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July 15, 2014

News & Features

Ford restorer turns hobby into a career

New York Times News Service

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Kevin Marti, a licensed supplier of Ford production records, is famous among Ford collectors for his Marti Reports. (Courtesy of Ford)

To step into Kevin Marti's garage is to travel back in time, to reset the dial on the WABAC Machine for 1970 and the destination for the Ford dealership in Anytown, America.

There's a parts department, a display area to show off a few seemingly brand-new cars (actually, they were new in the late 1960s and early '70s) and a service area with a pair of lifts and all the tools and equipment needed to repair and maintain a Ford, Lincoln or Mercury. The cars are not for sale, however: They are from Marti's personal collection, mostly Fords and Mercurys.

This nearly half-century-old "dealership" in El Mirage, Ariz., a half-hour west of Phoenix, is the new home of Marti Auto Works, famous among Ford collectors for its Marti Reports. These documents provide information about individual vehicles from the day they started moving along the assembly line, detailing the color of the original paint, the specific powertrain combinations in the car when it left the factory, and the options that were added.

Two buildings in the Marti complex are up. Three more — one to become a restoration shop and others for vehicle storage and for entertaining classic-car owners — are on the drawing board.

And while this complex, which melds Marti's business and personal interests, is a monument to his symbiotic five-decade relationship with Ford, it all began with a quirk of fate.

His first car at 16

In 1973, Marti was a 16-year-old eager to buy his first car. Armed with $1,600, he wanted a Chevrolet, not a Ford. One Sunday, his mother took the newspaper, turned to the auto classifieds and copied down all the Camaros and Chevelles for sale. Then they looked at the available cars, but nothing met Marti's expectations or budget.

For reasons he didn't understand, his mother had also copied down the car that followed the Camaros and Chevelles in the ads. It was a Cougar, a variation on the Mustang that was sold by Ford's Mercury division. Marti said he wasn't interested, but his mother insisted that they at least take a look.

"I saw the sequential taillamp signals and bought the car," Marti says, referring to the Cougar's distinctive rear signals that lighted up in a one-two-three sequence, like a neon sign in Las Vegas, when a turn was indicated. Marti says his mother's "little mistake" when she compiled their shopping list "changed everything in my life."

The making of a convertible

Around the time Marti bought his Cougar, he happened upon a pretty young woman who told him that his car would be better if it were a convertible. So Marti was moved to saw the roof off his Cougar, only to find "I couldn't open the doors anymore."

His discovery that removing the structure above the passenger compartment caused his car to sag in the middle resulted in another change in Marti's life: He enrolled in college to study engineering. He had a short but successful career doing research and development for a space shuttle contractor.

But eventually he realized that what he really wanted to do was to turn his hobby into a business. He completed his unique Cougar convertible with parts salvaged from a pair of Mustang convertibles in a junkyard. He also found a high-performance Cougar Eliminator in a salvage yard, and his restoration of that car led to his relationship with Ford.

By 1979, Marti had his Eliminator running, but he couldn't find stripes to match its original appearance. After placing calls to Ford, he learned the stripes were no longer in production, but the equipment to make them was still around. He could buy the tooling and make his own.

It didn't take long for people to notice his car, and soon owners of Boss 302 and Mach I Mustangs were calling to see if he could make stripes for their cars. With a license from Ford to make reproduction parts, Marti was in the stripe-producing business.

Soon he was making other parts. Marti made reproduction parts and sold "new old stock" parts he acquired from dealerships and other sources. He also restored cars and searched for information to return those vehicles to original condition. He learned that Ford still had the old IBM punch cards that contained production data, but no longer had equipment that could read the cards.

As part of his hobby-turned-business, Marti collected equipment from Ford dealerships. He had a punch-card reader and the engineering skills to figure out how to translate the cards. Ford leased him the cards, and he started providing Marti Reports to car owners.
These provide all sorts of data: color, interior trim, drivetrain, the date the car was shipped from assembly plant to a dealer, even the dealership's name and location.

Soon he'll also have all the Ford build data on vehicles produced through the 2010 model year. Depending on how much data is needed, Marti Reports are available in three levels of detail, priced from $17 to $220.

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