When your life revolves around cars, you tend to collect them along with other memorabilia. You’ll find that as these parts rest in your garage they tend to multiply and grow. Soon your garage is overflowing with cars and car parts. When you have a great passion for cars, collecting gets even more severe, like in the case of Dick Brandt.
Dick Brandt has been into cars since he was a young boy and his passion for them hasn’t stopped. You might recognize the name, as he was the owner of True Connections, a Chevelle restoration shop located in Riverside, CA. Ever since selling the business and retiring, he hasn’t slowed down. When we arrived at his house, we expected him to be plopped in front of the TV, or sitting on the porch drinking sweet tea. But for anybody that knows Dick Brandt, they know he’s not somebody that can just sit around idling. Lucky for us, he opened up his doors and showed us his lifetime of collecting cars, memorabilia, and other cool car items.
The Collection Begins
The story of Dick Brandt starts with a simple steering wheel that’s hanging up in his living room. “That steering wheel is off a Model-A pickup that my neighbor had. I worked my ass off on that steering wheel, putting coat after coat of black lacquer on it. I would sand it, then put on more lacquer,” started Brandt.
That neighbor started racing at Corona Raceway, but an unfortunate crash broke his back, which led to his early death in 1970. Dick sold the Roadster Pick-Up after his passing, but kept his steering wheel that was installed. “The steering wheel originally came from St. Louis, where I used to live. Some of my relatives had a bunch of Model-T’s and gave me that steering wheel,” continued Brandt. Whenever somebody asks why he has a steering wheel in his living room, he tells the story. Brandt credits that steering wheel to his path down the road of automobiles.
His first car was a 1931 Ford coupe. “I built the frame in my backyard, then thought, ‘how am I going to get this out of the backyard?’ so I had to tear it all back apart,” said Brandt. He ended up selling the frame and bought a 1927 Ford Touring model, which he then built and sold for a 1955 Chevy. The ’55 was short lived as he got the car running, rolled it in a crash, fixed it, then got into Novas.
Over the years, he’s had a total of 189 Novas. That’s not a typo, that’s almost two hundred Novas he’s personally owned. At one point he had eight Novas in front of his parent’s house, where he would fix and flip them. The love of Novas is what brought Dick and his wife Linda together over 40 years ago, back in 1971. When they met, they both drove Novas. “Our first date was at Irwindale dragstrip, and I still have the brochure from that night,” laughed Brandt.
After running a successful heavy truck parts store for 18 years, he sold off his part to start up True Connections. “The name came about from my friend who said it should be True Connections since I was selling wiring harnesses at the time,” explained Brandt. He decided on selling Chevelle parts since Tri-Fives were handled pretty well, and Chevelles were hot. By this point, he had owned his fair share of Chevelles as well.
“I started True Connections in 1993, selling parts in my garage for two years before the city came and busted me,” said Brandt. “When there was seven or eight cars every Saturday in front of my house, they knew I was up to something. When they busted me I asked them, ‘what took you so long?,'” laughed Brandt. “From there I attended every single swap meet possible, bought wrecked cars to part them out and hit every single junkyard from here to 29 Palms,” explained Brandt.
After almost 20 years running True Connections, his body told him it was time to stop. Brandt told us that, “I ain’t no spring chicken anymore. Recovery from a swap meet use to take one day, now it takes three or four. It was time to sell.”
Heading To The Car Gold Mine
Taking a walk from his living room, we headed to his massive shop out back. At first glance it’s a bit much to take in, as he has parts, signs, and other memorabilia stuffed everywhere. One collection that he has on display is an entire wall full of neon signs. Everything from classic General Electric signs to Coors Light signs. His old shop didn’t afford him the space to collect and display signs, so with this shop he has the room to display them all.
We noticed an industrial rack full of boxes and boxes of model trains, so we asked him to tell us about his trains. “Trains I have been collecting since I was six months old, the first one was given to me. At one point I was buying, fixing, and flipping Hondas. All the money from that went into buying trains. If you get the catalog for model trains built from 1949 to 1964, I have every single set except six of them. I have a massive collection of mint condition trains,” explained Brandt. Unfortunately for us, they weren’t on display. Inside his metal shop is an area that’s currently under construction. This area will be his dedicated train room in the next few months.
