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The Giveaway Car that Refused to Go Away

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by John Gunnell  More from Author

The sun never set on this 1934 Dodge Viper Cabriolet.

When Rex Evchuk fires up the Viper engine in his 1934 Dodge Cabriolet, the wonderful whine of the V-10 makes it hard to believe that he bought the car from a salvage yard. Rex owns a company that does specialized machine repair, so he was able to put the once-nationally-known street rod back into perfect shape and even make certain improvements to it.

The history of the car starts in the year 2000, when it was constructed as a Goodguys giveaway car. Roy Brizio Street Rods managed the overall build. They used a fiberglass 1934 Dodge convertible body sourced from Frank Miller at Coach & Chassis Works in Washington, Pennsylvania. Sponsors of the project donated parts ranging from an Alumicraft grille to a Mopar Performance Viper drive train. Sid Shavers stitched up the car’s original bench seat interior.

The 1934 Dodge Viper Cabriolet is rated at 450 hp. “It has plenty of snot,” says Rex, and the sound of the red engine that peeks through cut-outs on the hood sides backs him up on that point. The Tremac six-speed transmission conducts power flow to the Ford 9-inch rear end — actually an Air Locker solid positraction rear axle. “It is a nice car, and it’s set up real good so it goes down the road well,” says Rex. “It has coil springs all around and an independent front suspension.”

After the car was finished and started making show appearances, the unthinkable happened. The car was taken to a Goodguys show in Des Moines, Iowa over a holiday weekend. While there, it was involved in an accident and wound up getting wrecked. After that, some changes in plan had to be made. Instead of the 1934 Dodge Viper Cabriolet, the giveaway winner received a new Dodge Dakota pickup. The original prize ended up being “junked” in Wisconsin.

Almost Refused “Rebuilder”

Rex learned about the car when it turned up at Sunset Curve Auto Parts, a salvage yard about 25 miles south of his home in Iola, Wisconsin. The owner, a man named J.R., called Rex in September 2000. He said he had obtained a very special Viper-powered hot rod in a batch of insurance claim cars that came from one company. Due to J.R.’s high asking price, Rex walked away from the deal.

“Fast forward to that December,” Rex told us. “I called J.R. on a different matter and went to talk to him about another car he had for sale.” J.R. said, “While you’re here, why don’t you look at that other automobile?” Rex took a look at the Dodge and liked it, so he and J.R. came to an agreement on price and clinched a deal. “It was kind of weird,” Rex recalls. “I guess he couldn’t find anyone else interested at the price he first had in mind.”

Piecing Together the Car’s History

Rex’s company — Waupaca Machine Repair, in Waupaca, Wisconsin, — works all kinds of magic with metal parts and machinery. He knew he could repair the Dodge’s chassis and mechanicals and as he researched his new acquisition, he came up with a plan for bringing the car back to life. As he does with all of his hot rods, Rex leaned towards a “good driver” over a restored showpiece. There were some things about the original project that he didn’t appreciate. Rex says that, like Frank Sinatra, he wanted to redo the Dodge, “My Way!”

He learned that the Goodguys had contracted to have Roy Brizio Street Rods start the car in their San Francisco, California shop, using an “Outlaw” chassis made by Outlaw Performance of Avonmore, Pennsylvania. The body was built by Frank Miller of Coach & Chassis Works of Washington, Pennsylvania, a Pittsburgh suburb. The motor and six-speed Tremac gearbox were donated by Mopar Performance. “I’m sure all of the other components were donated,” says Rex. “The final build was Brizio’s responsibility, and it was put together in his shop real early in the summer of 2000.”

The car was finished so it could be used to promote the Goodguys giveaway contest. “They put it on the road in time to drive it around,” said Rex. “I talked to Gary and Marc Meadors of the Goodguys. They’re the ones that put the miles on the car. It had 2,100 miles showing when I got it.” The car was displayed at Goodguys events. “The final drive they had it on was to the Goodguys show in Des Moines, Iowa, on the 4th of July weekend in 2000,” Rex found out. “While it was at that show, two guys were driving the car and crashed in it.”

According to what Rex has been told, the man driving the car was an engineer for Chrysler and Mopar Performance. An unidentified young man was in the passenger seat. The car turned upside down, rolled over, did a barrel roll and went end over end several times on the highway. “This really messed the car up,” Rex said. “It was not a good thing.”

Putting the Pieces Back Together

When Rex got the car, the body was “essentially junk.” The chassis, however, was not in as bad of shape as it could have been. The Viper drive train was pretty much intact, but the rear end had some issues. A tube was bent, and the rear axle was messed up. A couple of the car’s wheels were no longer road ready. Rex recalls that the interior “was not great,” and there were some other issues with the car. However, there was no serious structural damage.

“You could still salvage what was there, so I took the car apart and I rebuilt the chassis and the drive train.” Rex is lucky enough to have a very accurate frame jig in his home shop. When he had the chassis completed, Rex contacted Frank Miller at Coach & Chassis Works and asked him to build another body. “I took the rolling chassis and what was left of the original body out by him in the Pittsburgh area, and he took another body and put it on the repaired chassis.

“I actually took possession of the car in January or February of 2001,” Rex recalled. “And it probably took me two years to put it back on the road.” That took place around the summer of 2003.

“It’s a nice car now,” Rex said. “We have put about 10,000 miles on it. We drove it to Louisville, Kentucky, a couple of times and went to ‘Back to the ’50s’ in Minneapolis a few times, too. We drive it wherever we want to go, and we have a good time every time we go someplace in it.”

