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Fiat Chrysler mechanic is quietly transforming muscle cars in unmarked garage in Detroit suburb

Phoebe Wall Howard, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Automotive News

CLINTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- The men talk of Plum Crazy Purple, Vitamin C Orange and Sassy Grass Green.

These are the colors of their childhood.

These are the colors of classic cars that bring back memories of a simpler time so long ago, when America had just three TV networks and driving to the grocery store with mom or dad felt like a reward.

It is why a little-known 48-year-old mechanic who works a day job from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Fiat Chrysler in Warren, Mich., is considered a top muscle car restoration expert in North America.

Dave Dudek does most of the work in an unmarked garage in Clinton Township, having moved from Warren after someone bought the building and evicted everyone. His small private business is word-of-mouth only and he turns away more projects than he accepts. His clients over the last decade have been mostly men.

"The funny thing is, the Chrysler was the poor man's muscle car. In the collector market, they rule," Dudek said. "This is the first car they took their wife out on a date with -- and brought their baby home with."

 

Dudek, a skilled tradesman who lives in St. Clair Shores, has repaired lift trucks and carts in the Fiat Chrysler Stamping Plant factory for 23 years. As the son of a hot-tar roofer and homemaker, he fell in love with muscle cars when his dad brought home a blue 1969 Barracuda convertible.

"Dad was into cars a little bit but I fell in love with that car. I was, like, 14," said Dudek, who grew up in Taylor and Sterling Heights. "If he was getting a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread for mom, I was going no matter what."

He is working on 11 cars from clients who live in Miami, New York and near Alberta, Canada. Transforming them is his hobby. A single car can take up to a year. And finding original parts is like a national scavenger hunt of junkyards.

"I put in a couple-three hours a day on these cars," Dudek said. "I am making sure every bolt is the exact bolt the car left the factory with. Each one has an insignia. Who made the bolt for Chrysler or GM or wherever? If they're supposed to be silver zinc, it's silver zinc. I'm constantly running into dead ends. I've got six bolts I need and I have four bolts and I need to find a junkyard in Arizona or Minnesota to see if they have two bolts for me. It's just a constant challenge."

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