Mike West restores the past one car at a time

A life-long passion for cars past and present has led Mike West along a very interesting road over the past five decades.

Mike West stands next to his 1933 Rockne and Pierce Arrow Studebakers.

A life-long passion for cars past and present has led Mike West along a very interesting road over the past five decades.

Restoring the past is a special talent West has developed over his life, and the results are remarkable.

Over a 50-year career of fixing banged-up cars in his Tukwila body shop, Southtowne Auto Rebuild, West has also displayed his love of cars from the past by restoring many classics.

One of the beauties at his home, safe in a garage, is a 1933 Rockne, Model 10, four-door sedan. It is pictured on the left front of the Tukwila Reporter cover.

Completely restored, it is considered a special-interest car from the past in the collectable car world.

The Rockne was made by Studebaker for two years, 1932 to 1933. It was named after Knute Rockne, the famous Notre Dame football coach and athlete. He died in 1931 in a plane crash at the age of 43.

Rockne had been working as vice president of sales for Studebaker.

West found his first Rockne, Model 10, at the age of 13 in 1959 in Idaho where he was raised.

His neighbor asked him to help clean out his garage.

“He opened up the garage and here was this 1933 Rockne,” West said. “He asked me if I knew anyone who would give him 25 bucks for it. I said, ‘You want to get rid of this?”

The neighbor asked West if he wanted it and the answer was easy.

“I told him, ‘I sure do,'” he said with the idea of putting a big V8 engine in the Rockne. “My dad put it in the garage until I got more mature.”

West restored the Rockne in 1980 and by 1981 he won the Best of Show at the Forest Grove Concours in Oregon.

Studebaker, based in South Bend, Ind., started as a wagon company and jumped into the automobile manufacturing business in 1902. By 1933 the company was having financial problems due to the Great Depression.

West said the Rockne came with a six-cylinder engine and the car cost $585.

“Ford came out with a V8 in 1932 that cost 485 bucks,” West said. “Clyde Barrow (of Bonnie and Clyde) sent a letter to Ford stating, ‘I really like that car.'”

The price difference and speed of the Ford caused some of the financial problems for Studebaker faced in 1932. The company was reorganized and became profitable again in 1933 and continued producing automobiles until 1966.

The second Studebaker project West bought was a 1933 Rockne sedan delivery. He has owned it since 1985. There are only two left in the world, and West has one.

He also owns a 1934 Pierce Arrow rumble-seat coupe. The Pierce Arrow is considered a classic and the sedan delivery a special interest.

One of the stories behind the Rockne sedan delivery is it was used in the movie industry. One film in particular was “The Glenn Miller Story” shot in 1954 and starring Jimmy Stewart and June Allyson.

Stewart and Allyson can be seen in the car in several sequences in the film. The car was also filmed in the television series, “Hogan’s Heroes.”

West has retired from the daily auto body repair business, but still owns his shop on Tukwila International Boulevard where he is currently restoring the Rockne sedan delivery and will soon begin work on the Pierce Arrow.

Other collectable cars he has restored over the years include a 1933 Duesenberg, J-272, convertible Victoria that was originally owned by bandleader Paul Whitehead.

West said the Duesenberg had 180 lubricating points on the chassis, “It automatically lubricates every 80 miles.”

The wheels alone cost $1,500 each to restore.

West said it took eight years to complete the restoration and cost about $300,000. The owner purchased it for $175,000 and after West completed restoring the Duesenberg it sold for $1.475 million.

Other restoration work he has completed included a 1949 Cadillac. After the Duesenberg, he restored a Rolls-Royce.

West said the secret to restoration is to, “Make sure everything functions correctly before taking it apart. The biggest mistake is to take it apart before finding out if everything works and fits.”

The work on the Rockne shows West as an artist who rediscovers the past through his love of cars.

He is a classic.

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