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April 17, 2011

News & Features

Mechanic's hobby of splicing cars hatches some unique creations

Special to NWautos

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John Walker's Seattle shop is filled with Porsches he fixes for clients, plus cars he modifies. (Jeff Layton)

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"That's the pickup they should have made," says John Walker, who has modified this 1947 Diamond T 614. (Jeff Layton)

John Walker is an automotive mad scientist. He's the kind of guy who can build anything -- and he's not afraid to cut apart cars and trucks to create something the world has never seen.

A few years ago, Walker was driving his old Volkswagen bus, and he became frustrated by the way other drivers were cutting him off on the highway.

So when he got back to his shop in Seattle's Phinney Ridge neighborhood, he took the bus apart. He lowered it and added a five-speed Porsche 3.2-liter Carrera engine, disc brakes and rack-and-pinion steering.

A month later, his bus roared, and it could outrun hot rods. "I like oddball stuff that people don't have," he says.

Walker is better known for being one of the premier Porsche 911 mechanics on the West Coast. But packed into the corners of John Walker's Workshop, he has a collection of half-finished Frankenstein creations.

He points to a car on the lift. "I'm putting a 1949 Buick Woody Wagon on top of a 1949 Caddy," he says. "I thought it would be cool."

See his work
  • Some of John Walker's creations can be seen at the Greenwood Car Show on June 25. Visit greenwoodcarshow.com for event details.

In another corner, he has a white 1950 Cadillac with a three-speed shifter on the column. Walker liked the shape but wanted a convertible, so he cut out the retractable roof from a 1953 Caddy and stitched it to the top.

"I like to be kinda different," he says.

Walker prefers to modify Buicks and Cadillacs from 1940-'53 because they are affordable project cars. He also likes their appearance. "Everybody has Chevys and Fords," he says. "But Buicks and Caddys are more rare, and they have a lot of potential."

Walker's most recent renovation is a 1947 Diamond T 614. At one time, it was a small semi-truck that hauled Caterpillar tractors.

Walker fell in love with the look of the nose, cab and fenders. He modified the rest by chopping down the spindles, adding a 1-ton engine from a Chevy and the front suspension off a 1987 pickup. He also added disc brakes and stuck the rear end of a 1988 Suburban on the back.

He bartered for some leather hides for the seats and added a British Moto-Lita steering wheel to give the truck a retro flair.

Walker says getting the body straightened was the hardest part. Shaping the rear fenders wasn't easy, either -- he spent more time on the wheel wells than with the rest of the truck, logging more than 60 hours on each one.

"That's the pickup they should have made," he says proudly.

Walker says he's less concerned with the fine details (the bumps and imperfections are what make the car feel real) than he is with the overall aesthetics.

He estimates that he has owned from 150 to 200 cars. Typically, he hangs onto a project car until he needs money to pay for parts for another creation.

"My wife hasn't been to the shop in years," he jokes. "She knows if she sees all these cars, it will just lead to a big fight.

"The people who buy my cars usually fall in love with them. I don't build them for money, but for pleasure."

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