What Drives You: A car as rare as its owner
(Editor’s Note: From pearl, metallic flake and candy-colored paint to modified small-blocks, big-blocks and flathead V-8s, the proud owners of custom cars are opening up their throttles and bursting forth with their classic build stories. Join us as we get down to the nuts and bolts of these builds and tell the stories of car builders worldwide — finding smiles and unforgettable memories behind the blood, sweat and tears. If you have a custom with a great story and would like to be considered for our “What Drives You” series, contact Tara Hurlin at email@example.com.)
“Do you realize how rare this car is?” It was a question Harold Wellenbrink heard often from inquisitive buyers who hoped to lure it away. Little did they know, the rare gem was about to become even more exquisite.
Wellenbrink, of Cloverdale, B.C., Canada, has spent 60 blissful years restoring cars and related memorabilia, and even built a replica Shell Oil station in his backyard. But when he laid eyes on a 1952 Meteor Customline, he knew he had found “the one.”
The car is one of fewer than 30 built in Windsor, Ont., in 1952, and at a dark time in the car’s life, a family of ducks made it their home. Thankfully, someone saved it, and in 1995 a customer brought the car to Harold’s shop for restoration. It had been in an accident that damaged the hood and right front fender, and both were barely hanging on. It must have been fate because Harold happened to be looking for his own restoration project — a car he could have for keeps — so when he saw the Meteor he just had to have it. A deal was struck, and Harold had the car he could make all his own.
The process began with multiple sketches; it had to be low and lean, the color robin’s egg blue with silver scallops. Power seats, windows, steering and convertible top were a must. An Offenhauser flathead motor, continental kit, lake pipes and Appleton spotlights were also in the works.
The car only had 50,000 miles on it and, other than the hood damage, it was in good condition. It wasn’t a total frame-off restoration; the frame and undercarriage were scraped, cleaned and painted. Harold mixed the paint himself in a five-gallon bucket and painted 50 percent of the car himself. The original blue-and-ivory interior was restored along with the gauges, and the steering wheel, buttons and switches were painted ivory to match. After the car was painted, Harold airbrushed the silver scallops on the firewall and body.
The car was originally a three-speed, but it finished up nicely with an automatic from a 1954 Ford. A donor 1951 Mercury supplied an automatic steering column and a 331-gear rear-end. The stainless trim and door lock crowns were donated by a 1953 Monarch. The motor is an original; an engine builder bored it out to 60-over and installed a four-inch crank, dome pistons, and Lincoln valve springs. Before it all came together, a host of speed items were added. To get the desired custom look, Harold had Offenhauser customize 1948 heads to bolt onto the 1952 block, which also increased compression from seven to nine.
The grille is stock, headlights are frenched and the front bumper has been smoothed, lowered and nudged back to give it that low-profile look. The 24-karat gold-plated front-center grille and accessories were done courtesy of a local plating shop.
The car turned out better than Harold ever imagined. “I couldn’t have built it without someone to give me a helping hand, and my supportive wife (Myrna) was always there when I needed her,” Harold said. Myrna provided some comic relief one day when she joked, “You should have Velcroed the doors on with how many times you have had to remove them!” She is also responsible for the Meteor’s nickname; members of her bridge club would come out to the shop to see the cool car that Harold was working on, and they began calling it “Cool Blue.”
While the car has also received positive comments from well-known builders like George Barris, Gene Winfield and Chip Foose, the best feeling for Harold came when those people who wanted to buy the car would return to the shop and shake their head in disbelief. “One of them said, ‘It’s a good thing you kept this car because it looks better than I could have ever built it,’” Harold said.
Ironically, when Harold first saw the car he didn’t know how rare it was; he just loved its potential. But now that it is immaculately restored and customized to Harold’s specifications, this 1952 Meteor Customline is rarer than one in 30; it’s one of one – just like the man who built it.