Lost legends: Beloved old cars, and the women who give them new life in Weare

By LISA BROWN
Special to the Sunday News
August 19. 2017 2:25AM
At Lost Legends Auto Restoration in Weare., owners Viv Hartlett and Tracie Jenkins restored this 1953 Willys Jeep, now awaiting display in a show. (Allegra Boverman/Union Leader)
For fans of classic cars
The 17th Annual Cruising Downtown Manchester is scheduled for on Saturday, Sept. 2, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Elm Street.

Last year's show featured more than 850 classics and custom cars and trucks of all makes and models, along with live entertainment, food vendors and more.

Donation for spectators is $5. Registration for cars is $25. For more information visit www.cruisingdowntown.com or call 731-3155. The show is sponsored by the Manchester Rotary Club.

WEARE -- Tracie Jenkins and Viv Hartlett live and work in the fast lane, fueled by a mutual love for muscle cars and other antique or vintage vehicles.

The two women own Lost Legends, a full-service restoration body shop in Weare. While some people might think it an unusual business for two women, it's not for these two admitted type-A personalities.

"A lot of our clients like that we are women," said Viv Hartlett. "I guess it all has to do with us being meticulous."

Muscle cars are typically vehicles that were built in the 1960s or 1970s as high-performance cars; built with powerful engines, the faster the better. But all that changed in late 1970s with the energy crisis and then tighter regulations on emissions. Car makers looked toward a more fuel-efficient automobile, leaving the "roar and romance" behind. And that's where Lost Legends comes in.

Located down a dirt driveway, past a 1700s Cape and an old barn full of curious animals is where you'll find the Lost Legends garage (which, by the way, is immaculate). Ce Ce the Great Dane is the official greeter along with a mischievous rooster named Ollie who thinks he owns the place.

Hartlett is the body shop "whisperer." She's been around cars her entire life; her dad was a mechanic and had his own garage. When Hartlett was only 10 years old she had her head under the hood and grease across her nose. Her dad bought her her first car - a muscle car, a 1970 Dodge Charger.

"My dad said he'd buy me my first car and he did; in 1981 when I was eleven years old. He paid a hundred bucks, said Hartlett. "I still have it. It's being restored."

Twelve years ago, with the help of Jenkins, Lost Legends became a reality. You might call it a "dream catcher."

"People come here because they want to. They are getting their dream car done. And over a period of 6 months to a year we get to know them and they become family. Those cars represent a different time in our clients' life," Hartlett said. "It brings back memories of loved ones, it can be a very sentimental thing."

On any given day, you'll find cars in various stages of repair. Currently there's a 1969 Plymouth Road Runner, a 1976 Porsche 914, a 1970 Volvo 1800E and a 1936 Ford pickup named Edgar.

"Some cars come to us with names, and others with attitude," said Jenkins. "We had a 1966 Ford Thunderbird like the one used in the movie 'Thelma and Louise.' When we worked on her, if repairs went well, we'd call her Thelma. On bad days, she was Louise."

All the cars have a story, but not all stories can be told. "I'm not so sure we should talk about it," Jenkins says, eyeing one of the cars. "The owner is very private."

However, their 1953 Willys Jeep restoration is a love story. The Jeep lived in old garage at a summer home in Blue Hill, Maine, from the day it arrived off the lot. As the years went by, it gathered less attention and a lot more dust. When the family patriarch passed away, his grandson decided to have it secretly towed to Lost Legends for a full restoration. Once complete, the Willys was returned to Maine.

"His sister got his mom out for dinner and when they came out it was there," Hartlett beams. "The son tells his mom that it's her dad's old Jeep and she didn't believe him. Once in the car the mother says, 'It's got the feel and sound of it. Yup, it's the old Jeep."

The price of pristine muscle cars may surprise you. A 1970 Plymouth Superbird is listed in Autotrader for $149,999. At a quick glance however, most cars are in the $20,000 to $60,000 range depending on their condition. One could even be in your grandfather's garage.

"As far as the impact of our restorations to the value of a classic car it generally depends on the desirability and the collectability of a particular make or model. Values can vary greatly. Our restorations will certainly increase the value of any classic we restore," Hartlett said. "Often, the investment into a proper restoration will equal or exceed the value of the car being restored."

When a finished car leaves the shop, it can travel many roads. Some cars will do the show circuit, others may be headed out just for a Sunday drive or a cruise night. The most prestigious place for fully restored cars is at the Barrett-Jackson Auction. Barrett-Jackson is a true collector-car marketplace where high-visibility cars are presented to thousands of bidders. The action plays out in front of hundreds of thousands of visitors and more than six million television and digital viewers worldwide. Cars that have gone through Lost Legends pop-up from time to time.

But celebrity is not what drives this little body shop in Weare. It's deeper than that.

"We want to see our cars driven," Hartlett said. "We enjoy being able to bring back a vehicle that no one ever thought could possibly ever see the road again and bring it back to such a level of beauty. The challenge is resurrecting as many of these works of automotive art and history as we can for future generations to enjoy."


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