Remodel restores love of cars

Staff writer

Rodney Williams has never entered his 1927 Buick into a car show and driven back to his Florence home without a prize.

It’s easy to see why it’s won at shows in Marion, Florence, and Burns. It’s a boxy, black and blue beauty. Its honeycombed grill, circular cursive drawn Buick logo, varnished wooden wheel spokes, and wooden steering wheel beckon the viewer back to a time when there were way more dirt roads than paved roads in Kansas — and a trip to Kansas City took six hours.

That last sentence holds the reason why the ’27 Buick is not Williams’ favorite restored vehicle.

“It’s slower than a seven-year itch,” he said. “Forty miles per hour is the top speed.”

Williams stayed true to the original ’20s era engine. Sure, parts had to be replaced or fixed, but he kept the workings as authentic as possible.

He tinkered quite a bit more with the engine of his refurbished 1960 Pontiac Ventura. Although the burgundy colored Ventura is built like a landlocked boat, the car can do 80 mph, like most vehicles putter around at 20. The engine of the Ventura is still made of mostly ’60s era parts, but Williams doubled the horsepower.

A 1960 Pontiac Ventura was Williams’ first car. He has fond memories of challenging all comers to races on country roads. He does not remember losing. He felt a considerable measure of pride in his first car. He’s transferred that pride to his adult passion of remodeling cars.

That passion takes a lot of money and a lot of work.

Williams said it is easy to drop $30,000 on an engine. As a rehabber goes through a list of necessary parts, it’s not uncommon to pay $1,000 here and $2,000 there.

The work is more substantial. When Williams gets a vehicle, it is a husk of its former self. Along with his ’60 Pontiac and ’27 Buick, a fire-engine red 1939 International D-model truck resides in his personal Florence garage. That truck had been through a fire and showed the holes of several gunshot wounds.

Like all of his remodeling jobs, Williams had to strip, pound out, and sand the frame. A few pieces of filler were necessary in the body. Everywhere else, Williams pounded out every dent. The only one of his cars that didn’t need filler was the ’27 Buick.

Engine work is Williams’ favorite part — it’s what he does for a living at Williams Service in Florence, although in those cases it’s on semi trucks. It is also the piece of the job that requires some homemade parts: things like bearings, valves, and valve rings. Williams bought machines from George Waner when the machinist retired.

It’s the little touches that people see, Williams said. On the back hatch of the International truck, there is an International logo inlaid into the metal. Williams said that piece alone took 30 hours.

The Ventura was originally a four-door car. He welded the back two doors in to make it a sleeker two-door.

For the honeycomb on the ’27, Williams individually banged all those bars straight.

It’s pride in his work that drove Williams to develop those little touches — work he loves. It’s the same reason he says no project is ever complete. The ’27 needs shades for is back windows; the ’39 truck needs a head light ring.

Even though a job is never really done, he is about ready to remodel a 1936 C-Model International truck parked in his driveway. The rusted hunk of metal will need a lot of work.

Even at 77 years old, Williams is up for the challenge.

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