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Car designer builds vintage Indy Cars from scratch

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press

Saturday, February 06, 2016 12:00 AM

Walk into the garage of Babineau’s Metalworks LLC in Auburn and you will feel like you have stepped back in time. He builds vintage IndyCars from the ground up, part by part.

Owner Gary Babineau, 57, doesn’t do it to get rich. It takes approximately a year to build one car. He does it because he loves the old race cars from the ’50s and ’60s. Building each one as authentically as he can is a commitment of time and effort, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I’m stuck in that generation,” Babineau said. “They had the best music then, too.”

By the way, Babineau is also a bass player and, until recently, played with a band regularly.

“I worked in industry all my life, and I always built cars as a hobby,” Babineau said.

His first love was for hot rods. The first car he built was a hot rod T-bucket. But he got tired of the “checkbook” hot-rodders, who didn’t build their own cars, so he switched to Indy cars. What he does involves engineering, fabrication and design. His mentor was A.J. Watson, who won at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway seven times as chief mechanic and built 23 of his own cars.

Babineau spent the first 20-some years of his working life employed as a machinist for companies on the East Coast. Working his way up the ladder, he eventually traveled the world training staff at the various companies who used the machines his company built. “I could make anything and everything,” Babineau said.

“I got tired of all the travel and decided to stay home and build cars,” Babineau said.

At age 40, he switched his career to building vintage Indy cars. He initially moved to Indianapolis to be close to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the historical museum. After coming to the Kruse Auction in 2002, he moved up to Auburn in 2003, liking the feel of the small town.

The cars he builds have no blueprints. Instead, he researches old photos at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum for whichever car he is building. The museum has a large archive of photos that show cars not only on the track but being worked on in the garages with their “skins” off. By studying these photos, Babineau recreates the car as accurately as possible. His customers come from all over the country.

“But I am semi-retired, so I only build one or two cars a year at the most. I try not to stay that busy,” Babineau said.

Whatever part he can’t find through eBay or on the Internet, he builds. He has the machines and experience to do it. The only things he doesn’t do is the painting, upholstery and chroming; those specialties he sends out.

The results speak for themselves. He has been able to sell his cars at some of the top auctions. Occasionally, he will haul a car he has built up to the Milwaukee IndyFest in the summer, and it doesn’t take long for word of mouth to bring a buyer to his trailer. On a recent Wednesday, he was working on a “spec” car. With bent and pounded skins resting to one side, the bare bones of the racer’s frame were revealed.

Babineau was working on brake parts. One was being machined by a mammoth robotic machine in one corner of his large garage. Having the knowledge and ability to build his own parts, Babineau said, is what separates him from the average guy who wants to build his own car. He has had people ask him to make parts for them, but he said that’s not what he does. His car prices start at $65,000 to $100,000.

One of his cars was even featured on the Velocity channel. He had built it for Brock Yates, longtime executive editor of Car and Driver, an American automotive magazine. It was a Novi V-8 Indy car replica. In all, Babineau has done 18 Indy cars.

“My goal is to do as many as A.J. (Foyt) did, and he did 23,” Babineau said.

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