The Century: local auto restorer celebrates 100 years

npetersen@dailypress.com

When Jim Evans drives his truck, people stop what they’re doing and watch. Some give a thumbs-up, some smile and wave.

“Every drive is a parade,” Evans said.

It’s no ordinary truck — at least not in 2018. He drives a black and red 1941 Chevrolet pickup, which he restored himself.

Evans owns Evans Garage, Vintage Rods & Classics in Norge and has been restoring cars since he taught himself to weld in the mid-90s. Working on cars has been a family tradition ever since his great-grandfather opened the original Evans Garage in Norfolk in 1918.

This year, Evans is celebrating a century of auto work in the family.

A restored 1963 gas pump sits in front of Evans’s garage. A 1932 circular fan cools the inside. A deceptive 1946 General Electric refrigerator turned welding rod oven sits just beside.

Suspended on the floor, a bare chassis is flanked by two rusty Buicks. Dirty stainless steel hangs from the roof. An automated traffic light hiding on the work desk blinks yellow, green and red.

“These aren’t museum pieces,” Evans said.

Evans mainly works with vehicles made before World War II, in part because of his family’s history.

His grandfather fought in the Battle of the Bulge and earned the Bronze Star for saving a truckload of men during a firefight. Until the day he died, he carried shrapnel in his arm.

You could feel it, Evans said.

“I’m just so impressed with what (the soldiers) went through, all the sacrifices that were made. These were 18, 19 or 20 year-olds leaving their hometowns and going off to, essentially, save the world,” Evans said.

Evans dedicated the restored Chevy pickup to his grandfather, who died just before it was finished.

“He would’ve loved it,” Evans said. “I think about that sometimes.”

In 1941 his truck would have been used by farmers for dirty work. It only came in a few basic colors and at its fastest, it went 45 miles per hour. A new model cost about $1,500.

Over the years, Evans has restored about eight cars. He doesn’t work under deadlines and they each take four or five years to finish.

Sometimes he’ll watch restoration shows on television, where a clunker goes from trash to treasure in one episode or less. If he sees something done wrong, he pauses the TV, walks to the screen and points out the flaw.

“I’m a little obsessive, but I know better,” Evans said. “You can restore cars fast, cheap or good, but you can’t do all three.”

The restorations in Evans’s garage are not as seen on TV.

Working with pre-WWII vehicles means working with potentially hazardous materials such as asbestos brake linings and exposed lead. One day in the shop, he almost lost a pinkie.

And when Evans doesn’t have a part, he has to make it himself.

In one of the scrapbooks he keeps to document his restorations, he has a picture of the face his wife gives him each time he brings home a “new” car.

It was the day he brought back one of his Buicks. She’s smiling — kind of.

“She’s real good about it,” Evans said. “Honestly, it keeps me out of trouble.”

He named that Buick “Lola,” and later spelled it on the side with a sandblaster. The name comes from a song in a play he saw, with the lyrics, “whatever Lola wants, Lola gets.”

Evans’s son, Kyle, also helps with some of the restorations, stretching the family tradition of automotive work into its fifth generation — it’s been a long time since his great-grandfather floated down the James River and opened that first garage in Norfolk.

The cars Evans restores are time machines; they bring the past into present. They’ve seen war and peace, life and death, generations old and new. They’ve traveled thousands of miles and all ended up forgotten, left in in someone’s barn or garage — until Evans finds them.

Evans loves it when older folks walk up and tell him that they used to have a car just like his. He doesn’t care whether or not it’s true.

He’s working on the Buicks now. In a few years, they won’t look close to the same.

One’s a 1940 Special, and the other is a 1939 Century.

Petersen can be reached by phone at 757-345-8812 or by email at npetersen@dailypress.com.

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