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Cool car, cool history

Fargo - For a car once covered in hay and jump-started with vinegar in its engine, Jennifer Iverson's 1963 Chrysler 300 Indy 500 Pace Car is looking sharp these days.

Mike Wanner buffs the finished paint job as Troy Helm replaces the mirrors
Mike Wanner buffs the finished paint job as Troy Helm replaces the mirrors on the 1963 Chrysler 300 Indy 500 Pace Car. Davis Samson / The Forum

Fargo - For a car once covered in hay and jump-started with vinegar in its engine, Jennifer Iverson's 1963 Chrysler 300 Indy 500 Pace Car is looking sharp these days.

The Kindred woman wanted nothing less for the classic convertible that's given her family so much joy since her brother and grandfather pulled it out of a barn almost 27 years ago near Parshall in western North Dakota.

"It's very much a sentimental car," Iverson said. "It's a cool car with a cool history."

The car's recent history has been its most transformational: It went from rusty jalopy to fully restored in about six months.

The revamped ride will be unveiled on Saturday for Iverson and her family at the Toppers Car Club's 53rd annual Rod and Custom Car Show in West Fargo.


Cody Wendelbo and Mike Wanner, who oversaw the restoration process, said the family's passion for the car inspired their work.

"A lot of customers will come in and say, 'I want it fixed' and 'Just do it,' and they'll show up at the end and pay for it," said Wendelbo, owner of Hot Rod Shop of Fargo. "But they're really excited about it."

'A frightful mess'

Iverson's father, Ken Reynolds, was a salesman for the family insurance business in New Town when he discovered the car, also known as a Pacesetter, in the summer of 1984.

One day while visiting a rented farmstead near Parshall, he heard children hollering from the barn.

"I said, 'What's going on?' " he recalled.

One of the tenants answered: "They got a good play toy."

Reynolds walked to the barn and saw what the commotion was about: The kids were jumping from the hayloft and landing on the convertible's seats.


"They had everything crunched down in just a frightful mess, and hay had fallen down so they had something to jump in," Reynolds said.

"I didn't even know what it was, it was so covered with junk and everything," he added.

But Reynolds thought his father, Hardin, and son, Craig, who liked to work on projects together, might be interested in the car.

As it turned out, Hardin Reynolds knew the man who owned the convertible, Bill Schroeder. But Schroeder, who had bought the car in Washington state from its original owner - his brother-in-law - refused to sell Hardin Reynolds the car because he thought he would let it sit and rot.

So, Craig Reynolds tapped his savings account and bought the Chrysler from Schroeder - for $250.

Getting it running again

Grandfather and grandson cleaned up the car and took it to a garage to see if a mechanic could fix the locked-up engine.

The mechanic poured vinegar in the cylinders to remove rust and loosen the pistons, but it didn't do the trick, Ken Reynolds said.


Then, the mechanic's hired hand got a bright idea: When the boss wasn't looking, he and another employee pushed the Chrysler onto the road and, using a pickup with a push-bumper, propelled the car faster and faster down a three-mile stretch. Around the 1½-mile mark, they popped it into gear.

"And I don't know how fast they were going, and there was an explosion you can't believe - boom! - and she all came loose and they drove her back," said Ken Reynolds, who now lives in Fargo.

The car was repainted nice enough to use in parades, but it was far from original condition.

Craig Reynolds eventually sold the car to his sister, who continued to drive it.

Iverson, the youngest grandchild in the family, fondly remembers bugging her grandfather each spring to get the convertible out.

"I wanted it really as more of a family memento to keep," she said.

Restoration rushed

Last spring, Iverson brought the Chrysler to Wendelbo's shop with some leaky hoses and asked him about restoring the car.


Wendelbo first wanted to make sure he could find the necessary parts, which wasn't easy.

Chrysler produced only 1,861 Pacesetters, according to a website dedicated to the Chrysler 300. The Pacesetter came about when Chrysler was chosen to provide the pace car for the 1963 Indy 500 race.

The car's "holiday turquoise" color, white ragtop and Indy 500 emblem set it apart from other Chrysler 300s from that year.

"You can't find parts for these cars for nothin'," Wendelbo said. "And I found a junkyard in Georgia that I've been buying parts from, and he thinks like maybe 200 are left."

Still, Wendelbo decided to take on the project, receiving the car last October. He later enlisted the aid of Wanner, owner of Fargo-Moorhead Custom and Collision.

There was a catch: Wendelbo needed the car done before the Toppers show, because the Reynolds family was planning a reunion for that weekend.

"So, I really put Mike kind of under the gun here," Wendelbo said.

"We'll get her done," Wanner said, standing next to the stripped-down car in his Fargo shop about a month ago.


Wanner stripped the body to bare metal in two days, patched the rust holes and pounded out the dents. Some pieces had to be replaced: The trunk floor was so rusted, Wendelbo said he could poke his finger right through it.

Still, the Chrysler was in better shape that most cars from its era, Wanner said.

"You don't find them any better that haven't been restored," he said. "This car has been actually fairly well taken care of its whole life."

Wendelbo found the hard-to-find parts, including emblems, gauges, brake parts, a performance gauge that goes in the center console and the letter "L" on the back trunk lid. He rebuilt the 305-horsepower, 383-cubic-inch engine and dropped a new transmission in the car.

Wendelbo and Wanner see lots of cars in their line of work, but they said the pace car is unique, from its squarish steering wheel to its push-button shifter.

"This is still a rare car that a lot of collectors would fight over," Wanner said.

And, while it may not be the prettiest car, its yacht-like length makes for a pleasant cruise.

"Oh, it rides like a dream," Wendelbo said. "You just float down the road. It's gorgeous."


The record price fetched for a Pacesetter was $87,000 at a Barrett-Jackson car auction, according to www.chrysler300country.com . The car cost $4,129 new in 1963, the website states.

Iverson has no intention of selling the car, especially now that it's restored to its pre-hay, pre-vinegar condition.

"If my grandpa was living, he'd think it was just very cool," she said.

If you go

  • What: Toppers Car Club's 53rd annual Rod and Custom Car Show
  • When: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
  • Where: Veterans Memorial Arena, West Fargo

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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