A Sailor's Life-Long Passion for Cars
The sun reflected off the car's polished sky-blue metallic paint job. Inside the vehicle, a custom made wood centerfold extended from the back seats to the dashboard.
"That's why it's called Blue Thunder," said the driver, as he pointed to the rear bumper where the name was airbrushed in large letters across the trunk.
Skip DeBaun, a stocky 70-year-old retired master chief with white hair, was one of 60 participants who entered their vehicles in the All-Hands Car Show at Naval Base San Diego.
But it was DeBaun and his 1966 Ford Fairlane 500XL that stood out.
DeBaun, who enlisted in the Navy at 19, has always had a passion for working on cars.
"I grew up on a farm in Indiana, and from a very early age, I worked on tractors and plows," said DeBaun.
DeBaun's prior experience in mechanical work proved helpful in his Navy career.
"I actually had an easier time learning mechanics while working on helicopters because of what I already knew coming in," said DeBaun.
However, DeBaun needed more than just knowledge and passion to pursue an ambitious dream of fixing up a classic car; he needed tools, time and money. That's when he and his wife agreed that if he made the rank of chief, they would purchase a new car or buy an old car and completely rebuild it.
DeBaun made chief and purchased his Fairlane. He also managed to go from an itty-bitty tool box in his trunk to a full garage where he does all the work on his car.
The Ford Fairlane was manufactured for only 15 years from 1955 to 1970, much shorter than other Ford models like the F-Series pickup truck, which has sold since 1948.
"I attend the Fabulous Ford Forever show at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, Ca., and out of 1,800 vehicles, I'm usually the only 1966 Ford Fairlane in attendance," said DeBaun.
After 30 years of service DeBaun retired from the Navy in 1993 and was able to focus solely on fixing the Fairlane.
"It wasn't easy getting the car to where it is today, especially since a lot of the pieces I custom made," said DeBaun. "One of the hardest tasks was fixing the front suspension because many of the parts were no longer available."
DeBaun has restored both the interior and exterior of the car. He found parts from all over the country to complete the job. More importantly to him, DeBaun did the majority of the work by himself.
"I've had friends and coworkers lend a hand, but 90 percent of the work was done by me," said DeBaun. "My wife actually gets a little jealous and says I spend more time with the car than I do with her," added DeBaun with a laugh.
For DeBaun, the work, time, money and passion invested into Blue Thunder has never been about bragging rights. It was about turning something old and forgotten into something new and beautiful.
"I don't talk about my car to show off," said DeBaun. "I want to show people that I can do something I'm passionate about and so can they. Do what your heart tells you and don't be afraid to ask for help, especially from the older generation. Us old guys just might have more knowledge than some text book in a class."