NEW BRUNSWICK-BORN BUDDIES REUNITE TO RESTORE 1955 BELAIR, 1967 MUSTANG – AND DRIVE THEM HALFWAY ACROSS THE COUNTRY, WITH PLENTY OF CAR ADVENTURES ALONG THE WAY By Kristen Lipscombe HAVE YOU EVER WATCHED THES HOW ROADKILL GARAGE, WHICH STARTED OFF AS A YOUTUBE PRODUCTION FEATURING A COUPLE OF “GEARHEADS” BUT BECAME SO POPULAR AMONG CAR REBUILD ENTHUSIASTS THAT IT LANDED A SPOT ON MOTOR TREND ON-DEMAND STREAMING SERVICE?
Well, 27-year-old buddies Josh Black and Dallas Mclatchy of New Brunswick sure have.
They attended Moncton High School together and spent some of their spare time watching the show that describes itself as “two guys behaving badly with cars,” featuring expert hosts David Freilburger and Mike Finnegan of Hot Rod Magazine, who show viewers “how to do the wrong thing the right way.” What that actually means is demonstrating how to fully and safely restore “worn-out gassers, hot rods and muscle cars – and then push them to their limits.”
When they weren’t watching car shows, the self-described “blue collar boys” became amateur mechanics, learning every part in the car, every tool in the box and everything they needed to know about how to take vehicles apart and put them back together again.
Black also learned many of his skills while growing up in Shediac, N.B., helping out his family business, Zwicker’s Boiler Services Ltd., which specializes in welding and boiler repair, so working on cars and trucks in his spare time became an easy, fun hobby that resulted in “tackling bigger and bigger projects.”
Black has since moved out of the Maritimes, spending some time working out west in the oil fields before falling in love with a small Saskatchewan village called Perdue, located about 60 kilometres west of Saskatoon, where he has spent the past year and a half working at Prairie Fire Farms, and about four total working in agriculture in the province, with tasks ranging from grain farming to mechanical work on farm equipment.
“I mostly repair semis and tractors, and sometimes small vehicles like one-tonne trucks,” Black said. “I do some welding and what not. I work on quite large equipment here; we do a lot bigger farming here than we do out east.”
Black adores his job as a farm foreman despite working long shifts. But when he’s not on the job, he’s still on the hunt for ideal vehicle rebuilds. In late May, he finally stumbled across his dream project– a 1955 Chevrolet Belair that had been untouched for decades and clearly needed a lot of work.
“I was working out here and it was seeding time, and I was working day and night shifts,” Black said. “I had worked the day and slept a few hours, and then worked the night shift to do mechanical stuff. And I was going to bed around 2:30 a.m. or 3 a.m., and for a couple of hours I was looking on Facebook Marketplace, like I always do, and this car popped up. It was a ’55 Chevrolet and I always wanted one.”
Black said it was being sold for just a few grand and that it was described online as “an original gasser, so an old school race car; a little modified.” The owner agreed to sell it to him in “as is” condition.
“It’s a retired race car,” Black said. “I believe it was a circle track car from back in the late 60s, early 70s, and it wasn’t in any kind of pristine shape, and it had a lot of modifications to it. Like at one point somebody had a roll cage in it, and it had all been cut out.”
“It’s got old sponsorship numbers on the side of the car,” Black described, “and you could see where the old lettering (had been).”
But the biggest challenge became that his dream race car rebuild was located in Maple Ridge, B.C., a community nestled in the affluent northeastern section of Greater Vancouver, two large provinces away.
And so began a cross-country summer adventure that saw him reunite with his old high school pal Mclatchy, who now owns a trucking company called Andy’s Towing in Valleyview, Alta., just northwest of Edmonton. Mclatchy agreed to meet up with Black to help him fix up the ol’ Chevy gasser in British Columbia.
“We thought about hauling the car home,” Black said. “And then we got talking and we were like, you know, we’ve been watching people do this stuff on TV for years; like do this crazy car stuff, so why don’t we just do it ourselves? Like, let’s drive it home.”
The self-taught but extremely skilled mechanics decided if the dudes on the show can put old-as-dirt, barely-hanging on vehicles back together again and then get behind the wheel to drive them long distances, that they could just as easily do the same.
“We started putting a bit of a plan into place and realized that we could actually do this,” Black said. “We both have decent mechanic skills and we had the time off… so we sourced some used parts. I had some stuff and he had some stuff; we loaded up my truck and drove out there.”
The determined buddies ran into some troubles on the road, even on their way to B.C. They faced the difficulties of crossing provincial borders during the COVID-19 pandemic and had to wait for seven hours in Jasper, Alta., after the highway there had been completely washed out by severe weather and had to be cleared in order to make the road safe again.
