Kevin Dittmar smiles as he puts the finishing touches on the body of a 1969 Mach I he completely restored for hobbyist Tim Clark of Tampa.
"I really like working with metal and making something with my hands," said Dittmar, a Kings Point resident who restores antiques, classic and vintage cars for a living. "I enjoy seeing the end result and the joy in my customers' faces."
Dittmar, 57, grew up working on cars. His father owned a body shop in Greenville, Ohio.
"We had a basement in our farmhouse my dad could drive a car into," he said. "I was 6 at the time, and I'd go down there and watch him work."
He got his first taste of work four years later sweeping floors and doing odd jobs for his father around the body shop. After graduating high school Dittmar was briefly employed at the shop full time, and then moved on to do body work for a couple of auto dealerships in Greenville.
He moved to Florida in 1980 and rebuilt totaled cars for Fat Cat Automotive for several years. By 1991 he had his own body shop and began building a reputation in the area for restorations and collision work. He lost the business in a divorce and started a new company called Premier Autobody six years ago.
Now he's focusing on what he loves most – restoring old cars, building street rods from scratch and doing custom paint and graphics.
Although the jobs can be challenging, Dittmar finds the work fascinating.
"There are an infinite number of possibilities in every job," he said. "And when you love what you do, it really isn't work."
Restorations normally cost anywhere from $10,000 to $40,000. But street rod builds can reach $250,000, depending on what the customer wants. Sometimes, as in Clark's case, owners simply want a rusted out shell of a car sanded, painted and restored to its original look. They then take possession of their vehicles and add the engine and interior.
Others, like Bobby Castro of Tampa, hire Dittmar to do a complete restoration from start to finish. Dittmar recently refurbished Castro's 1969 Camaro RS Z28, which included removing the engine and interior and replacing everything but its cowl-dash area. The car was shown at the NSRA Street Rod Nationals in August, where Castro was offered $80,000 for the car but turned it down, Dittmar said.
"Kevin's work is meticulous," Clark said. "I like how he hand-shapes metal and does work others just don't do anymore. He guarantees his jobs and is all about one thing – making the customer happy."
For more information, call (813) 340-3009 or visit www.premierrestorers.com.