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Walla Walla Union-Bulletin

"Secret Lab" restores cars to former glory

By Andy Porter of the Walla Walla Union Bulletin

Photos by Greg Lehman

Portland Hot Rod Restoration

. . . Rusted bodies are reworked, kinks undone and curves restored to youthful glory.

At left, the mailbox at Bill and Marcy Holton's ranch outside of Helix gives a hint of what goes on inside the shop building pictured the background.

Standing next to one of his works in progress, a 1946 Ford Sedan, Bill Holton talks about life, automotive art and hot rods.

Above, Holton demonstrates how an "English Wheel" is used to curve and shape sheet metal for fenders and other body parts. The machine is one of the many brought into play during the restoration process. Below, a restored 1931 Ford Tudor forms the centerpiece for a display of Holton's handiworks at a Baker, Oregon car show earlier this year.

As a couple of refrigerators and at least one surfboard can attest, flame art isn't only for cars.

Helix — Out among the hills here is a place where the aged and dead are reborn.

With the flare of a torch and the whine of a power tool, rusted bodies are reworked, kinks are undone and curves restored to youthful glory.

Elsewhere in the complex, hooded figures with hissing hoses flay away age-grimed coatings down to bare skin, ready to receive bright new colors.

And while there is no operating table which elevates through the roof, there is a "rotisserie" on which subjects are bolted so they can spin around like a roast on a spit.

But presiding over all this isn't some twisted genius in a lab coat. It's a friendly couple who look right at home on the century-old farm where the complex sits. Say hello to Bill and Marcy Holton, proprietors of Holton Secret Lab.

For about the past ten years, Bill Holton and his "lab," formerly known as Holton Restorations, has been doing ground-up rebuilds of classic and antique cars, as well as indulging in other automotive flights of fancy such as custom flame art.

Cars which have found second lives in Holton's shop have ranged from one of the first Model A Fords to some of the most sought-after products of Detroit's "muscle car" era, such as the famed Shelby Mustang.

During a recent visit, projects in progress included a 1967 Pontiac Firebird convertible, a 1965 Ford Mustang, a 1946 Ford hotrod sedan and a 1953 Willys-Overland truck being transformed into a "tricked-out" version of the original.

For Holton, working on cars has been a lifelong business which started at his father Herb Holton's body shop in Vale, Oregon. After earning a degree in automotive technology from the Oregon Institute of technology, he was teaching automotive technology, welding and mechanics when he met Marcy in the mid-1970's.

When they met, Bill was driving a 1966 Corvette with a 454-cubic inch engine, "and my horsepower at the time was my horses," Marcy said.

"We courted each other for about six months," Bill recalled. "So I stopped teaching and started working for Marcy" at the family ranch.

After initially doing rebuilds on a part-time basis, Holton Restorations became a full-time business in the early 1990's in the farm's old shop building.

While the couple have talked about moving their business to a more populated area, Marcy and Bill said they've decided to keep it where it is to help preserve the family homestead, which Marcy inherited from her father, Verne Terjeson.

This past summer, the couple have undertaken a major expansion of the business which has added about 5,000 square feet to the original shop.

Along with an expanded shop floor, the additions have included a "media blasting" room large enough to handle whole vehicles, a new paint booth and paint mixing room, a display room and office (still under construction) and other areas to house compressors and supplies.

In the shop Holton can reconstruct any vehicle to its original specifications, while the painting equipment lets him match the original color of practically any vehicle made or come up with a custom shade.

Customers range from "guys in their 40's and 50's who have always wanted a muscle car" to people who want to restore antique cars to museum-quality perfection.

Her husband's ability to take vehicles which look like forlorn ghosts from their former glory days and turn them into shining showpieces has never ceased to amaze Marcy.

"I've stopped being shocked anymore when he brings something home that looks like a junkpile," she said.

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