From Heap to Head-Turner

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Carlos Alves is the proud own-er of a 1939 Chevy pickup that’s made of blood, sweat and tears…literally.

Restoring the car not only sent Alves to the emergency room twice with metal in his eyes, it also inflicted cuts and scrapes and kept him up countless nights as he obsessed over the beloved truck. But the constant compliments—along with thumbs up and honking horns from other drivers—for the now-pristine hot rod make all the angst worthwhile. The Prowler Orange beauty, featured in the 2008 Keystone calendar, is a unique mix of handcrafted labor and professional skill.

After buying the truck in late 2005, Alves went right to work. He had to make up for the 12 years he’d been waiting for his friend to finally part with the old heap. “It no longer ran. The motor was filled with water. It was a piece of crap,” Alves says. He brought the truck back to life in just two years, working on restoring its luster until at least midnight seven days a week.

As the repair manager at Gershkoff Auto Body in Cranston, R.I., Alves drew on 30 years of experience in auto collision repair to restore everything from the paint job to the electrical wiring. He built up a ’65 Corvette 350 horsepower engine to a 400 horsepower beast with 60 overpistons, a cam and 202 heads.

“It goes like a bat out of Hell,” Alves says. “I can’t keep the tires on the road!”

In addition to all the time spent, Alves sunk so much cash into the motor and the ’96 Corvette transmission that he had to get creative with the rest of the car to stay within his budget. He fabricated an oak-paneled bed out of a piece of sheet metal and fashioned the rollover by welding 1.5-inch exhaust pipes to the sides of the bed.

“In the hot rod world, anything goes,” he explains.

Of course there were times he wasn’t sure what he had gotten himself into, like when he chopped the roof four inches and installed suicide doors. “I put in well over 150 hours on the two doors and the roof. There were times when I had the roof off and everything cut out of the car that I wondered, ‘What did I just do?’”

But Alves—who enrolled in auto repair school back in 1977 to learn how to fix his first car, a Fiat Spider—thrived on the challenge. Initially just trying to turn the truck into something he wouldn’t be embarrassed to drive, Alves exceeded his own expectations by a long shot.

“It’s not the best truck on the road,” Alves acknowledges, “but it is beautiful. And to me it’s priceless because I know everything that went into it.” He says that’s why, when he’s driving along and someone gives him a thumbs up, it’s a validation of his creativity and effort.

Alves is pretty sure this won’t be his last restoration project. His wife—just happy that Alves had shifted his attention from motorcycles to a four-wheeled hobby—seems to have caught the vintage car bug, too. So Alves’ next project may entail restoring a nice little Mustang for her. And that shouldn’t be a problem. After all, he’s already installed an intercom in the garage so his wife can talk to him anytime he’s working on the car—day and night.

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