The rest of his collection is a little bit of everything. On his property we saw vintage gas pumps, an early 1900s windmill, license plates, and even an early 1900s rolling fire extinguisher. If the Brandt’s find something interesting for the right price, they pick it up. We asked Brandt to pull out a car to snap a few pictures, but soon he was pulling out one car after another. His garage had a total of six cars inside, with a few more tucked away outside.
1957 Chevrolet Bel Air
The 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air is a car that has managed to stay in his collection over the years. “We bought the ’57 in ’78. Linda drove it for 3 years, then I tore it down to restore and the car sat for 10 years,” explained Brandt. When he finally got back to working on the car, the restoration took a year and a half to finish. The car didn’t have a lot of the factory options you see here though. “There was a guy in a classic Chevy club that collected ’57 Chevy NOS parts, even though he didn’t have a ’57 himself,” explained Brandt.
One day he decided to sell all his NOS parts to start collecting NOS GTO parts. When he put his collection up for sale, the Brandt’s went over and bought 90% of the parts and fitted them onto their Bel Air. “The car has 63 factory options, lots of things you never see and everything is brand spanking new,” said Brandt. One super rare option the car has is a “butt sniffer” which is a vacuum operated ash tray that sucks a cigarette butt into a glass jar under the dash, so you don’t smell smoke inside the car.
“The car had never been wrecked, never had rust, so it has all original sheet metal. All the die cast and side trim is original, no reproductions. I just buffed and re-chromed everything,” explained Brandt. He said the reason for the 10 year hiatus in restoration was that he bought an L79 1965 Chevelle convertible that he spent a lot of time fixing up and cruising. He still owns this Chevelle today, but he didn’t bring that out for us to see.
1967 Impala SS
A friend found the 1967 Impala SS and called Dick to show it to him. At first glance he noticed that it was an Impala and didn’t have any interest until he saw how rare and original the car was. But after three weeks of negotiating, he finally drug the SS back home. “At the time, the car had been painted red but still had the factory red interior,” said Brandt.
“I drove the Impala in that state for a few years, before doing a complete frame off restoration on the car,” explained Brandt. Just like his ’57 Bel Air, everything on this car is NOS, nothing being a reproduction part. With only a hair over 2,400 1967 Impala SS 427’s ever being made, this is one rare car. To his knowledge, there is less than 90 of them that exist today and probably less than that on the road.
Brandt had the car painted back to the factory white, even though he’s not a fan of white cars. “With a car this rare, we had to stay true to original,” stated Brandt. What also makes the car unique is that the entire car is numbers matching, even the original water pump on is on the motor. He does have the original stock hubcaps, but changed the wheels and tires to spice the looks up a little bit.
1964 Chevrolet El Camino
If you haven’t noticed, Dick likes to buy cars and flip them. This way he gets to enjoy a different car and always has a project to tinker on. The ’57 Bel Air and ’67 Impala are keepers, but this Elky is a flipper. “This El Camino has a 300 horsepower 327 motor, bolted to a 700R4 transmission, a 12-bolt posi, complete Hotchkis suspension, original tilt steering column, and an original wood wheel,” said Brandt.
This pick-up was really nice as it had received a total frame off restoration. The car was passed around between Dick’s old customer and a few members of the Southern California El Camino Chevelle Club before he picked up this ’64 as the previous owner just lost interest in the car. Besides all the other goodies listed the Elky sports a set of Budnik wheels, air conditioning, a factory console, and factory bucket seats. This is one red hot truck that won’t be in Dick’s garage for long.
All over his property Brandt had other cars including a 1934 Ford, 1965 Beamount Convertible awaiting restoration, and another hot rod he was selling for a friend. With all his property, his friends tend to store cars and trailers at his place as well. Out front of his shop was a 1970 Chevelle frame with a big-block nestled between the frame rails, an El Camino, and even a four door Chevelle. Even though he’s retired from selling Chevelle parts, Dick keeps himself busy wrenching on cars, collecting memorabilia, and cruising his classics.