Adding Some Pieces

Never one to leave well enough alone, Rex has made the car a better vehicle in several ways. To begin with, he designed a functioning convertible top, which the car never had. He says the top “works fine.” Rex also gutted the original bench seat interior and changed it to more comfortable bucket seats. He then added windshield wipers. “Maybe they didn’t need wipers in California,” said Rex. “But, you need those here, in the real world, in Wisconsin!”

Rex says that he “just made the car more drivable and more realistic.” He admits that the car did have air conditioning, which he likes having in all his rods and collector cars. “The Vintage Air system is fine,” said Evchuk. “Air conditioning makes a car more drivable and this Dodge goes down the road just fine.”

Getting a Few More Pieces

In 2003, Rex took the car back to the Goodguys’ event in Des Moines. “They pretty much ignored me,” he recalled. “There had been lawsuits after the 2000 crash. When they sent the car to a junkyard in Nowheresville, Wisconsin, they thought it was as good as gone. They really didn’t want it to ever resurface.”

Rex eventually met Gary Meadors at a SEMA Show sometime after he finished rebuilding the 1934 Dodge Viper Cabriolet. “I told him it was too nice a car to turn into junk,” says Rex. “I explained that I knew it was savable and told him that we were enjoying the car and having a good time with it. He was all right with the way we carefully rebuilt the car and the respect we had for what it is.”

Marc Meadors actually wound up helping Rex. “I got in touch with Marc (who is now president of the Goodguys Rod & Custom Association) and he was nice enough to get me a couple of things that were supposed to be with the car,” Rex noted. “He had the CD player, which had never been installed. It was just sitting on his desk and he sent it to me, along with some extra keys and other stuff.” Marc realized that the car was going back on the road and decided these things should go with it. “They are really OK people to deal with,” Rex stressed. “They just wanted to get past the bad PR.”

The Goodguys are Just Good Guys

The Goodguys Rod & Custom Association didn’t always exist. The organization was founded by veteran hot rodder Gary Meadors 26 years ago. Today, the Goodguys put on some of the world’s highest profile automotive events.

Goodguys shows are held across the country. The more than 20 annual events feature thousands of colorful hot rods and custom cars, vendors and live entertainers. They range from two-day affairs attended by 30,000-40,000 people to three- and four-day extravaganzas attracting over 100,000 enthusiasts.

Most Goodguys events welcome rods, customs, classics, trucks, street machines and muscle cars up to 1972 models. Goodguys “Get-Togethers” welcome all, years, makes and models of American powered cars and trucks.

Membership in Goodguys is approaching 70,000 people. Members receive the Goodtimes Gazette, a full-color Goodtimes Yearbook, a membership card and valuable discounts and perks. The organization claims to be the world's largest association dedicated to hot rods, customs and classic cars.

Rex’s Hot Rod Haven

Rex Evchuk has been a hot rodder since he grew up in Milwaukee years ago. Later, he brought his enthusiasm for the sport to Iola, Wisconsin. He established a thriving metal-fabrication business called Waupaca Machine Repair. He built a collection of hot rods and muscle cars and a garage for them.

The large workshop building is only for “tinkering” with cars. Rex has a separate L-shaped garage to store about a dozen vehicles. “This is a true WORKshop,” says Rex. “We build hot rods from the frame up. The floor has oil stains and overspray to prove it. At night, when other folks watch TV, Old Rex is in the garage working on his cars.”

Rex has his own homemade frame jig with posts that go four feet down into the ground, reaching below the Wisconsin frost level. “Any frame we build is going to be straight, square and true. I want cars like the 1934 Dodge Viper Cabriolet to track dead straight ahead and to be as safe to drive as possible.”

Rex’s 60 x 110-ft. metal-walled building is divided into three main sections. There is a 20 x 40-ft. “small shop” that is heated in winter. It has a parts-storage loft above it. There is a 40 x 40-ft. “large shop” which has a heating system, but is not kept warm all the time. It houses the frame jig and an in-ground hoist. Finally, there is a 60 x 70-ft. cold storage area where Rex keeps his non-hobby vehicles and equipment. Counting the loft, he has 3200 sq.-ft. for his hobby pursuits.

The building has an 12-ft. overhead door that leads to the small shop, which is walled off from the large shop. There’s a window for the small shop, since Rex appreciates having some natural light in all areas of his building. A service door and 16-ft. overhead door lead to that large shop, which has two front windows. Restored antique gas pumps and original automotive signs decorate the place. There are work benches, parts cabinets, oil drums, tire changing machines, band saws, jacks, engine stands, large grinding wheels, professional-grade hose reels, sandblasting cabinets and other machines and furniture.

More than a few of the items were purchased at repair shops or car dealer auctions. These oldies have paint scratches and dings, but they work. Keeping old machines in good repair is what Rex is all about.

One corner of the small shop holds several giant red tool chests and a matching metal workbench. A shelf full of repair manuals hangs above. Cabinets along the outer wall are dressed up with automotive decals and stickers. Also set against this wall is another grinder, a parts washer and a hydraulic press. Racks holding different gauges of electrical wire hang from the wall.

“I think every hobby shop should have a warm room that is well insulated and always kept heated,” says Rex. “That’s what I have in the small shop and it allows me to work on small projects. With the room heated all of the time, I can have a sink and running water to wash up.” Rex says he likes to keep the warm room “open in winter” so he has a place to service his modern cars.

Along the inner side wall of the large shop is a staircase that leads to the additional parts storage space in the loft above the adjoining small shop. “This setup gives me a nice clean storage room above the heated room,” says Rex. “One winter I laid out all the parts for a 1936 Ford in this storage space, with each part carefully labeled. Then, I restored the car piece by piece.”

Like any car hobbyist, Rex can’t have “enough” space. He plans to add another 20 x 40-foot room adjoining the small shop.


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