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Quest for Perfection
“I have been a car nut since I went to high school in Brookings, SD over 50 years ago,” says Ennis Lund, co-owner (along with his wife, Nancy) of Cliff Avenue Upholstery & Restoration. “We didn’t have very much growing up. It seemed like everybody else was driving nice cars and I walked to school. I said to myself that someday I would have a ’57 Chevy.” An admirable goal for any car enthusiast, but Ennis didn’t just achieve that goal, he exceeded it.
Ennis often speaks of having lived two lives. His first life started early on getting married at 19 and having two daughters, Debbie and Kristi. His second life started in 1992 when he married Nancy and two years later had his first and only son, Adam at age 51. Ennis graduated from high school in 1961 and Nancy was born in 1961, I guess you could say Ennis “robbed the cradle!” Ennis sold insurance for 35 years and the insurance business was very good to him financially. A taskmaster for precise details, Ennis has a reputation as a perfectionist, in everything that he does. One common thread through both his lives was that he had a passion for rebuilding performance cars. Starting in 1967, Ennis raced big block Chevys at Thunder Valley when it opened. He and his cars were known as “Ennis’s Menace”.
Early on Ennis was restoring cars in a garage that he rented from Arnold Murray. Arnold was a character, a chain-smoker and a great joke teller. His ashtray was overflowing onto the floor every time Ennis saw him. It seemed he was always trading cars. So much so that Ennis believed that when the ashtray got full, Arnold thought it was time to trade the car in! This garage was where he restored his first car, a ’57 Pontiac 2-Dr. Sedan. Ennis actually took first place with this car at the National Pontiac Car Show in Dayton, Ohio in 1989.
In 1989, Ennis and Nancy purchased the old fire station building at 26th and Cliff from the city. This was home to his insurance business office but now he had room to restore his own cars in the fire truck area. Through the years, Ennis could not do all the restoration work by himself, so he would go outside his shop and hire others to complete different aspects of his restorations. Ennis was never satisfied with the quality of the work he received. As a result, Ennis learned to do most everything when it came to restoring cars. In 1992, Ennis and Nancy were running out of room and built a storage building behind the fire station. With an eye on further expansion, they also own the vacant water tower lot south of the fire station. Ennis’s collection of cars and parts just kept growing and the need for more space grew as well. Ennis has collected NOS (new old stock) parts for all these years... enough to fill an entire second floor. According to Ennis, “These parts come in mighty handy when restoring a car. Reproduction parts never fit the same as NOS parts, so we only use reproduction when there are no NOS parts to be found anymore.”
Ennis may be a detailed person, but he met his match when he met Bill LaPay, from Cleveland, Ohio, at a car show in Downingtown, Pennsylvania. All show attendees were raving about this ’56 Pontiac convertible. It was pink with a white top. Ennis spent two days studying that car and eventually met Bill and asked him, “How do you build cars that look like that?” Bill was a very humble man who worked for Clyde Horst from Paradise, PA. Ennis recalls, “Clyde Horst graduated from high school in 1956 and reminded me of myself; didn’t have much, but dreamt of having more. Clyde vowed to have every single 1956 American-made convertible there was. He eventually achieved this dream and Bill restored every one of them and they were all “best of show” winners. Bill allowed me to come to see his shop in Cleveland. He picked me up at the airport in an old pickup. It rode so rough that I was not sure it would get us there. The shop was located in the bad area of Cleveland and was not at all what I had expected on the outside. However, once inside the shop I could see what made his cars so special. Every single piece on every single car being restored was detailed out, each looking like a Rembrandt, all stored on shelves designated for each specific car. I studied each piece and marveled at the detail of each piece. Now I had the mentality to go home and build my cars to match his. I credit my time spent with Bill as to why my cars out shine the rest.”
