For Jack Brown, restoring cars is a career and a lifestyle
BRISTOL — Jack Brown has been tinkering with cars for almost as long as he can remember, or in his words, “since I was a pup.”
He grew up in Pennsylvania outside of Philadelphia and in the late 1940s went to boarding school in New Hampshire. Around age 14, Brown started learning about mechanics and taking an active interest in cars. At age 17, he moved back to Philadelphia and enrolled in the Spring Garden Institute where he studied auto mechanics and committed to the trade.
Today, Brown lives in Bristol with his wife, Kim Chamberland. The couple operates three businesses on the property where they live: Brown’s service shop handles routine auto servicing, from state inspections to brake repairs and muffler replacements; their auto sales branch helps customers find quality used vehicles and works with them on trade-ins and upgrades. They also operate 116 Self Storage, which the couple describes as a relatively simple way to bring in a little more cash to pay for Brown’s real hobby, which is building and rebuilding classic cars.
In a large garage behind his shop, Brown keeps a treasured fleet of four vehicles. Among them is a shimmery dark blue 1948 Cadillac and a silver two-door 1948 Chevy. A bright blue 1968 Nova that was built for Chamberland adds to the car collection and a 1948 cabover truck completes the current set.
Each of the vehicles has been completely rebuilt mechanically and in many cases Brown has retrofitted everything from frame to finish to meet modern conveniences while maintaining an old body style.
Brown says the 1948 Chevy would have originally been built with an 85 horsepower engine. But he wanted a hot rod, so he bumped it up with a brand new 620 horsepower engine that the team at Denecker Chevrolet helped him find. Brown retrofitted the hood with multiple perforated vents to help increase the airflow to the engine and add to the speedster style.
“Boy, when you step on that accelerator, you better be holding on to your hat,” Chamberland said, “this car really has some kick!”
Brown also installed an air compressor and lift in the Chevy, so the front end can sit just a couple inches from the ground in the front. He says he brings it up when they’re driving around so as not to damage the front end, but at car shows or when they’re really trying to show off the style, they drop it down.
THREE UNIQUE RIGS
The couple spotted the Cadillac in California and Brown decided to drive out with a friend to check it out. As is his typical routine, he updated it with power steering and brakes, replaced the comfortable upholstered bench seats and gave it a new paint job. The result is a classic beauty with a split front windshield, big and classy leather steering wheel and a gas cap hidden from site in the most conspicuous place that only insiders would know about.
Brown traveled to North Dakota for the 1948 cabover truck, which was a model he had been eyeing for some time. When he got it back in his shop he replaced everything from the frame to the interior, adding cushioned upholstery to the cab and a modern-looking flatbed to the back.
The truck is beautiful; its short front end is a unique style uncommon to modern trucks of its size, but under the hood a shiny new motor and electrical control unit exposes its new features that allow it to ride as smoothly as a baby’s bum.
JACK BROWN REPLACED the original 85 horsepower engine in this 1949 Chevy with a 620 horsepower monster.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
When Brown and Chamberland first met, Chamberland didn’t know or care much about cars. Brown knew that he had to win her over or else his hobby would be at risk. So he found her a car that she loved — a blue 1968 Nova, and had it shipped to him in parts.
“You have to make your wife happy, so she doesn’t beg you out of your habit,” he explained.
He built her car from scratch, modifying parts and modernizing features until it was right.
“What I do is I get a car as it was originally built and I take it apart and put it back together my way,” Brown explains.
Chamberland was happy indeed, and over the years has learned to love Brown’s hobby. “It’s just amazing what he can do with a car,” she said. “He’s a real artist, you know.”
But for Brown, it’s just what he does.
“It’s all I’ve ever done.”
At least for the past 70 years, that’s pretty true. Brown estimates he’s probably rebuilt at least 30 cars since the late 1970s when he moved to Vermont and about a dozen before that.
Most of those projects were commissioned by friends or by folks he meets at car shows. They’ll often find or describe what they’re interested in and Brown will go on a hunt for the right starting place and then bring it into his shop and get to work. He says he starts by replacing just about every mechanical component in the car.
He prefers automatic transmissions, which can handle a higher horsepower modern engine and permits an easy and comfortable riding experience.
But it’s not only fun for Brown; the car projects can also be profitable ventures. Brown worked on a custom Fiat that ended up selling for $560,000.
In his office, Brown has tall stacks of printed photographs from many of these projects. He keeps before and after pictures of the vehicles, showing an amazing transformation obvious even to a complete novice.
He doesn’t stop at cars either. He’s done trucks and motorcycles and even retrofitted a train caboose that the couple has parked at the back edge of their property and uses for a fun guesthouse or hangout for their grandchildren.
“Anything that makes noise I’m interested in,” he said.
The hobby takes the couple to car shows all over the county. One year Brown and a former wife took a road trip in a 1932 red two-door Ford sedan, outfitted with a supercharged engine. They crossed an estimated 30 states, hitting car shows every week. Brown and Chamberland are still at it, having traveled to Florida, Louisville and other distant places with their hot rods. Their only rule is that the cars have to be able to drive themselves to the show.
“We have road kings, not trailer queens,” Cumberland joked. JACK BROWN RESTORED THIS 1968 Chevy Nova for his wife, Kim Chamberland.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
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