Classic car crush

By MELINDA MAWDSLEY
The Daily Sentinel

Thursday, March 06, 2008

NAME: Ivan Cardenas

AGE: 67

QUOTE: “I wouldn’t sell my car. It’s not for sale.”

Ivan Cardenas apologized, but he couldn’t get too close to his convertible while wearing his leather jacket. He might scratch the car, and finding an exact color to match the paint on a 1960 Corvette isn’t as simple as driving to the local hardware store.

“He’s a car nut,” said friend Sherman Umberger.

Cardenas has restored several classic cars, including the 1960 Corvette he technically gave to his 31-year-old daughter Elicia as a college graduation present years ago.

But Cardenas, 67, still has the car. He still stores the car in his garage. He still drives the convertible around town, the state and the country because his daughter doesn’t have a garage.

“I can’t see having a car and not driving it,” Cardenas said.

On a recent February morning, Cardenas took the restored 1960 Corvette convertible for a short drive between his house near downtown Grand Junction to visit Umberger at Napa Auto Parts on Pitkin Avenue. He did his best to avoid puddles.

“He loves Corvettes,” Umberger said.

The 1960 Corvette that Cardenas keeps clean and covered when he’s not driving it has nearly 133,000 miles. The steering wheel is 18 inches in diameter. The original hubcaps on the 1960 Corvette took nearly two years for Cardenas to find online, at a swap meet in Denver and in a junk yard in Aztec, N.M. The 1960 Corvette originally cost Cardenas $2,200 when he bought it as a teenager in 1964.

“It got me through college and grad school,” Cardenas said. “Then, it became a toy.”

LIFELONG PASSION

Cardenas’ fascination with cars began as a young child growing up in Denver. He built his first car when he was just 9 or 10 years old. It was powered by the human push. The wheels for the homemade car were taken off his wagon.

Cardenas’ father was a do-if-yourselfer who sometimes took his sons to stock car races at Lakeside Amusement Park near the Cardenas family home. Even if the boys didn’t go to the races, they could hear them from their house.

“We loved to see the old jalopies race,” Cardenas said.

Cardenas also has become a do-it-yourselfer with two garages and a shed full of tools, car parts and cars. He loves to camp, but his first love is cars. In fact, he has had his 1960 Corvette longer than he and wife Jane have been married.

“Cars are sort of his life,” Jane joked. Ivan and Jane have been married for 38 years.

The first car Cardenas owned was a 1941 Chevrolet he bought when he was 16. He once owned a 1954 Corvette, but sold the car to his brother. He restored a 1977 Corvette with the hope that his daughter would want the newer car instead of the 1960 Corvette he promised her.

“She said, and I quote, ‘Not a chance, Dad,’ ” Cardenas said.

He sold the 1977 Corvette and bought a Subaru.

Jane also joked that she doubted her husband would be alive the day after their daughter drives off with his prize possession. He even has a 1994 Corvette engine he wants to install in the 1960 Corvette.

“He has changed that engine in that Corvette like six times,” Umberger said.

Cardenas isn’t sure what the 1960 Corvette is worth, but his brother saw a 1959 Corvette go for $200,000 at the famed Barrett-Jackson auto sale in Phoenix.

“I wouldn’t sell my car,” Cardenas said. “It’s not for sale.”

RESTORATIONS THEN AND NOW

The 1960 Corvette tops out at 140 mph, at least that’s as fast as Cardenas has pushed the car.

“It wasn’t smart,” he admitted. “It was a fun thing when I was young.”

Cardenas is a retired probation officer, who worked 22 years in Mesa County. In fact, he was Umberger’s probation officer, but Umberger remembered one thing that put him at ease with Cardenas.

“He had a picture of a Corvette on the wall,” Umberger said.

Cardenas worked part-time as a psychotherapist and was active in the reserves of several military branches to help pay for the insurance, maintenance and gas of his expensive hobby. He always held a second job to fund his crush on cars.

As a retiree, he has dedicated even more time to restoring classic cars.

Currently, Cardenas is restoring a 1949 two-door Chevrolet that is getting a new paint job from his nephew in Denver. Restoring classic cars has become a family passion. His nephew has five garages.

“I was looking for another toy,” Cardenas said. “I drove it until last year on the original engine.”

But his days of restoring classic cars won’t end the day he finally gives away his 1960 Corvette or when he finishes perfecting his 1949 Chevrolet. Cardenas has his sights on a car that would truly stand out in Grand Junction.

“I want to build a 1927 Model T Roadster,” Cardenas said. “I have the engine for that, too.”