Classic dream shop

Machine shop owner welds nostalgia together piece by piece

Behind the walls of a local garage painted with murals of Marilyn Monroe, Buddy Holly and Wolfman Jack, Theron Kohpay and his staff turn automobiles well past their prime into show-ready dream cars.

"There's not a car that's going to leave here that can't go to a show and be seen," Kohpay said.

Kohpay opened Theron's Place in 2000. The custom auto shop started as just another auto shop and grew into a dream job.

"We got busier than I anticipated," Kohpay said. "I worked as a mechanic for so long, I figured if I couldn't work on old cars, I could always work as a mechanic. I figured, if that's all there is to do, that's what we'll do."

But Theron's Place took off, with requests for custom work keeping him busy enough to turn away general automotive repair. Now, he has seven jobs in progress and two on the way.

"They're all complete restorations," Kohpay said.

Trent Wynkoop, a Theron's Place employee, said his boss excels at making decisions about how to tackle a project and being able to see through to the end product.

"He's usually right," Wynkoop said. "It comes out cool."

It doesn't come out cheap, though.

"You can damn sure figure on spending between $25,000 and $50,000," Kohpay said.

Customers can spend less if they bring in a car that's "pretty solid." But some cars require a lot of modification and parts that are hard to come by.

The fabrication work gets expensive. When customers bring in a car that requires a lot of fabrication, "they're going to start crowding the heck out of fifty-grand really fast," Kohpay said.

Kohpay said the investment pays off.

He tells customers they can sink a lot of money into an old car they can make money on or they can buy a brand new car that won't be worth a "third of what they gave for it" as soon as they drive it off the showroom floor.

"It's funny to go watch the obnoxious prices cars bring," Kohpay said. "I saw a 1935 three-window Ford Coup, all steel, that brought $135,000."

He said he has watched old cars at auctions sell for as much as $500,000.

According to Kohpay, nostalgia drives the old car market.

"A lot of the baby boomers would rather spend their money and buy an old car, drive it around and have fun with it because they had one in high school or their parents had one," Kohpay said. "It's just something they remembered."

As a collector of memorabilia, Kohpay can relate.

He collects model cars, Coca-Cola memorabilia and barbershop items. An old barbershop chair sits in the corner of his office.

People flood his office all day, wondering about the status of their cars, dropping by to talk business or old cars or motorcycles.

A friend who overheard Kohpay talking about the barbershop chair said it was probably a dentist chair. Kohpay's response was humorous, though a little defensive.

"A dentist chair? No, it came out of a barbershop," Kohpay said, adding, "Now, maybe he pulled teeth there, too, but ..."

Theron's Place has a laid-back atmosphere.

The radio blares non-stop, competing against the sounds of

power tools and the

air compressor.

Visitors have to dodge metal filings and the sparks that spray from the grinder or the cutting

torch.

It's a place where the employees can tease their boss about his "old-school" taste in cars.

But the job has its challenges, and they're not all related to steel.

"My hardest thing to deal with is an unhappy customer," Kohpay said. "I try my hardest not to give anybody any time frames, because no matter what you do to try and keep that time frame, it's almost impossible to do."

The business relies on out-of-state parts suppliers. Sometimes, Kohpay said those parts are manufactured infrequently.

"I may have to wait three or four weeks for one really important piece and I may not be able to do much on that car until I get that one piece," Kohpay said.

Kohpay spent a year rebuilding a 1970 AAR Cuda for Jim Forquer, who said he's happy with the work.

"He does a good job and he stands behind it. If something is wrong, he'll take care of it, no questions asked," Forquer said.

When he's not welding or setting up another project, Kohpay said he likes to spend time with his wife, Jona, and their two children Remmington Dean, 6, and

Raeann, 4.

Theron Kohpay said his family means even more to him after he survived a motorcycle wreck in July that left him in the emergency room covered in road rash.

A plastic surgeon was

called to repair a gash above his left eye.

The wreck nearly totaled his bike, a Harley Davidson Vrod with only 70 miles on it. He said he's going to have the bike repaired and then sell it.

"I made a promise to my wife I'd get rid of it," Theron Kohpay said. "I'll just always live with the dream of wanting a bike. I'm gonna cut my losses."

Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or jbrowning@craigdailypress.com.

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