No Grease Allowed…and other rules of a Garage-Mahal

TRAVERSE CITY – Bill Lee is a dentist-not the most au currant profession that comes to mind-but still, he has loads of chrome-plated style. That's because Dr. Lee is also a car enthusiast. More specifically, a British car enthusiast, and he has the garage to prove it.

Hidden high on a wooded hill above Maple City, tucked safely inside a nondescript gray building, rest his four-wheeled works of art: a black 1965 Triumph TR4, a green 1967 Austin Healey 3000, and a black cherry 1962 limited edition Jaguar. A friend's tan and red MG TD from the 1950s is parked here too, for safekeeping.

"He's adamant that this MG doesn't leak oil," Lee laughs. "But just look underneath!" Bend a knee and a few quarter-sized drips are visible. Lee keeps his garage spotless- the clear coat on the enamel painted floor reflects the underside of each car.

He's what Randy Howard might call a "scotch and cigar" car collector-someone who has a true appreciation for the finer things, including classic cars.

Howard is president of Eyewood Design, Inc., a residential and commercial cabinet company with an office in Interlochen and a studio on Woodmere Ave. in Traverse City. "There's the person who designs their garage to be well-organized, the person who designs it to be functional for working on cars, and the scotch and cigar guy," he said. "A lot of people are a little bit of each."

Howard should know-he's got his own custom garage, with his collection of 12 motorcycles parked inside.

"Collecting, whether it's motorcycles or classic cars, is all about passion."

Eyewood Design is known for their work customizing existing garages and helping clients design their dream garage from the planning stages.

Custom garages can run from a few thousand dollars for storage units installed in an existing garage, to hundreds of thousands for a brand new building, individually designed. Some car enthusiasts can spend at least that on the cars themselves.

"For people who restore cars, the enjoyment is as much in the work as it is in the final product," said Howard. "They like bringing a car back to its original condition almost better than driving it when finished."

Lee has experienced the thrill of the drive and the pride of restoration. He and a friend, Donny Bettendorf, spent two winters rebuilding the suspension and the engine of his Triumph. The Austin Martin, on the other hand, was professionally restored. Whether you do the work yourself or just get to enjoy the results, the hobby is a joy, says Lee.

"You get away from work and stress as soon as you're behind the wheel," he said. "The biggest stress I get from cars is trying to decide which one to drive."

South of Traverse City and back on this side of the pond, American-made cars reign supreme inside Fred Bottomley's garage. Bottomley, who worked for The City of Traverse City for 18 years, then spent time at Elmbrook Golf Course and Eikenhout, now spends his days tinkering with any one of his classic Chevys.

There's the 1966 marina blue SS Impala that won Best of Show at the Detroit auto show in 2003, its white 1964 counterpart, a 1940 Chevy Coupe, his wife Dawn's 1981 Corvette, and the crown jewel, a rare 1957 Chevy four-door wagon. That, he said, is his spring project.

"You get behind the wheel of that baby, and it takes you back to when you were 18 or 19," he laughs. "Except that now, you have the money to be able to put them into perfect condition. Original, only better."

For Leland retiree Dan McDavid, cars are for both work and play.

"Growing up as a kid, I could name every new car on the road. The make, the model. That's how I ended up in the car business." McDavid retired in 2001 after 17 years with Ford and 16 years with Chrysler. He and his wife made their summer home in Leland their year-round home, and a new garage to match was necessitated after Dan's car collection grew and grew.

He has two Dodge Vipers, three Ferraris, two Maseraties, a 1946 MG TT and a 1980 450 SL Mercedes. They're all safely parked in his 3,600 square- foot log-style garage.

"The garage was a vision of mine after I got the second Viper. I wanted the garage to complement the house," he said. "If you look at it from the outside, it really looks just like the house."

For those whose blood runs with motor oil, Bill Lee suggests stopping by one of the TC Car Club's meetings on the first Tuesday of the month at the TC Elks Club.

"We all work so hard," Lee says. "These cars? They're the reward." BN