Lund has restored many, many vehicles over the years. Each one of them has their own story. Ennis’s buddies asked him why he spent so much time and money restoring his show winning ’57 Pontiac 2-Dr. Sedan. They said he should have found a ’57 fuel-injected Bonneville and spent the money on restoring that. Ennis really didn’t care what they said, but replied jokingly, “If I could find a little old lady car that had never been crashed or messed with, I would buy it.” They all laughed, because among the car guys, they all knew that this rarely happened. About six months later a man by the name of John Fitzgerald, an attorney from Florida, called Ennis and said, “I saw your 2-dr. sedan at the show and it was very nice, but I have a much more desirable car for you to buy and restore.” This car was a ’57 Pontiac Bonneville Convertible located in Manchester, Tennessee. The current owner had purchased it from the original owner. The car had mechanical problems and did not run. Now Ennis’s interest was peaked, after hearing about this Bonneville from the guys at the show. What Ennis had learned about these Bonnevilles is that they only made 630 of them in 1957. They were all fuel-injected and were white with either red or blue trim. There were also 10 off-colored ones with some special options. This car that John had found was #419. Now, John was a business man and when Ennis asked him where it was, John said he needed $1000 to tell him. “We worked out a deal that I’d give him $500 now and the other $500 after I went and saw the car,” recalls Ennis. John agreed and off to Tennessee Ennis went. He flew to Nashville, rented a car, and drove through the Smokey Mountains. The car was sitting under a carport next to the house. This very large man came out of the house, just what you would expect to see, a real live hillbilly. “I was alone out in the middle of the Smokey Mountains with this hillbilly hick,” says Ennis with a smile. “He was standing next to me the entire time I was looking over the car and he kind of intimidated me,” recalls Ennis. (Do you remember the movie “Deliverance?) “I had done my research concerning this car and after looking it over, I determined it was in excellent shape and I wanted to buy it. The one problem with these cars was the fuel injection on them. Usually they would get all jelled up inside and not run, so many people removed the fuel injection parts and threw them away, but this car seemed to have everything. I knew I had to have this car. I had $7,000 cash with me and we had not talked any numbers yet. The man said he needed $50,000 and I countered with $28,000. He asked me if I needed a bobbypin to clean out my ears, the price I said was $50,000. Well, we settled on $35,000. I gave him the $7,000 and said I’d be back in a couple weeks to get the car. He started calling me right away and said you better get back here and get this car; I have other people looking at the car and they are willing to pay more. I went to Orrin Anderson, my banker, at First National and told him I needed a loan for the balance. I remember him asking in amazement, “You are paying how much for what?” I explained to him the value of the car and he gave me a check and off to Manchester Nancy and I went. When we arrived at the hillbilly house, he was confused on what a cashier’s check was. He asked, ‘Do I have to go back to South Dakota to cash this thing?’ All I wanted was to get this car loaded and get out of there before he changed his mind! Nancy entertained him while I loaded it and before he even knew it, the car was loaded and I was asking him to go into the house and get that piece of paper that needed to be signed. We got the title signed and off we went driving the long winding roads, covered in beautiful green vines everywhere, with our new ‘57 Bonneville Convertible on the trailer. That night we stopped in Memphis to visit Graceland and we stayed at Heartbreak Hotel. (I was always an Elvis fan and Nancy became one that night after hearing Elvis hits played 24 hours a day at Graceland.) I didn’t sleep much that night because the car was on an open trailer. We were looking out the window all night making sure the Bonneville was OK.”
After returning home, Ennis pondered on what to do with the Bonneville. It was a very nice original, but being the fanatic he was on detail and perfection, Ennis spent 10 years restoring it. Ennis truly feels that his Bonneville was the best in the country. “We kept the Bonneville until 2004 when we fell on some hard financial times and needed to sell it. It was sold to Madeline & Michael Johnson from Elko, Nevada. We had sent numerous photos and much documentation to the couple. They were very impressed and sent us a check for half payment without ever seeing the actual car. We met them at Little America, Wyoming with the Bonneville in our enclosed trailer. We were apprehensive that maybe they would not think it was as great as we did, but as soon as they saw the car backing out of the trailer, we had the other half payment in our hands. They absolutely loved it! We learned that they later received three perfect scores (400) at three national car shows with the Bonneville. We were proud.”
A few years back, the National Pontiac show was in Spearfish. “We were surprised that the little town of Spearfish was going to host this event. We called the Johnsons and asked if they would be willing to bring the Bonneville to Spearfish. They told us that they had sold the car to a museum in South Carolina for double what they paid us for it. We tried to get the museum to bring it, but it never made it to the show. We were thinking at this point that this national car show in Spearfish was probably going to be a dud, but we went anyway and brought all of our NOS parts and setup a booth to sell them. This is where we met “Pontiac” Jack Steele, of Wolsey, SD for the first time. We brought along photos of the 1962 Super Duty that I had found down the street in a little one-stall garage. Jack started looking at the pictures and he got immediately hooked on this special Super Duty. So Spearfish was not a bust, but a blessing for us. We met a great man, sold our ’62 Super Duty to the great man with a beautiful Pontiac collection and we have Jack as a great customer to this day. Sometimes this world seems quite small, but we know that Jesus had his hand in this new acquired relationship with Jack Steele.”
