Garnet Nixdorf, founder of Nixdorf Classic Cars in Summerland, says that in his shop they turn rust to riches.
But there is more to the story than just the restoration of old cars. Nixdorf had a dream when he started his business 11 years ago.
Though his passion was cars, his mission was to help children who have disabilities.
It started with a buddy from Winnipeg who was disabled. He took this friend along when he went fishing,
He saw the challenges the boy faced and also noticed the things that could make his life easier.
Most of those things cost money. So he decided to dedicate the profits from his company to organizations that helped children with disabilities. Agur Lake Camp, with an office in Summerland and a totally accessible camp at Agur Lake, caught his attention, and, for a start, he decided to channel his profits in that direction.
The museum has donated five thousand dollars to ALC.
Setting up a classic car museum involved some strategic decisions.
Nixdorf was living in Vancouver when he bought his first cars.
In the coastal climate, he found the humidity grew rust as fast as he could remove it.
He eyed the dry Okanagan climate and decided to buy an empty Quonset building in Summerland.
He was determined to do restoration work that returned a car to the showroom standards of the day it was manufactured. He does not modify or “soup up” cars.
He restores them totally, right down to the colour and quality of the original paint.
He is firm on that point and is scornful of what he calls “Mickey Mouse” restoration work which does not meet that exacting standard.
Nixdorf did not do this alone. Jim Kyluik, his cousin, joined him, eventually becoming responsible for marketing, hiring, supervising and the management of the showroom. Nixdorf’s son, Tim, inherited his father’s passion for classic cars, and helps with acquiring cars for restoration.
Professional mechanics, mostly older men who are familiar with vintage cars, do the restoration work on site.
Speciality work, like restoring car radios that run on vacuum tubes, may be farmed out to specialists in the community. Nixdorf says he has volunteers in his work force, most of whom are retired men with a passion for cars and an eagerness to help out.
The cars in the museum show room each have their own unique story.
The red Thunderbird was one Nixdorf bought new years ago for his own personal use.
The oldest car, a 1936 Ford rumble seat coupe, came from California.
An employee visiting for a wedding heard a guest talking about a man with cancer who restored a classic car before he died.
When the widow heard that Nixdorf wanted that car for his museum she was eager to sell.
The most valuable car at the museum is a 1970 429 Ford Mustang Boss.
Nixdorf bought it from a man in Terrace who had used it for racing. Since then he has received an offer as high as $365,000, but has declined to sell it.
Though he doesn’t often sell a car unless he is running out of space, Nixdorf does get offers. For instance, a man in England wanted to buy his 1958 Oldsmobile hardtop.
Though any thorough restoration is time consuming, some jobs are much more complicated than others.
Nixdorf has just completed the restoration of a 1947 Ford half ton owned by Peter Wall, a Vancouver property developer.
Though Nixdorf doesn’t normally do restorations on vehicles that he doesn’t own, Wall, a long time friend, asked him to work on this truck. The work needed was much more extensive than anticipated.
“Every bolt was rusted.” Nixdorf said. “The springs were cracked, and the list goes on; the radiator, the cores were plugged from all the years of sitting around. We had to exam three motor blocks before we found one that was not cracked.” Just the restoration work on a vehicle like that can cost over $100,000, he explained.
Kyluik says his wife, Joan came up with the idea of custom tours.
The museum is taken to the community for private events.
She coordinates for customers and does some driving.
Anyone interested in having classic cars transport guests at weddings, graduations, birthdays or wine-tasting tours can negotiate a plan to fit their needs.
Kyluik recalls a wine-tasting tour arranged for the spouses of firefighters who were attending a convention in Penticton.
The wives grew mellow as they sampled wine and at the same time became more possessive of the classic cars in which they were driven.
By the time they returned to the convention hall, where their husbands were immersed in a seminar, they were wildly enthusiastic about the wine and the classic cars.
The men wished that roles had been reversed, Kyluik chuckled.
He added that it is very common for people who have ridden in the classic cars to come to the museum to see the rest of the fleet.
Getting people to visit the museum and pay the twenty dollar admission fee is difficult, Nixdorf says.
Many visitors will stop, check the bulletin board outside, and leave when they see the admission price.
Those who do come in for the tour leave saying that it was well worth the admission fee. Kyluik guarantees a full refund to any visitor who feels the tour is not worth the admission fee.
He said he has never been asked for a refund.
Though “Rust to Riches” may be a fitting motto for the museum, there is no wealth other than the 86 restored cars, and the satisfaction Nixdorf and his staff and volunteers get from pursuing their passion to restore classic cars.
Nixdorf is 83 years old and still coming to work every day. In addition he is putting his savings into boosting business so there will be profits he can share with organizations who are helping children with disabilities live fulfilling lives.
It will be time to retire, Nixdorf believes, when riches earned from banishing rust let him write substantial cheques to organizations like Agur Lake Camp.
When that happens his passion and his dream will have joined hands.