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Florence man takes vintage to a new level

Managing editor

It’s like other hobbies — when it’s in your blood, it’s there and there’s not much you can do but keep on doing it.

Anyone who knows Rodney Williams of Florence knows the man loves vintage automobiles. It’s obvious when he proudly drives them through local parades or just around the area.

And there’s a reason he’s proud of them.

Many hours of hard work — mostly plain, old-fashioned elbow grease — and some ingenuity turn an abandoned rust bucket into a beautiful, vintage automobile.

Williams’ love for restoration began in 1981 when he restored a 1957 Chevrolet. He was driving down a road, saw it in a field, and bought it.

Not only was it beautifully restored. It was also built for speed. The beauty was hopped up to 575 horsepower — a lot of pony for a streetcar, but its destiny would be drag racing.

“I raced it and wrecked it,” he said with a smile.

Fortunately, he was able to walk away from the crash with only a few cuts and scrapes.

Among his completed masterpieces are a 1960 Pontiac and a 1927 Buick.

Like so many other restorers and collectors, he bought the Pontiac because it reminded him of the car he purchased brand new in 1960, when he was fresh out of the military. He drag raced with it but sold it later when he married wife Twilah.

Many years later, he found another 1960 Pontiac on the Internet. He drove to South Dakota, purchased it, and drove it back to Florence.

“It was rusted out really bad,” Williams said.

When he arrived home with the Pontiac, he dismantled it, removing every screw. It took him nearly 15 months to complete the restoration work.

Wanting to use as many stock parts as possible, he used parts from three other Pontiacs to make the car the maroon-colored beauty it is today. Williams did not restore the interior, which is also vintage in red and white vinyl; the engine is a little better than when it first came off the assembly line 40 years ago.

“This car can move,” Williams said, with a laugh, referring to the 650-horsepower, 5-speed machine.

It also has air conditioning, power steering, and cruise control — not standard in the 1960s.

The odometer reads 10,393 miles — logged since it was restored.

Now his 1927 Buick is as original as a person can get.

“When I bought it, it had a hundred dents,” Williams said. All were hammered out and no auto putty used.

Having to use patience with a project like this is an understatement.

Fortunately, the Buick had nearly all its parts, but it was in poor condition.

“The only way I knew what the original colors were was by scraping off the rust,” Williams said.

The car turns heads for different reasons than the Pontiac because it is so authentic with wooden wheels and a roll-up front glass.

One of the front bumpers was torn and Williams had to weld it together. With such precision and a professional paint job, it is not obvious to those who admire the vehicle that at one time the bumper was in nearly two pieces.

Three gauges were used to make one good one.

The Buick is authentic right down to a temperature gauge mounted as a hood ornament and visible to the driver.

Williams has been enjoying this 80-year-old car for the past 10 years.

Williams is able to retrofit parts and pieces because he has a mill and lathe on-site.

“I can build all kinds of pieces with this equipment,” he said.

Electronic measurements on the equipment allow him to get within hundredths or even thousandths of an inch.

The Burns native and longtime Florence resident has been enjoying life for more than 70 years and doesn’t plan to slow down anytime soon. He continues to work at Williams Service in Florence, which he founded, and continues to work on restoration projects.

When he begins a project, he likes to see it through as quickly as possible but he has to be in the right mindset and temperament. Being impatient or nervous doesn’t make for a satisfactory restoration.

In the far side of Williams’ garage where the vehicles are stored, there was a 1934 International truck, fresh from a field, rusted through and through, awaiting restoration. At the shop, he is currently working on a 1964 Chevrolet pickup.

“It takes patience and steadiness,” he said. “When I work on a vehicle, I’ll work on it every day for months.”

Work and perseverance has paid off in the pleasure Williams gets from talking about and driving his vehicles.

“There’s nothing like driving one of these,” he said with a smile.

Last modified April 8, 2010

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