LEHI — Paint fumes pervade the small, dusty shop. Sand paper, spray paint cans and rusty old car parts clutter every surface, piled on tables and jumbled together on old wooden boards propped on the hood of a dilapidated Ford.

Amid the mess, though, a shiny machine is being assembled, part by part, and, with it, a small piece of history shakes off the dust and re-emerges, better than new.

This 1957 Ford Fairlane 500 Club Sedan broke more than 458 national and international records, along with two other cars, in a 20-day trial run of the model at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1956. The three cars raced around the 10-mile track in western Utah about 5,000 times, only stopping for fuel and oil.

When American Fork resident B. Kay Hutchings first saw the car, though, jagged holes gaped across the bottom of what was left of the doors, the motor didn't run and the lower part of its fenders had completely rusted away.

His friend Bob Sandkaut bought the car in the early '90s because of the car's past — just a rumor at the time.

"I bought the car a long time ago ... on a story that turned out to be true," said Sandkaut, who lives in San Diego. "It was sitting basically in a tow yard in Reno (at the time)."

The ninth car off the assembly line, the sedan appeared in a glossy, feature-length advertisement in Life magazine in the late '50s, touting the model's speed and endurance.

"We wanted to prove to ourselves, as well as to the American people, just what (kind of vehicle) we had," said Danny E. Eames, the crew chief for the '56 test, in the Life advertisement.

The yellow-and-black car averaged a cool 107.15 mph — impressive for the time. The Ford was in surprisingly good condition after the test, so a Jaguar four-speed transmission was installed and it was sent off to race at Pikes Peak, Colo.

It was a downhill drive from there, though.

At some point, the vehicle was donated to the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nev., but soon rusted into obscurity.

After Sandkaut purchased the car, it sat in a storage unit for more than a decade before he persuaded longtime friend Hutchings to restore it.

"When he got it up here and we started looking at things, it became a pretty scary old car," said Hutchings, who has put in four days a week on the car for the past year. "We've restored every nut and bolt."

Literally. He pointed to a square board, substituting for a tray, covered in handful after handful of small hardware. Each piece has been soaked in an acidic solution and individually wiped clean of rust. Before returning them to their designated spots on the Ford, Hutchings will paint each one.

The restoration is nearing completion and Sandkaut hopes to take the finished product to the Bonneville Speed Week, a week of racing held each August at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

"It would be kind of like an anniversary for the car," he said.

During the past year, the entire car has undergone the automotive equivalent of massive surgery — doors and trunk replaced, metal siding patched up, a new engine and upholstery — under the hands of an expert surgeon.

Hutchings began restoring cars in 1976 and moved his hobby into a deserted body shop in Lehi in 1989. He doesn't know how many cars he's restored, but he said he'd put the number somewhere around 100.

"My old partner (at the shop) told me I was afraid of nothing," Hutchings said. "No one in his right mind would have tackled some of these (cars)."

Photos of finished beauties, flaunting shiny paint and chrome, are tacked to the wall, next to a list of scrawled phone numbers, mostly of old friends and other "car nuts," as Hutchings calls them.

One doesn't have to look far to find them, though. There are usually a couple hanging around the shop, talking about their latest project or tinkering with one of the vehicles in the vicinity.

Ron Shumway, who has been working with Hutchings for about seven years, was working on a paint job for a 1971 Jaguar the other day.

"I came in here to help (Hutchings) finish one of his cars and I just never went out," he said.

It's a flexible arrangement, said Shumway, and it gives him the opportunity to do custom work.

"If I want a day off, I take a day off," he said. "But normally I just tear into (a project) ... until it's done."

The hobby is an expensive one — Hutchings estimated the materials alone for the restoration of the '57 Ford will add up to about $20,000 — but his friend, Del Ray Hardy, said it's like a disease.

"It's called rustitis," said Hardy, an Orem resident.

Some of the cars have been sold, others are fixed as favors for friends, like the '57 Ford. The automobiles displayed in the makeshift photo gallery on the wall have ended up in a variety of places, including Australia, Texas and Oregon. But most spend some time cruising around Utah Valley before heading off to new homes.

Every Tuesday night all summer long, Hardy, Hutchings and quite a few others meet at different hamburger joints to listen to '50s music and admire each other's rides.

"Cruise nights," as they're called, are an excuse to feel 16 again, Hutchings said.

"When we was kids, we used to hang out a lot at these places and the women looked good but the cars didn't and now it's flip flopped," he said. "I told my wife that. She didn't think it was too funny."


E-mail: rwestenskow@desnews.com