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Old cars give 2 men new lease on life

For years, mechanics David Shay and Sam Park would share tools and knowledge and complain about how life in the garage had ceased to be enjoyable.

Now the men have found the fun they lost as partners in Central Florida Classics Inc., a classic car restoration and sales business on State Road 54 west of Zephyrhills.

"We hated working on new cars," Shay, 35, said Thursday. New cars require so many tools, he said. Fixing them is so time consuming. Everything runs on a computer.

"You almost have to be a . . . computer scientist to work on them," Park said.

But not to work on a 1960 Cadillac. Or a '57 Lincoln Premier convertible.

Those are among the 35 cars currently for sale on the business' small lot. The oldest offering is a 1924 Model T pickup. The newest a 1973 Plymouth Roadrunner.

"We don't go much newer than that," Park, 40, said.

He and Shay travel all over Florida and the Southeast to find old cars they can fix up and sell. Auto shows yield some good finds, but Shay likes to look in less obvious places.

"The best way we find cars is drive out to the middle of nowhere and hang a left," he said. Many times, he has seen a car on the side of the road and bought it on the spot.

Shay's office is decorated with some of the treasures he finds in his purchases. License tags from every state. A walking cane. Lots of pictures and old coins.

These cars have histories. Park and Shay hear that from their customers.

"Everybody who has bought a car from us has told us a story," Shay said.

A little of what he hears: "That was my first car." "We went on our honeymoon in that car." "I bought this before I went off to Vietnam."

Some three dozen people wander onto the lot each day, Shay said. Many just want to peer in the windows or sit on the old vinyl seats.

Word of mouth has started the buzz on the new business, which has been open about two months. People stop by, then go home and tell their friends, Shay said.

And having a police car on the lot outfitted like Andy Griffith's cruiser helps draw passers-by.

So far, six to eight cars have sold each of the past two months. Shay said that's a good rate for this type of business. It would be devastating to a new-car dealership.

But Shay and Park run their business somewhat like new-car dealers. They allow, even encourage, test drives. All the cars on the lot can be driven; they aren't just for display.

Park, the head mechanic, will install air conditioning in cars that don't have it. He's not licensed to fix cars like a repair shop, but puzzled owners can hit him up for advice.

"I'll always talk technical with anybody," he said.

Amateur mechanics can buy cars from Central Florida Classics that still need plenty of work, fixer-uppers. A 1965 Chrysler 300 in need of a face lift carries a $2,500 price.

But Park and Shay also restore cars virtually to their original conditions _ the ones Shay terms as "34 years old and brand new."

All the mechanical work is done on site, and they contract with Larry Blanton's Auto Repair of Zephyrhills for the body work. A "like-new" 1969 Oldsmobile with 30,000 miles and air conditioning is $8,900.

It's not exactly a fresh-off-the-assembly-line luxury Lexus, but it's exactly what Shay and Park, friends of almost a decade, want to be doing.

"It's become exciting again," Shay said. "It's fun."

_ Molly Moorhead covers Zephyrhills news, religion and crime in east Pasco. She can be reached at (352) 521-5757, ext. 29, or toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6108, then 29. Her e-mail address is moorheadsptimes.com.

If you go

Central Florida Classics Inc.

35049 State Road 54, Zephyrhills

(813) 779-8700

Hours: Tuesday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday and Monday by appointment only.

David Shay, left, and his partner Sam Park are pictured with their 1963 Fort Galaxy police cruiser at Central Florida Classics, a business the two men opened two months ago. Having a police car on the lot outfitted like Andy Griffith's cruiser helps draw passers-by, the men say.

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