Ancient mythology tells of a sacred fire bird that, at the end of its life, ignites its nest to be taken up in flames. When the blaze burns down, a new offspring emerges.
Area auto enthusiasts Don and Debbie Wallin have a rolling phoenix that, through hard work and determination, was raised from the ashes to cruise the streets again.
After a complete multiyear overhaul of their 1949 Mercury custom, disaster struck in 2007. The Cary couple was cruising to a show in Tennessee and was forced to pull over to the shoulder when a right rear tire blow out just outside of Merrillville, Ind. Don ran down the interstate to retrieve the ejected fender skirt. When he turned back around, flames were licking out from under the custom Mercury.
"I shouted to my wife that the car was on fire and quickly grabbed the fire extinguisher from inside," Don said. Just when the inferno was under control, the hungry flames reignited, but this time the extinguisher was empty.
"Two Indiana State Police patrol cars soon arrived but informed us they weren't carrying anything to put it out." Within minutes the car was engulfed in flames and the couple watched their beloved cruiser go up in smoke. They assume a dragging drum brake heated up the wheel and is responsible for the blaze.
Once the smoldering heap was towed back to their garage and declared totaled, a difficult decision lay ahead. "I had to make the decision to crush or save our Merc. After many conversations with my wife, we decided to bring it back," Wallin said.
Armed with a clean slate for a second time in the car's life, Wallin stripped the charred coupe down to a rolling chassis. Dick Scully of Scully Customs had been the man behind the car's first round of body modifications. After hearing of the fire, Scully offered to help get the car back on the road. "Dick had moved his shop from Palatine to Palm Springs, Calif., and saw a picture of the burned car in a magazine. He called right away to make sure we were OK and wanted to be part of the second transformation," Wallin said.
The body was shipped out west and seven months later returned with even more custom body touches. Back in Illinois, Don Hansen's Hot Rod Shop in McHenry was tapped to install the 350 cubic-inch V-8, drivetrain and wiring. While the initial color choice was Wineberry Metallic, for this reincarnation it was substituted for something a bit more eye-catching -- Lamborghini Orange. Precision Body Works in Crystal Lake was responsible for spraying on the new hue.
Wallin is working with "Stitch," his friend and an interior maestro from Palatine, on designing and installing the saddle brown upholstery with plans to have it completed by this winter.
Although the project is not quite finished, that doesn't stop Don and Debbie from wanting to show off their revived and jaw-dropping coupe. He presented the car at the 2012 Chicago World of Wheels show and has since then added several thousand miles to the odometer.
"It has certainly been a long journey. Words cannot express the feeling of watching our car burn to the ground -- even putting our own safety in jeopardy. But with the help and support of family and friends, it has been a gratifying five years through its reincarnation."