Everyone can appreciate a classic car. There’s a sort of magic to them. It’s almost as if they are 4,000 pound time machines that link us back to the most fond memories of our past. They can bring back memories of childhood road trips, Sunday family drives, a senior prom, or even that first date with your now wife of 50 years. For me, that car is a Ford Mustang. With so many of life’s greatest memories tied to cars it’s no wonder why people everywhere hunt these cars down and bring them back to life. Coronado residents are no different.
When it comes to bringing these Detroit beauties back to life there was only one man I could reach out to first and that is Tim Shortt. He practically wrote the book on it. Well, not “practically,” but literally. He’s written two. Titled Decrepit Cars Found in Dark and Creepy Places: Bottom Feeding and Chasing Cars (And Avoiding Infidelity), Tim writes about his passion and journey for his 400 plus car restorations. You read that right. It’s not a typo. 400! His name might be “Shortt,” but the list of cars Tim has resurrected is anything but that. I stated that this was “quite the hobby,” but Tim was quick to correct me and admittedly called it “an obsession.” I’m sure his wife Sandy would agree.
Tim was born and raised in San Diego and cars were always a part of his culture. Raised just over the bridge in University Heights, Tim recalls his time spent with friends as an adolescent. “The first car that the five of us bought was a ’34 Ford for $15. Three bucks a piece,” Tim recalls. “Got it running and sold it for $75,” he adds. “We just kept buying old cars together. As a gang we had a great time doing that.” This is quintessential Americana. These were the days of simpler times. The time of hot rods and sandlots. It was also during these times that Tim’s passion and unrelenting obsession for cars was born. “Corvettes came and went, ’57 Chevy convertibles, ’55 Ford convertibles…hundreds of cars. I can’t believe it myself,” admits Tim. As his obsession grew, so did his need for a more advanced shop.
Some of you may recall, certainly not me, that there was once a Shell gas station on the corner of 10th and Orange. Tim’s uncle, Walt Shortt, was the 35 year owner of that Shell service station that once proudly stood where Panera Bread now calls home. Clayton’s was the source of doughnuts for Uncle Walt and his crew, and also a young Tim for that matter. “As a teenager, he was quite welcoming,” recollects Tim. He continued, “I could come to the station anytime, use the lifts, put on exhaust, rotate tires or whatever I wanted to do. I used it a lot.” It was at Uncle Walt’s Shell, right here on Orange Avenue, that Tim’s raw talents were honed in what would be a lifelong love affair with cars.
Tim hasn’t always lived here though. After graduating college, Tim lived in Westchester, New York, just outside of Manhattan, where he worked as an advertising art director. “Best career I could’ve ever chosen,” claims Tim. During his 35 years in New York with Sandy by his side the car hunting and restoration didn’t skip a beat. As a matter of fact, it picked up. He would find cars in barns, at people’s homes…you name it. How many did he have? “A dozen at a time…I enjoyed every one of them,” admits Tim proudly.
Tim clearly doesn’t still own all 400 cars that he’s turned a greasy wrench on, but what he currently owns he refers to as “the fleet.” The first in his “fleet” would be his daily driver, the ’52 Chevy pickup.
This one’s more of a hot rod. “Basically, a Camaro in disguise”, reveals Tim.
Next would be his ’49 Ford Woody Wagon purchased 20 years ago in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Tim hilariously claims that it’s “too big to walk around in 3 days.” Restoration took him about five years and he’s never let go of this beauty.
The third car is a ’50 Ford convertible. You can feel the nostalgia when Tim speaks of this car as it’s a duplicate car of the one he drove back in high school. Purchased from Texas, Tim knew he had to have it. In the past 17 years of ownership, Tim and Sandy have taken this car on countless trips all up and down the coast. “A lot of driving…a lot of adventures…a lot of breakdowns. Always fun,” chuckles Tim. This car…is Tim’s time machine.
Tim’s most recent acquisition from the Bay Area, a ’71 VW bus, is currently undergoing its resurrection in Tim’s garage. “I’m pretty sure it was actually in the bay for a while because the rust is so prevalent…the whole bottom of the bus was gone. I’ve still got a couple months to go,” reveals Tim. As we all know, VW buses are pretty popular on the island so I’m eagerly looking forward to its completion.
The crown jewel of Tim’s fleet has got to be, without a doubt, his final fleet vehicle. Why? Because this car embodies everything that Tim loves about cars. “I love a car that has a lot of history,” claims Tim, and that’s exactly what this car has…history. 47 years ago, Tim’s friend picked up the phone and told him about a car sitting under a tarp tucked away in a barn. “I lived 25 miles away, but was there in about 10 minutes,” tells Tim as he lays on me how the only way to see the car was by peering through an old window as he stood on his buddy’s shoulders.
What Tim discovered that day was a humbling piece of history. It was a ’34 Ford Cabriolet, but not just any ’34 Ford. This Ford was owned by a serviceman who left for the war in 1941, but failed to return home. Never to run again, it was left in the barn, keys and registration in the glovebox, never to see daylight. Simply to fade away like the memory of her owner. Tim purchased the car on the spot and it has since been in the family for the past 47 years, telling the story of a hero’s sacrifice.
Tim’s obsession took him all around the country chasing cars, but when asked why he chose to come back to Coronado to hang his V8 Club hat he responded without hesitation. “Coronado for what it was when I was a kid and all the memories that came with it and Coronado for what it is today. It’s still a great place to live.” We couldn’t agree with you more, Tim.
Tim and I see eye to eye when it comes to restoring cars. You are bringing something back to life that had a story and letting that story live on in that car. So, the next time you are out in town and see a classic car stroll through time down Orange, stop and think about the story that car has to tell. Then, when you’re done taking in the moment, put the family in the car and go make some history of your own.
*Know someone with a classic car that would be great for the next installment of “Car-onado”? Nominate them to firstname.lastname@example.org.