Automotive artisan

Brian Dowdy

photo by vic cantu

Ever been to classic car shows in Northern California featuring those gorgeous, immaculately restored cars and trucks? If so, you may have seen the handiwork of Brian Dowdy and his Orland-based Golden Age Restoration shop. Born and raised in Chico, Dowdy has professionally restored 180 cars over 20 years. He’s won numerous awards and been featured in classic car magazines such as Lowrider and Mopar Muscle. Head to the Durham Cruz’n Classic Car Show on July 14 to see several of his beauties, or go to to see an online gallery. Dowdy can be reached at 865-5439.

What are some of your best cars?

One of my proudest is the blue, 1930 Pierce Arrow that won “Most Elegant” at the 2008 Palo Alto Concours d’Elegance at Stanford. Another is the red, 1969 Cougar XR7 with a racing engine that won “Best In Class” at the L.A. Roadster Show in 2009. I’m repairing it now because the lady who bought it crashed it testing how fast it would go right after I finished it. Luckily she wasn’t hurt.

Is restoring cars earth-friendly?

Yes, I’m kind of like an environmentalist. I look at old cars as earth saviors. My fixed-up cars run cleaner than new ones and they’re made of hard steel that lasts for decades. Newer cars are built with cheap plastic made from oil. They won’t be around in 25 years. They’re created using planned obsolescence; they break down fast and they want you to buy another one in two or three years. My motto is: “I’m recycling America, one car at a time.”

Why do you restore cars?

I love the classics from before 1975. I’ve always loved engines, tinkering with inanimate objects and bringing them to life. When I was 12 my dad knew I loved motorcycles but thought they were too dangerous, so he gave me a bunch of parts thinking I’d never put it together but somehow I did. I’ve been hooked ever since. Auto restoration is like preserving history. I’d love to be a fly on the wall through the years of these cars’ lives.

Is it expensive to restore the cars?

Yes, it takes a lot of time and money, but it’s better than buying a fancy new one for $50,000. It takes 300 to 400 hours of labor just for the basics, without the bells and whistles.

Do you make a lot of money doing this?

Don’t bank on it. I make enough to earn a living, but I don’t get rich. I have a steady stream of customers, but it’s hard to get paid steady.