Clearly classics: Car culture in Oak Cliff

These rides are anything but average

Some might joke these neighbors have oil instead of blood and a mechanical pump where their hearts ought to be. But really, it’s about a love for an era. These neighbors share a passion for a bygone time when vehicles were made by hand and form often trumped function. They don’t mind the extra effort these cars entail because they’re keeping a little piece of history alive with every nut and bolt they save. It’s worth the time and expense, they say, because it allows them to live another life every time they climb behind the wheel.

Tyler Wayne with his ’68 Mercury and his Shelby Cobra reproduction. Both cars are projects Wayne worked on with his dad. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)
Tyler Wayne with his ’68 Mercury and his Shelby Cobra reproduction. Both cars are projects Wayne worked on with his dad. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

American muscle

Tyler Wayne’s dream car was covered in dirt and rust.

Then a high school senior, he kept seeing it, parked in the back of a shop that he used to drive by every day in the Austin neighborhood where he grew up.

Sponsored Message

Finally one day, he asked the owner about the car, a 1968 Mercury Cougar XR7, and found out it was for sale.

“I asked my dad about it, and he was really excited,” Wayne says.

He paid $1,600 for it in 2004, towed it home on a trailer and started cleaning it up. Thus began a lifelong love of American muscle cars and motorcycles.

(Photo by Danny Fulgencio)
(Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

Wayne, now 30, owns a small business in Oak Cliff, Wayne Works, where he makes furniture and lighting.

When he got the Cougar home, its original cranberry-red paint had faded to a flat brown. His dad, always a car guy, was supportive but hands off.

“It was a baptism by fire,” Wayne says.

Sponsored Message

He read old shop manuals and the history of Ford motors. He learned acetylene welding, how to rebuild the engine and whatever else his project needed. After moving to Dallas to attend Southern Methodist University, he’d continue working on the car during breaks. He finally restored it, painted it a dark metallic grey and drove it back to be his daily driver as an SMU junior.

“It has a lot of sentimental value,” Wayne says. “I’ll never sell that car.”

In 2012, Wayne and his dad decided to begin working on another car they’d always wanted. They bought a 1965 reproduction Shelby Cobra kit from Factory Five Racing.

Wayne is almost giddy when he describes the day it was delivered to his garage. He remembers the exact date: Aug. 22, 2012.

Father and son worked on the Cobra about every weekend, and in February 2013, they painted it Brittany blue, a period correct color. The paintjob alone cost about $7,200, bringing the car total to around $50,000.

They took it to the annual Cobra Club meet in San Marcos that March and put a couple hundred miles on it.

Wayne’s mom made a photo memory book of the whole process.

Sponsored Message

“It’s learning new things, achieving milestones, and doing it all with people you want to spend time with,” he says.

The ’68 Mercury is in pieces right now. Wayne still likes to tinker on it. He and his dad have taken the Cobra on a few other excursions.

Wayne says he still has car goals: A ’67 or ’68 Austin Healey, which he calls “A Sunday gentleman’s car.” He’d also like a ’49 or ’50 Mercury, a “lead sled.” And a ’77 Trans Am because of “Smokey and the Bandit.”

“It’s an element of nostalgia for a time that I didn’t grow up in,” he says. “It’s hard to be in a bad mood when you see a car like that. It makes people smile.”

 

Jeff Millburn (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)
Jeff Millburn (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

Stunt car driver

“Friday I’ve got to wreck an 18-wheeler.”

This is Jeff Millburn talking about an average workweek.

The 51-year-old first started working on cars as an escape growing up in Odessa. He acquired a motorcycle and started working in body shops while still in high school.

What started as a West Texas distraction eventually turned into a career in cars.

Millburn, whose original shop was in Oak Cliff, has owned racing teams and restored many cars. Now he works primarily as a stunt driver. If you see a Ford truck commercial anywhere in the United States, it’s Millburn behind the wheel. Same for Toyota Tundra. He does precision driving and owns four camera cars that TV producers use in filming.

