The Art of Restoration

“To me, I guess it’s a romantic view, but old things have a soul. If you don’t restore them and keep them alive, you just lose that experience.” 

– Adam Sheard, owner, Speed Deluxe

By Katie Faulkner
Photos provided by Tommy Lee Byrd of Coker Tire and by Speed Deluxe

Restoration work and the detailed pieces that fall under its umbrella (re-creation, fabrication, research, innovation, etc.) make up an industry that requires knowledge and technical skill. More than that, it requires the vision and patience of someone who has a healthy respect for history and its preservation. To hear a 50-year-old 8-cylinder motor roar to life or to feel the smooth curves of finished wooden interiors can reawaken a youthful enthusiasm in any man. These local restoration experts know the value in seeing a perfectly beaded weld sanded down and painted in a vintage hue. They help experiential objects endure, as well as the memories connected to them.

“Restoration, I believe, is not so much the time put into it as the authenticity when it is complete.” 

– Richard Marter


Richard Marter

Fabricator,  Honest Charley Garage

Richard has had an interest in building ever since he was very young. At 15, he began working as a builder for custom homes on the bluff of Lookout Mountain. “This is where my eagerness to understand the trade grew,” Richard says. “I loved the feeling of accomplishment when a project was finished.”

Years later, in 2008, Corky Coker sought Richard out to ask him if he could build a wooden buck (form for shaping metal pieces of the body of a car) for a 1909 Marmon Wasp. He completed the buck within a week, so Coker asked him to build the metal body of the car as well. “What a life-changing event that turned out to be!” Richard says of the fortuitous gig. He shares, “With a flat piece of sheet metal, English wheel, and hammers and dollies, I began building my first complete car body. Once I understood how the metal reacted to the motions, it became much clearer.” That project is still one of Marter’s favorites, and the finished product is on display in the Coker Tire showroom.

During that project, while learning the details of body work, Richard was taught a rule of thumb from another metal worker which he has never forgotten – when crafting something from raw material you have to “work from the known to the unknown.” He says even the simplest looking parts can actually be quite challenging. And according to Richard, taking a car from a pile of junk metal to like-new in authentic form is one of the most rewarding parts of his job. “To me, there is personal gratification when I see a car restored and know my skills helped bring a car back to life.”

“Restoration is a way to preserve history and bring something back to life that has been lost.”

Johnny Sullivan


Johnny Sullivan

Wooden Wheel Wrightsman & Automotive Painter, Coker Tire

Johnny spends his days replicating vintage wheels and their parts, made of wood, to complete restoration work on vintage cars. Trained to restore the paintwork on these cars, Johnny also carefully crafts spoke and felloes (the outer rim of a wheel to which spokes are fixed) to accurately match the car’s make, model, and year. He loves the hands-on work and the challenge of restoring something decades, or even a century, old back to its original glory.

Working at an automotive assembly plant just six short years ago, Johnny decided to change the direction of his career to something more challenging, all while staying in the automotive industry. One day, when dropping off his application at Coker Tire, he looked across the street at their Honest Charley Garage, where vintage car restoration work is done. Overtaken with the urge to introduce himself, he knocked on the door and asked for an opportunity to learn their trade – promising to sweep floors or do whatever it took.

The garage manager at that time offered Johnny an opportunity to learn body shop work as a technician under his training. Having always loved woodworking, Johnny was naturally drawn to the wooden interior parts work and the wooden wheels, and he was happy to have the chance to learn the process. “When anyone needed help on certain wood projects, I would help after hours on anything from wooden car interior pieces to cabinets,” Johnny explains. “Everything just fell into place after that.”

Wooden wheel construction is very labor intensive and detail oriented. As Johnny points out, the restoration work that he does also requires a great amount of patience, skill, and research. “We are sometimes reproducing things up to 100 years old, without much direction at times. That, in and of itself, is an art form.”

Adam Sheard

Owner and Vintage Motorcycle Restorer, Speed Deluxe

Adam is a self-taught restorer of vintage motorcycles. After restoring his first bike at the young age of 12, his attention soon shifted to cars. He began restoring cars in his late teens, and over the next decade, that passion would take him from England to New Zealand and Australia. In Australia, he attended a bike show that persuaded him to start riding a bike daily again – ultimately leading to the decision to purchase a 1968 Triumph in pieces to put back together. The project reignited his love for bikes and vintage restoration work, so much so that he took it to the next level, and Speed Deluxe in Chattanooga was born.

“To me, I guess it’s a romantic view, but old things have a soul. If you don’t restore them and keep them alive, you just lose that experience,” Adam says. He takes great pride in the quality and authenticity of his work because he knows it’s more than fixing a broken fender; his restoration work comes with the inherent responsibility of protecting the history and nostalgia of every motorcycle that comes into the shop.

Reluctant to rely on anyone else to do a piece of the restoration work, Adam is constantly learning new skills and sharpening his existing ones. He has taught himself the mechanical aspects of restoration, how to weld, and how to paint. And he passes his knowledge on. “We offer welding workshops and mechanical tech sessions on various skills. Really just whatever there is an interest in. I would rather pass on the knowledge for someone to do it the right way than leave them to fend for themselves,” he says.

“It’s immensely satisfying to restore something that’s broken, you know. When customers bring things in that are in terrible shape, to the point that they’re apologetic about it, I love being able to tell them it’s alright. We can handle it,” Adam says. “Then seeing their faces the first time they come back to check on it, or after that first ride, that’s pretty cool.”

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