People and Places with Pierce: The antique car restorer

NEW BERN, N.C. (WNCT) – “I’m really enthralled with looking at some of the masterpieces from the vintage years,” said Ben St. John, an antique car enthusiast in New Bern.

“It’s fascinating just to examine the vehicle, the construction, the engine.” said St. John. “How do you possibly work on these? How do you repair them? How do you get the parts?”

John Watson is one man with all the answers.

“It probably started when I was a young man following my dad to the body shop,” explained John Watson, who restores antique cars at his New Bern shop. “He was a painter at a Ford dealership in the ‘60s. I never got to spray paint but he would let me spray primer and that was a big step.”

John has been a one man show, restoring classic cars for over three decades.

“In ’84 I had bought my first ’59 Corvette in boxes,” said Watson. “I had no idea what I was getting into. I do everything that I can. I paint them. I do the interior. I do all the body work. I do the frame and the mechanics and make that ready to go. I’ll cover that up and work on the body.”

 

And for that, John uses a pretty interesting tool.

“The beauty of this set up is I can just crank it over any angle I need to to do the work,” explained Watson.

It’s called a rotisserie except this one isn’t for chicken.

“I just roll the car over to do the welding on the bottom,” said Watson.

It’s not just handy for welding. John will also put it to use once he paints this ‘55 T-Bird.

“It’s a process that probably takes about a year and a half to do single handedly,” said Watson. “I just enjoy the process of taking them in pieces and making them a show car.”

“The beauty of the vehicle and getting it back into its original condition so you can fully enjoy it and share that experience with other car lovers,” added St. John.

Whether it’s the ’59 Metropolitan or the ’64 Corvette, these two are just a handful of the cars John has actually held on to over the years.

“I usually end up selling them all.” said Watson. “I like the process more than the car.”

But there is the one that got away.

“The only one I wish I had ever kept was a ’69 E-type Jaguar Roadster with white wheels, red leather interior, and factory air conditioning,” recalled Watson. “It came through this hand and went out this hand to buy a boat that I was looking at. I keep thinking about that car because they’re beautiful cars.”

There always time for another project. As for the T-bird he’s working on now, that goes to John’s wife. It is her dream car after all.

The First Capital Chapter of the Antique Automobile Club of America will be holding their 27th Annual Spring Car Show in downtown New Bern Saturday, May 13, 2017.

 

Pierce is always looking for interesting and unique people and places to visit. If you have an idea, send him an email or a message on Facebook or Twitter.

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