BACKUS, Minn. — Off the beaten path on a county road between Pine River and Backus is an unmarked garage inside of which automotive history is brought back to life.
Mike Nadeau of Mike Nadeau Street Rods and Auto Restoration has been toiling away behind closed doors in this location for 19 years, bringing classic cars back from the brink of the junkyards and crushers to live on as prized possessions.
"I've been doing this my whole life," Nadeau said. "I used to work in Walker at a shop there and when they closed down I came back here."
Nadeau said he was a child when he first became engrossed in classic cars under the tutelage of his father, also a classic car enthusiast and gear head. Before he ever had a driver's license he had already dabbled in the industry. After all these years it's a testament to his love for the industry that he's still in the game.
"I just love doing old cars," Nadeau said. "This isn't work, It's play to me and seeing people's faces when they come in and get their cars when they're done is a good feeling, when they come in here looking like they should go to the scrapyard and go out looking better than brand new."
Nadeau's work is a labor of love. He takes every car apart completely to get a complete view of what needs to be done and then he gets to work removing paint down to the bare metal by hand, repairing or replacing panels and simply rebuilding and repainting the body of every vehicle from the bottom up.
Nadeau does body work, upholstery, convertible tops, glass and wiring. Any motor work gets sent out because Nadeau's shop isn't quite big enough for all the equipment he would need to do extensive rebuilds on motors, but even without motor work, restoration can still take three or even four years. At any time Nadeau is working on four vehicles and as one goes out, another comes in.
"I just love doing old cars,. This isn't work, It's play to me and seeing people's faces when they come in and get their cars when they're done is a good feeling..."
— Mike Nadeau
Nadeau's business isn't just an auto body shop either. They focus specifically on the head-turning classics you see in car shows.
"I don't think it's very often I'll do anything later than the ‘70s unless it's something very special," Nadeau said. "Otherwise it's all ‘20s through ‘60s."
His work is often represented at local car shows where people who have hired him show off the very same cars he helped bring back to life.
"I just finished up a ‘65 Impala SS last fall for a guy. It turned out to be a beautiful car," Nadeau said. “There's a ‘64 Mustang running around that I did a few years ago and a ’67 Camaro SS."
He gets much of his work from car shows and word of mouth. While Nadeau has had cars all over the state of Minnesota, he says he has yet to have any out-of-state customers.
Nadeau's shop is a one-man operation except when his son joins in. He says his son first started welding as soon as he was old enough to hold the necessary tools. Like his dad before him, he's passing on a love of classic cars.
"He shows an interest in taking over the business if I ever retire," Nadeau said.