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Man moves from advertising career to car restoration

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- When Tony Beam lost his job to a corporate takeover in 2002, it ended a once-promising 19-year career in advertising.

But where others would see a problem, the Edmond resident found an opportunity to devote more time to his real love -- the restoration of classic cars.

"After being with that company for four or five years and being very successful at it, it was over," Beam said. "But I was building cars for myself while I had the job."

Beam who specializes in Ford Mustangs, turned his attention to full-time automotive work and established a small business.

"It just seemed like a natural transition to me," he said.

In May, Beam opened Excalibur Professional Paint and Body Repair, a west Oklahoma City shop that will soon double in size with the recent acquisition of an adjacent building.

Part of his business will deal with the exporting of American-made muscle cars to Australia.

"They just have a love affair with the American Mustang," he said.

The popularity of the Mustang in Australia is fueled partially by a recent law in that country which allows any American car at least 30 years old to be imported without having to undergo the expensive process of converting the steering wheel to the right side of the car," Beam said. Australians drive on the left side of the road, unlike in the United States where motorists drive on the right side.

Beam became known to Australians after he built an "Eleanor" replica from the 2000 movie, "Gone in 60 Seconds." His replica of the 1967 Shelby Cobra Mustang GT 500 took six months to construct from fiberglass parts bought through Cinema Vehicles of Hollywood. The car's sale for $51,000 in 2002 in Las Vegas was covered in "Mustang & Fords" magazine, which Australian collector and dealer David Gale used to track Beam down.

Gale became Beam's contact, finding customers in Australia and relaying their orders and price negotiations to Beam. Gale's commission money then goes toward Mustangs for his family's collection.

Beam already has restored and sold two Mustangs to Australian customers, and is preparing three more for shipment. One of these is another Eleanor, which will sell for $80,000. It probably will be completed next month, he said.

"They are quite a difficult car to build," he said. "It's not just a kit that you bolt on. Every piece of fiberglass on that car has to be reformed and reshaped to fit the specific car."

Oklahoma Mustang Club President Billy D. Henson of Mustang said the enduring popularity of the early Mustangs and their Shelby offshoots is rooted in their style.

"The look never goes away," Henson said. "Forty years later, they still look good."

As the car hits its 40th anniversary this year, Mustangs in general are hotter than ever, Henson said.

"Both the (Chevrolet) Camaro and the (Pontiac) Firebird are no longer being made," he said. "That was their direct competition, and we are the only car left in that category that's being made, that's American-made."

The "Eleanor" is an example of Carroll Shelby's modified 1960s Mustang Fastbacks, which have spawned a series of official reproductions.

Beam said his customized cars differ from Shelby's Texas-based "continuation car" franchise in that they are tailored to the specific needs of his customers.

"If I have a customer that calls me and wants me to put $10,000 worth of suspension components in his car, I'll do it," he said.

The shop's range of services also extends to ground-up restorations, making use of a car's original parts, he said.

Beam said he grew up envying friends who could afford the classic muscle cars.

"Now those friends are envying me," he said.

"The satisfaction I get is from taking a piece of automotive history that's destined for destruction, and bring it back.
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