Restoring Glory: Shop rebuilds classic autos by hand, vision
Jack Berggren had two cars languishing at restoration shops earlier this year when he decided to take matters into his own hands.
"The work was not getting done," Berggren said, "and what was done was done horribly."
Berggren, who owns Pinnacle Furnishings in Aberdeen, met George Fredericks through a mutual friend, and the two opened Icon Customs last September in 10,000 square feet of space at Pinnacle's manufacturing plant on N.C. 211.
"For me, it was a no-brainer," Berggren said. "We get along well, and he does things with cars that interest me. I like cars. That's the long and short of it."
Fredericks said the decision came down to a matter of Berggren hiring him to restore the cars or "starting a company to do it."
"Jack said he had the space, so we decided to just do it here," Fredericks said.
One of their first projects is a 1940 Lincoln-Zephyr Continental Cabriolet - considered a bellwether of American automotive design - that was once owned by legendary entertainer Jimmy Durante.
"It's not going to be a cheap endeavor, but the car has a cool history," Berggren said.
In 1938, Edsel Ford expressed an interest in a "special convertible coupe that's long, low and rakish," incorporating many European-inspired design elements. In response, a Ford Motor Co. designer quickly sketched the outline of the new car's two-door, four-seat body based on the groundbreaking Lincoln-Zephyr.
A prototype was hand-built in less than six months and delivered in March 1939 to Edsel Ford in Palm Beach, Fla., where he used it on his annual winter vacation.
The car drew so much attention and acclaim that work immediately started on a production version, which debuted that fall as a 1940 model tailored to the prominent and wealthy in society.
"Ford decided to build some for his affluent friends," Fredericks said. "It was extremely expensive, equivalent to what a Rolls-Royce would cost today. Only 350 Cabriolets were built."
Berggren purchased the car from a former employee, whose family had stored it in a barn in Missouri for almost three decades.
"I used to like working on cars. I don't anymore," he said. "I'm going to watch them do it."
Fredericks has stripped the car down to the original metal frame and hopes to complete the five-figure restoration project in time for Berggren to show it at the inaugural Pinehurst Concours d'Elegance at Pinehurst Resort in May.
"That's an ambitious schedule, but we're going to do everything we can to make it," Fredericks said. "It's not easy to find missing parts for a 1940 Lincoln-Zephyr Continental Cabriolet."
Fortunately, Fredericks doesn't have to go far to make his own - Berggren has a machine shop in adjoining space where Pinnacle produces custom designed seating for the casino, hotel and restaurant industries.
"I just love building stuff, taking it apart and putting it back together," Fredericks said. "The difference between a show car and a street car is the amount of money and labor put into the restoration."
Fredericks, 48, restored his first car as a teenager in a New Jersey body shop owned by his father.
"I've been doing this my whole life," he said. "Restoring cars is something you have to love because you do most of the work yourself. You can hire someone to help, but you can't turn it over to them."
Fredericks usually works with a mechanic and "a body man."
"Body work is like drafting. You have to have a deft hand. Either you're an artist or you're not," he said. "It's easier to hire someone with no experience and train them than to hire someone with experience and untrain them."
Body work typically includes metal -fabrication, smoothing everything out, and the paint job.
"People tend to get in a hurry, but you can't because there are a lot of levels of restoration," Fredericks said. "It's a matter of taking the time to make it nice.
"You pull something out of the woods that looks like a piece of crap to other people, but they don't have a vision of what it could be. After you're done, nobody believes it's the same car."
In addition to the Lincoln-Zephyr Continental Cabriolet, Fredericks is currently working on restoring a 1963 Corvette Stingray, a 1930 Model A Ford Roadster and a 1964 Volkswagen Notchback, among others. Waiting in the wings is a 1974 Dodge Challenger.
"That is the first car I ever bought," Berggren said. "I don't usually get rid of stuff."
Icon Customs can restore muscle cars, foreign cars or classic cars, as well as motorcycles and trucks.
Despite his capabilities, Fredericks doesn't envision the company becoming a big enterprise.
"We're going to be a small shop doing upper-end restorations," he said. "Some people hold on to cars too long without restoring them, then it's too late. It's a shame, because it's something that could have been back on the road."
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at (910) 693-2474 or email@example.com.
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