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Springs business brings classic cars back from the dead

By: BILL RADFORD
November 28, 2011
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photo - Jim Verhey with the restored 1970 Plymouth Superbird. Photo by BILL RADFORD, THE GAZETTE
Jim Verhey with the restored 1970 Plymouth Superbird. Photo by BILL RADFORD, THE GAZETTE 

A 1970 Plymouth Superbird returned to its original glory by a Colorado Springs vintage auto restoration business will roar onto the international stage in February — one of only 50 cars worldwide invited to the Kuwait Concours d’Elegance.

The car’s owner, Colorado Springs developer Warren Dean, will be there. So will Jim Verhey, owner of Reincarnation Auto Restoration, which brought the old car back to life.

Verhey has attended state and national shows, but this will be his first time at the  international level. It’s not about winning big bucks — winners walk away with only a trophy or ribbon. The value, he said, is in making contacts and attracting potential customers.

“We get more work out of shows,” he said. “My advertising dollars are almost worthless. Finding my target market is next to impossible. I need to find the guy who’s got this car in his backyard for 30 or 40 years, the kids have gone off to college, and the wife’s tired of seeing the car.”

Shows such as the Kuwait Concours are on an invitation-only basis. The show is paying all expenses for Verhey, Dean and their wives.

The Kuwaitis, Verhey said, “are known for being very enthusiastic about classic cars, in particular muscle cars like the Superbird.” The visit will include a side trip to Dubai, where Verhey will meet with a client who has hired Reincarnation to restore a Jaguar XKE.

Reincarnation restored Dean’s Superbird, which had been in storage for roughly 30 years, in 2007. Among other issues, the floor and quarter panels were rusted out, and the engine was locked up.

“It had sat way too long,” Verhey said.

Dean has been “more than generous” in allowing him to frequently show the car, Verhey said.

“I’ve got a key to the house,” Verhey said. “I pick it up whenever I need it.”

Verhey himself isn’t a big fan of the Superbird. “But people just go wild for it in shows," he said. "They’ve never seen one.” (Fans of Pixar’s “Cars” will recognize the 1970 Superbird as car No. 43 in the animated film.)

The car will be shipped to Kuwait in a couple of weeks; the company handling the transport is the same one that shipped fashion designer Ralph Lauren’s fabled car collection to the Louvre in Paris for a show this summer. It’s a delicate process — each car is crated by hand, then loaded into a container and accompanied by someone who keeps an eye on the  cargo — and an expensive one. “But for the Kuwaitis, money doesn’t seem to be an issue,” Verhey said.

Many of the car owners who look to Reincarnation to bring rusted shells back to gleaming life are also quite well-heeled, he noted.

“This can be a very expensive hobby,” Verhey said. Some cars can cost as much as $100,000 to restore.

Reincarnation typically delivers a car every month; at any one time, it might be working on 15 to 20 cars. Verhey employs a half-dozen in his shop, including his son, and his wife handles the bookkeeping.

Verhey, who grew up in Rochester, N.Y., was raised around cars; his dad was a car dealer. He has worked in dealerships and had a repair business, “but I got tired of everyone wanting their car by 5.” So Verhey turned to auto restoration, where he said there are no completion dates and no budgets.

“What they want,” he said, “is the quality of work.”

He opened his first restoration shop in Denver in the early 1990s. He moved to Colorado Springs about a decade ago. Reincarnation has been in its currently location, 3630 N. Stone Ave., for three years.

Verhey has been through several ups and downs in the business; the downs usually follow big drops in the stock market. But he said business is strong these days despite the struggling global economy and volatility in the market. He has heard from owners who are tired of suffering losses on paper and are eager to pump some money into a vintage car that’s not exposed to that volatility.

To spend that much, though, you should have an emotional attachment to the car, Verhey said. It’s not an investment, he cautioned: It should be that car your dad once drove, or that car you always dreamed of.

“I’ll tell people that unless you are in love with that car, there is no logical reason to spend money in my shop.”

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