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Connoquenessing Township couple share story of restoring 1950s cars

His and Hers
Dave and Linda Carr of Connoquenessing Township pose with their 1955 Chevy Bel Air on March 25. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle

CONNOQUENESSING TWP ­— David Carr spends a lot of time in his garage tinkering with his restored classic cars. That’s all right with his wife, Linda, because she’s often there with him — or sometimes underneath the car with him welding headers.

Today, Dave and Linda have a 1955 Chevy Bel Air (his car) and a 1953 Pontiac (her car) that they’ve both worked years to restore. The Carrs learned a lot of new skills to get their cars back running. They’ve had to manufacture some of their own parts to get the two classics roadworthy.

Dave, who retired from Armco Steel in 2002, said he found the Chevy in 1999 in a field in Texas. Restoring what was basically a shell of a car offered a high degree of difficulty.

“There were no parts for it,” Dave said. “Everything was missing. This thing was missing everything. It was a gutted car.”

The Chevy relic had faded paint, but no rust, and not much else, Carr said. He had the frame blasted with plastic BBs to remove what was left of the paint. And then he started looking for parts.

“I had to fabricate the clutch linkage. There weren’t any available,” he said. “I had to make a lot of stuff, the motor mounts, the headers. Basically, I had to fabricate a lot of stuff.”

He had to pound all the dents and dings out of the Chevy’s stainless steel trim and headlight rings, too.

Dave said he’s strictly old school in his approach to car restoration. He scoffs at all the car tips available online. He takes a learn-by-doing approach.

For example, he discovered coarse toothpaste worked best to take out scratches on aged window glass.

“With toothpaste, you are polishing the edges of the scratches,” he said.

However, the engine was no problem. Dave built a 540-cubic-inch, 742-horsepower engine for his project.

It took him three years to get the Bel Air on the road again.

The Carrs acquired the Pontiac in 2006. It took them four and a half years to return the car to pristine condition.

The previous owners hadn’t been kind to it, the couple explained. The Pontiac came off the assembly line as a bare-bones business coupe car with no radio and no back seat. The previous owners had raced it. They cut a hole in the floor to attach a shifter to the transmission, then covered the hole with a patch made of license plates.

Along the way, Linda learned to weld the pipes that her husband custom built to fit on the car.

“She learned to run the welder to weld them up. She wasn’t afraid,” her husband said.

“You just have to keep going. They aren’t going to get done by themselves,” Linda said.

Dave also built the 509-cubic-inch, 672-horsepower engine for the Pontiac.

The Carrs’ work has been recognized. The Chevy scored 996 out of 1,000 points at the 2009 Classic International Show in Chicago, where it was in competition against 30 other restored vehicles.

When the Carrs took the Pontiac to Beaver Hot August Nights Car Cruise in 2021, a picture of Linda Carr and the Pontiac wound up on the front page of the Beaver County Times.

They also take their cars to Butler’s annual Cruise-A-Palooza and a car cruise held Fridays at Victory Family Church in Cranberry Township.

“I made them dependable enough to drive. I’ve had this car (the Chevy) in Erie. I build them to be fast and to drive them anywhere,” he said.

“People have no idea the time I’ve put into these cars. I enjoy them. I put my heart and soul into these cars. I want to enjoy them,” he said.

“I just learned to solve problems,” he said of his restoration work.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that he has been working around and on cars since he was 11 years old, when he started hanging around the old Humes Brothers automatic transmission garage on New Castle Street in Butler. He was put to work sweeping up. At 12, he was able to get a Social Security card and be put on the payroll. By 16, he was rebuilding transmissions.

The Carrs have been married for 57 years and have lived at their Connoquenessing Township home for 46 years.

“We haven’t killed each other, which is amazing,” said Linda.

“Time flies when you are having fun. You can’t return her,” said Dave.

“I was working at a restaurant, and I met him there. He came in to eat,” said Linda.

“I was 23 years old and out of the service. I said I was going to marry her,” said Dave of their meeting.

Dave recalled at the time he had a 1957 Chevy with a 327 engine and a four-speed transmission.

“I took her out on a date and she said, ‘Can I drive?” Dave recalled. “I thought she would be lucky to push in the clutch, let alone change. Good Lord, she went down Route 8 through all four gears.”

“Get in, sit down, shut up and hang on,” said Linda, who honed her driving prowess while dating a previous boyfriend.

“He had a brand new G70,” she said. “I would take him to work and keep the car.”

She had wanted to buy a Corvette at that time.

“My dad said ‘No way I’m signing for that. We’ll be sweeping you off the highway,’” Linda said.

Linda wasn’t afraid to take the wheel of the cars that Dave was racing in his earlier days.

“I had a G8 Camaro. She had it up in the air and was banging it into second when it was up in the air,” he said.

“I’m the luckiest man in the world because most women don’t like cars,” Dave said.

A back injury forced Dave to give up drag racing. But what he learned during his drag-racing career served him well when it came to restoring the Carrs’ classic automobiles.

“You have to be very meticulous. When you are building a car, it doesn’t take any longer to put in a good bolt than just a bolt,” Dave said.

The cars have brought the Carrs a lot of memories. “We’ve owned well over 75 cars, including six drag racers,” Linda said.

They said they’ve traveled to a lot of places and met a lot of people because of their cars.

“We’ve done a lot of things. We’ve had chances to sell these cars. We go to a lot of car cruises. We’ve put too much time into them,” Dave said.

“There’s a satisfaction in doing things by yourself,” he said of his restored cars.

“I’ve got the ability to visualize easily. I can pick up and learn stuff. When I assemble transmissions, I visualize what I want to do,” he said. “The mechanical stuff comes easy. I’m not afraid to try anything.”

Linda Carr sits inside her 1953 Pontiac outside her home in Connoquenessing Township on March 25. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Dave and Linda Carr of Connoquenessing Township pose with their 1953 Pontiac on March 25. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Dave Carr sits behind the wheel of his wife's 1953 Pontiac at their home in Connoquenessing Township on March 25. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Dave Carr talks March 25 about restoring his wife's 1953 Pontiac at their Connoquenessing Township home. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Dave Carr talks March 25 about restoring his wife's 1953 Pontiac at their Connoquenessing Township home. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Linda and Dave Carr of Connoquenessing Township restored a 1953 Pontiac and a 1955 Chevy Bel Air, which are seen in their garage on March 25. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Dave Carr talks March 25 about restoring his wife's 1953 Pontiac at their Connoquenessing Township home. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Linda Carr poses with her 1953 Pontiac outside her home in Connoquenessing Township on March 25. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Dave Carr talks March 25 about restoring his 1955 Chevy Bel Air in Connoquenessing Township. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle

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