May 25, 2008
By James Hannah, Associated Press
Dayton, Ohio — In a business that’s attracting older car buffs and creating new fans with the young, Don Boeke is among the masters.
The longtime car customizer has reincarnated Porsches, Corvettes, Packards and Bentleys, repairing, painting and often pinstriping them. Today, he is getting increasing pleasure from taking his craft outside the garage.
He customized golf clubs, attache cases and a refrigerator. He painted a Hobart Corp. food mixer candy-apple blends of tangerine-lemon for a trade show. He daubed dolphins and sea urchins on the walls of a swimming pool.
He has painted nose art on F-16s, one a skull with the word “Gravedigger.” Boeke also has taken the car part of his customizing skills into the home. He took the body of a Porsche and made a couch with working taillights and turn signals. He turned a Porsche engine into a coffee table. He made a lamp from a Porsche transmission, with holders for beer, newspapers and a remote control. An ignition switch turns the light on. “It must have been instilled in me at birth because my interest in cars and bicycles has been since I was a child,” the bearded 68-year-old said. Boeke’s body shop sits amid rusting warehouses on the city’s industrial east side. Tucked into one corner of the two-building shop is his art studio. A small loft apartment where Boeke lives has been carved out of another space.
Those who follow the industry say there has been increased interest in pinstriping, graphics and custom bodywork in the past few years because it has been popularized on television and the Internet and embraced by a new generation. Bob Bond, publisher/editor of AutoArt Magazine based in Kansas City, Mo., said pinstriping – applying very thin lines of paint to accent the contours of the object – has branched out from vehicles to auto-part sculptures to toilet seats. Those objects are being displayed at art shows and auctioned off.
Darrell Mayabb, an automotive designer and illustrator, said Boeke is well known in the customizing industry and could have made an even bigger name for himself had he not rightly focused on raising his two children as a single parent and looking after his employees.
“He is about the automobile,” said Mayabb, of Arvada, Colo. “And he has MS like me – Modification Sickness. He’s got to modify it.”
Born in Egypt, Ohio – hence his nickname “The Egyptian” – Boeke was in high school in Dayton when he began pinstriping cars.
“When I got home from school, there was always a couple there,” he recalled. “I was doing it for $10 or $15 apiece. I thought I was getting rich.”
He spent some time in the Los Angeles area to be near the biggest names in auto design and customizing, hoping to be discovered. But rocked by the high cost of living and low pay for his work, Boeke returned to Dayton and in 1966 opened his body shop.
The popularity of pinstriping was on the rise, and Boeke built his business customizing cars, motorcycles and boats. For years, he customized the city’s fire trucks with lettering, pinstriping and gold leaf.
Retired car collector John Dixon of Dayton recalls taking his Corvette roadster to Boeke for pinstriping in the 1970s.
“He was THE name,” recalled Dixon.
Dixon recently took his 2005 Chevrolet SSR to Boeke to be custom painted. Boeke told him he was going to paint it orange, drawing a cringe from Dixon.
“Don is an artist,” Dixon said. “He did this pearl orange that was absolutely stunning.”
Boeke charges $45 an hour to repair, restore and customize, but his projects often require a lot of time. It has taken him a year to fully restore a 1937 Packard, and the bill will be about $46,000. Boeke said the vehicle probably would bring at least $160,000 if it were auctioned.
Boeke said he is beginning to see more “barn fresh” vehicles, those that have been in storage for 20 to 50 years.
“Right now, there is the largest resurgence since I remember of artwork, pinstriping, customizing,” he said. “The big reason is people my age can now afford to do it.”
A self-taught painter, Boeke keeps a steady hand crucial for pinstriping and custom painting by abstaining from alcohol and making sure his painting is interruption-free.
“I’ve been doing it for so long that I don’t think about it, but pinstriping is a really fine art,” he said.
Customizing non-car objects requires Boeke to create a design based on research and the customer’s needs. In customizing the swimming pool, for example, he needed to make sure the sea life was anatomically correct.
A drawing board, cups stuffed with art pens and neat stacks of tiny paint cans populate his studio.
Outside in the body shop, Boeke’s four employees labor over cars to the strains of Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” while a mutt named Scrappy pads around.
Boeke – whose uniform is a sweat shirt, scuffed-up blue jeans and white tennis shoes – has had as many as 88 vehicles in his shop at one time. Thirty of them are his own, but he rarely takes them out.
“I’d rather work on them than drive them,” he said.