold me a half-decent paint job. But then all I would have is a thirty-year-old car with fresh paint -- and who knows, underneath the new, glossy paint, how much of the car would consist of body putty instead of welded metal? Or even how long the paint job would continue to look glossy and new?

Well, after agonizing over the decision for a few months, a buddy of mine turned me on to DRS Automotive FantomWorks. I met with Dan Short, owner/manager, and he took me on a tour of his facilities. My first impression was how clean and well-organized his shop is -- it's very reassuring to take your car to a shop that does not reflect chaos and a crisis-management style. I knew within five minutes of talking to Dan that I could trust him to do a great job on my Checker. Dan is very well-educated and extremely smart. He understands, apparently, everything about cars -- historically, mechanically, and stylistically. He understands systems -- which impressed my inner computer geek very much. Best of all, Dan understands the needs of the customer (me), and assured me that I would be driving (so to speak) this entire process myself, from beginning to end. Dan would make recommendations and provide enough information for me to make well-informed decisions, in my personal search for the best trade-off between the ideal restoration and the limitations of the pocketbook.

Dan told me the job would be finished in about six weeks to two months. I harbored some doubts about that because one of the restoration shops I had interviewed gave me an estimate of seven months. (!) But Dan was as good as his word. I was able to visit the car each week during the process and witness the progress myself, every step of the way -- from disassembly, to sanding it down to bare metal, to priming and painting, and re-assembly. Dan also gave me a guided tour of my own car -- more of a lecture, really -- showing the good and maybe some of the not-so-good features in its engineering, and making recommendations on mechanical repairs. Not that Dan is the type of guy who sells unnecessary repairs -- far from it! On two or three occasions, I even pointed out something extra he might want to do while the car was disassembled; his usual response was, "There's no advantage to doing that now, just wait until you need that done." Dan does not waste his time, or your money, on things that aren't necessary or desirable.

I also found Dan's staff to be very helpful, pleasant, and knowledgeable. Everyone seemed to be enjoying his work, and were forthcoming about the parts of the restoration that fell within their own area of expertise. Dan himself is a whirling dervish of purposeful activity -- working on a car, on the phone, ordering parts, helping you with your color selection, explaining the latest engineering feature he noticed in your car, taking people for test drives. Best of all, Dan is honest -- unfashionably, ridiculously, even shoot-himself-in-the-foot honest. If Dan gives you two or three alternatives and asks you to decide, you simply have to ask him, "If this were your car, what would you do?" He will tell you, even if you just know he would have made more money by telling you something else.

It's not just a living to these guys: they love what they do.

And what they do is very much worth doing: they make the world a less humdrum, more lovely place. They resurrect old cars and make them young and beautiful again. And they want you to love the results. I certainly have. In a world of four-wheeled rolling jellybeans, I have a car that stands out and says, "I'm not a throwaway appliance; I'm a real car! I'm history!" Everywhere I drive, people turn, stare, smile, and give me the thumbs-up. FantomWorks deserves all the credit for that. Anyone who has an older car that he would love to see restored to its former glory desperately needs to take it to FantomWorks. Give Dan and the gang an opportunity to perform their special magic on your car.

Here's the "before" shot, taken this past May:

...and here's the "after" shot, taken in August:



marlinmike said...

Hi RT,

Love your post. The appliance analogy is spot-on. I had a 1968 Ford Torino for over 20 years before - due to an empty wallet - I had to sell it. I regret it and have been looking for one to replace it (but, once again, I have an empty wallet!). I dig your car, it looks fantastic.

Keep drivin' the dream!


Simon Schempp said...

I love the transformation! The restoration definitely changed the car from a plain, old-looking auto into a beautiful, classic ride. I think you made the right decision in taking your car to Dan’s auto shop for a complete restoration service. It didn’t only enhance the aesthetic value of your beloved vehicle; I’m sure the inner workings of your car also improved!

Maria Wegner said...

“It's not just a living to these guys: they love what they do.” – Real talk! Their passion really reflected on the upshot of the restoration project. Look at that sleek Checker Marathon! =)

Junior Perrera said...

Wow! What a transformation! For me, it already looked good as it was, but dang, it looked even better restored! The new coat of paint is more attractive than the previous one. Even the wheels were customized! It’s really marvelous!

Lee said...

Looks like I'm getting spammed.