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Wife of former THS automotive teacher finally gives in to classic obsession

During more than 40 years of marriage to a classic car enthusiast, Phyllis Drake could care less if she had a car of her own. Throughout the years, her husband, Chan, had rebuilt '57 Chevrolets for his two sons and himself. With three classics in the family, having another one seemed frivolous.

"She wasn't going to have a car, either," Mr. Drake said. "It's sort of like being married to an alcoholic. If you're married to an alcoholic, you don't want a drink. And if you're married to a car nut, you don't want a car."

But Mrs. Drake couldn't escape being influenced by her family. She also couldn't escape thinking about another '57 Chevy that her husband had "sitting on the back burner on a rack" for many years. So 10 years ago, when Mr. Drake announced that he was going to finish the car and make a hot rod out of it, his wife objected.

"I told him I want it," she said. "But I want to tell you what I want in it."

And Mrs. Drake already knew what she wanted. She had spied it on the cover of an old NAPA calendar - a red and white body with a solid white interior.

"And I just kind of fell in love with that color (scheme)," Mrs. Drake said. "I think it looks kind of feminine with a white interior. I love the car, and I drive it once or twice a week."

Mrs. Drake said she receives a lot of attention when driving her car. This past April, she received more attention when her car was featured in Classic Chevy magazine. The story was turned in by her husband, who included the before and after photos. Mr. Drake purchased the car after he saw it abandoned in a field in Dearing.

"It had been totaled out, didn't have any tires, and the farmer was literally plowing around it," he said. "(Rebuilding a car) is sort of like an erector set. You pull off every part that will come off and you clean those parts. Then you take the best parts, along with others, and you put them back together."

The engine is a 355ci, 4-bolt main with 1988 aluminum Corvette heads, a 350 hp Corvette cam with 2 rams horn exhaust manifolds, a 2x4 Corvette carburetor set-up with progressive linkage, an S-10 five speed transmission and a Nova rear end with a 2.56 ratio for high gas mileage.

"We did things that's not normally done," Mr. Drake said. "Getting 20 miles per gallon is hard to do because the body is 4,000 lbs. But you put a lot of gears in it, and that way when you get out on the freeway, you can keep changing gears."

Mr. Drake did the same engine work on his own black '57 Chevy, which was featured in a 1989 edition of Classic Chevy. Because of the unusually high gas mileage, Mr. Drake said his car also was featured in "several other California magazines."

His pride in his cars doesn't compare to how he feels about his wife of 46 years. A double-retiree - he retired in 1979 after 20 years in the United States Air Force as a mechanic, and in 2006 from Thomson High School after 20 years of teaching automotive repair, Mr. Drake said he owes all of his success to his wife. While he was serving in the Viet Nam War, Mr. Drake said his wife offered daily support and guidance. After his retirement, she encouraged him to earn his master's degree. When he was teaching automotive repair and traveling with his students to trouble-shooting competitions, she accompanied them on every trip.

"Most of the success I have in life is due to her. So I can't say enough about her. I was lucky to get her," he said.

Web posted on Thursday, September 20, 2007

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