Restoring history


LAVENA SAUNDERS, 86, stands with Darren Uptain, 17, in front of the Hudson Hornet she gave to him so that he could restore it and take her for a ride. Saunders remembers the day her father bought the car in 1951.

By Shannon Livick
Dolores Star Editor

When 17-year-old Darren Uptain first saw the 1951 Hudson Hornet, he saw a diamond in the rough.

It was dented, rusted and covered in dust. It hadn't been driven since 1961.

When Lavena Saunders, 86, the owner of the car learned of Uptain's love of cars, she knew that this senior at Dolores High School, who is also a distant relative, could get the car running again.

So she gave Uptain the car, with one condition: he had to take her for a ride.

“He's a good boy, He's hard working and he loves cars,” Saunders said.

Saunders gave the car to Uptain in April and earlier this month she saw it come up her driveway.

“It was a God's moment to see it come up my driveway,” Saunders said.

Saunders still remembers the day her father bought the car. It was top of the line. The Hudson Hornets at the time were unbeatable race cars and the car had everything, including a large clock in the dash and a retractable antenna. Saunders was 25 years old, her father was George Gardner. He came to Dolores in 1900, his father, also George Gardner, was the rural mail carrier on horseback.

When George bought the car, he purchased it from Patton Bros. in Cortez for $2,330. Unfortunately, George passed away the same year he purchased the car. Saunders said her mother drove it a bit after that and remembers taking one trip to Canada in the four-door car. The family stopped driving the car in 1961 and has kept it in storage since then.

It was up to Uptain to get it running again.

“It has great memories of my dad,” Saunders said. “It is terrible he didn't get to drive it more.”

For her first ride, Uptain took her to the Dairy Queen in Cortez for ice cream.

“My dad would be delighted I gave this to someone who appreciates it,” she said.

Uptain smiles when he thinks of that first drive with Saunders.

“It was a blast, she was telling everyone about it,” Uptain said.

Uptain had to rebuild the engine, but kept it its original color — gold. He also fixed a few dents and buffed the paint, but kept the original paint on the car — battleship gray. The car also has the original upholstery. He hand polished all the chrome, and there was a lot of chrome.

When asked what took the most time, rebuilding the engine or polishing the chrome, Uptain grinned, “Probably the chrome.”

The original engine had 43,000 miles on it, Uptain added, who rebuilt the engine inside a garage at his home outside Dolores.

“They didn't make very many of these cars,” he said.

To appreciate the car, you have to take it for a drive, Uptain says.

“Isn't it amazing how it drives,” he said. It rides smooth, as if on water.

And the engine isn't lacking in power.

“I barely have the pedal down,” he said as he pulled onto the highway.

This isn't the first car that Uptain has restored. His first project was a 1952 Ford pickup owned by his grandfather, who used to haul coal with it. The truck was in bad shape and Uptain did such a good job restoring it, that he has won numerous awards at car shows.

“It's great to bring back memories,” he said.

Uptain is an “A” student and he loves to farm. When he graduates he said he wants to continue farming and working on a degree in mechanics.

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