By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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Car shop owner Paul Camper's 17-year-old business focuses on restoring high-performance classic cars to modern-day standards.
Saars, a 27,000-square-foot discount-foods chain store that closed in mid-2011, sat vacant at 2343 E. Highway 101 just east of the Port Angeles city limit until three months ago, when Camper and friends began renovating the structure.
The 38-year-old Port Angeles resident recently moved from his 5,000-square-foot digs at U.S. Highway 101 and Airport Road to 25,000 square feet of space in the former Marketplace.
Those donating time and effort included Port Angeles residents Don Love, who moved the equipment and did the excavation; Skeet Clevenger, who is helping in all phases of construction, and Paul Washke, who did the framing and has been Camper's buddy for many years.
These guys do stuff for each other.
They also drag race together, Camper said.
“Everyone we raced with has come in and kind of just helped us out,” he said.
“We built their cars and helped get them going, and they come in and help us build the facility.
“It's definitely been a blessing.”
Camper built two race cars for Washke.
“I didn't charge for that,” said Camper, whose wife, Chari, is a postal service carrier.
The framing in the building, which has a 28-foot-high ceiling, is still exposed, waiting for walls.
Give Camper three more months, and Ancient Auto will be fully built and will eventually have up to 10 employees, he said.
“It's gonna be a lot of fun,” he said.
“Now, it's a lot of mess,” Camper said.
Shop dog Diesel, Camper's St. Bernard-black Labrador mix, sauntered in tow, while human activity was in high gear during a walk-through last week with a somewhat bewildered but confident Camper, whose 750-800-horsepower Chevy Camaro dragster sat croiuching in a corner.
About a half-dozen workers, including Port Angeles residents Zech Rambow and Manny Price, toiled on some of the more than one dozen cars housed there.
The odor of metal and car paint hung in the air.
The vehicles were in various stages of resurrection, some shrouded in plastic, others empty of innards under their hoods.
Cars populating the space included a 1925 Buick Master, a 1959 Ford 300 dragster, a 1965 Chevrolet Impala, a 1967 Pontiac GTO, and a 1969 Mustang Mach 1.
A showroom will include two cars, Camper said.
Antique Auto Works does work for car-owners who attend North Olympic Peninsula car shows, including members of the Sequim Valley Car Club.
“We've done 50 or 60 cars for that club alone,” Camper said.
The restaurant that will be run by Priscilla Eastman, the wife of Antique Auto Works employee Paul Eastman, is just a skeleton of its future self.
Hot rods will be the defining feature at the Cruise In Cafe, Paul Eastman said inside a framed enclosure on the east end of the building.
When finished, the eatery will be part of a 2,200-square-foot restaurant that will open at 5 a.m. and serve breakfast and lunch.
“It will be a working-man type restaurant,” Eastman said, ticking off planned menu items, including double-cut bacon.
The restaurant will be separated from Ancient Auto by two, one-hour fire walls and a storage facility.
The building was already fully sprinkled for fire suppression when Camper leased it from Saar Properties of Oak Harbor, said project engineer Gene Unger of Port Angeles.
“That's what makes a restaurant and car business get along, because the entire building in sprinkled,” said Unger, who also donated time to the project.
Changing from a grocery store to a combination auto-restoration-business-restaurant requires a change-of-use permit.
Unger said he will submit the application to the Clallam County Department of Community Development the first part of January.
The permit “is just a procedure they go through,” DCD Director Sheila Roark Miller said.
“It's just a matter of paperwork and plans and showing how they are going to meet codes.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.