HIGHLAND — Like most classic car restorations, what was once a goal full of enthusiasm shortly was placed on the back burner and became a story of “I’ll get to it later.”
Twenty years ago, Gil Moen III purchased a 1957 Chevy Bel Air with the hope of one day restoring it to its former glory and later enjoying that car with his oldest son, Gil Moen IV. Last May, however, Gil Moen III received the news that no one wants to receive. He had been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer and was given only eight to twelve months to live.
His first thoughts after the diagnosis were, “what about my car, what about my dream?” It was soon after his diagnosis that friends Ryan Wendel and Dennis Palombo, who had just opened the doors to Phoenix Customs, their custom restoration and fabrication shop in Mapleton, decided to step in and make sure that his car was finished and drivable.
His main worry was what would become of the car after he passed. He worried about leaving such an enormous project with his wife, Melissa Moen, and their four children to deal with. That was the motivation to get the car finished so his family would have something to hold on to.
“I spoke to Dennis about helping finish Gil’s car,” Wendel said. “Dennis and I both have sons of our own and a love of old cars as Gil and his son share. We knew it would mean the world to not only Gil but “Little Gil” (Gil’s oldest son) to have this car done. Having just opened their new shop, they knew time spent on the build would have to take place after hours and on weekends. This led to many long nights and extra time in the shop all to finish this special car for their good friend.
Labor was provided mostly from Wendel and Palombo in the beginning, but with his health permitting, the father and son periodically went down to the shop to help where they could. When the car arrived, it was in primer with no paint, no interior and it did not run. One night, Palombo and two of his son’s, Lane and Tyler Palombo, Wendel, and a friend Tyson Fiedler got the car sanded down and ready for paint.
Moen III had originally planned on the car being painted satin black, as he wasn’t sure how the body would look with gloss black applied. After they finished the bodywork, Wendel decided the paint the Bel Air gloss black because of the quality work that Moen III had put in to the body. They went the extra mile to give the paint a deep shine by cutting and polishing to make the paint appear as good as it could.
After the painting was complete, two of Gil’s friends, Jim Bowlby and Brian Riding, went down to the shop to help get all the wiring in place as well as the final assembly. The team also took on the project of restoring and finishing the interior of the car and making sure it ran properly.
“It was truly an honor to have Gil in our shop,” Wendel said. “Despite his circumstances, he always brought a positive attitude, laughter and was always too excited to see his car and his dream come true.”
What was truly amazing was most labor and materials used were donated by people involved with the build. The team even spoke to their paint supplier who generously donated all the paint and materials for the car.
The Bel Air was finished the first week of December 2018, where Moen III was able to finally see his dream realized and take his prized car out for a drive with his son Moen IV.
Melissa Moen was especially grateful for the kindness shown by friends and family who all worked to get the project done. “It is beautiful, and those friends are angels,” she said. “Sadly, Gil is down to his final weeks. It is heartbreaking to witness. Moen IV is 16 and has spent his entire life in our garage helping his dad, but the car is absolutely stunning and will be a treasured legacy.”
The family plans to hold on to the car after Gil Moen III passes, where it will be kept safe and in pristine condition in an offsite storage facility. The car will serve as a reminder of the life that Gil Moen III lived and will forever be known as “Gil’s Bel Air.”