Hammer On: Car enthusiast restores rusty wreckage, nearly doubling business each year

hammer1Adam Hammer started his classic car restoration business – Hammer and Dolly Automotive Restorations – four years ago with “a bench and a tool box.”

Not content to repair modern wheels, Hammer is dedicated to bringing life back to rusty wreckage like a ’55 Chevy Nomad station wagon, a ’53 Buick Skylark or a 1960 Alvis TD21, the first project his shop handled when it opened.

“The Alvis is a British car that we did for some people in Ohio,” recalled Hammer. “It had sat for years and took almost six months to complete. But they were very pleased and they’re still using it.”

Hammer’s love for classic cars and entrepreneurship goes back to when he was growing up in New Jersey.

“My first vehicle was a 1994 Ford Ranger pickup that needed some love,” he said. “I was 14 years old and I bought it with money I earned painting school classrooms. I worked hard, always kept busy. My parents taught me to work.”

After high school, Hammer’s love for cars took him to tiny McPherson College in central Kansas, some 50 miles north of Wichita.

How does a Jersey boy end up in rural Kansas?

“It’s the only school in the nation that offers a four-year degree in auto restoration,” explained Hammer. “Out of the 500 students, 100 of us were in the auto restoration program.”

While at McPherson, Hammer was chosen for the prestigious Leno Automotive Scholarship, funded by the popular comedian and car-lover. The $20,000 stipend covered a full year of tuition.

Still in college, Hammer began work on a 1966 Mustang that was in his family for generations. It had been his grandfather’s car and his father’s car. “When I got it, the engine didn’t run, it was full of rust and dents,” he said. “We kept the original black top, the interior and the glass.”

It took several years to complete, but the Sahara beige beauty now sits at Hammer and Dolly, looking as fresh as it did when it rolled off a Ford production line 50 years ago.

Following college, Hammer worked for a couple of general service auto shops, but always knew that he wanted to only work on classic cars and that he wanted to operate his own business.

“I saw there was a need for somebody with the skills to work on classic cars,” he said.

Business has grown impressively over the four years in operation. “It’s almost doubled each year,” noted Hammer. “We’re always busy. But money comes in and money goes out. It’s an ebb and flow. A lot of people think that the boss makes the most money, but that’s not true. The boss has the potential to make the most money. Being in business is like a roller coaster with the highest highs and the lowest lows.”

Hammer and Dolly operates in 4,500 square feet at 1701 Park Dr. in Traverse City. The shop is in a building owned by Mike and Dawn Fisher, who operate MFD Classic Motors. The Fishers formed MFD Classic Motors in 2010 to not only house their own collection of vintage road and race cars, but to allow others to store their prized automotive possessions in an environment that offers more than storage. The 35,000 square feet provides space for a race shop, storage, club room, the Grand Rapids Auto Gallery, and Hammer and Dolly.

“Adam’s range of knowledge is far-reaching this early in his career and he has attracted a large base of old and new clients due to this,” said Mike Fisher. “He has a very talented staff working within and they have a very bright future ahead. We look forward to a continued success story of ongoing growth.”

In addition to Hammer, there are four other automotive artisans at Hammer and Dolly:

• Jerry Choice is the lead mechanic with several years of experience as a certified mechanic. His passion is MOPAR.
• Dale Deneau is a body technician who has a desire for quality work.
• Jameson Henry is a quality-oriented body & paint technician. He likes to know about the client who owns the car.
• Lee Johnson is a part-timer who ran his own shop for years and was the go-to guy for classic cars in the region. “He’s a wealth of knowledge,” said Hammer.

Hammer estimates that 90 percent of their business comes from the five-county Grand Traverse region. But one of the shop’s current projects – a 1956 Chevy Nomad station wagon – is being done for a client who lives in Denver, Colo.

“It will be a complete restoration,” said Hammer. “When we got it, it had no engine, no drive train and lots of rust. Everything needs to be gone through. It was pulled from a barn.”

To learn more, visit hammeranddolly.com or call (231) 620-4893.