In Spokane, Washington, artist and inveterate car shopper Jason Bagge is slowly resurrecting cars from the 1970s before they disappear.
You don’t have to look far to find stories about multimillion dollar car auctions or exquisite concours restorations that would eclipse the asking price of the house you live in by orders of magnitude. As I found when I worked at Hemmings Motor News years ago, coverage like this has convinced people that enjoying older cars is something only rich people can do, and that all the good cars have been snapped up by wealthy collectors.
In Spokane, Washington, Jason Bagge is proving that idea to be completely false, locating good deals on cars from the 1970s and coaxing them back to good health with a minimal investment of cash, and a maximum investment of effort.
His interest wasn’t always in the massive road-irons and trucks and vans of the 1960s and 1970s. Like a lot of the skaters in his generation, Honda Civics held his fascination for a long time. But it was a job as a detailer at a car auction that got him interested in older cars.
“My dad got a job as a driver for the local auction,” he says, and that was enough to get Jason started there as one of the detailers that would prep cars before they rolled across the line. He got good at detailing really quickly, but for Jason, quickness wasn’t the point. He’d take four times as long to detail a car than anybody else on the line, but what became obvious really quickly was that after he was done with one, it would invariably sell for more money. It got to the point that he was assigned to special cases; cars that needed a lot of help but had a lot of potential became the cars he spent the bulk of his time on.
It got him looking seriously at cars that weren’t exactly common.
“There was a 1972 Chevy El Camino parked in the back lot of the auction,” he says. It sat unnoticed for quite some time and Jason finally worked a deal to take it home. It had issues, but it was complete and unmolested, featuring the wheel covers and details that it left the factory with. “I don’t like cars that have been butchered,” he says.
He cleaned the El Camino up and started running it around town, and was shocked at the attention it got. The idea of finding a car that was a little rough around the edges for not a lot of money, and then resurrected into a car that got attention all over the world became something of a mild obsession for Jason.
Spokane is kind of a goldmine for vintage cars. Unlike the east coast, where salt spreaders have destroyed generations of older cars, Spokane doesn’t get a ton of snow, and they don’t salt the roads. Cars can last forever with a minimum of rust. All it takes is a guy like Jason to come along and peek behind a fence to find it, make an offer and take it home.
“I drive around with a notebook,” he says, recording the location of cars he wants to learn more about when the time is right. He’s patient, and he’s interested, which is enough to get him to shake loose cars that nobody even knew existed. Such was the case with a 1973 Pontiac Grand Am that hadn’t seen street duty since 1988. Jason picked it up a few weeks ago, and is in the process of refurbishing into an amazing unicorn example of 1970s GM Colonnade perfection.
“I had to call the guy back and let him know I wanted to keep in contact with him to show him the car as I work on it,” he said. Jason’s mom was with the previous owner, Wiley, as Jason and his dad drove down the dirt road from the owner’s house. “My Mom said he started crying as Dad and I went down the dirt road. It was his Dad’s car and Wiley had a stroke and couldn’t work on it.” It’s Jason’s persistence, and his obvious interest in these cars and their family history that has people like Wiley turning over the keys.
The Grand Am isn’t perfect. The fragile plastic nose is broken, but that’s a part that’s available from a few different sources. Inside, though, it’s like a time machine back to 1973. The seats are perfect, every bit of trim is present and accounted for, and the dash is in amazing shape. The vinyl top had primer on it, and he’s taken the time to color that back to the original black.
Cars like this have essentially vanished. Barrett-Jackson has sold exactly ONE 1973 Pontiac Grand Am, and that was a Wilkesboro Speedway pace car for more than $19,000. You can’t find one that’s ever gone though the mill at Mecum Auctions, nor can you find one on eBay. A search on BringATrailer.com turns up not a single 1973 Grand Am in all of its listings back to about 2006.
The 1973 Pontiac Grand Am might not be America’s most desirable car, but you’ll trip over a COPO Camaro at any good sized car show before you find one of these.
These are the cars that ignite Jason’s interest. He’s owned dozens of 1970s Dodge Darts. For a while, his white whale was a 1969 Imperial. He picked up a 1973 Ford Maverick with a factory 302, cleaned it up and moved it along to finance the purchase of another car. Nothing Jason buys is more than $3,500 or so, and some of the cars have become so popular, they get shipped to Europe.
Jason focuses a lot of effort on detailing the engine bay, which he’s convinced it what often sells the car when he’s done with it. Here’s a look under the hood of a neglected 1988 Chrysler Fifth Avenue after he worked on it. He almost exclusively uses SEM paints to bring these cars back to their original glory.
The most amazing transformation was to this 1973 Plymouth Scamp.
He literally dragged it out of the woods and just seven days later had transformed it into a solid little slice of the 1970s that anybody would be proud to pull into a cruise night.
No matter what he’s working on, the cars are getting attention, and often more attention than the more “popular” Mustangs and Camaros and Chevelles you see at any given car show. These cars are out there, and they’re available for prices that anybody with a job, a little motivation and some vision of what the final product could look like can afford.
“You see these shows like Counting Cars now showing guys cruising neighborhoods looking in peoples’ back yards for cool stuff,” Jason said from his home in Spokane. “I’ve been doing that for years.” Maybe you should, too.
You can follow Jason’s exploits by joining The Brougham Society on Facebook, where he posts photos of the cars he’s working on.