As the wedding planner, it was Tara Hurlin’s ingenious idea to restore a hot rod for their 1950s-themed wedding. She thought: Eight months would be plenty of time to find and complete a car restoration with her fiancé Jake before the big day. It would be an experience of a lifetime.
The excitement began on Nov. 16, 2012. The couple found a project car on eBay and made arrangements to make the six-hour round-trip to trailer it home. Excitement turned to nervousness as the pair pulled into the seller’s driveway. Several old cars were deteriorating into the Michigan soil. Their 1952 Ford Crestline Victoria two-door hardtop (shown above) was sitting beside a barn. “We can do this,” Tara insisted.
They met with the seller and attempted to load the Ford onto the trailer. “Jake and I pushed with all our might to no avail. It wouldn’t roll, so we hooked up a tow strap and pulled it out,” Tara said. “But it’s always a bad sign when a wheel is dragging.” Alas, the rear driver’s side drum brakes were locked up. It took 20 minutes of pounding to get one wheel off, and another 20 minutes to dislodge the drums. It was late fall in Michigan, so the couple was shivering as the Ford was secured onto the trailer, and they wasted no time cranking up the heat and hitting the road.
The moment they arrived home they pushed the Ford off of the trailer. With tools handy and shelter from the rain, the couple was able to take a closer look at the project lying ahead of them. The amount of rust was nerve-wracking. The rocker panels were no good; the fender skirts and lower-rear panel needed replacing; the floorboards were messily patched; and the upholstery was shot. Who needs an interior anyway?
However, the important pieces of glass were good and all but one piece of chrome was still there—although it wasn’t exactly chrome any longer. “We were told the engine turned over and ran, but upon our inspection of the interior, we found several cans of starter fluid,” Tara said with amusement. “Yes, it ran alright—with extensive assistance.”
A Long Cold Winter
A couple days after they parked the car, snow began to fall. Two days were spent setting up the now seemingly small two-car building, but they managed to cram their ’52 Ford, Tara’s Mazdaspeed Miata track car, and their abundance of tools into the small space. “This left us only a foot of space between the cars to work with over the winter. It was quite the sight to see,” said Tara.
“One bitter-cold evening, I sucked it up and spent some time ripping out the headliner,” Tara said, “The deteriorated fabric came down easily on my head, along with the remnants of rodent nests and feces.”
Winter became even more unbearably cold and the lonely car sat. The couple purchased a small propane-powered heater in a sad attempt to continue the project. They removed headlights and taillights along with all of the chrome. Over a couple weeks, Tara started sanding the driver’s side of the car. “It looked like a dust storm passed through our garage,” said Tara.
Then, they discovered that the frame was so rotted that it was no longer attached to the body. It was mid-February 2013, six months before the wedding deadline. But the bitter cold and limited garage space forced the couple to pause the project until the spring.
A Marriage Takes Work
In late April, the couple pushed the car out of the garage, and Tara got right back to sanding. Countless sanding pads later, it was time to start repairing the panels. While Jake worked on shaping and welding the metal, Tara continued with the disassembly of the interior. They stashed away the seats to send out for re-upholstery later, and suddenly the car smelled of old metal instead of wet rodent. Then, they removed and repainted the dash and all interior trim and sprayed Rust-Oleum along the remaining interior as a preventative measure.
In June, they pulled the engine with the help of a few friends and a cherry picker. Once the engine was on the stand it was cleaned it up and painted. Two weeks before the wedding, the Ford was completely disassembled, holes through the floorboards and all. It was safe to say the car would not be running in time—heck, it wouldn’t even be a rolling chassis. “We were disappointed, to say the least,” Tara said. “It meant a lot to us to have our car at our wedding.”
While she was in a desperate state of mind, Tara began searching—without her fiancé’s knowledge—for a replacement car. She stumbled upon another eBay auction—a 1961 Cadillac Series 62 four-door hardtop.
“Although I could not see the car in person, this car spoke to me,” Tara said, “She was a rust-free all-original Arizona car and I had to bring her home.”With wedding planning going at top speed, Tara was now arranging a collector car purchase. “Even through the chaos, I couldn’t help but smile,” she said. After Jake raised some financial concerns, Tara told him not to worry, she was purchasing the car as a wedding gift for him—a perfect little white lie. The sale finalized on July 19, the same day they signed their wedding papers, and a day before the big party.
Tara gushed: “Life feels no different as a married woman, however life is so much sweeter with an old Cadillac named Marilyn.” Moreover, she still refuses to give up on the Ford.
“The opportunity to complete a restoration with my husband is a monumental experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything,” she said. “Even while we grind through rust and shovel through rodent feces, we both agree it will not be our last restoration project. Nothing can be more rewarding than working to save the rotting cars in the Michigan back woods, one bolt at a time.”