Airman uses passion to restore 'survivor' car

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Rachel Loftis
  • 99th Air Base Wing Public Afafirs
In 1971 "Fury" was born. She had a smooth fuselage body painted in Spanish gold with four headlights, a horizontal grille and two doors. She came equipped with a nylon/foam seat and carpet, a clock, and concealed wipers.

Her first owner was named Bill Bolton, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II from 1942 to 1945. He was wounded at Tarawa in November 1943 and was awarded a Purple Heart in December 1943 at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Hawaii. Bolton passed away and his family had no idea what to do withFury, so they sold it.

The second owner was a man named George Stone, who was a Navy Signalman who served on the USS Yorktown and did a tour in Vietnam from 1966 to 1968. When Stone purchased Fury she had been sitting for two decades untouched by human hands in the desert. He worked on it as he was able and successfully
brought her back to life.

Ultimately Stone, who lived in Cottonwood, Arizona, sold Fury, but because Fury was an all-original "survivor" car he mwanted it to go to a good home. He posted her for sale on the internet and Airman 1st Class Thomas Kelly, 99th Comptroller Squadron customer service technician, inquired about it.

"I found the car online, gave him a call and had a really good conversation about it for probably an hour or so," said Kelly. "I convinced a buddy of mine that a road trip was inorder and we went to see the car the following Saturday morning.

"After a successful test-drive and giving the car a decent once-over, I told George I'd like to buy the car, and we'd be back to get it after I had made pickup arrangements. He said that wouldn't be a problem at all, so we headed back to Vegas, with me the new owner of an old car."

Kelly, a Portland, Oregon native grew up fixing and tinkering with anything from 1940s radio equipment to teletype machines to older Chrysler cars.

"My first real car was a 1970 Plymouth Fury I and it was a former Alaskastate Highway Patrol car." said Kelly. "It was a wonderful old monster -- fourdoor version, so even more massive than the one I have now -- that I pretty much grew up in.

"The thing would pass anything but a gas station. It had a massive engine in it, and it was just a lot of fun. I can still remember idling through the parking lots at the local grocery store and setting off car alarms due to the extremely loud dual exhaust. "

According to Kelly, he plans on restoring Fury as he is able.

"It will be something of a work-inprogress, but that is fine with me," said Kelly. "I plan to restore the interior in due time, the paint and everything as well. Given my experiences with the year-prior version of this car, I have a lot of sentimental attachment to the old Plymouth Furies. They might seem ridiculous by automobile standards of today by their cantankerous size, but this one is an everlasting symbol of back when Detroit-made products ruled the road."

Kelly stated he often gets a hand in the repairs from his friend Airman 1st Class Sean Donohue, a 99th Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle maintainer.

"Working on old cars is like making a piece of history come back to life. It's so much fun," said Donohue. "When we start working on a project Tom goes through several stages. First he is like a kid in a candy shop just so excited to start on something new.

"As we move along with the refurbishment he gets into a zone that all of us gear heads know all too well. We'll get to the point where the job we're working on just falls into place one piece at a time and we don't want to stop because we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Then we realize the day is already over and we need food and rest."

Kelly stated that he plans to keep Fury for a very long time. He said he has no set timeline on when it will be fully restored because chances are when he does restore it, he will continue to tinker with things on it, just because that's what he likes to do.

"For me working on cars is a chance to get down-to-earth, to spend some quality time working with your hands," Kelly said. "It's a chance to be outdoors, and work on something that you truly enjoy. Besides, what other kind of vehicle could you leave in the Arizona desert for more than 40 years, 20 of which it sat unattended, and with a minimum amount of parts and work, bring it back to life and be able to drive it on a daily basis?"

Kelly added that for him, working on older cars is a chance to preserve an otherwise lost piece of American history.

"Working on older Mopars is, and has always been a great hobby and interest of mine. I truly enjoy bringing these older machines back on the road; it's a chance to give something a new breath of life really," said Kelly. "Most people nowadays wouldn't care for a vehicle that weighs over 4,000 pounds and gets terrible fuel economy, but that's ok with me. I like knowing that with a little bit of care and feeding, I can help keep a behemoth that was made back during the days of disco, on the road."