Paul Nolte: Lawnmowers and Willys

  • story by David M. Brown
  • posted on 06/2010
  • posted in: Great Garages

How do you get your bicycle to break the ribbon in neighborhood races?

As a teenager, install a lawnmower motor and watch the children push their pedals for all of their mettle and still eat your rear reflector light.

“I started as a motorhead at 13,” says Paul Nolte, a Scottsdale retiree who hasn’t changed at all since, and he’s a number of multiples of that 13 now. “From there, it was motor scooters and then cars.” The first hot rod he completed was a ‘34 Ford ambulance; he put an Oldsmobile motor in it.

Paul’s originally from Southern Illinois, and his family moved to Phoenix in the early ‘50s, when only Fords and Chevy’s and Chryslers roamed Central Avenue.

He was in the printing business for 40 years, 25 as owner of a print shop in Scottsdale. He retired in 2001 to enjoy life with wife Judy. “I’ve always loved cars, so for something to do I have been building hot rods for the last nine years with two friends, Bob Bailey and Steve Wright, who are also retired.”

Paul also races. With a friend who now lives in Show Low, he off-road raced for approximately 20 years — the Parker 400, Baja 1000 and local small races — then

moved to road racing and next to shifter go-carts.

Today, his collection comprises 12 hot roads and unusual cars and trucks — seven completed, two being worked on — “and the rest waiting their turn.” The collection includes a 1929 Ford coupe, 1940 Ford coupe, 1951 Oldsmobile sedan, 1955 Chrysler 2-door hardtop, 1955 Corvette, 1938 Ford pick-up and a 1940 Ford pick-up.

Paul talks about his favorites:

1940 Willys Sedan — “I started looking for a 1940 Willys after checking Hemmings and e-bay. I asked around and found a guy in Glendale, Ariz., who had one in his backyard. We struck a deal, and home it came. The Willys started life as a 4-door sedan. Not wanting a 4-door, I lengthened the front doors 4 inches, moved the ‘B’ pillar and shortened the rear doors 4 inches and welded them shut.

Then I took the car over to DMV to get the title changed to read 2-door; to my surprise, they had no problem with that. It also has air bag suspension. Willys were used for drag racing in the ‘60s and ‘70s, mostly with Chrysler Hemi motors, so I put a 1957 Chrysler 392 Hemi in for power. We painted it Corvette yellow with orange flames and a tan and yellow tuck and roll interior. 

1956 Plymouth 2-door station wagon — “I was looking for a 2-door station wagon so we could travel with comfort. I found it in Cave Creek. The more I checked around, I couldn’t find another one in the Phoenix area. So this made it more interesting. The car was the typical basket case: missing parts and some rust. We installed a 1997 Dodge 360 Magnum motor, a 518 overdrive transmission, an 8-inch Ford rear end, power steering, power brakes and air-conditioning. The car has new two-tone paint and tan houndstooth upholstery. We have had the car done for 18 months and in it we have been to Del Mar, Calif., Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Logan, Utah, with our 14-year-old grandson.

1939 Ford coupe — “I built it for Judy. It has been driven to Florida on several occasions, and with friends we also made a trip to Canada. It has a Corvette motor and transmission, and, like all of our cars, it has all the modern amenities like air-conditioning. I sold the ‘39 once, but my wife wanted it back, so after 18 months we bought it back. I know who the boss is in the family. All our cars are built to drive, and we love to drive them.

1931 Chevrolet Coupe — “The five-window full-fendered coupe we have owned for 18 years now. We found it in Mesa. It was a house for a goat when we first saw the car. This car took seven years to build working on weekends only. I chopped the top 4 inches to achieve a better look. It has a new front and rear suspension, 350 Chevy motor and 400 Chevy transmission. It now has a nice new cloth interior and blue and white paint with scallops on the hood. This car has been on a tour of Colorado, California and all around Arizona.

1932 Ford coupe — “It’s my favorite car today. We built it in a ‘60s style with a 1956 Desoto Hemi motor, Halibrand wheels, tuck and roll interior, louvers in the hood and trunk lid and a push bar out the back and a satin paint job to resemble primer.”

Paul notes that under construction are the 1940 Ford coupe and the 1955 Corvette with a computer-controlled 2004 LS motor.

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