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Best of Show

By Rebekah
Harris
Associate Editor
[email protected]
Nick Phillips may have had a 40-year career on the railroad, but his true passion has always been restoring classic cars.
“It’s been a long love affair with old cars,” he said.
Over the years, Phillips has happily restored several cars, including a 1939 Deluxe Ford, a 1957 Chevy and a 1961 Corvette. He also owns an El Camino, which he drives daily, along with a 1965 Nova he hopes to eventually restore. However, of Phillips’ three show cars, he is most taken with the ‘39 Ford – which took him 20 years to restore.
“I’ve fooled with old cars all my life,” he said. “It took 20 years to build that Ford. I painted it a piece at a time. Everyone said the paint would never match, but black is black. I painted each piece, and if it didn’t look right, I’d sand it down and do it again. Some of the pieces have been painted four or five times. “
Phillips, who worked for Clinchfield/CSX Railroad for 40 years, would work all day and come home to work on his prized Ford, restoring everything himself, right down to the woodgrain.
“A man in Daytona showed me how to do the woodgrain,” he explained. “It’s really just paint. I came home and started trying to get it perfected. Woodgrain is very difficult to get on an old car. It makes an antique car really stand out.”
It took Phillips two decades, but finally, his ‘39 Ford hot rod is exactly how he wants it – and the judges agree. In 2006, Phillips’ Ford was named the Editor’s Choice at the Shades of the Past hot rod show in Pigeon Forge. The car also took the coveted “Best in Show” award at the 2007 Southeastern Autorama and was featured on the Autorama’s T-shirts and brochures a couple of years ago.
While Phillips’ Ford has won several awards, his ‘57 Chevy, painted black and silver, can also stand up to the competition. Last year and again this year, the Chevy was named “Best in Show” at the Southeastern Autorama. Phillips’ classic Chevrolet also took first place in the “‘57 Modified Class’ at the Smokey Mountain Classic Chevrolet Roundup.
“I just got it restored about a year ago,” Phillps said of the ‘57 Chevy. “A man named Tony White helped with the paint.”
While Phillips worked tirelessly to restore the Ford and the Chevy, he said his 1961 Corvette is an “old survivor” car, meaning it’s all original. The Corvette is Ermine White with a Jewel Blue interior. Purchased in 1981 from a Raleigh, N.C., attorney, Phillips said he enjoys entering the Corvette in smaller shows.
“The other cars are restored from the frame up, but this is an old survivor car,” Phillips said. “I take it to small shows and sometimes show it in Pigeon Forge.”
Phillips explained that he became interested in restoring cars in the 1960s when hot rods were at the height of their popularity.
“My brother Darryl and me, when we were growing up in the 1960s, the big thing was old hot rod cars,” Phillips said. “But we could never afford it. When Darryl got old enough to buy a nice car – a ’65 Corvette – that got us started. He bought it from Range Chevrolet, and it had 425 horsepower. It was a rare car – a red coupe.”
And a love for restoring cars goes hand in hand with car shows. Phillips and his wife, Martha – Miss Southeastern Autorama 1966 – have traveled to many car shows over the years. Phillips said car shows are an added bonus to restoring cars and allow the opportunity to meet new people and see a lot of great cars.
“It’s amazing,” Phillips said. “The good thing about car shows is the fellowship you have with people. It’s a good pastime, a good hobby.”
Phillips said that after many years of restoring cars and showing them, he is beginning to “fizzle out” from all the hard work that goes into the entire process. However, there are still a few things he’d like to accomplish.
“I have old cars sitting out here everywhere,” he said. “I’ve got a ‘65 Nova still sitting in the garage. Eventually, if the Lord lets me live long enough, I’ll get that one back on the road.”
He also hopes to teach his grandson, Austin Hughes, how to properly restore cars.