Buicks and Beyond
Russell Martin is a Buick ‘guru’, the go-to guy if you need parts for your classic Buick, help with a repair or if you need a part fabricated to replace something no longer available. He’s been featured in a couple of magazines, co-authored a book and is a certified auto mechanic with nearly 30 years experience under his belt. Now he’s a Nevada County resident with a custom-built home shop and a penchant for fixing things the right way.
“I lived in Fremont my whole life; my grandfather was born there, my father was born there, we’ve been there over a hundred years,” says Martin, who closed his award-winning Fremont auto repair business three years ago and moved it to Grass Valley. Centerville Auto Repair, named for the Centerville district in Fremont, is a perfect fit for Nevada County. Martin found out that Grass Valley used to be called Centerville, so the move here seemed prophetic and he kept the original name for his business here. “It’s been that way for 28 years, I’ll just continue on with it and leave it as is,” Martin said.
Centerville Auto Repair is now housed in a new shop behind the Martin home, where Russ works on passenger vehicles, hot rods, classic and vintage cars. “I think the way things are going, the way new car maintenance is so limited, I thought it would be best just to go back and work on older cars,” Martin said. “I know them better than most people do (because) I’ve never stopped working on them since the 60s.”
Fueled by nostalgia, “I keep things for a long time,” he says, Martin’s love of classics dates back to childhood, when he rebuilt his Dad’s 1955 Ford truck while still in high school. The Ford had Buick power under the hood, a combination that grew from Albert Martin’s love of the ’55 Ford truck and his work for the Buick Motor Company. Russ inherited those traits, completing the rebuild at age 17 and upgrading the truck over the years, including a recent body-off-the-frame restoration. The truck is now stored in Martin’s shop and talking about his Dad still brings tears to Russ’ eyes. And that love of Buick-powered classics has passed to the next Martin generation: his son is rebuilding a 1947 Ford and adding Buick power under the hood.
Martin has worked on all types of Japanese and domestic cars in his career as a mechanic and has restored many classics, such as Mustangs, T-Birds, Camaros and Firebirds, building engines and correcting work done improperly by others. He does finishing work on custom hot rods, such as making brackets and rewiring, and is considered an expert in the world of Buicks, selling parts for Buick classics and offering his knowledge to other Buick aficionados. “I’m probably the top early Buick guy on the West coast,” Martin says. “If I don’t have it, I’ll find somebody who does.”
Martin and his vehicles have been featured in various magazines, such as The Rodder’s Journal (Issue 32) and an upcoming issue of Street Rodders. He has co-authored a book, ‘How to Build Max Performance Buick Engines’, penning the section about 1953-56 Buicks and contributed other technical information throughout the text. It is currently available on eBay ($22.61+s/h) but Martin will be selling copies from his shop as soon as he receives them from the publisher.
Another of Martin’s pride and joys is the 1922 Buick Roadster he virtually hand-built. It was purchased in 1989, little more than a rusted body exposed to the elements. But Martin saw beyond the vehicle’s obvious flaws and spent 3,000 hours over the next 3 ? years restoring the roadster to show condition. “I tried to use as many Buick parts as I could, mixed in with some after market-type parts that are correct for the period,” Martin said.
It sits on a reshaped 1928 Chevy frame with a custom-fabbed tubing skeleton that replaced the non-existent wooden frame found in the original vehicle. The locking steering column came from a 1931 Buick (yes, they had locking steering columns back then!), the steering wheel is a 1937 cut down to size, the taillights are from a 1953 Buick and the custom interior mimics the classic 1953 Buick ‘V’ pattern on the side panels. After-market pieces like the Dietz headlights, early-style black and white gauges and aluminum-finned engine accessories completed the look, which Martin says is similar to a 1962 Buick Roadster.
Martin’s brother, Brian Martin, owned a body shop a few doors down from Russ’ Fremont repair shop and was instrumental in bringing the roadster back to life. He custom-designed the car’s deck lid, restored the body to its present condition and made the aluminum interior panels from patterns Russ created with cardboard before the upholstery work was done. The end result is a smart little custom-built roadster that won many awards at Bay Area car shows.
Martin also has an old 1956 Schwinn Panther bicycle hanging in his shop, given to him by a family member in 1962. He rode it for years before storing it away. One day Martin decided to restore that old bicycle to its original condition, even buying a second frame so he could get the paint job right, down to the last pinstripe.
That attention to detail has earned Russell Martin the respect of his peers, from fellow auto mechanics to classic car buffs to Buick lovers nationwide. Now he has brought that talent and knowledge to Nevada County and I don’t think he’s going anywhere anytime soon. “I love this town,” Martin said, “I’ve never been happier in my life.”
Centerville Auto Repair and Russ Martin can be reached at 530-272-1564. More information about his shop, his cars and his Buick part business is available at two websites: http://www.centervilleautorepair.com and http://www.nailheadbuick.com.
Quick notes: Don’t forget the Union Hill School Car Fest ’08 on May 31st, from 10am-4pm at 11638 Colfax Highway. Russell Martin will be there with at least one of his classic cars.
Kasey Kahne won the NASCAR Sprint Cup’s Coca-Cola 600 last Sunday in a race filled with interesting twists, turns, crashes and lead changes. All three major NASCAR series are at Dover International Speedway’s Monster Mile in Delaware this weekend.
New Zealand’s Scott Dixon won the 92nd Indy 500 Sunday, going pole-to-pole at The Brickyard and winning a record $2.988 million. It was Dixon’s first Indianapolis 500 win and the first time a Kiwi has won that race. Good on ya, Scott!
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