Local Craftsmen Turn Transportation into Art
by Chris Watson • PHOTOS BY MICHAEL NEMETH
National Auto Show Judge
Custom Auto Builder
Wounded Knee Motors
We sent three cars to the moon (and several little cars to Mars). Throw in a unique paint job or custom restoration and happiness is just one four barrel carburetor or glass pack muffler away. Our vehicles are more than just mere transportation. They allow us to express ourselves as individuals. They are our constant companions , whether pacing along quietly in our mundane daily tasks or grandly chauffeuring us to the best moments of our lives.
For some cars have become more than a hobby or even passion. Cars have become a profession that is the outward expression of great inner spirit. Here in Northwest Ohio we are blessed with a myriad of these craftsmen; people who look at a vehicle not as an engine with tires, but as a blank canvas for creating art.
The four men profiled here have spent their entire lives with cars. Spanning generations of auto manufacturing, technology, and style trends they find esthetics in function and beauty in a frame with four doors. These men are where heavy metal meets fine art. Their work has been sought after nationally and featured in television, racing, museums, and film. None of that seems to drive these guys, however. They love cars and they love what they do. Above all they live right here and have been good, if not showy, neighbors their whole lives.
“If what you drive makes you smile,” Chris states with emphasis, “then you have a winner.” This is from the guy who built the Batmobile for both of Tim Burton’s Batman movies(Warner Brothers 1989, 1992) .
For Dixon it all started with model cars as a kid. He went into the service as an aircraft mechanic which cemented his love of all things mechanical. “It was just a hobby,” Dixon states. After the service he moved into the building trades which involved fabrication techniques. In 1979, an on the job injury turned the avocation into a profession. “I have been very blessed that so many customers have trusted me to build them some very nice cars.”
His first foray into car show judging came, naturally, as a contestant. “In the 70’s I entered a car I had customized in an ISCA (International Show Car Association) event. I ended up best rod in the nation and 5th overall for the year.” From there Chris began to judge car shows across the country. “I would do 20 or so shows for the ISCA in the winter and a dozen or so shows for Super Chevy Events during the summer.” As a paid judge he made a living.
Still, it was his custom jobs that made his reputation. “Well, obviously doing the Batmobile for two movies was a big deal,” he claims. “I also did The Penguin’s duck car,” he says, a bit more muted. His reputation, along with numerous wins and credentials, kept him building cars his entire career.
Everyday Ride: 97 Buick Park Avenue
Favorite Car worked on: 1956 Thunderbird. Purple paint and interior. “I built it for my wife,” Dixon says. It was the Goodguys Rod & Custom Association custom 1992 Rod of the Year.
Dream Car: “I just don’t have one,” claims Dixon.
“Everything that I have is all that I need.”
Rocky’s Body Shop
34 N. 11th St., Toledo
“It all started with my grandfather,” Mattoni says. “He started the business in 1967 and along with my father we have been going ever since.
“Dean actually trained as a mechanic first, attending nights, for three years, at Owen’s Community College. His love affair with cars started way before that. “I first came to work here when I was 10 with my grandfather (Rocky). My grandfather would have me take stuff apart with the idea that if I took it apart I would learn how it worked.”
From there it was a slow progression. By 1983 Dean was full time in the family business. In the 90’s Rocky’s got into custom painting. They now do all custom work from everyday collision, specialty paint, restoration, and performance. Dean has been the sole owner since 2014. When the opportunity came along to move from mechanics to painting Dean jumped at the chance. “I love playing with paints and colors.” Besides cars they also custom paint motorcycles. “We just did a lime green Harley,” states Mattoni boldly. “I normally don’t like green but I have to admit this looks really good.”
Although Dean loves all things old, as a professional he works hard to stay current in skill and technique. “The technology is always changing,” he says, talking animatedly about a new paint that, when electrified, lights up like a neon light. “You can’t go a year in the painting business without learning something.”
Everyday Ride: 94 Chevy Caprice Station Wagon
Favorite Car worked on: Anything old.
Dream Car: Double Nickel (‘55) Chevy Coupe Hard Top or ‘59 Cadillac 2 Door Convertible.
Expert Pinstripe Artist, Wauseon, OH
Michael Murray has been painting vehicles his entire life. “It is like this,” he says bluntly. “If you lived in my neighborhood and owned a bicycle, I pinstriped it.” Growing up in South Toledo and graduating from Central Catholic with an art interest, he found a way to make art pay. “My parents were not too enthused about my art passion,” he remarks. “They were sure I would starve.”
That did not deter Michael. As a freshman in high school, he got a job at the Wally Sign Company and learned the art of lettering. At 21 he bought the Perma Bench Company with over 400 bus stop benches. In the morning he would put on a suit and tie and sell advertising, in the afternoon he would go out and paint what he had sold.
Throughout his early career he pinstriped. Eventually he got into sports car racing professionally. He started in a Shelby DT350 Mustang and bought into a IMSA Corvette. “I drove,” he says proudly, “in the first race ever held at the Michigan International Speedway.” In the mid 70’s racing took a major downturn during the international oil crisis and embargo. Murray changed careers and went into real estate. “After all,” he remarks, “I painted a lot of brokers’ names on benches.”
He never lost his love for cars or Harleys and continued to work on them throughout his realty career. He pin striped the oldest Ford known to exist, which is now on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI. He also pinstriped the 20 millionth Ford which is also on display at the museum. “You can do anything you put your mind to,” says Murray. In his case he became an auctioneer in his mid 50’s and just recently completed a round trip on his Harley to Alaska. “Eight thousand and one miles,” he says. “Don’t forget the one.”
Everyday Ride: 2012 Pearl White Acura
Favorite Car worked on: Lettered and
A.J. Foyt USAC Silver Crown
Open Wheel race car #14
Dream Car: “I would love to get my
first car back.” 1957 Austin Healey Roadster
Roberts Auto Restoration
1555 E. Broadway • Toledo
“Cars are just in me,” says Roberts, who along with his son Kevin owns and operates Roberts Auto Restoration. “We certainly do everyday collision work,” he states. “However, we also do restoration of older vehicles. The restoration is more of a ‘non-profit’ thing,” Garey states lightly.
He certainly has been learning about car restoration his whole life. A graduate of the now closed Macomber Vocational High School in downtown Toledo, Garey started out doing body work at a local dealership. “Even at the dealership I had a keen interest in restoration and hot rods,” he states. The old car restoration was a simple hobby.
Like so many hobby enthusiasts he turned his skill at restoration into a business. “I just thought it was time to open up for myself,” he claims. “Sometimes I wish I had done it earlier.” Garey has been bringing old cars back to life for almost 60 years, and for 25 years as a business. His son is also full time. “I love working with my son,” he states emphatically. “We get along well and he is an excellent painter.”
Everyday Ride: Chevy Pick Up Truck
Favorite Car worked on: 1932 Ford.
“It was the first year Ford put a V8 in
a car and they were a one off body style”
Dream Car: Chop Top ‘54 Chevy Hard Top