06/25/2014 12:00AM ● Published by Jon Lewis
Mentoring Program Builds Bonds (And Cars) That Last
Brandon Back, 30, and 76-year-old Jim Walters built a car together, and in the process they put the finishing touches on a relationship that’s as strong as any father-son bond.
Their unlikely friendship began in 1999 through the Plus One Mentors program, which was offered at the Shasta Family YMCA. Back was a high school freshman with a troubled home life; Walters was a retired race car driver and used car salesman who had recently relocated to Lakehead from Los Angeles, where he used to sponsor a boys club and mentor kids from time to time.
Back was looking for some stability and guidance; Walters wanted to continue helping others. A mutual love of cars proved to be the key to the partnership.
“The first time I met Brandon, we talked for two hours. We hit it off right off the bat,” Walters says. “He’d come up and we’d work on cars.”
“I’ve got to commend Jim for taking in a teenager and bringing him up,” Back says. “I couldn’t imagine where I could be now if I hadn’t met him. I wasn’t in trouble, and I wasn’t into drugs or drinking, but I had a lack of education and no real male role model in my life. He really pushed me to get out and work and do the home schooling.”
With access to Walters’ shop as well as the mentor’s knowledge gathered from years of working on cars, Back soon hatched a plan involving his neighbor’s ’67 Pontiac GTO. Back saw a muscle car in the making; Walters saw a headache on four wheels.
“I remember him saying, ‘Please don’t get this car, it’s such a basket case,’” Back recalls. The youngster was undeterred. “That thing was so bad, the guy gave it to him,” Walters says. “He worked on it and worked on it, fixed it up, and drives it to this day.”
The two continued to work together over the years as their friendship continued to grow. About three years ago, Walters got the inspiration to build another twin-engine car. (Back in the 1960s, he had built one with his brother-in-law.)
Walters had some cash on hand after selling his dragster, and the two began rummaging through the shop to see what they had to work with. There were two nearly intact engines, part of an engine coupler and some vintage wheels Walters had found at an estate sale.
It was determined that a car styled after a vintage 1937 Indy 500 racer would best accommodate two engines, and the two got to work, starting with some channel iron from Gerlinger Steel in Redding that became the chassis.
A body and paint man by trade, Back is always on the lookout for cars to buy and sell. He came across a woman who was offering five older Oldsmobiles and the two men went to investigate. A truck that had been converted into a tractor was sporting a unique grill and it caught Walters’ eye.
“Jim saw that grill and said, ‘That’s the grill we want.’ I bought the whole lot to get that grill. That grill set the tone for the whole build,” Back says. Back spent every available minute of free time on the Indy car project, even though time was a precious commodity with his job taking up to 60 hours a week and helping his wife, Mandy, with the couple’s two children.
The Indy car was a collaboration from start to finish, Back says. “I was really honored on how much he asks for my advice, even down to color of car. I pushed for black, he wanted cream. For a year, we went back and forth before we settled on gold and burgundy.”
After a flurry of activity earlier this year, the finishing touches were applied and the car was proudly displayed in the prestigious Dreamworks display at Kool April Nites. The two men are already planning their next project.