Passion for old muscle cars is something they share.

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“I  love the lines on them, they look predatorial.”

That’s how restorer Shane Coffelt of Hansville describes his 1972 Dodge Swinger.

For 20 years, Coffelt has worked around the world as a saturation oilfield diver, and when he’s not under water, one of his favorite pastimes is fixing up old muscle cars.

His is a typical passion for a DIY restorer with one big exception: He’s one of the lucky guys who shares his zeal with his wife, Kelly Rojas.

Restoring an original Swinger was their first co-project, and the experience proved to be a bonding experience for their marriage.

Rojas, who hails from Columbia, grew up with an uncle who enlisted her help fixing up old motorcycles, and when she arrived in America 22 years ago, she worked with a mechanic friend to learn the basics.

“Early in our relationship she helped me pull a transmission in an old Scout,” says Coffelt.  “That’s what hooked me!”

When they bought their Swinger, it ran pretty well, but they spent months replacing the vinyl roof, sand-blasting the top, working out some dents, rehabbing the interior and painting it an original midnight blue.

A big lesson they’ve learned is that there are three phases to an auto restoration: mechanical, body and interior.  You should tackle one or two of the phases on a project, but not all three.  If you do, you’ll get overwhelmed.

Much of their work involved fixing rust rot and pits by blending in new metal with the old.  A key to their success was to keep the subtle angled lines running down the sides of the Swinger.

The couple divided their labor and tap their strengths. Bodywork is extremely meticulous and Rojas handled many of the fine details like wet sanding while Coffelt concentrated on the bigger aspects like sheet metal.

On old cars, guys like to hoard hard-to-find parts, says Coffelt. So Rojas learned to befriend MOPAR collectors in the community and charm them into selling her what they needed.  She also learned how to weld.

Muscle cars remain popular with the restoration crowd because they’re roomy and fairly simple to work on. But it’s also because big block engines are becoming rare in today’s auto world.
“When I see an old car roll up, it portrays strength, power and toughness, says Coffelt. “That’s America right there.”

“To tell you the truth, I love when people see me in the car and say ‘Whoah it’s cool,’” says Rojas.  “And I’m like, wait until it goes vroom!”

The couple paid $2,500 for the original car and they estimate they’ve spent around $5,000 on parts and materials.  When it’s totally finished it should be worth about $15,000.

It was never going to be a high-value car, and they knew it.  But the experience was more about turning a rare old car into a rolling beauty.

The most fulfilling aspect for Coffelt was how it brought the couple together.  They even coaxed their 9-year-old son Troy into helping them sand during the painting process.

“We could have sent it out [and paid for restoration] but what is the fun of that?  You don’t learn anything,” says Rojas. “Now when we see an old car – even one that’s dilapidated – we appreciate the months it took to get it there.”

Advice for do-it-yourselfers

Any restorer can tell you there’s a huge learning curve.  With six muscle cars under his belt, Coffelt offers these tips when you DIY.

• Don’t buy someone else’s headache. There’s often a good reason when someone gives up on a project.

• Don’t buy boxes full of parts.  You didn’t take the car apart, you’ll never know if everything is there or figure out what you need.

• Get a big workspace.  You’ll need more garage than you think.

• Don’t start a paint job unless you have enough time to finish it in the same day.

• Do your research on the materials.  There are lots of chemicals that go down before paint.  They react differently with one another and with what was originally on car.

• Spend the money on an air compressor and wire feed welder.  Rent the tools you need rarely like an engine hoist.

• You make your money when you buy, not when you sell, so look for a good deal on the front end.

• Parts for old cars are becoming harder to find. It may take months to find them and you’ll want them on hand when you start working.

• Befriend the people who hoard parts.  If a car is rare, the auto clubs will be tight-knit.

• You’d better like working with your hands.  Take a sheet metal class to learn the basics.