By Rebekah Martin
Close your eyes and picture your dream car. Is it the modern-day, James Bond-esque Aston Martin that gets your motor running? Or do you prefer the Italian designs of the Lamborghini and Ferrari? Do you dream of “hood sliding like Bo Duke” across the top of a Dodge Charger? Or, like Opelika-native Leigh Noles, did you dream of owning your own, fully-restored Chevrolet Camaro? For Noles, it was a dream she was determined to turn into a reality.
Noles’ love for vintage cars has been cultivated her entire life. She spent many childhood hours at her father’s mechanic shop, G&N Auto Parts, which formerly operated on Columbus Parkway in Opelika. It was by watching and learning from him that she developed her love and enthusiasm for all things vintage.
“Every old car has its unique attractions, but I fell in love with the Camaro,” Noles said. “I saw one at a car show when I was teenager and immediately knew that it was the one I had to have. I am fascinated by them.”
In 2002 Noles happened upon the car that was made for her. It was a 1968 Chevrolet Camaro for sale in Mt. Carmel, Tenn., a grease spot of a town just south of the West Virginia border. Noles loaded up her trailer and made the 400-mile trek. One 12-hour roundtrip and $4,000 later, the classic muscle car had a new owner.
The restoration process started off as a slow one, and Noles said she quickly realized that though it was her dream to do it herself, she needed a little help and guidance to make the restoration a reality.
“I know just enough about mechanics to be dangerous,” Noles said with a laugh. “I’m not below having a manual laid open on the fender next to me, but I’m also not against seeking an expert’s opinion when I need it. I know my limit.”
With the help of family friends Aubrey “Bug” Weldon, his son Trey Weldon and Rusty Black, who owns Black’s Custom Upholstery on Cusseta Road in Opelika, Noles knew she could have the car restored to its original form with ease.
“I was lucky to find this one in the condition it was in,” Noles said. “It had seen better days, but it was maintained well enough to still have a lot of potential.”
Noles said her ultimate goal was to restore the vintage vehicle to its former glory and to retain as much of its originality as possible. “When the manufacturer builds a car, they use a system of numbers and letters to shorthand the information for the build of the car. There are codes for the original paint color, interior, engine size and trim package,” Noles explained. “The code is then put on plates in the firewall as well as inside the glove box. Restorers have to decode these to find the original specifications for the car in order to reverse any changes made over the years.”
It took a total of 18 months to restore the ’68 Chevy to mint condition, complete with the Seafrost Metallic paint job and houndstooth interior. Noles said she is not an Alabama Crimson Tide fan but had to make the sacrifice in order to retain originality.
Noles travels all over the state to an average of 10 car shows a year, as well as numerous cruise-ins in the area. Noles said that while there are women who share her passion, vintage cars and their restoration is a male-dominated hobby. She said she loves to see the look on people’s faces when they realize the green Camaro belongs to a woman.
Noles said she hopes to begin restoration work on her newest toy soon – a 1929 Chevrolet International 4-door coupe.