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It’s a Keeper

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Shawn Saidi, owner of Active Autobody in Sunnyvale, Calif., owned a 1968 Pontiac Firebird convertible when he got out of high school in 1980. But about 10 years later, he and his wife bought a house. To afford it, he had to sell the car.

In 2003, a year after he bought his own shop, he decided he was ready to replace his long-lost Firebird. He scanned Craigslist, as he still does frequently looking for great cars that could be restored to something of value. One day he saw an ad from a guy who was selling a ’68 Firebird for $6,000, so he went to check it out.

With a white vinyl deluxe interior and a hood-mounted tachometer, he knew he needed to buy it.

“I thought, ‘That was the car,’” Saidi says.

He had always loved cars; even as a kid he repaired toys, then bicycles, and then motorcycles and cars. But this one was different. He had bought his own collision shop, and he finally had the space to work on cars the way he wanted to.

Saidi had a vision of what he wanted it to look like. He spent the next year pouring more than 300 hours and $20,000 worth of labor and parts into the car, making his dream a reality. “If I was going to have somebody else do it, it would be way more,” he says.

He started by taking the engine and transmission out and sending them to transmission and machine shops. The 400-cubic-inch engine that makes 300 horsepower is original to the car. The transmission is original, too.

While that work was going on, he began on the bodywork. The engine and transmission were completed locally in about three weeks, but the bodywork took him about five or six months. He would spend four to eight hours of his Saturdays taking the body apart, stripping it, priming, blocking, sealing and painting it.

“It was a little bit more than I’ve done before,” he says.

The car was primed twice, and given three coats of base and three coats of clear, which he says gave it nice depth. When he bought it, its color was red. He called it a “five-footer,” meaning, “as long as you were five feet away from it, it looked good.” He painted it blue-green and was happy with how it came out.

“It came out even better (than I thought),” he says. “I had the vision. I knew it was going to come out right.”

After that he started on the interior and he sent the convertible top to the upholstery shop. “You want to make sure it’s done right so it doesn’t fall apart on you,” he says.

Then he assembled the car and began driving it. He says he’s put about 8,000 miles on the Firebird by now. It’s a weekend car, and in the winter he doesn’t really drive it.

Saidi has taken it to local car shows like the Good Guys show in Pleasanton, Calif. It gets a lot of attention, especially the color, he says.

He’ll never sell this one the way he sold his first Firebird. This one is his prized possession.

“It’s awesome. I’m never selling that car,” he says. “I’ve sold other cars before. This one’s a keeper.”

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