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Automobile restoration steers man to car show

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Shelly Birkelo
October 6, 2012

— As a boy, Jeff Gassen didn't play sports.

Instead, after school he hung out in the garage with his dad, who was detailing cars.

"I've always been kind of a car nut," he said.

Gassen, 52, owns and operates Stoughton Collision Center and has restored more than a dozen cars, including a 1966 Buick Electra 225 convertible that he will enter in the Third Annual Back Bar Car, Truck and Bike Show on Sunday, Oct. 14, in Janesville.

Proceeds will benefit ECHO.

Gassen said the bright red paint job on the Buick Electra is the original color of the car. He restored the convertible 10 years ago.

"But it was never really finished 100 percent and drivable until recently,'' he said.

What makes the car special is that Gassen's father, Martin Gassen, bought it when Jeff was in high school. Years later, he asked Jeff to restore it.

"He was an avid car collector and had 24 antique and classic cars," Gassen said.

Before the elder Gassen died in March at the age of 89, his car collection was split between his children.

Gassen couldn't even begin to guess how many hours he spent restoring the convertible, but he guessed he invested between $15,000 and $20,000 on the project.

The restoration work involved removing, sandblasting and repainting the frame; rebuilding the suspension, engine and transmission; replacing the brakes and brake lines; redoing all the body work; and cleaning the car's interior, which is original.

His biggest challenge was finding car parts. To solve the problem, Gassen's father bought another car of the same year, make and model to cannibalize for parts.

Gassen found whatever else he needed through Internet searches.

Gassen said his father wanted the car restored because there weren't many of them madeóespecially convertibles.

The elder Gassen, who ran his own business, Marty's Polish & Repair, after retiring from Oscar Mayer in Madison, was happy with the restored Buick but never got to ride in it or drive it because of his poor health.

"He got to look at it and admire it," Gassen said.

Gassen, whose automobile restoration work has been published in Hot Rod magazine, entered the Buick in two car shows earlier this year, and it was selected to be part of the 2013 Auto Parts & Supply calendar.

"I don't care for trophies and just like to go for the display," he said.

Gassen said the Buick always will have a special place in his heart because his dad owned it for so long and because of the work he poured into it.

"It brings back memories of working on the car and of my dad."



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