Bob Sovis' uncle, an auto repairman, promised him that his first car would be ready by prom night.
But when Sovis picked up his date, his 1950 Chevrolet didn’t run quite right. So he drove back to his uncle’s shop and pleaded with him to fix it. As he watched his uncle do just that with a simple hammer to the carburetor, Sovis’ love affair with classic cars began.
The Fenton resident, now 77, started the Sloan Auto Fair, which just celebrated its 40th year, and has volunteered with Back to the Bricks since it began in 2004, allowing him to share his car knowledge and passion all over the state and country.
“It’s what we grew up with,” Sovis said of classic cars. “It’s our chance to relive it.”
Starting at the bottom
Sovis’ uncle owned a car repair shop in New Lothrop that worked on cars that had been total wrecks. Sovis’ dad helped out and a young Sovis became a gopher around the shop. Then he began helping with repair that needed a small body or small hands.
“I never got paid a dime,” Sovis said. “But it was a cheap education.”
Sovis, along with his uncle and dad, rebuilt the 1950 Chevrolet he drove to prom, but a couple years later he had his heart set on another ride, a 1952 BelAir Hard top. One that had been in a rollover came into the shop and nine months later, Sovis cruised in his dream car.
That would be one of his many dream cars, however.
His current prize is an award-winning 1939 Chevrolet he bought 44 years ago. It’s all original with 33,000 miles. He’ll take it out occasionally, as long as there is no chance of rain in the forecast.
“I’m a purist,” he said. “I don’t make any modifications.”
A bump in the road
Sovis also donated a nationally award-winning 1947 Chevrolet Fleetmaster to the Sloan Museum in memory of his son Ronald, who died after he was accidentally shot and killed by a friend when he was only 15. Sovis had originally bought the car for Ronald and it took him 33 years to restore. He donated it in 2007. (Watch attached YouTube video for full story)
“It was very difficult to work on,” he said. “But it was something I vowed to do.”
A life full of collecting
Sovis’ garage looks more like a museum, filled with classic cars, old car signs and even a working traffic light. His basement looks more like a store, complete with glass cases full of toy cars and trucks and display cases that light up and rotate. And all of his vehicles, a 1965 Corvair, a 1968 four-door diesel Chevette, even a motor home, no matter what the year and make, look like are still in the showcase at a dealership.
“You could I say I’m a bit fussy,” he said.
Even at 77, Sovis, who raised six children and has lived in Fenton for 28 years, is in as good as shape as his classic cars. He has a full head of hair and works out at three times a week for two hours at a time. He said his secret to staying sharp is working on word puzzles every night before he goes to sleep. He has also donated 132 pints of blood to the Red Cross.
However, he by no means keeps his collection to himself and has done much for classic cars in mid-Michigan before and after retiring at GM.
Sovis retired from running the Sloan Fair Auto show years ago, but still gets calls once in awhile for his opinion. The money made from the fair goes directly into the Sloan Museum's historic automobiles department. Sovis is thrilled that the show helps pass car knowledge onto younger generations.
“There were hardly any shows back then,” he said.
He also started the Golden Memories Auto Show in 1995 for purists like him who enjoy all original classic cars. He has also judged in several competitions.
“He’s a great volunteer,” said Sloan Museum Director Tim Shickels. “We are very lucky to have him with the organization. He's been with the museum since it opened its doors. He’s become a friend and been one of my closest advisers.”
Sovis had also volunteered with since it began eight year ago, and has watched it grow bigger than he thought possible. The will come to Fenton on August 9.
“Fenton has jumped aboard and it has been a tremendous boost to the community,” he said. “It made it exciting that people wanted to come and stay in Fenton. It sounds like it’s going to be even bigger and better this year.”
You can read about more Hometown Heroes on Fenton Patch.