STURGEON — A deep blue 1935 Ford sedan with red, white and black tires sits snugly in a shed filled with dusty antique car parts and Ford memorabilia.
“It was a complete piece of junk when I bought it,” said Ford enthusiast Bill Willis. “I even lost one fender off of it coming home.”
Willis sought out the 1935 Ford more than 15 years ago — the oxidized and extremely damaged blast from the past was something he always wanted to restore. Despite facing personal wear and tear from heart surgery, cancer and diabetes, Willis slowly repaired the historic vehicle produced the same year he was born.
“It seems like they got everything straightened out,” Willis said of his doctors, whom he now sees every six months. “It still takes a toll.”
While waiting for a car battery to charge, Willis rested in the driver's seat of a yellow 1935 four-door sedan that he won in an Internet auction.
After pouring gas into the tank, he attempted to start the ignition and succeeded on his second try.
“It's pretty rewarding to restore an old car or overhaul an engine and put it in there, and the whole thing will run or start,” Willis said with a smile. “That's pretty exciting.”
The first Ford built for production was in 1908. Willis owns four registered historic Ford cars, two of which he rebuilt almost completely, and a couple of tractors.
“He worked awful hard on this '35, but sometimes things happen, and you just have to go with the flow and work on it when he can,” said Donna Willis, Bill Willis’ wife.
“They're all Fords, and that's what he likes,” she said.
Inside a dimly lit work shed, Bill Willis’ weathered hands reached for one of several steering wheels that hang in front of a picture of Henry Ford. Tiny cracks that have formed in the aging plastic are keenly filled with a plaster and sanded to a smooth finish.
“It just takes a lot of time — there's nothing hard about it,” he said while demonstrating how to restore old steering wheels. “It just takes time.”
“Most usually you tear them apart,” Willis said. “The parts that are good you try to refinish them, save them. The pieces that are not savable, well, you buy new ones.”
Willis’ first project was a 1964 Ford pickup custom cab that he bought new for $2,250.
“At that time, cars were cheaper than they are now,” he said, “For that price, that $2,250, you can hardly buy a set of hubcaps now.”
Willis keeps a personal log of every car part he's bought, sold or traded.
“When I restored it, I restored it inside and out to pretty good shape,” he said. “It's not perfect because it’s the first one I've done.”
Willis has won numerous awards for his cars, referring to his trophies as “dust collectors.” He said he has grown tired of the strenuous events.
“I haven't had one in a car show in five to six years,” Willis said.
Now, he uses the cars just for show or a quick cruise around his quiet neighborhood in Sturgeon.
“I'm not going to sell any of them. I'll just let her take care of them when I pass on,” he said of Donna, who was less than enthused by his remark.
“It'll be something … the little boy will remember when he grows up,” said Donna of Alex Koontz, their 8-year-old grandson.
Alex played with his toy cars on the front lawn under the watchful eyes of his grandparents. Bill Willis recalled his dad owning a Ford.
“It's always been a Ford family,” he said.