Orangeville hot rod builders and friends rally for Headwaters Health Care Centre
Gary and Katharene Brown share a passion for cars with a group of people that has been beneficial to both lovers of souped-up, custom hot rods and the Headwaters Health Care Centre.
Katherene was one of the organizers of thefirst ever Wheelfest car show at the OAS Events Centre (Orangeville Fairgrounds) in August.
Her employer, Orangeville Wal-Mart, matched the proceeds of the show and presented the hospital with a cheque for $3,000 that will go towards the purchase of new equipment.
It was a way of giving back for the enjoyment and positive social interaction the couple has gained through their love of vintage cars.
The passion has also translated into a business for Gary. Hot Rod Builders, in nearby Amaranth, is a reputable builder of customized vehicles that can often carry price tags of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
When interviewed, Gary and Katherene went to lengths to explain that the organization of Wheelfest was a team effort, involving a number of local car enthusiasts.
“For all the fame we may have in the car show world,” explained Gary, “on the day of the event, we were just two grunts.”
Despite a brief downpour on the day of Wheelfest that drenched the vehicles of the 164 entrants and the approximately 250 spectators, the show was a success.
It raised almost $1,500 and Wal-Mart came through with the rest.
“The very fact we did well, with the odds against us, speaks well for the car people.”
Gary was actually a boat guy before making his foray into the custom car business. Back in the 1960s, he was doing fiberglass work on yachts that were selling for up to $1 million.
His first recognition as a car builder came in 1976, when his customized ’66 Beaumont won critical acclaim as the top customized car in Canada and one of the top ten in North America.
By the 1980s, Gary was working with other people who were fixing up vehicles, but was still in the yacht business. “I was scared to give up that paycheque,” he said.
“About 1984, my wife said it was time to put up or shut up.”The new company was started in Oshawa, under the name Custom Car Builders. It was working on between six and ten vehicles a year.Gary was working the technical end and Katherene, more or less, took care of the business end of things.
“If an experienced auto body guy came into the shop looking for a job,” Gary recalled, “the first thing I would ask was: ‘Can you work for a woman?’”
Gary admitted that going into business resulted in more than a few nervous, sleepless nights.“When the recession of 1990 hit, I was preparing for the worst and expecting business to go down. It got better, instead.”
He continued to have high-end clients, including GM. GM commissioned Gary to rebuild a ’57 Chevy that was later driven by famed radio disc jockey Wolfman Jack.
He found the market for his product is mostly older males who have established themselves financially and are looking at a nice, unique car out of joy, more than necessity. Right now, Hot Rod Builders works on about three vehicles a year.
“The sky is the limit,” Gary answers when asked how much people are willing to invest in a custom, vintage car. “We’ve done cars that are $250,000 and up.”
That is not to say that all his customers are wealthy practitioners of conspicuous consumption. Some of his vehicles are relatively non-descript makes that have sentimental value to certain individuals.
“We even did a 1976 Nova,” said Gary. The Nova would likely never be considered one of the famous cars, “but the guy loved it. So, we redid every inch of it. “I saw it 15 years later, and it was still in perfect shape.”
Written by Dan Pelton