union bulletin

Union Bulletin

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Helix's Holton Secret Lab takes hot rods and put them 'IN YOUR FACE'

By Andy Porter of the Union-Bulletin

A 1946 Ford Tudor owned by Ron Mulanix of Milton-Freewater and customized by Bill Holton, pictured, at the Holton Secret Lab near Helix. The vehicle won best of class in radical street sedans at the Portland Roadster Show held March 3-5 in Portland.
U-B photo by Andy Porter

Winning "best of class" designations were a 1948 Chevy pickup owned by Wayne Swearingen of Pendleton and a 1946 Ford hot rod owned by Ron Mulanix of Milton-Freewater. Swearingen's truck won in the stock pickup class and Mulanix's won in radical street sedans.

The third vehicle, a 1931 Ford Tudor owned by Ron White of Hermiston, was first runner-up in the mild street sedan class, Bill Holton said.

As he proudly displayed the tall trophy that accompanied his win, Swearingen recalled how he bought his Chevy on March 1, 1959.

"I gave $200 for it," he said with a laugh.

After driving it for years as a regular working vehicle, Swearingen said he decided to restore the truck and turned to Holton to get the job done.

"We started tearing it apart about 10 years ago," Holton said. "(Swearingen) would literally bring out a couple of fenders and we would put those on, then we would work on something else.

"Then, about four years ago, we got serious with it."

The result was a meticulous restoration that extends from the white-walled tires to the correct color of the oil filter on the stock 216-cubic-inch engine.

While the work on Swearingen's pickup was aimed at keeping the vehicle totally stock, the work on Mulanix's 1946 Ford was anything but.

The tricked-out sedan boasts a chrome-accented, 450-horsepower engine nestled in a flame-painted red and yellow body that defines "attitude."

"I want that car in your face," Holton said about the work on the Ford.

The three vehicles are only a few of the many turned out by Holton at the Secret Lab, which has been located at the family ranch since the early 1990s.

The operations underwent a major expansion in 2004, adding 5,000 square feet to the original shop building. Along with Holton, the business now employs two other full-time workers, Mark Graybeal and Monty Davis, as well as an apprentice, Travis Boyd.

A tour of the shop area reveals a number of works in progress, including the restoration of a 1969 Ford Mustang coupe that, like many others in Holton's shop, has a story behind it.

That particular car, Holton said, is one of only 62 produced by Ford with the 428 Cobra Jet engine and the only one painted in a particular shade of maroon.

Purchased by the Ford dealer in Wapato, Wash., the vehicle was later sold to the dealer's brother, who then stored it in a barn for 25 years before deciding to restore it.

While a person might think storing a car in a barn would be a good idea, in this case it wasn't, Holton said.

"That thing was one big mouse nest when we got it," he said with a laugh.

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