Greenfield man restores, rebuilds stars’ cars
GREENFIELD, Ind. (AP) — Among the auto dealerships and small businesses along U.S. 40 west of town, Vail’s Classic Cars might be mistaken for just another used-car lot.
Walk inside the business, however, and you’ll see the difference. Ron Vail doesn’t sell cars. He restores them — and the restoration often comes with a price tag of more than $60,000.
Vail, whose clientele includes some of the Indiana Pacers, is one of the Indianapolis area’s best-established pioneers in the high-end restoration industry. It’s a line of work that’s drawing interest — and money — from an increasingly wide and well-heeled population.
“An industry that has its roots in motor sports in recent years has become increasingly mainstream,” said Peter MacGillivray, a spokesman for the California-based Specialty Equipment Market Association. “It’s part of the fashion industry. It’s part of the music industry. It’s part of TV shows.”
Just look around, he added, and you’ll see restored classics and customized street rods in music videos and clothing catalogs. Car restoration and customization, businesses that make “products that enhance the styling and performance of cars, trucks and SUVs,” now generate $31 billion in retail sales in the United States each year, he told The Indianapolis Star.
Cost of a good-as-new restoration at Vail’s business? Often between $60,000 and $80,000.
Generally, someone buying parts and restoring their own classic vehicles to like-new quality, MacGillivray said, might spend $10,000 to $20,000. Someone paying an expert craftsman easily can spend more than $100,000 for a complete disassembly and rebuilding of a vehicle.
Vail’s association with the Pacers began with an accident two years ago, when George Hill, then with the San Antonio Spurs, damaged his 1970 Buick Electra 225 in a crash. His insurance company called Vail for an estimate, and ultimately had him go ahead and make the needed repairs.
Indianapolis native Hill’s trade to the Pacers gave Vail one of his best customers. Several weeks ago, Vail finished restoring and customizing Hill’s 1966 Ford Mustang.
“I just like the classic looks of old cars,” Hill said in an email. “There is a comfort with them and a unique look that I don’t think you see a lot of today.”
Word of mouth is how Vail acquires new customers. Hill, for example, spread the word last season in the Pacers locker room, which prompted interest from several other players, including Paul George and the recently traded Gerald Green.
Vail helped George find a 1970 Camaro Z28 that matched his tastes.
“We’re adding air conditioning and power steering and adding different things to it to make it where it’s his personal car,” Vail said. The work includes reorienting the car’s bucket seats to make the Camaro, with its smallish passenger compartment, more suitable for the 6-foot-8-inch George.
Vail also is adding a new 555 cubic-inch engine and transmission to Green’s 1967 Chevy Chevelle SS.
Green wanted more horsepower, Vail said. The new fuel-injected engine produces 723 hp.
“It’s kind of like a competition with them,” said Vail. “Who’s got the fastest car and who’s got the most horsepower? ... But that’s what they do for a living. They compete.”
Vail founded the business in 1985 with his father. Initially, they specialized in Mustangs but soon expanded to all makes and models.
Vail estimates his business completes six to eight complete restoration projects per year, as well as smaller jobs such as repairing collision damage and adding performance parts.
Many in the restoration business are enjoying prosperous careers, MacGillivray said.
“The notion that sports celebrities are turned on by our industry and by customizers really is something we’re seeing more and more,” he added. “You’ll see movie stars and TV personalities and athletes building cars with talented customizers like (Vail), and it’s good for our business.
“For the celebrities, it’s a really nice hobby and pursuit. It’s something as an industry that we love to see.”