Clockwise from left: Jeff Milburn’s 1951 Mercury; one among his multitude of motorcycles; part of his collection of automotive-related signs. (Photos by Danny Fulgencio)
Clockwise from left: Jeff Milburn’s 1951 Mercury; one among his multitude of motorcycles; part of his collection of automotive-related signs. (Photos by Danny Fulgencio)

Millburn was working in a North Dallas car dealership in the late ’80s when he had the opportunity to try out as a mechanic on a Top Fuel racecar team.

“I went from overhauling transmissions on minivans to working on the most amazing racecars around,” he says

He took a 50 percent pay cut for the privilege, a risk he weathered without fear.

“It paid off because it led to me getting to do things that I want to do,” he says. “I get to live how I want.”

Milburn has a lot of cars and motorcycles.

There’s a ’65 Chevy Truck that he’s had since 1988. A 1951 Mercury that’s “like a work of art.” A couple of 1960s Chryslers. His newest car, and the only one not painted black, is a 1970 Plymouth Roadrunner in its original yellow paint. It gets the most attention but is not Millburn’s favorite.

In all, there are six classic cars and two parts cars, plus four camera cars and two box trucks used in his work. He also has about a dozen motorcycles, most of them Harley Davidson.

Sponsored Message

It costs a fortune just to keep all of those vehicles registered and insured, he says.

But he’d never sell any of them.

“I have this sense of wanting to save them,” and he says he’s sold cars he’s restored after rescuing them from the crusher, but “I’ve never sold a car once I consider it mine.”

Besides the vehicles, Millburn’s sense of personal style is impressive. On date night, he steps out in vintage suits that match his cars. His shop and home in the West Dallas area are full of 1900s car and motorcycle ephemera — mid-20th century automotive advertising signs, 100-year-old Harley-Davidson gearshift knobs, black-and-white photos of unknown women posing in front of cars.

Millburn says he’s thinking about retiring soon, but there’s no way his life would ever not be about cars.

“These cars are going to stay with me the rest of my life,” he says.

 

Second-generation auto mechanic Ed Bass at Safety Brake, which his father started in 1945. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)
Second-generation auto mechanic Ed Bass at Safety Brake, which his father started in 1945. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

Old school

Imagine cruising Kiest Park in the 1950s: The boys with their Elvis Presley haircuts, driving jalopies and flirting with girls in circle skirts and headscarves.

Sponsored Message

That was the high-school life that Ed Bass lived.

Sponsored Message

His ride was no jalopy, though. It was a ’48 Ford coupe.

Bass has been around cars his whole life.

His father opened Safety Brake in Oak Cliff when Bass was a kid, and he started working there around age 8.

Bass, now in his 70s, graduated from Adamson High School in 1958 (he was a member of the Oak Cliff garage band The Jokers) and started working in his father’s garage fulltime.

Bass had saved up $8,000 when his dad decided to retire in 1973, so he bought him out, and he’s been there ever since, wrenching on generations of Oak Cliffers’ cars.

Bass is old enough to retire, but Safety Brake stays incredibly busy. During phone conversations, he’s distracted, intermittently giving instructions and information to his mechanics. He’s in the shop every day, and he loves cars.

Over the years, he’s collected a lot of them.

At his home in Cedar Hill, Bass has a 1973 Mustang Grande Coupe in near showroom condition. He started collecting Chevy El Caminos just a few years ago, and now he has three of them — ’69, ’70 and ’72. There’s also a ’69 Chevy Nova Super Sport and a few other cars.

His favorite body style is the 1969 Chevy El Camino. He’s working on one now, planning to put in a Corvette motor and transmission.

Bass says he’s somewhat sentimental about cars, but there wouldn’t be room to fit all the vehicles he’s owned.

“I had a lot more at one time,” he says of the collection.

Written By
More from Rachel Stone

This weekend: poetry, art, 18 photos, local market

Friday night, Cliff Notes Prolonged Media presents Poets on X+ with Jolee...
Read More