Take a turn off of Highway 290 just southwest of Austin, Texas and drive out into the boonies until you’re sure you’re lost. Not far up a teeth-rattling dirt road that’s sure to test your suspension, popping out of the side of a cedar covered hilltop you might spot one of the most dedicated restoration shops in central Texas. Tucked away out there in the hill country, lies Vintage Motor Cars Repair and Restoration shop. When your car pulls up to the shop, you’re greeted by a loving array of mutts including an ominous but harmless German Shephard named Shooter.
Next you’ll spot the friendly face of Mike O’Bryan or one of his two sons who both work at the shop. The bearded trio might make you think you’ve wandered onto the set of a Viking movie, but don’t be alarmed, they’re all pretty nice fellas. Michael O’Bryan, the father and owner, moved from New York to Texas in the late ‘70’s. In 1982, he opened Vintage Motorcars which he owns and runs with the help of his two sons Jason and the ironically named “Little Mike” donning a massive red beard and standing about a head higher than everyone else in the shop. Mr. O’Bryan also employs one more on the crew of his life long friends, Ray.
The shop runs a full restoration operation family owned out of their garage. It’s common to see some very rare and timeless pieces run through the place that you wouldn’t expect to see anywhere else.
1937 Packard Limo The most unique vehicle among the bunch is a 1937 1508 Chassis Packard Limousine (Pictured above) Rumored to have been owned by Jack Bennie. It’s an original one of a kind and no other exists like it on the planet and it’s got a 180hp 473Ci aluminum flat head 180hp V12.
The documented history of the Packard starts in 1953 when it was bought out of a used car lot in Chicago. The limo was one of the main attractions at the opening of “The Playboy Club” of in Houston the 1960’s where the current owner assures us “It may not have had any playboys in it, but it’s sure given some bunnies a ride”. The star-studded ride disappeared for near 40 years before it was rediscovered in a Houston warehouse in 1999. From there, the current owner brought it to Vintage Motor Cars and it has ben an ongoing project since. Because the car is a one of a kind, the O’Bryan family has been restoring the car by tracking down parts or fabricating them by hand. The Packard is a frame up restoration inside and out. The Motor and transmission were rebuilt to factory specs by Vilas Machine shop In College Station Texas. She still needs interior and paint, but perfection takes time, and it will be worth it when this legendary antique gets to take on the road once again.
1951 Ford Woody Country Squire What I consider to be the next most interesting piece of art in the O’Bryan’s garage is a true a1951 Ford Woody Country Squire. In case you don’t know, what classifies it as a “true woody,” it’s because the supporting members of the roof and frame are actually constructed from wood instead of just being added decoration. The owner bought the woody at Auction in Colorado before bringing it to the O’Bryan’s shop. It’s receiving a full frame of restoration from the shop, same as the other cars. The previous decided to disassemble it before bringing the car the shop. In the process, he found a drive-in movie ticket from the late ‘50’s. You never know what kind of time capsule goodies these old cars will bring you.
1957 Thunderbird The next project really is a beautiful piece of art that is ever so close to completion. This 1957 thunderbird was bought out of Baton Rouge Louisiana. From there it journeyed to Vintage Motor Cars. Like the others, this Thunderbird is full frame-off restoration. The car came to the O’Bryans with a Ford 292 V8 out of a truck. It is now fitted with the correct 270hp 312ci V8. This car is stunningly beautiful so I had to grab a few extra pictures while I was there.
1951 Cadillac Series 61 Next in line for honorable mention is a 1951 Cadillac Series 61. The car is powered by a 331ci 160hp V8 in front of a hydromantic “slushbox” 4spd automatic.
Of course, I had to catch guys in action. Mr. O’Bryan had been slowly working on the car for the previous owner since 1988 before the daughters of the original owner gifted the car to him. Mike Senior said he became close with the original owner after restoring it for him. Right now, the car is undergoing some minor damage repair including a fresh paint job interior and trim. She’s been lowered 3 ½”, but other than that the Caddie is all-original.
Background and History of Owner and Partners
I wanted to get to know the fellas at the shop a little better so I thought would ask them when and where their interest with cars started. What their specialties in the shop were, and a few other questions to get a handle on how the shop operates. Micheal O’Bryan, the owner and operator of Vintage Motor Cars remembers his interest in cars starting very young. He began by taking apart “push buggies”, the sporty bicycle like baby carriages, from back in the day for those who don’t know. He modified them into soapbox racers. After that he moved on to bigger and better things. Mike Sr. stated he cut up an old broken lawn mower and mad it into a go-kart. After that he moved on to mini bikes and dirt bikes. Mr. O’Bryan fondly remembers his favorite car as a 1955 Chevy “handy man” wagon with dual quad velocity stacks. In 1975, he opened his first shop dong custom motorcycle and chopper bends. After moving to Texas, he started Vintage Motor Cars in 1992. Little Mike, the oldest son, also started young. Growing up with a geared father, he tells me, “I’d like to think my interest in cars started the day I was born. All I can remember is playing with hot wheels and riding go-karts when I was a kid.” At the shop, his specialty is paint and suspension and his father swears he can remember everything he reads about cars down to the finest detail. “Little-Mike” also recently built a 1972 Camaro with 520whp, but that turned out to be a little much for the car to handle. J Jason, the youngest son, tells us, “my dad got me into cars as early as I can remember. He always had some cool car that we would work on. He always took us to the racetrack and other car related events.” His favorite car was a 1988 Mustang L.T. 5.0 HO with 325hp, but his dream car is a ’67 Chevelle SS 396 375hp model. Ray, the only non-family member, but still a good friend, also works at the shop He describes himself as a “third hand” but it appears he’s done most of the wood work on the Woody. Ray is retired but can’t seem to work the oil, gas, sweat and horsepower out of his veins. Ray started working with mike in 1980 at a Rolls and Jag dealership. He’s worked for Mike for 10 years but known him 37. His favorite car was a 255hp Chevy Nova 2 door, 4spd bought new in 1969.