Jim Nichols and his wife Gail were out for a drive one day when Jim spotted an old beat up 1953 Ford Victoria. The car was parked in a lot in a trailer court near Durango.
Jim told Gail he had to have that car.They pulled into the driveway, and Jim knocked patiently on the door of the home. And knocked. And knocked.
When there was no answer, he did what any true car lover would do. He left a note. He explained to the absent owner that he wanted to buy the car, and said the owner should call Jim collect to discuss the deal.
Well. The owner never did call. So, the next time Jim and Gail drove down that way, they stopped again. And Jim left another note. He left the owner about four notes over two years. Then one summer day in 2004, the Nichols were on yet another drive near Durango when they saw the car parked in a ﬁeld with a for sale sign on it. Jim bought it on the spot.
He came back the next day with a trailer and hauled the car home. He drove it all over town the ﬁrst day. The car is a 50th anniversary model, and has a V8 ﬂathead engine, the last year the car was produced with that engine. Jim has repainted it ﬂamingo red, the same color it was originally.
Though Jim has taken apart and rebuilt cars since he was 15, he hadn’t restored a car in a long time and was reluctant to tear apart his new treasure right away. He drove it for a year before he decided to restore the vehicle.
Once he started, it was a long process. The car had lots of body rot, dents and dings. He bought a wrecked 1995 Mustang GT and refabricated the drive train for the Victoria. The long process paid off, though; among his other awards for the car, he took home the Best of the 50s award from the 2009 Olathe Sweet Corn Festival car show, and third place at the 2007 Colorado Autofest.
“I use my Victoria every chance I get,” he said. “It’s nice to drive, it’s a nice feeling.”
While Jim worked on the car, Gail researched its history online. She found that the car belonged to a woman named Eva O’Brien, who was the original owner. Eva bought the car when she was 75. She banged it up a few times; after the worst fender bender, her husband took the keys. That time, pulling out of a parking lot, she was T-boned by a police ofﬁcer.
Once the Victoria was ﬁxed up, the Nichols took it to a car show, where they met Eva’s granddaughter, who shared more stories and history about her grandmother and the car. The Nichols have a photo of Eva in front of the car, surrounded by her family.
Jim has been what he calls a backyard mechanic since he was 15. He lived in New York then, and he raced cars. He broke two speed records at the Islip Speedway in Islip, NY, with a ’57 Ford. Three of his four brothers are “gear heads” — his words — and so Jim has pretty much been around cars for most of his life. He restored his ﬁrst car when he was 20.
He moved to Colorado in 1976, and once he laid eyes on the mountains and trails, he abandoned his speed racing habit and picked up jeeping and four-wheeling. He sold the ’57 Ford and bought a 1940s Willys Jeep.
Over the years he’s bought, restored to pristine condition, and sold hundreds of cars. His real love is rescuing cars that are on their last wheels and possibly headed for the junk yard. He hates to see cars, especially older models, go for scrap and parts, because he knows those models are limited. So he rescues them and ﬁxes them up.
“I want to ﬁnd an old vehicle and bring it back to life,” he said. “That’s what I do.”
“It’s a real passion for him,” Gail said.
He recently purchased a 1968 Rambler for his wife. “I never thought I’d own a Rambler,” he said, laughing. “It’s so different from a hot rod.”
He has begun modiﬁcations — he put a Ford engine in the car — and about a month ago, got it running. “That’s something I’ve never seen before,” he said. “A Rambler with a Ford engine. We call it Rambo.” He and Gail now drive it around town.
Full out restoration work on Rambo has been put on hold; the Nichols, after a ﬁre destroyed their carpet business in Delta this summer, are being cautious about spending lots of money on the car, but work is still in progress.
Along with restoring classics, Jim has also started a car memorabilia collection. One of the ﬁrst pieces to make it to his collection was a speaker box from Delta’s drive-in movie theater. Those particular boxes aren’t made anymore, and Jim said he had to con owner Jeannie Dewsnup into giving him one. When he ﬁnally got one, he mounted it on a pole and put it in front of his shop at his Eckert home.
He also has a 1950s-era gas pump, found at the home of a Delta acquaintance, which he is restoring. He also managed to ﬁnd one of the parking meters used in the City of Delta in the late 70s. That item came after calls to the City, then calls to the City of Durango, where the meters were sold, and then to a man who bought them once Durango stopped using them. Now, there are none of these meters left in the state — except at the Nichols home, where Jim, after buying several, restores them and sells them to other memorabilia collectors. He’s also planning on using one of the meters as a mailbox post for his home.
Gail and Jim have traveled along the historic Route 66, and have hiked along stretches of the interstate. On one of their hikes, they found a Route 66 road sign and an old headlamp from a car. Both items hang in Jim’s shop. Since their travels along the highway, the couple has become fascinated with the history of the road. “It’s got a heartbeat to it,” Jim said.
Jim’s passion for cars doesn’t end there. He and Gail are members of the Delta Street Rodders and the Black Canyon Car Club. They went to about 12 car shows around the state last summer, and plan to take both the Victoria and the Rambler to as many shows as possible this summer.
Jim is always on the lookout for another car or piece of memorabilia to add to his collection. “He’s always wondering where there’s something else,” Gail said.
“I have a heartbeat for vehicles,” he said.
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