Paul Burns of Motor Inc. in Marblehead grew up in a world where cars mattered to a young man, where they didn’t all look alike, and where there was no sensation to compare with a fast machine roaring down a straightaway.
After a few false starts, Burns, 71, was able to build a life and business around his love of cars. “All I wanted to do,” he remembers, “is build cars. Draw cars.”
These days, he restores classic cars, from Ford Model Ts to high-end European racers. He makes them look like new, inside and out. Sometimes, that means turning back the clock, using all the appropriate parts and colors. And, sometimes, he uses what remains of the original to make something entirely new. In some cases, cars that have gotten the Burns touch have proved to be worth millions.
On a given day, his shop is crammed with his customers’ treasures, a classic, original Corvette from 1954, a Ford Model A from 1931, a big, gaudy Cadillac from the mid-20th century. Moving about them with his German shepherd Max, Burns fusses over the details, the “push through” gas cap, the skeletal chassis, the freshly painted engine block.
It’s an expensive business, and while Burns says he has customers with deep pockets, the work hasn’t made him rich. He estimates he grosses over $300,000 per year while paying two assistants. A drive to make everything perfect probably costs him in the long run, he says. But it’s not a 9 to 5 job.
“I call it 5 to 9. I work seven days a week,” he says.
A Marblehead native, Burns, who goes by the nickname Motor, has lived in town practically all of his life. “I’ve just always loved Marblehead.” He graduated from Marblehead High School and rebuilt his first car, a ’49 Ford sedan, at age 15. He attended Wentworth Technical Institute in Boston and went into the National Guard, where he got a good scare during the Cuban missile crisis. Waiting at the Salem Armory, he recalls, “We’d drawn our ammunition” just as word came to stand down.