As the economy continues to worsen and inflation continues to rise, doubtless there will be less and less discretionary income squandered on things clearly unnecessary for day-to-day survival. Yes, survival.
Is our hobby doomed? Will hot rodding become an amusing footnote to American history? The old hands have heard this talk before. They didn’t get to be old hands by being idle. Before the time when you could buy whatever you needed, you made it out of nothing. You pulled your brains together, maybe got a like-minded pal to help and to have a few laughs in the bad times, and you came up with something unique, something that no one else had and that’s a fact.
Bum budget or no, some people will never quite cotton to store-bought goods, no matter how expedient or efficient they might be. By and large, the doers outnumber the payers by an ungodly margin. The doers’ clock runs a little slower. Doers don’t need that part yesterday. They seek adventure in the journey, not the destination. Damned if that doesn’t smack of the old days.
Michigander Trent Wendell, 32, is hardly an old guy. But he is a mechanical engineer specializing in brake and safety systems. He isn’t a member of any club or driving organization; his inner circle is composed of family and a few very close friends. There is age and there is youth, and there is respect for both. Trent’s cast includes his dad, Dave. “He helped with everything,” Trent says. “He’s an amazing body and paint guy as well as a person who ‘just knows what a car needs’ to make it right. He loves to cut up cars and make them better. He has taught me so much.”
Julie (Trent’s wife) and Debbie (his mom) were very supportive and cheerfully abided Trent and his dad being in the shop for monster hours at a time. Julie polished moldings, recovered the seats, and helped put the engine together. Although he was becoming very ill, granddad Richard Krause was in the shop throughout the project. “He helped with the engine and the rearend. He died, but not before seeing the first incarnation of the SS 396.” Friend Dwight Polzin is a pipe fitter by trade. He soldered the heater core to reroute the hoses and did other jobs along the way.
The beginning was rough. Trent: “We bought this car when I was 14. My dad found it in a farmer’s field near home in Fenton, Michigan. It was a 138 VIN, an original SS 396, red with a black interior. Over the following two years we restored it the first time. My dad said he wouldn’t work on the car unless I was doing it, too. There were weeks that it just sat because I was preoccupied with something else. We did this entire restoration right out of dad’s garage. What I could not afford to buy we built, including the serpentine accessory drive, valve covers, air cleaner lid, modified heater core to hide the hoses, fiberglass subwoofer box, and more.
“When it came time to paint, he asked me what color. I said, ‘orange’, and asked him if that was OK. He told me that he’d paint it pink if I wanted.” Fifteen years after the car was finished, the Wendell clan did the whole thing over again, this time with a body-off resto and an all-new drivetrain,” Trent says, with just a sliver of celebration in his voice. Fortunately for the rest of us, some people just don’t know when to quit.