Building car stories to last a lifetime

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    Bedell's collection is more than just cars; among the classic coupes and sedans there are two fully restored gas pumps and several original porcelain signs.

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    John and his son Matt in his garage. He is pointing to a 1957 Ford E-Bird.

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    View of the dash of a 1968 "Fuelie" - The fuel injected Corvette has 73,000 miles on it with only 100 miles on the restoration.

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    This restored Gulf gas pump has all the bells and whistles including an air pump and water hose.

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    The 1969 Plymouth GTX - John's most recent acquisition to his collection - with a '66 Dart and '72 Charger parked next to it.

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    A regular scene in the garage - John and his friends working on on of their cars.

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    John with the 1931 Coupe - the car that started it all.

Story by Joe Higgins • Photos by John Halley

Every car John Bedell owns has a story.

As much as it is a passion to own, work on and create his fleet of classic cars, it’s the stories that carry the most meaning for he and his family.

Bedell, 72, is retired from a career with Borden, Inc. in which he worked with numbers all day, controlling the budgets for a number of departments for the former food company. But he’s never retired from working with his hands and building cars — a skill he began honing when he was just a youth.

Close up of the Edelbrock engine from a 1931 Ford Coupe.

At age 7, Bedell watched a 1931 Coupe do a burnout. The sound of the engine, the smell of the burned rubber and the speed associate with that simple maneuver sparked something in him. Already an avid builder of model airplanes, Bedell started working on go-karts and built a quarter midget when he was 9 years old that he still owns today. He hung around mechanics who drag raced cars and worked on anything he could find at drag strips and just three years after seeing that burnout from the Coupe, Bedell bought that car at age 10 — sans engine and transmission — for $150.

That is the story of the 1931 Coupe.

Fast forward to about two years ago and hear the story of the 1969 GTX Hemi.

This best is a true 1-of-1 with the options it contains. In 1969, 96 Hemi cars were built, half were manual transmission and half were automatic. This particular car was one of just 11 sent to Canada (where pollution standards are more lax) and contained a 450 horsepower monster under the hood. Power steering, power brakes, power windows, stereo radio with cassette player, five speakers, an in-dash tachometer, the blue color and an air cleaner hooked to the hood make this work of metallic art a certified 1-of-1.

But how it came into Bedell’s garage is the real story of the car. He chalks it up to fate.

He first laid eyes on the GTX when he was traveling with a friend in Florida who was looking for a specific Corvette. The person who owned the friend’s prize also had the GTX in the showroom on consignment. Bedell said the price was too high at the time but a month later he called as asked about the car. Learning it had been sold, Bedell offered the man $500 for the buyer’s phone number and/or address. He declined.

Undeterred, Bedell asked his friend, Dave Winkle, for help tracking down the vehicle. “(Winkle) made some calls in Florida to the Dodge people there and they thought about who might possibly have it,” said Bedell. “He got on Google Maps and like the third house he looked at showed the garage door up and you could see the (GTX) in the garage!”

“I didn’t know the name but I had an address so I wrote him a letter saying I’m interested in buying if he was interested in selling and gave him my phone number and name,” Bedell continued. “Two weeks later, he called. What are that chances of finding a car like that through Google Maps. It’s fate. That’s all I can say.”

The GTX is just one of the 25 cars Bedell owns, 19 of which are considered classics. From a 1957 Thunderbird, 1928 Model A, 1955 Nomad, 1955 Bel Air Hardtop, 1966 Buick Skylark Convertible, 1929 Roadster Pickup, 1972 Pantera and more, Bedell drives them all and so do his wife and three children.

He takes them all to car shows but it’s not about the accolades they receive (and there are plenty), instead it’s about the connection to the vehicles and the connection to other people and the stories about their cars.

Putting in the work is part of what makes a good story. During his career with Borden, Bedell may have a bad day here or there but when he came home to work in the garage on one of the more than 250 cars he serviced each year or work on a build, it became a great day.

Bedell has invested both his time and his money into this venture and it’s one he feels is a good one.

In addition to soda machines, gas pumps, and a soda fountain, John also has vintage auto diagnostic equipment like this Sun 920 Electronic Engine Tester and a fully functioning jukebox.

“Of all the cars I’ve bought, the least amount of money I could make if I sold one would be $20,000 and the most would be about $110,000,” he said. “If you put your money in the bank, you make 1 or 2 percent but I can buy a car and make $30,000 if I want to sell it. That’s just how I look at it. They’re hard assets.”

Bedell estimated a value of around $1.2 million combined on the vehicles but he has no intention of selling any.

Most days, you can still find Bedell working on a project in one of the garages. Asking him to pick a favorite though is like asking a parent to pick a favorite child. It’s not going to happen. His family has deemed him “automotively insane” but just like his cars, that just makes him a better story.