Mike Haskell is a true car enthusiast with a deep, unbreakable love for his 1957 Chevrolet. The classic body style is preserved underneath thick, dull grey paint, traditional cream-colored wings and a history the two have shared since high school.
But Haskell hasn't driven his Chevy for almost 20 years. Five years ago, Haskell's dream to restore the Chevy and get it back on the road came to a dramatic halt. An auto accident landed the 45-year-old in a wheelchair with complete loss of movement in his lower extremities.
Though Haskell fought to regain his mobility and now drives independently in a modified van to get around, he accepted he might never feel his Chevy accelerate underneath him from the driver's seat. Yet he wouldn't let go of his prized possession. "I love my car," he said. "I could never sell it."
With the help of West Coast Classic, an automobile restoration and repair shop in northern Hernando County, Haskell is just days away from getting back behind the wheel of his baby. The business, which has received wide acclaim for quality restorations and repairs that attract customers from all over the state, was entrusted to make modifications to Haskell's Chevy to assist his new driving challenges.
"They're going to get me in and driving it again," Haskell said with a hint of emotion.
Owners Dave and Shannon Rodriguez have several endearing stories to tell of customers they have been blessed to assist over the years. But there is a real connection between this family-owned and operated business and customers like Mike Haskell.
"We want to do whatever we can, if we can," said Shannon.
West Coast Classic has been in business since 2006, mainly selling sheet metal for other businesses and private hobbyists. They branched out into a full-service repair and restoration facility that focuses as much on traditional auto repairs for most makes and models as restorations of classics, specialty vehicles, and unique projects.
The business does complete turn-key restorations, welding and fabrication, full service auto repair, paint and body and has a full tire center. They also sell steel cowl induction hoods and classic muscle car restoration parts.
A plaque on the wall of their comfortable office shows a recent project that landed them on the cover of a national magazine, MOPAR Action. The car in the photo, a Road Runner, is the fusion of a 2008 Dodge Charger and a 1969 Road Runner, featured in an article entitled; Immaculate Connection.
It is one example of the often intricate projects the creative team takes on.
Dave's mechanical background is extensive, including more than 30 years working on general automotive repair and tinkering with restorations as a hobby. Both of his crafts were the ideal companions to the couple's already stable sheet metal business. Once they opened up the shop to complete repair and restorations, they began attracting customers for all sorts of automotive needs.
Restorations are certainly their claim to fame. But Shannon pointed out they are a true full-service repair shop with a genuine ability to fulfill the needs of their customers with quality and honest workmanship.
They survived the economic challenges as the economy dipped, mainly due to their strong spiritual faith, said Shannon. But their passion to show customers a different kind of repair shop might have at least a little to do with their longevity.
Keith Dingman became a regular customer after experiencing West Coast Classics' genuine interest in helping people. Traveling north on U.S. 19 in his newer model Ford F-350 while pulling a travel trailer during a torrential downpour, Dingman ran out of gas in front of the shop.
"My gauge said I had about 30 miles to go to empty," Dingman said. He was only about two miles south of a gas station.
He walked into the shop, drenched from the downpour, and returned to his truck with Dave carrying an umbrella. "He worked on my truck for about an hour in the rain," Dingman said, which uncovered a problem in the fuel line.
Once up and running again, Dingman said he tried to pay for the work. But Dave refused to take it.
Since then, Dingman has referred several customers to West Coast Classic for different repairs, including his father-in-law, Ken Yates.
Yates is mechanically savvy and skeptical of auto mechanics. After checking out several other local shops to work on his own vehicle, Yates came to West Coast Classic.
The business is run by Shannon and daughters, 23-year-old Sabrina, 3-year-old Isabella and 9-month-old Milena. Dave works in the back with a creative crew that has been with him for years.
Aside from working on customer repairs and restorations, the team often takes on unusual projects that test their creative ingenuity. Like a truck they recently built to take to a show. "We had 20 days to do it and did it in 19," said Dave.
The foundation underneath the business comes from a shared passion, not only of the auto industry, but in family and the commitments they have for each other and their community.
Little Milena comes to work with her parents and sisters, Sabrina who is office manager, and Isabella, who attends preschool.
The atmosphere reflects exactly the message they are trying to model. Good people run good businesses that attract good people.
Hernando Today correspondent Kim Dame can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org