Legacy of custom cars lives on with work by Bob Gray | TheUnion.com

Legacy of custom cars lives on with work by Bob Gray

Bob Gray isn’t a lonely old guy who bangs his knuckles on engine blocks and customizes cars to get away from it all. It’s really a family affair and always has been.

Back in the late 1950s when the member of the Roamin Angels Car Club of Grass Valley was growing up, his father, a professional car customizer, built him a 1949 Chevrolet pickup made out of a four-door sedan.

“The original El Camino,” Gray said recently in his well-outfitted garage outside of Grass Valley. “I drove it to Albany High School” in the Bay Area.

His wife, Nancy Gray, can remember seeing him in it before they met.

When Gray came out of military service, he wanted no part of his father’s business. He preferred to fix cars on his own for a diversion from his job at Lawrence Laboratories as a weapons tester.

It wasn’t long before he got his children involved.

“I built Mustangs for all three of my kids and a Mustang convertible for my wife,” Gray said. “I made them work right there with me, doing body work and sanding. Both of my girls can work on an engine.”

All three live in the Bay Area, where son Robbie constantly works on cars. It’s to the point where his parents never know what he’s going to drive up in next.

“He’s a wheeler-dealer when it comes to cars,” Gray said. “He’s very talented and can pull a Volkswagen apart in minutes.”

“He’s got his fingers in the grease,” said Nancy of her son.

Oldest daughter Coren has her Corvette stashed at her mom and dad’s house, and younger daughter Robin still has the Mustang her dad built for her years ago. Robin is expecting a little boy soon, and that gave Gray another excuse to get into the garage.

“I’m working on a Shelby clone for him right now. It’s at the painters,” Gray said. The “clone” is a 1968 Mustang fastback with scoops, ground effects and other Carroll Shelby-like racing accouterments to soup it up.

Since Gray retired to Nevada County, he has bought and sold five cars: A 1953 Studebaker, a ’65 Mustang fastback, a ’70 Ford Ranchero, a ’71 Thunderbird and an ’89 Mustang.

“It pays for my hobby and keeps me off the streets,” Gray said.

The fastback for his grandson will be his last, but he still has the ’49 Chevy pickup and a 1946 customized Ford that have been finished for a few years.

The Mustang convertible Gray redid for his wife will be shown at the Roamin Angels Car Show this weekend along with the ’46 Ford.

“We bought it in a barn in Lodi, and it was a rusty mess,” without floorboards, Gray said. “We built it from the wheels up.”

Several Nevada County shops helped with the ’46 Ford, and the top was chopped by Van’s Classic Auto Body in Grass Valley. Landmark Auto helped with the wiring and Dale Norvel painted it. Thomas Upholstery and Talbott Upholstery also helped.

“The rear end came out of a Buick, and I’ll probably put another engine in it this weekend, a 350 Chevy ZZ4 high-performance engine,” Gray said. “The front suspension is from a Mustang II.

“The back window is from a friend who was clearing out her basement in and old Victorian and wondered if we wanted it,” Gray said. “It’s out of a 1917 Buick touring car, and it has beveled glass.”

To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail dmoller@theunion.com or call 477-4237.

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