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Archive for Monday, February 4, 2008

Dampier collects muscle cars

February 4, 2008

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— A few miles down the road from the Palace of Auburn Hills, a different sort of muscle used to be produced.

They were called muscle cars of the '60s and '70s, pumped out by Pontiac or Chevrolet and adored by teenagers and automobile enthusiasts back in the day.

Growing up in the back woods of Mississippi, Erick Dampier fell in love with that genre of cars, not to mention other classics.

"I had a '64 Chevy truck when I was in the sixth grade," he said. "I was driving then. I still have that truck today. I'm doing a little restoration to it now."

Though he lost count listing all his vehicles, Dampier said he has three classics in his garage in Dallas. He has about five more at his other home in Mississippi. "That's all I can think of," he said.

Several of them have enough horsepower to be classified as hot rods, or certainly enough to get the local authorities' attention.

They're the muscle cars of a muscle player. And it's a popular hobby among NBA players.

"I like 'em," Dampier said. "A lot of people are getting into classic cars. They're not making them anymore, and the value of those cars is only going to go up."

In his Dallas stable are a '64 Impala Super Sport, a 1970 Chevelle SS and a '66 Pontiac GTO.

Back in Mississippi, he keeps the older cars - the antiques, if you will: a '55 Bel Air hardtop, a '55 convertible Bel Air, a '57 Bel Air, a '66 Impala and, of course, the '64 truck.

Dampier lists his favorite as the truck he had as a kid. It was green back then, although he's restoring the stepside truck now and hasn't decided what color to paint it.

Dampier doesn't do much of the hands-on work restoring his vintage vehicles. He has family and friends in Mississippi who do most of the engine, body and interior work.

But there was a time, before he became rich and famous in the NBA, when he did a lot of his own work on his pride and joy, that first green truck.

"I grew up in a small town, so everybody knew everybody," he said. "The population was probably 850, if that many. There wasn't a lot of trouble to get into. My dad worked on an oil rig. He was home for 14 days and worked for 14 days. He was a mechanic. Me and my older brother kind of picked it up from him. That's kind of how I learned."

Dampier isn't the only Maverick with a passion for classic cars. Trenton Hassell and Josh Howard each have a couple. And Jason Terry is a big fan of the products of the '60s and '70s.

"I got a '66 Chevy Impala that I call my Jet-mobile," he says.

While NBA players have oodles of money, restoring cars can still be an expensive hobby. But Dampier has found ways to shave the price. It all starts with finding the right car or truck.

"A lot of cars cost a lot of money," he said. "If you go buy a car and it needs a lot of restoration to it, that's where a lot of the money comes in. But if you find one with a good solid body that you don't have to do a lot to, you just give it a little care, and you can turn it into a project car.

"Living in Mississippi, you can find antique cars pretty much everywhere. People have them in their garage, and they don't even know what they have. Just stop by and see if they're interested in selling."

Most of his cars stay in the garage. They are an investment but also a passion for Dampier.

As for his everyday vehicle of choice, it's not nearly as glamorous: a 2007 Chevy Suburban.

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