LAKE ASBURY – The two-car garage at Andy Hesterman’s house serves more than a repair shop for sputtering cars and clunking lawn mowers. It’s a sanctuary for a man who is eager to pass along his knowledge – and his passion – to a younger generation who know little about turning wrenches and getting dirty.
Hesterman has built six cars from Smyth Performance, a company that sends shells and parts that can be reassembled into a unique car.
One of those cars was built by Ethan Lindberg, a 14-year-old who traveled from Wisconsin to turn a Volkswagen Beetle into a small pickup.
“He was a lot of fun. He’s an amazingly bright kid,” Hesterman said. “His dad did some amazingly cool things like taking him to places to watching aircraft being built, watching them restore a boat. Their garage, there wasn’t room in there to do this. They have a townhome. You can’t even open the doors to the car when it’s in the garage.”
Lindberg came to Hesterman’s home with his father in March. They spent two weeks days turning a crate of junk and an old car into a unique ride that will turn heads for years. And there was no instruction booklet included.
“We saw this beetle that was from Maryland, so we knew there was no rust,” Lindberg said. “We went to check it out and it was really nice. We talked about it over lunch. She said ‘It’s your money, not ours.’ It was $600. I bought it for $600 … well dad bought it for $600 and I paid him back.”
The son raised money by selling unused parts from the car, as well as selling bracelets and shirts.
Hesterman was there to offer guidance, but he insisted the teenager did the work.
“It had to be most me,” Lindberg said. “I needed to know if I messed up on one tiny piece it would all go wrong.”
As far as Hesterman was concerned, they were building a foundation for a lost craft as well as a car.
“I love getting young folks involved,” he said. “You know, tuning and modifications in the aftermarket car community, it’s kind of dying. It’s all older guys. When I say older guys, I mean 50 and up. I include myself in that group.
“The young kids aren’t into it that much. They don’t get shown how to do this stuff. I grew up watching my older brother and my dad, not necessarily modifying a car, but keeping them running. In the older days, that’s what everybody did. You did your own brakes; you did your own oil change. It’s so specialized now.
“Kids these days don’t have the opportunity. Here’s a kid who has a huge interest, and he’s a smart kid, so it was a no-brainer. When he said he could come down, I cleared my shop out.”
Lindberg said the process was slow and taxing. But he now realizes cars are as much about sweat and busted knuckles than a monthly payment.
“There’s a lot of riveting stuff and panel bars,” he said. “You’ve got to get the fenders in the right place.
“Building it because I learned you have to go slowly. You can’t think you need to 10 things in a day and it turns out it doesn’t fit right. Then you have to go back and fix it all. You go at your own pace. You want to do things so you don’t have to go back.”
The Lindbergs stayed in an RV in Lindberg’s driveway during the build. They were forced to stay a few days longer than expected as the world started its lockdown for COVID-19.
Now that Lindberg is home, he wants to paint his specialty-built car yellow to honor the Beetle’s legacy. He’s also growing impatient knowing it will be two years before he’s old enough to drive.
“It’s a unique car,” Lindberg said. “I could just use it as a classic car, a show car.”
After all, he now has the passion and knowledge to build another one.