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Award-winning 1940 Buick a tribute to Napa car restorer’s mother
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Award-winning 1940 Buick a tribute to Napa car restorer’s mother

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From chrome-tipped nose to rounded tail, Steve Pierce’s 1940 Buick Super coupe is an example of the Napa native’s passion for restoring vintage cars – and a way to keep his mother’s memory alive.

On completing a bumper-to-bumper overhaul of the Buick in December, the 35-year-old Pierce began exhibiting the two-door car at auto shows across California – but not before christening it Pamela after his mother Pamela Pierce, who died in August 2014 at age 61. And as the curvaceous example of pre-World War II Detroit iron has garnered awards from show judges, the real reward for its restorer has been the fount of memories it keeps close to his heart.

“I brought home my first old car, a Volkswagen Bug, when I was 13, and the first Bug that I wanted to keep at 14, and she was always open to my car projects,” Pierce recalled Sunday after displaying the Buick at the Silverado Resort Car Show earlier in the day.

That encouragement – and a selfless devotion to Steve and his sister, Lisa Kennedy – were what he hoped to honor by pinning his mother’s name to his most ambitious restoration project.

“Mom always put her family first; her main hobby was her kids – she wanted to do things for myself and my sister,” he said of Pamela, who raised her two children while working 30 years as an office staffer and teaching assistant for Alta Heights Elementary School.

The coupe that is at once namesake and tribute has gained the notice of vintage car buffs while appearing at a half-dozen exhibitions this year. The Buick has been named the Goodguys Street Rod Headquarters Custom of the Year, and in February captured three awards at the Sacramento Autorama – for most beautiful custom, outstanding nostalgia rod and “King of Kustoms.”

A barber who operates The Executive Room on Main Street, Pierce devoted more than four years’ worth of spare time and about $100,000 to his effort to bring the 1940 Buick not only to showroom freshness but beyond.

A lowered frame and fender skirts concealing the rear wheels give the blue-painted coupe a torpedo-like profile, while a pair of 1938 Ford headlights and the bumpers from a 1941 Cadillac distinguish the auto further. The makeover extends to the interior, lined with maroon-piped white leatherette upholstery and a mirror-finish metal dashboard set with white-on-black instrument gauges.

“It was the last car that she saw me start, so I named it after her,” said Pierce. “I build old Buicks and I wanted to make this the nicest Buick I’d ever personally built.”

When Pierce saw his creation honored at the Sacramento exhibition, family members were on hand to share in his victory, including his sister and his father Tom. And although Pamela Pierce was not standing with them, the one who had inspired her son’s work was not forgotten.

“Pamela was there too – I felt her presence,” said Tom Pierce. “I was in tears when he won the award. I’m sure she’s smiling down on his accomplishments.”

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Public Safety Reporter

Howard Yune covers public safety for the Napa Valley Register. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.

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