From Rust to Riches with Style

Jeff Larsen shares his passion for restoring classic American with his three sons

In the fall of 1968, Jeff Larsen returned to college for his sophomore year driving his grandfather’s old, beat-up, 1950 Chevrolet. His roommate returned driving a brand new 1968 Dodge Charger R/T. In Jeff’s words, “It was sleek, screaming loud, had a huge 440 cubic inch engine, a 4-speed transmission, and was unbeatable drag racing State Street on a Friday night or picking up girls on Saturday night.” 

He affirms, “I was addicted for life!” This was at the beginning of the muscle car era and represented rebellious, bad boy images of those days that stole the hearts of many American teenage boys, including Jeff. 

Fast forward 20 years when Jeff was married to Karen, with five kids and a mortgage and little money to invest. However, when he noticed a rusty, derelict 1968 Dodge Charger at an impound lot one day, he immediately negotiated a purchase price for a whopping $325. Muscle cars were becoming classics, and when restored, this car would be worth thousands. 

That purchase began a lifetime of restoring old Mopar muscle cars to their original style and glory. And Jeff had the skills for the job. He could weld, paint, upholster and rebuild engines, having learned everything about the cars he loved. Karen would say, “You can give him a handful of nuts and bolts and he will tell you exactly where they fit on the cars he restores.”

As his children grew, Jeff set a goal to restore a car with each of his three sons during their teenage years. This would help build close relationships and teach them to work hard for what they wanted. He also said it would “keep them broke and out of mischief during those formative years.” 

As time passed, Jeff’s sons had beautifully restored cars, but Jeff was still searching for his dream car—the 1970 Hemi Cuda convertible—which he deemed “the king of muscle cars.” Because only 21 were made with the Hemi engine, finding or affording one would be impossible. The next best thing would be to find and restore a 1970 Cuda convertible (1 of 132), and swap the original engine with a Hemi engine.

Years of looking and networking paid off when Jeff heard about such a car, unrestored, in a rural town out of state. He set off on a treasure hunt knowing only the name of the town. After talking to several people, one person said he knew someone who knew someone else, and he eventually located the car. It was love at first sight, and Jeff negotiated with the owner for a car that was not for sale! For the next decade, the tables were turned as Jeff’s sons helped him restore his dream car, transforming it from rust to riches. 

Karen and Jeff’s sons now have sons of their own, and they still look forward to being with their dad, under the hood of the latest project car.

Jeff says, “If you attend a car show in the St. George area and see a ‘plum crazy’ purple 1970 Hemi Cuda convertible, it is probably mine! Stop by and say hello!”                

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