WALLY'S WORLD: Olson is driven to building street rods

Unlike many, if not most, guys, I’m not much interested in cars. Never have been. In high school, while other dudes were installing dual-exhaust systems and exploring torque ratios, I couldn’t have cared less. Indeed, I was a senior before I clearly understood the difference between a stick shift and an automatic, which was a distinction most other males – and, for that matter, most women as well – clearly discerned in elementary school.

NASCAR races bore me to tears. So does the Indianapolis 500. Nevertheless, I’ve always appreciated the intricate engineering involved in complex car motors, transmissions and computer systems, even though I have no desire to explore the field. Similarly, I also appreciate the engineering behind an assault rifle, but have no interest in how they work.

In the same sense, owing to a personal bias toward art and the artistic sphere, I’ve always maintained a passing interest in the aesthetic quality of automobiles; that is, their “looks” and design. In this respect, I generally prefer cars from the 1920s, early and mid-1950s, and American and foreign sport cars like the Corvette and Maserati. I also cast an appreciative eye toward any auto that isn’t punched out on a production line; in other words, any custom-designed car that’s strikingly different from anything else on the road.

This, then, explains my stumbling and my need to grasp the handrail upon exiting Bank of America one day last week. There before me was the most incredibly beautiful custom-built car I’d seen in several years. A couple of other guys also paused in mid-step.

While peering through the driver’s window – I hesitated to touch the glass for fear of leaving a palm print – owner Denny Olson emerged from the bank and offered me his business card.

Streetrods By Denny is a wholly-owned, local corporation, operating out of a shop a few miles north of Enumclaw. In one form or another, it’s been around since December 1980 and, during the last 30 years, Denny has developed an international reputation for the finest custom-built cars and service. He has customers from all across Canada and the U.S.

The most expensive project Denny and his staff ever tackled involved a re-designed 1969 Camaro. The finished car cost $300,000. More typically, a project runs around $100,000.

They’re currently working on 10 cars, with an inventory worth more than a million dollars. This being the case, Denny’s shop and surroundings are protected by a pretty elaborate system of alarms, motion detectors, infra-red cameras, etc.

Though Denny farms out a few projects, like upholstery, all the heavy-metal cutting and molding are done in his shop. Then, after the body is assembled, it’s primed, painted with three coats of color and a couple of clear coats, sanded and buffed.

To accommodate today’s transmissions and motors, his staff often has to reinforce old car frames. Depending on the condition of the original, it frequently happens that a whole new body is built. On one occasion, Denny dragged a 1934 Ford frame out of a river in Idaho. Just the frame, nothing more. He reconstructed the entire body.

There was a huge, awesome, absolutely gorgeous, eight-cylinder, chrome, Corvette engine, tuned and calibrated to the Nth degree. It was anchored to a 1934 Ford frame.

“This is a flat-out hotrod,” Denny explained with a subtle smirk. “It’ll blow everything off the road!” As it roars passed you, your car might actually tremble.

I was a little introspective as I drove my piece of junk back to Enumclaw. Still, as a compensating thought, the only essential thing a car does is take you somewhere. A $300,000 automobile does this with considerably more style and comfort, but the really important thing is to get where you’re going ‚Äì in this particular case, the Martini Bar’s happy hour.


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