Another story Ennis likes to tell is the one about Bucky Schrader’s ’59 Bel Air. Bucky was 18 years old when he traveled to Larchwood to look at a ’59 Bel Air. Dick Hanson was the sales person (Dick drove the Hairbender at Thunder Valley). Dick had ordered this special car (RPO-576-335HP) because Dick understood performance, even in 1958 when the rest of us did not. At the time most 348’s were only putting out 250-280HP. Bucky didn’t know at the time just how special this car really was with all of its’ horse power. Bucky was taking it for a test drive with his Mom and Dad. His mom was in the back seat when Bucky got on it and all you could see was his Mom’s feet straight up in the air as she was thrown back in the seat from the power!
Years later, Ennis was at a Schulte car show and happened to run into Bucky with his ’59 Bel Air. Bucky was showing it off to Ennis, when Ennis noticed that it was missing the correct big black air cleaner. Ennis happened to have one and didn’t need it because he did not have a ’59 Bel Air. Since Bucky’s birthday was coming up, Ennis decided to give it to him as an early birthday present. Bucky was a very happy man! Years later, he called Ennis and told him he wanted Ennis to buy his Bel Air. Bucky told Ennis that he was the only guy he knew that could bring it back to its former glory. Ennis told Bucky, “You don’t really want to sell it, call me in 30 days if you’re still serious, you’re just having a bad day.” Bucky called back in 30 days and they did the deal. Ennis and Nancy drove to Bucky’s house. Nancy had just purchased a new car so they were out enjoying it. When they got there, Bucky’s daughter was so upset about her dad’s decision to sell the car, that when she left the house and got in her car, she put it into gear and backed-up right into Nancy’s new car. Ennis and Nancy left that day with Ennis happily driving his ’59 Bel Air, Bucky crying as they drove away, and Nancy crying because her car was crashed! Over many years, Ennis restored the Bel Air back to its original state using all NOS parts. Just recently it was back out in the public’s eye at Winterfest! Tyler Murray, who is Bucky’s grandson, now works for Ennis and Nancy at the body shop. Tyler went to WYO Tech for upholstery, but he is now learning all the aspects of restoring cars, becoming their sixth full-time employee.
“It has taken us a number of years to find the six employees that we have right now,” says Ennis with a smile of a proud father. Jerry Erickson started with them day one as their upholstery manager. Ennis had used Jerry for many years to do his upholstery work in the cars he restored. Jerry is the most dependable and hard working employee any employer could hope for. Nancy has a special place in her heart for Jerry. “He has been through all the hard times and good times for 10+ years and he never changes,” says Nancy. Tyler Berens also works at the upholstery shop in town. He started out at the body shop but after losing an employee in town they decided to move him to the upholstery side. “It was one of the best moves we every made,” says Nancy. “We admire Tyler for his Christian attitude everyday. That’s rare to find in a young man today.” Tyler was also a WYO Tech student, studying bodywork, upholstery and business. In 2002, Ennis and Nancy were told by the Fire Department Chief that they could no longer paint cars at the fire station location because it was not up to code. This pushed them to find a body shop. “This was scary as we had only been in business for two years,” recalls Nancy. They found a perfect shop in Tea that came up for sale. It was owned by Bob Schriever’s son. His son passed away and so Bob had it up for sale. They purchased it from Bob and Barb Schriever, and now had to work harder than ever to pay for it. One of the first cars they did in the new shop was a ’60 Jaguar convertible, owned by Dr. David Witzke. “It was a basket case,” says Ennis. “I knew I needed help to finish this one on time. Now not only did we have a new building, but we needed more employees.” Ennis contacted the VoTech School and said he wanted their best student. The school sent them Aaron Mosterd. He impressed Ennis right away with his abilities and personality and they hired him as their main body and paint man. “What a blessing Aaron has been to us for 8+ years. Aaron is my right and left hand both. There is nothing he cannot do when it comes to restoring cars. Many other employees have come and gone because they did not pass our high expectations.”
