Artist at Work

Muscle car restorer Andrew White calls his works ‘rolling pieces of art.’ His persnickety patrons accept nothing less.
By 
MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press staff

He calls his finished products “rolling pieces of art,” and Andrew White makes sure they are just that when they leave his shop, Apex Autosports in Belgium.

White restores primarily 1968 to 1971 Chrysler muscle cars to a level of perfection their collector-owners demand.

The cars are “all full nut-and-bolt restorations,” he said. “We painstakingly restore all the individual parts that came off the car.” I grade each individual component against itself until it’s perfect or as close to perfect as we can make it.”

He doesn’t restore classic cars found at small shows held most every weekend in summer throughout the country, and they’re not owned by people who have just one beloved machine they work on in their spare time.

Many of White’s cars end up in high-end car shows and competitions for customers who own collections of vehicles and live places across the U.S., including Seattle, Houston, New York, North Carolina and Michigan.

“Most of the cars we work on are valued higher than homes,” White said.

He works on nearly one-of-a-kind cars. Now, he has two 1971 Plymouth Hemi Cudas in his shop. Only 59 were made.

One was restored in 1991 by someone else.

“It would have gotten oohs and ahhs at shows. Generally speaking, it does look fine,” White said. “But for these customers, fine isn’t good enough.”

White has seen his work significantly increase the market value of the cars. When a $180,000 car goes to $300,000, he said he is like a “proud parent” who gets “warm and fuzzies.”

That, he said, also helps him defend the price he charges for restorations.

“The feedback we get validates the level of work we do,” he said.

It’s as much a labor of love as a job for White, who was raised in Ozaukee County. His father was a technician at a dealership and owned a restoration business for eight years.

When White was a toddler and his father worked on a blue Cuda in the garage in winter, keeping warm with a torpedo heater, White “would be running around the car, playing with tools, pretending to do stuff,” he said.

When his father’s business closed, White had just married his wife Megan and the two had to decide if they would get other jobs or try to run a restoration business themselves.

White said he never doubted he could do quick work and be an honest businessman. The couple gave restoration a go, renting space in a building across the street from Sendik’s in Grafton. When the building was sold, they rented another building in Grafton. They came to Belgium a couple of years ago, buying a building from a former cabinet maker at 665 Park St., six minutes from their home on the north side of Port Washington.

The Whites started the business in 2008, when investment banking fraud had crashed the world economy.

“We thought if we can make it now we should be able to make it through anything,” he said. 

The next “anything” might be now. The world’s reaction to the pandemic and resulting supply shortage hit its apex last year, and costs for rare parts half a century old already had been rising.

“People who have parts for sale in today’s world ask whatever they want for price,” White said.

Some prices have doubled in the last few years. Tires have gone from $275 to $400 each, he said.

And parts take longer to come in. Over a 45-day period, White said, upholstery went from eight weeks to six months. Wiper motors sent in for refurbishing used to take eight weeks and now take 16.

As a result, White’s turnaround time for cars went from 12 to 18 months to 18 to 24 months, and two years ago he developed a backlog of work for the first time.

White’s specialty is the engines. He was a teenager when he rebuilt his first, a 383 for a Charger.

“I still often joke I’d probably be an engineer in another life. I like to figure out how things work,” he said.

That translates to White doing more than just replacing parts. He wants to find out what’s wrong with the engine and fix it.

“These cars are simple but they still have their gremlins,” he said. “If you just throw a new (part) at it you don’t learn anything.”

His process involves snapping 3,000 to 4,000 photos of each car, taking the entire vehicle apart and documenting each part’s condition and originality.

Taking apart cars has its surprises. White has found a marijuana cigarette rolled in an American flag in a glove box, and an unopened bottle of beer in a car made in Canada inside a panel, likely by a union worker to hide it as a boss was walking by.

White road tests the cars, taking  a quick trip with the finished products and, if necessary, having front alignment done.

“When I give a customer a car, it completely functions,” White said.

He doesn’t drive cars far, however, since miles can affect values. Collector cars, he said are rated on a five-point scale with number one being perfect. A car with 40 miles on it that goes to 5,000 miles could take a rating decrease that moves the price from $500,000 to $475,000, he said.

Grading scales of 1,000 points have winners separated by as few as four points, he said.

The favorite part of his career is seeing those cars roll out of his shop.

“Just the pride and outcome of what we create,” he said. “If we’re going to do this, we’re going to do this better than anyone else or it’s not worth doing.”

Megan, who works in the shop’s office, said it’s just who her husband is.

“I’ve just found that not cutting corners and doing things the way they should be done is meant for him,” she said.

The family’s commitment to the business has driven their personal lives to an extent. Vacations have been scheduled around car shows to destinations across the country, from Niagara Falls to Hoover Dam.

“Not too many people go to the Grand Canyon with a 48-foot trailer and two cars in tow,” White said. “We sacrificed a lot since we started this business,”

White has his own cars as well. He and Megan have his and hers 1992 Mustangs, and White has a 1965 Plymouth Fury Wagon his grandfather bought new, which he calls a “family heirloom.” He also has a 1970 Dodge Challenger and a 1969 Dodge Super Bee, both in “project status,” which means “I’m thinking about working on it,” Megan said with a laugh.

The shop always gets priority. “Any business consumes you,” Andrew said. “When your passion is your form of income, it chips away at your passion on a personal level.”

His passion is being passed on. The couple has a nearly 4-year-old daughter who already likes cars.  White took her to a car show in Chilton and told her not to touch anything. She listened well and now, Megan said, that’s what their daughter tells everyone who comes to the shop — “no touch.”

For more information, visit www.apexresto.com.

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
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