east oregonian september

East Oregonian

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Helix family turns old cars into career

By DEAN BRICKEY of the East Oregonian

Marcy and Bill Holton show off one of the cars they've restored and painted, along with apprentice Jim Hendershot and Bo.
Staff photo by Dean Brickey

What for years has been known as Holton Restorations, has been marketing itself on the Internet as Holton Secret Lab for the past year with the help of Curt Liddle of North Powder Digital. In fact it was Liddle, who coined the term "secret lab" as he toured Holton's extensive auto body shop. It has a variety of connected chambers for the various steps of automotive restoration.

Holton, who grew up in his father's body shop in Vale, has been in the business for the past 35 years. He and his wife, Marcy, who grew up on the farm where they live, have owned and operated Holton Restorations for the past 20 years. The shop is at 81396 S. Juniper Canyon Road. They've lived there for 30 years. Marcy is the business manager, taking care of bookkeeping and making arrangements for show appearances. The Holtons are gone most every weekend from April through November, promoting their business at Northwest auto shows.

"I've always done body work to subsidize farming," Bill Holton said. "I've been at it full time for the past 12 years. We do high-quality restorations, specializing in rotisserie restoration and detail work," he said.

Holton gets down to the basics, illustrated by the two stripped-down vehicles in his shop, one a 1967 Pontiac Firebird convertible, the other a 1965 Ford Mustang. The Firebird's frame is on a rotisserie he built, which allows him to roll a frame over and work on various areas without climbing on it or crawling under it.

"You just get better quality out of your job because you can see it better, get at it better," he said, rolling the Firebird over like a turkey on a spit.

On the other end of Holton's expansive shop is an enclosed media blast bay, in which he removes paint by blasting vehicles and their parts with fine plastic granules. Holton said he uses plastic rather than sand for blasting because it removes the paint only, not the metal underneath. Neither will the plastic media damage chrome, glass or rubber, he said.

Holton built the blast booth large enough to accommodate trucks and trailers because he sometimes works on vehicles other than hot rods. Sheet metal covers the walls and recessed lighting at about waist level provides illumination while he's blasting.

"I sell detail, and you've got to be able to see detail," he said, explaining the importance of good lighting.

Holton's spray-painting equipment ranges from guns with quart cans to miniature airbrushes with bottles that hold just a few ounces of paint.

"All flames are hand-done, 100 percent," he said. "No decals. Everything I do is custom."

Holton said it usually takes him six months to rebuild a vehicle from top to bottom.

"We are not a body shop," Marcy stressed. "We are an artistic, custom creative business. What he does is art."

Holton said he sometimes takes "problem cars," those hobbyists have started to restore and become overwhelmed with. He charges by the hour, plus materials, and encourages customer involvement so the project turns out the way the customer wants it.

"These jobs are a desire of the heart," he said.

For a small job, such as painting and flaming a motorcycle, Holton charges $1,500 to $2,000. A full frame-off restoration can take hundreds of hours and cost as much as $50,000 or $60,000, he said.

Examples of Holton's finished products can be seen on the Web site, including a 1931 Ford Tudor Sedan, a street rod owned by Ron White of Hermiston. Holton customized the vehicle and even painted the fenders with his signature "ghost flames," which, like holograms, are visible only from certain angles.

More information: www.holtonsecretlab.com, 866-352-6348

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