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News createt: 29-10-2010

Elvis' Gift A Trans-Am

Bookmark and ShareIt was two years ago at a classic auto-parts trade show in Las Vegas that Jim Barber was approached by a father and son interested in restoring a 1977 Pontiac Trans Am. He could tell by the conversation that the men had researched both his company — Classic Automotive Restoration Specialists in Belews Creek — and what their car needed. “They were insistent that I look at the car right away. I went with them, and a limo pulled around to take us to the car,” Barber said. In the garage, Jason Awad — a Las Vegas lawyer — showed Barber a dingy, white second-generation Trans Am with damaged red seats and 82,000 miles on the odometer. The hood would not open, and the faulty brakes made the car unable to drive. The power window on the driver’s side would not close. Barber knows from his line of work that every car has a story. He was wondering what it was with this one. Awad told him to look at the dash again. So Barber ducked under the drooping headliner and started checking from left to right. He paused when he saw a brass plaque inserted into the red dash. “Presented to my friend, Jason. Elvis. Oct. 1976.’’ “And then I got what was so special about this car,” Barber said. ‘Dear friend’ Awad had come to the United States from Israel for an education, and was working as a medical technician in a Las Vegas hospital. He also administered inhalation treatments for celebrities between their shows. “They would get what is known as ‘the Vegas throat’ after their 6:30 shows and would need inhalation treatments before the 8 show,” Awad said in a telephone interview. “I got to know many celebrities, but Elvis became a dear friend.” The men were so close that Elvis would have Awad meet him at the airport. Awad said Elvis would slip into his Datsun 240Z even though the car had dings and headlights that didn’t line up correctly. Awad thinks his famous friend liked being with him because he felt anonymous. Elvis even on occasion stayed with Awad and his cousin, a Las Vegas doctor. One night in October 1976, Elvis asked Awad for car advice. “He said to me, ‘Jace, I need to buy a car for a friend.’ I told him to describe his friend to me. He said, ‘He’s a nice young man who likes to have a good time.’” Awad recommended the new Pontiac Trans Am, a car known for muscle and speed. He said that Elvis picked up a phone and called the Pat Clark Pontiac dealership, even though it was 2 a.m. “The phone rang and rang until a cleaning person picked up the phone and said, ‘You know we’re closed.… He couldn’t believe it was really Elvis so he invited him over … to see. The guy came and saw it was true and called the sales manager. Elvis told the sales manager he wanted the newest Trans Am right away,” Awad said. The sales manager hesitated because he was not allowed to sell the 1977 model yet. Elvis persuaded him to sell the car off the showroom floor. Awad said they drove away in the new car and stopped at a gas station to fill up. “The attendant saw who was driving the car and gas spilled all over the new car. Elvis gave him $100, and we drove to Palm Springs. We were flying. There were no speed limits at the time, and then we came back. “When we got back, Elvis said, ‘Jace, you like it? It’s yours.’” Finding the right man Ten months after he presented the Trans Am to Awad, Elvis died, on Aug. 16, 1977. Not long after, Awad switched from his ambition of becoming a physician to becoming a lawyer. He drove his car to San Diego, where he attended law school. As he achieved success as a lawyer in Las Vegas, he kept the car in a garage. His son, Ryan, pushed him to have the car restored. They did some research to find the right person, which brought them to Barber. Barber had grown up in Pennsylvania spending hours with his father tinkering with cars as a hobby. He wound up as a salesman for Eaton, a company that makes automotive parts and components for commercial, regular and classic vehicles. In 1999, he decided to open his own business, first in Walnut Cove, and then moving into his current building, once a former indoor riding arena for Arabia horses. The car has been housed at Barber’s shop since January 2009, and every part — right down to every nut and bolt — painstakingly restored. Typical restoration jobs take 12 to 14 months, Barber said. This one went longer because Awad wanted everything kept as original as possible. Today, the Pontiac 400-cubic-inch engine with its four-barrel carburetor and 350 Turbo-hydramatic transmission gleam as if never driven. The AM stereo with its console-mounted eight-track player is the same as when Elvis first purchased the car. Barber’s team embellished the car with the outstretched wings of the giant Trans Am phoenix on the cameo white hood. The “desert cooling system,” vital for Las Vegas’ climate, is ready to return to the heat. Barber went so far as to track down the window sticker — it sold for $6,165.47 — from the now defunct Pat Clark Pontiac dealership. Barber talked with the son of Pat Clark, who told him that the story of Elvis buying the car was retold many times at the dealership. ‘The car is priceless’ Awad plans to give the car to “someone who understands,” and thinks it will end up going to the museum in the Las Vegas Hilton, where some of Elvis’ most famous shows were held. Car experts speculate that the car may be worth as much as $2 million. The restoration topped $100,000. To Awad, the car cannot be assigned a monetary value. This weekend, he’ll see it restored for the first time. “I get tears in my eyes when I think about that night and Elvis giving me that car. He was a Santa Claus for many people,’’ Awad said. “He was one of a kind, and I met them all. He was kind and genuine and didn’t say anything mean to anyone. A lot of people took advantage of him, but I never asked him for anything. “For me, this car is priceless. It may have been the last car he bought.”