Mariposa & Yosemite

Not your ordinary cars: Mariposa man views vehicles as a canvas -- a potential work of art

A "classic" in any genre is something that has withstood the test of time, capturing the spirit of an era, or possessing a quality of style, function or charm that has not since been duplicated. Ken Young of Mariposa may be re-defining the term "classic cars." While most people choose a vehicle based on its practicality and/or performance in the everyday world, Young looks at cars the way an artist might view a canvas -- as a potential work of art.

"When I was 16 years old, I got my first car: a 1952 Chevrolet," Young says. "But I decided right then I didn't want to drive a car that was just like everyone else's. I wanted to drive a car that was different. So, my brother replaced the original 6-cylinder engine with a Buick V8."

And for the past 48 years or so, Young has worked at customizing cars. "The fun is to take one part off one car and another part off another car ... Or sometimes I fabricate the pieces myself."

Sheets of steel and aluminum lean up against one wall, and piles of sand cover the floor and coat the walls of the sand-blasting room. A specialty tire company in Tennessee supplies him with antique-style tires for his touring cars and roadsters.

Over the years, he has built seven cars, and helped several guys "chop the tops" off theirs.

"Sometimes I use parts from old junk," he says. "I picked up some old bar stools at the dump, and used the parts to make a steering wheel and a windshield frame. And the grill on the nose of another car is from an old fan. I'd rather make something than buy it."

Young learned the basics of welding in school and took seminars on metal-working. He learned as he went along, as he had never built a model car or anything like a car, ever. "My brother was the mechanic -- not me," he says.

His wife, Fran, is good-natured about it. "His garage is bigger than the house. It's more than a hobby -- this is his whole life."

Young was a sign-painter for 40 years. After convincing his boss, he was able to work at his job in the evenings, leaving his days free to work on his cars. His painting skill is evident in their home and on their property, as Young and his wife, Fran, operated a bed & breakfast Inn for nine years. "One car took eight months of 10-hour days -- continually working on it, except for a two-week break to paint the house," he says.

In one part of the garage, there sits a blue and black 1934 Chevrolet Master two-door Sedan. "I bought it in the 1970s, and I've taken it apart and re-done it three or four times. Now it has air-conditioning and an overdrive transmission." He's still working on the interior, but no matter how long it takes, this kind of work is what he enjoys most. The time, the expense, the dust, the re-do's -- it's all just part of the price he's willing to pay.

When he's not working on his cars, though, he's thinking about cars and looking at cars in his library, where hundreds of car magazines sit displayed on shelves Young also built. "It would have cost me a few thousand dollars to have someone else do it, so I decided to do it myself." He and his brother started subscribing to "Hot Rod" magazine in the 1960s, and at present he subscribes to 11 different car magazines. "I was in Burbank at a used book store several years ago, and spent $800 in one day on used car magazines. I got every issue that was printed of 'Custom Cars.' " He's not counted them, but estimates his collection to contain a couple thousand issues.

Occasionally he'll participate in a car run event, and drive one of the cars there and back. "They'll get anywhere from 60 miles an hour to over a 100 miles an hour," he says.

A 1915 Maxwell sits in the garage covered with dust. It's from the era when cars were called "horseless carriages," and the sticker price was less than what a tank of gas would cost today.

Two cars are in various stages of completion. Young painted a custom Chevy red, but then, wasn't happy with the paint job. Back to the sand-blasting room it went. The other one, he says, will be a fender-less roadster.

"The engine and transmission were given to me; the front axle I bought for $10, and the rear axle is from another car; I used a wheelbarrow bed for the cowl, and two Dodge step-side pick-up truck fenders to make the seat and the nose," he says.

For the onlooker it's hard to imagine what it will look like when it's finished, but Young knows what he's doing, and he's got the patience to get it done.

"I just get a lot of pleasure from driving a car that I've built," says Young.

Debbie Croft writes about life in the foothill communities. She can be reached at composed@cwo.com.

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