Jesse Ratajczak came on board in 2004. He went to school at Ridgewater Tech in Willmar, Minnesota. “Jesse’s painting abilities are exceptional and he is very detailed, maybe even more so than me in some aspects,” says Ennis. Their latest employee is Brett Anderson. Brett went to Southeast Tech for Automotive Technology and joined them part-time in 2009 while going to school. He became a full-time employee in 2010 after graduating. “Brett comes from the same make-up as Aaron, which is good because Brett is engaged to Aaron’s sister. We are also very blessed to have Brett on our team. Building our team slowly but surely has worked well for us. We have been in business for 10+ years and we continue to grow. In 2008, we built a second body shop out on the Tea property. When the weather is nice, you will see our cars displayed out front on the display pad. Having four buildings to heat in the winter is quite a job, especially in South Dakota winters, but it is a nice problem to have!
Cliff Avenue Upholstery & Restoration has everything it takes to build you the best car out there. “There is so much more than meets the eye when it comes to restoring a car,” says Ennis. “It is labor intensive and takes months, even years in some cases to do a complete frameoff restoration. You have to have the stamina it takes to keep going on these cars month after month and not get burned out. The ’60 Jaguar for Dr. Witzke was one that tested us, but this is the car that everyone loves and takes a second look at when displayed at the car shows. There is also a tremendous difference between a good restoration and a bad restoration. A good restoration will last forever, if stored properly of course, and a bad restoration will start having problems within a few months. Paint will start to go bad because the body was not properly prepared or the rust was not taken totally out. Under the hood can also start to deteriorate if not done properly. We have had cars come to us that were supposedly completely restored recently (paid thousands of dollars for this restored car). One in particular, once we started investigating, we found rust that had been covered up with Bondo and window screen. We ended up repainting the whole car again; needless to say the customer was very upset and had every right to be. One example of our enduring work is the 1961 Pontiac Catalina that was restored 10 years ago, but looks as fresh as it did on day one. I mentioned that storage is very important, we store this ’61 Pontiac for the owners Jim & Mavis Beskow, from Watertown. They love their car and want it to stay in mint condition.”
“There are times when we need extra specialty work done on our restorations and we only go to people that we can depend on. For our machine work we go to Jerry Ross and his guys, Kevin Flowers and Josh Luke, at J&L Premier Automotive. We can’t say enough about Jerry and his crew. If we need transmission work done, the place is Jay Egge Automotive Services. Todd Egge is a great guy who we trust when it comes to transmission work. Specialty Cars is another business that we entrust our cars to. Tuning expert, Stan Beach, is always there when we need him. When there is a need for electrical work, the guys at Van’s Electric and Koppien Automotive are the best. Driveline Inc. takes care of all our driveshaft needs and flushing out all those old radiators is a job we give to G&H Radiator. There are many other businesses out there that have helped us through the years, taking care of our parts and supply needs, and we thank each and every one of them. Most importantly we owe a great deal of gratitude to our past, present and future customers, for without them we would not be here.”
“We are always looking for more jobs to do. We even do some collision work and will try to match anyone’s quote, we’ll finish jobs that someone else has started, and no job is too small or too big. Call us and we will take care of your project. If you can dream it, we can do it! After 10+ years, we have finally launched a new website, please go to www.cliffave.com and check it out.”
Ennis and Nancy both know their success has been given to them by their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. They both attend BSF bible study each week. Ennis and Nancy agree, “When we try to run our own lives, things get all messed up. Trusting each day in our Lord makes for a better business and personal life. Because of Jesus we do a much better job raising our son, Adam.” Adam and Ennis have a great relationship because of this. Adam is by Ennis’s side helping with the restoration business and keeping his dad on track each day. They both have a special love for music, so their iPods are filled with music from the 50’s to the present and they enjoy listening to them as they work out at the Avera Fitness Center together. Ennis and Adam restored a 1963 GMC pickup together that they are quite proud of.
“We have had the opportunity to do so many cars, it is unbelievable. We are dedicated to every one of our jobs. I really care about the customer and their car. My customer service outlook was learned while at BSF. There I learned the most important commandment was to love God above all, but also love your fellow man like yourself. I am commanded by God to take care of others like I take care of myself. This can get difficult in business; because business is suppose to make a profit.” Gauging from the smiles on his customer’s faces when they see their restored cars, Ennis has met that goal he set for himself.