Restore or reboot? (Including exclusive web-extra)

Local News

One sure sign summer is on the way in Erie is the end of a four-wheeled hibernation; classic cars retake the roads; some looking original, others not so much. So, what would you rather drive?

Two local businesses with national reputations have very different answers.

It’s easy to see another old car in another garage, but for Richard Cowell, it’s a story still being told. 

It was 1960 when a then-18-year-old Cowell bought a ’57 Corvette in Florida from a guy named Roger Penske. Yes, that Roger Penske.

“…I was too young. I mean, everybody told me that… And, it isn’t like I didn’t have enough of the money. I didn’t have any of the money. I had to borrow that, but I’m so glad I did…”

Richard brought his car to Vintage Modified in Erie to be restored, but not the way you might think. Most of what’s under the body is like new, including the original engine. 

What you can see that is different; they left the pitting and dings on the chrome and the original paint job shows its age.

Richard says,  “…At what point is the car not really a ’57 Corvette? So, keep as many things as they were.”

Matt Loncki tells us, “…It feels like the 50’s and you have to appreciate that to build the cars we build.” 

Loncki calls this car a time machine and one of his favorites, but it’s not the norm, if there is such a thing at Vintage Modified.  Imagination is king here. A Packard getting a bus engine, custom paint jobs in colors they create, and original looking rides with every possible update.

“…I think a lot of people are caught up in the originality thing and that’s cool (and if you have a completely original car it’s something we would never cut up). But, at the same time, we pull a car out of a field that’s just gonna sit there and rot for the rest of its life… It’s kind of refreshing to know we took something that was gonna turn into junk and turn it into something that’s not only nice, but fun to drive.”

When you talk about outside the box, it’s hard to much more outside it than the car they dubbed “Snow Vette”.  This ’76 loaded with things, it’s fair to say, Detroit never thought of…

Loncki says, “…That’s definitely the far end of the spectrum as far as building a car how you want to enjoy it… What we build here is a driving experience; 100%.”

Brian Bair says, “…The resto-mod guys like the looks of them and all that, but I would never go that way with any of my cars.” 

Bair owns Bair’s Corvettes in Linesville; well known for their restorations and parts. Bair’s won’t do extreme changes, staying true to GM’s work, they have more business than they can handle. Among their own cars; newer ‘vettes, a perfectly restored ’67, and just the opposite…

One of these cars was outside for decades. It’s running again, but otherwise untouched, right down to the tree sap and pine needles covering it. This is what’s left of the convertible top.

Brian Bair says, “…keeping ’em original is my love affair… The enjoyment of driving the cars; you drive ’em, you don’t ride. You drive ’em, yeah!”

Enjoyment being the word Bair’s and Vintage Modified have in common. Their focus on cars, drivers like Richard Cowell and memories. Some 59 years old, some yet to be made.

So, just how far have they gone to keep Richard’s Corvette as original as possible? 

Find out by clicking play on our web exclusive below:

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