Wife support needed for car project

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For as long as Kristi Gilbert has known Mike Gilbert, he’s been working on a very special car project.

The task of restoring the 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS Pro Touring has been a labor of love for almost a decade, with Kristi and their children supporting Mike Gilbert along the way.

“Through the projects he’s taken on, I’ve learned to be the wife of a car builder,” she said.

She said Gilbert began working on cars as a teenager and she knew cars were part of the deal when they began dating.

“He grew up in Michigan, which is car country,” she said.

The Chevelle was found in a barn in Bismarck, N.D., and was bought in 2004 for $2,500. Since then, almost everything about the car has been restored and rebuilt.

“I knew nothing about cars at first,” she said. “Now, I can write a full estimate after an accident for insurance purposes. I’ve learned so much.”

The Gilberts, who live in Ellendale, N.D, have owned what is now Mike’s Unique Automotive Collision Center in Ellendale since 2007. When the business was bought, Mike Gilbert had to sell the dream car he had been working on for three years.

Her husband’s discerning taste makes his cars very expensive builds, according to Kristi Gilbert.

“It’s not something I would ever ask him to do,” she said of the sale of the car. “At that time, he chose to support his family instead of keeping the vehicle and he decided that on his own.”

The car was sold to an Aberdeen man, Al Nordstrom, who put it into storage. When the Gilberts were able to afford it, they bought the car back from Nordstrom. When he wasn’t working at his auto body shop, Mike Gilbert worked on his Chevelle at home.

Sometimes, there are negotiations involved. Mike Gilbert would like to add a ProCharger supercharger to the car, but that might take some convincing for Kristi to agree to.

He has also built other show-quality vehicles, too, which adds up to a lot of hours in the garage.

“In order to build cars, your family has to be understanding and committed as well,” she said.

She said she and her husband agree on a time for him to stop working, which helps balance his love of cars and family.

The Chevelle has been a family affair. The engine, purchased from Steven Lust Automotive in Aberdeen, came to the Gilberts that same week in 2011 as their youngest son, Conner.

That necessitated a break from working on the car.

Conner, now 2, is already handy with tools. The Gilberts recently found that he took a screw gun and disassembled a chair.

The Gilberts’ five children all know what to do when they’re around cars and all have had a hand in helping their dad.

“I just don’t think I could help him hands-on because he’s such a perfectionist,” Kristi Gilbert said.

Tips from a car builder’s family

Communication is key. Communicate what plans are and know each other’s schedule. Kristi Gilbert said she lets her husband know if there are events she feels are more important than the car. Be understanding. The family has to be just as committed to the project. Include the kids. Even Conner Gilbert, 2, has his own tools. Set boundaries. Everyone in the family knows the car shouldn’t be touched or leaned on. Try not to interrupt. Kristi Gilbert said she has a button in the house that she pushes that rings out to the garage if her husband needs to come back in for any reason. Otherwise, she doesn’t want to interrupt if he’s doing delicate and complex tasks.

Follow @kaynguyen on Twitter.