2 December 2015

Resurrected Chevelle proves to be just the ticket for New Mexico seminary program

The Rev. Matthew Keller is a firm believer in forgiveness, second chances and redemption. That includes cars.

Father Keller, vocations director with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Gallup, N.M., “grew up in a car-rich environment” and never lost his love for automobiles, even after he received a higher calling. When one of Keller’s parishioners suggested he restore a car, Keller took it a step further. He thought that rebuilding a classic, raffling it off and using the proceeds to send a prospective priest to seminary school would be a great way to build fraternity and do God’s work at the same time.

“I’ve always loved cars,” said Keller, 50. “My dad had a super-charged ’57 Studebaker Golden Hawk, and my first car was a ’64 Malibu SS. My dad taught me a lot – most of what I know mechanically – and I was in vocational school in high school, so we fixed up the Malibu and about a half dozen cars. I sold my car when I went to college (Ft. Lewis College in Durango, Colo.), and it was the worst decision I ever made.”

He’s making up for it by restoring a 1972 Chevrolet Chevelle SS with the help of seminary students and community volunteers. It will be raffled off on Dec. 12.

“The training and development of priests is expensive,” Keller said. “I thought it would be fun to restore a classic and help one of these young men at the same time.”

“V-8s for Vocations” was born in June 2014 when a parishioner bought the Chevelle and donated it to the cause. “It was a daily driver – a bit of a basket case,” Keller said. In the 17 months since, Keller’s team has been working tirelessly to rebuild the Chevelle in Sacred Heart Cathedral’s garage. “So many people have helped us out with their time and expertise – mechanics, car guys, all kinds of people. Some men have walked into the garage in the back of the church who might not walk through the front doors. The car has given us a great opportunity to minister to them.”

Keller estimates that 50-60 volunteers have played a role in the Chevelle project, but “there’s a group of about 12 who have been fully committed to it” – a number with added significance to anyone familiar with the Bible. “It’s funny and perfect at the same time,” Keller said.

Nothing in the frame-off restoration has been overlooked. The Chevelle is powered by a 454-cid big-block Chevy engine (bored to 468) that generates approximately 450 horsepower and 500 cu.-ft. of torque – work led by Brandon Garcia. It has a M20 Muncie four-speed transmission and a 12-bolt posi stuffed with 373 gears. The frame and suspension have been powder coated, a three-month job led by Phillip Peña. The car has new wiring, steering and front-end components, front and rear inner fenders, floor pans, rear quarters, clutch, glass, shifter and clutch linkage, gas tank, fuel lines, brake lines, brake assembly, interior, vinyl top and more. The final touch will be a black and white paint job – “priestly colors,” Keller said.

Raffle tickets are $25 each (available at www.v8forvocations.org), and the winner will not be required to cover the taxes. “We’re paying those,” Keller said. “We want the winner to be able to drive the car away without worrying about that.”  He said date of the drawing is significant because it coincides with “the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the day of diaconate ordinations,” as well as the 75th anniversary of the Diocese of Gallup and the 60th anniversary of its Sacred Heart Cathedral.

Keller admits that after nearly a year and a half of work, it will be difficult to see the Chevelle go.

“This is my mid-life crisis,” he joked. “I thought (working on cars) was behind me, but God had other plans. It’s been a lot of fun, and it’s been a way to bring people together. I’m trying not to get attached to it – just finish the car, raffle it and say goodbye to it.”

Until another one comes along.

“If God is willing,” Keller said, “so am I.”

22 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Ted MI December 2, 2015 at 15:23
    Register? .. #of people? ..Guest type? ... all I want to do is to support the effort and buy a few tickets.
  • 2
    Dave O'Kelly` Michigan City, IN December 2, 2015 at 16:23
    Do you have to be present to win? Very nice work, by the way.
  • 3
    Denise Clumpner WI December 2, 2015 at 17:01
    I'd like to buy a ticket but the site keeps telling me my information is not complete. ?
  • 4
    charlie carpenter Palm Harbor FL December 2, 2015 at 17:02
    How cool is that; this is a great project and will reward a lot of people. I will enter very soon All the best to whoever wins the car.
  • 5
    dave guaymas , Sonora Mx. December 2, 2015 at 17:03
    Great job. Going to do another? If so what ?
  • 6
    edward violante glendale,arizona December 2, 2015 at 17:48
    This is a wonderful idea.Wishing you the best with this and any other future projects.You may also consider possible help from a local vocational or high school program.
  • 7
    Brian Pickerd Hart Michigan December 2, 2015 at 18:26
    Oh I just love the 1972 chevelles
  • 8
    Robert Martin Napa, Calif. December 2, 2015 at 18:41
    Like to have it.
  • 9
    crystal roberts Citrus heights, CA December 2, 2015 at 18:58
    Love the Chevelle, what a nice story.
  • 10
    Roland Ontario canada December 2, 2015 at 20:50
    Love this car, love the cause ,could someone from Canada win this dream car?
  • 11
    Kathleen Caza Woodslee Ontario canada December 2, 2015 at 21:18
    There is a certain satisfaction in resurrecting a classic vehicle and your choice of the 72 chevelle ss is ironic as we owned one . Good to see .
  • 12
    George MacKenzie Callaway VA December 2, 2015 at 22:26
    What a heavenly idea!
  • 13
    Bobby Allison St. Catharines Ontario Canada December 2, 2015 at 22:34
    Great idea to raise funds.Since other black and whites (police)are there to serve and protect,this finished project like priests and God Himself may this black and white help serve and protect with its finances the diaconate ordinations and the diocese.
  • 14
    patricia Spring Grove, Il. December 2, 2015 at 23:43
    I like your Chevelle.
  • 15
    Dannie Hoffer North Judson; Indiana December 3, 2015 at 03:56
    This looks like a beautiful car. I have always liked the looks of this car they have a great body style. I own a 1952 Chevy 2 door hard top. She is powdered by a Corvette Motor 350 Bored out and has 450 HP. The transmission is a Corvette 4 speed automatic. I have won so many trophies with my car. One is a 7 foot Best Of Show and a $500 Gift Card. I have won so many Best Of Show since I restored this car back in 2007. 7 Years to get it restored. All leather interior really sets her off. I'd like to send you a picture or two if you'd like to see her. I have to buy me a chance to win this one. I have room in my garage for it.
  • 16
    Allen Furia Florida December 3, 2015 at 09:09
    Awesome charity and awesome car. Too bad it is an auction as a set price would give others an idea on cost.
  • 17
    Laurel Milwaukie, OR December 3, 2015 at 10:14
    What a fantastic article! Brought tears to my eyes reading about the restoration. My first car was a '70 SS and oh, how I loved it. I was the coolest gal in high school. The stories I could tell about that car (death trap as my future husband called it). I'm buying myself a raffle ticket!
  • 18
    Andy Fuhrman Richmond, VA December 3, 2015 at 11:33
    Fr. Keller- What a great idea and project for your community!! Best of luck to all involved and to the deserving students this will help!
  • 19
    wayne campbell canada December 4, 2015 at 06:37
    Can I still buy tickets if I live in Canada
  • 20
    wayne campbell canada December 4, 2015 at 12:15
    I live in Canada can I still buy a ticket
  • 21
    Michael Gilson Modesto CA December 5, 2015 at 23:58
    A.S.A.P........ Allways Say A Prayer for a nice car like that
  • 22
    Billy D Pennsylvania January 4, 2016 at 14:13
    Who won ?

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