When Black and Mclatchy finally arrived in Vancouver after almost a week on the road, they found the ol’ ’55 was in rougher shape than expected. “There was no glass in it, no seats, no wiring to speak of, no gears, no engine, no transmission, no fuel cells, no fuel tank – nothing.”
“It was literally just a shell on a frame with four mismatched wheels,” Black said. So the boys rented a welder “and we just started throwing her together.”
The blue collar boys hit up nearby junkyards, picking up whatever parts they could, including a newer Ford trunk “and slapped it on there.” Any parts they couldn’t find nearby, they put together themselves “with the welder and some scrap metal.”
“We slept a few hours in the morning, we got up at about 4:30 in the morning, slept for three hours, and then worked until like 2 a.m. and we kept that going for about five days.”
After a long week of pouring sweat into Black’s personal passion project, “we tested the brakes and fired up the motor and checked it out and it seemed okay.”
“By the time we were done, it had new brakes, new shocks, new suspension for the most part, and everything worked pretty much on it and it actually drove really good.” So they threw on a Saskatchewan licence plate to ensure everything was legal, “and yeah, we just drove it.”
One of the primary issues on the road was the “racing exhaust, which was extremely loud,” Black recalled with a chuckle; wearing headphones and ear plugs helped on the 1,700-kilometre trek back to Saskatchewan.
Meanwhile, Mclatchy fell in love with another beater race care discovered while the boys were in B.C., a 1967 Ford Mustang, which was in total disrepair in its own right. So they picked that up and put additional work into that before hitting the road for the long journey home.
“He was driving his car and it hasn’t run in a lot of years and we didn’t really know why it was parked (for so long), so we’re assuming the engine’s good, but we get to the summit of Coquihalla Pass in B.C. and pull off and it’s just blowing antifreeze all over the parking lot,” Black said.
“We were down in the ditch in the river with a jug trying to get mountain water from this river and put it into the radiator,” he described. The guys also had to take the hood of the ’Stang to keep it cool en route.
“Then almost to Kamloops his front tires, which were ancient, started disintegrating and blowing apart, so we threw a spare one on, and then when we got there, we each got new front tires.”
Meanwhile, Black’s girlfriend, whose parents live in Coquitlam, B.C., and had offered up their driveway as a working space for the blue collar boys, followed behind the Belair and Mustang the entire drive back to the Prairies in the truck, a 2008 Ford he’d bought from a junk pile and rebuilt last spring. “The real MVP is my girlfriend for dealing with me,” Black admitted. When they reached Alberta, the car buddies parted ways, with Mclatchy heading north back towards Edmonton and Black and his girlfriend making their way home to Saskatchewan. “After that, I had some gaskets come loose and leak a little oil in Alberta,” Black said. “And the only problem I had after that is I got to North Battleford, Sask. – about an hour form where I live – and my battery started cooking because we forgot to hook up a voltage regulator, so my battery was going to explode. So I had to get a battery at the last minute before Canadian Tire closed and throw it in and then continue the last hour of the journey.” Everyone made it home safely and while Black describes it as an “awesome” experience, he admits “you’re allowed to be a bit stressed before you’re going to do a highway that a lot of good cars don’t make it on, in a 65-year-old car that hasn’t run in probably 30 years, and was put together in a week.”
“We kept saying to ourselves, ‘so this is fun right?’ he said with a chuckle.
Since arriving back in Perdue, Black is back working full-time on the farm while spending his spare time working on his Chevy Belair, which has been a bit easier since finding an old four-door Chevy parts car at a nearby junkyard.
“I actually spliced the trunk and rear quarter of my parts car onto it last week,” Black said. “I wanted to get ready for the car show weekend here in town in Saskatoon.” “We actually cut the back half of my parts car, so now it’s pretty rust free. It’s in great shape, and we just did a few mechanical upgrades, fixed the charging issue and made a couple things safer and less temporary,” Black said, adding he’s also getting a new engine built by a friend out east. Classic cars are a lot easier to come by and maintain in Saskatchewan than in the Maritimes, according to Black, partially due to fewer rust issues and a keen cultural interest in small Prairie communities.
The long-term plan for the 1955 Chevy Belair, however, is not just to put it her on display at local car shows; it’s to turn her back into a legitimate race car.
“The plan was to finally have a car that can compete,” Black said, “and I figure this is the one that will be the right one.” Black still hasn’t come up with a proper name for his new Belair beauty. He and his girlfriend have been trying to find old information about and photos of her from past racing days, which according to their research so far, appears to have mostly happened in Mission, B.C. during the 1970s.
“I was hoping it would kind of name itself, and I was kind of holding out hope that I’d find the original name of the car,” Black said. “We’re hoping to find something that’s kind of 70s and cool to match it, but haven’t quite got it yet.”