In many ways, people in the car restoration business are artists. But instead of starting with a blank canvas and creating a masterpiece, they take a broken down, gutted old car that looks ready for the junkyard and return it to vintage form.
The challenge, said Joe Pluff, owner of Mustangs & More (www.mustangsnmore.net), 5955 Merriam Drive, Merriam, is taking a car that has sentimental value for somebody and bringing it back to life.
For the last two months, Pluff has been doing exactly that for a 1965 Mustang. For 15 to 20 years, the car sat in a garage. One day the owner decided to have it fixed up so he could give it to his son on his wedding day.
“He wanted a nice paint job so it would look nice going down the road,” Pluff said. “He didn’t want it show-car perfect. We put seats in it, new upholstery and new carpet. Cleaned it up a bit and got it running.”
In contrast to that job, there are times when Pluff will get a car that will take a year or two to completely restore.
Pluff recently took on a project that he knows he will be working on for two years. A customer came in one day last year wanting to find a classic car that could be completely restored. He and his wife wanted to be able to one day drive it to North Carolina.
It took Pluff and the customer more than four months before they found a 1967 Mustang convertible in Florida.
“We found one with a nice solid frame underneath,” Pluff said. “This will be rebuilt from the ground up. He is on a two-year program. He wants it done right. He will be moving in a couple of years. He wants to drive it out of here to his new home in North Carolina.
“We are going to make him a beautiful car so he and his wife can go cruising on the beach.”
Pluff likes the challenge of restoring a car to working condition. Bring him a car in any condition, and he believes he will bring it back to life. He has never seen a car he couldn’t restore.
“I never gone, ‘Sorry, buddy, you are out of luck,’” he said. “I have never done that. I look at it and say, ‘Yes, I can fix it.’ I have had cars brought to me that were literally broken in half, sitting on a flatbed trailer. I can fix them.
“It is a lot of work, but I enjoy it. I’ve never had a problem of going to work. I’ve been working since I was 12. It is just what you do.”
Pluff’s love of working on cars started with his dad. When Pluff joined the Army, he was a mechanic.
After leaving the Army, Pluff worked for places like Ford and Chevrolet. He said like most mechanics, he moonlighted on the side, fixing friends’ cars.
One day in 1995, he turned to his wife and said he was ready to start his business.
“My mom and dad knew a friend who owned a lawn-care business,” Pluff said. “He rented me two bays in his lawn shop. That started in the winter. I did a lot of welding to keep warm because there wasn’t any heat.”
In a building on the opposite side of the lawn care business was a body shop that Pluff moved his business into about a year later.
“I rented four stalls,” Pluff said. “I was there for three years. They sold their business, and that is when I came here.”
Pluff arrived at his current location in 1998. He had 2,000 square feet of working space. It has since grown to somewhere between 6,500 and 7,000 square feet, large enough to have a couple of rooms with cars and even enough space for Pluff to have a practice room for the rock band he is in called For the Broken (www.forthebroken.net), which plays rock music on weekends.
When you walk into Mustangs & More, you become aware that this restoration shop is more than just restoring Mustangs. You see a love of cars and music.
“We do all kinds of classic cars,” Pluff said. “There is a ’76 Bronco in the back. We have a ’71 Torino. We have done lots of Camaros. We have done old Mercedes, paint a lot of Harley-Davidsons. We paint a lot of musical instruments. We do custom paint on everything from kitchen cabinets, antique beds and hockey helmets.
“We have cars come in here just for brakes or oil change or a tune up. I think a lot customers feel comfortable taking their classic cars to a place like mine or somebody else who specializes in classic cars. They go, ‘He must know what he is doing, if he has been doing this for 20 years.’”
Restoring cars, though, is the main part of the business, and there is nothing like seeing the reaction from a satisfied customer after a job is finished.
“That is all I need,” Pluff said. “That is priceless to me. Sometimes in this business people think you make a lot of money. You really don’t. Don’t get me wrong. You make a little bit.”
Most people in the car restoration business, Pluff said, build their clientele through word of mouth.
“Everybody builds up their own clientele. It is not really a competition,” Pluff said. “My neighbor across the street doesn’t do rust repair, but he will send them out to me.
“Word of mouth is your best advertisement. I know technology is good with the Internet, but you can’t beat word of mouth. When you have a happy customer, who loves his car when he drives out of here, that is your best advertisement. You can’t put a price on it.”
No day, no year is the same for Pluff, and that is what makes his car restoration business so enjoyable.
“I hear all kinds of stories about the cars I get to work on,” Pluff said. “The nice thing is I can bring these cars back to life for people to enjoy.”