Entrepreneur caters to car nuts with cash

WESTWOLD - A collection of gleaming shops tucked behind a diner at a 5.5-hectare property on Highway 97 is where old cars go to die. But it doesn't end there for many of 150 or so cars at the site.

Some of the historic wrecks will become donors, parted out until there's nothing left. But others will go to the afterlife, where they are lovingly rebuilt, chopped, channeled, slammed and hot rodded to a second life.

"We have so much stuff," said proprietor Al Conquergood, who's grown his hot rod shop in the past five years to eight full-time employees, specialists recruited from Vancouver and Alberta.

"I've got a little piece of heaven in the middle of nowhere. People around the world have to know we're here."

Judging by the activity at Wildrides Restoration Inc., many car nuts with the money - but not the time or knowledge that is amassed here - already know about Conquergood's work.

One of the fruits of their labours is parked outside. The '57 Chevy Belair "four months ago was a bag of junk," declares Conquergood, who frequently gives tours of his facility. Motor, transmission, fenders, floors, wiring all redone - it's all too much to list.

Inside his shops in various stages of customization include a '37 Plymouth Coupe, a '40 Chrysler and '48 Mercury pickup.

Craftsman Terry Wapple is building a hideaway panel for a stereo unit in the Plymouth. He'll also do headliners, door panels and much of the custom interior using wood, steel and fabrics.

Nearby, Leslie Carty an autobody man and airbrush master, is working alongside an assistant on the custom Chrysler and Mercury.

"I closed my shop in Vancouver to work for these guys," said Carty, who commutes to Westwold from Kamloops.

"I'm an airbrush artist by trade and I look at this as my art. I don't paint canvasses now; I paint cars."

And like great pieces of art, custom cars are not cheap.

Under the hood of the '40 Chrysler is destined a legendary 426 Hemi - $25,000 in a crate.

Conquergood is also sourcing a twin-turbo V-8 that will cost his customer $40,000 for another hot rod.

"Buyers are interested in one-of-a-kind and that's what we offer. It's whatever you want - sky's the limit.

Conquergood's work has already been featured on a Snap-On Tools calendar. His big goal is to bring a car and his staff to the annual Specialty Equipment Marketing Association (SEMA) show in California - where the biggest names in the modified business display cars side-by-side with manufacturers who contract out custom jobs of their typical dealership offerings.

His dream? Doors will open on his showcar, scissor or gullwing style, at the touch of his fingerprint on the glass. Seats will swivel outwards, offering a custom perch before pulling back into place with the driver and passenger astride. The hot rod's doors will shut and the engine will start - all triggered by a single touch.

But the steel fabricator by trade is careful to note he's not putting all his eggs in one crate. While a typical customer may spend $50,000 to $70,000 on a custom car, he also does smaller restoration jobs. He's also starting a towing service and tire shop.

Conquergood's operated the Route 97 Diner since he purchased the property in 2006 and renovated the restaurant in a 1950s theme last year. Recent work to his shops has included another hoist, a new paint booth, siding and concrete.

One of the shops is the former Christmas Store.

While Conquerhood has big dreams of shows and reality television, he doesn't have time to sit around and ponder. When he's not managing operations he's operating a welder or just getting his hands on Wildrides' projects.

Last week he was anticipating a visit from a customer willing to bankroll a beater into a show winner, looking like another big-ticket job.

"He's looking for a '66 or '67 Chevelle and I've got one. He's flying in from Fort McMurray to look at it."

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