Knox On Wheels readers may recall that I am in search of a new project vehicle, although what form it takes remains to be seen as my interests run pretty far and wide. What started as an ad in the News Sentinel for a number of classic cars turned into a much more interesting tale, one about a lifetime restoring them.
Rex Walls resides in Harriman, a place where it’s possible to squirrel away a dozen or so antique vehicles without raising the ire of neighbors who don’t see them moving any appreciable distance over time. What distinguishes Rex from mere collectors is that he is perfectly willing to part with any of his treasured relics, and he relishes as much in finding as he does restoring them to any stage up to completion.
Naturally there is a crown jewel in Walls’ stable, that being a ’53 Cadillac convertible Rex built for the upcoming Hank Williams movie The Last Ride, directed by Harry Thomason. Inspired by the final days of Hank Williams’ mercurial life, The Last Ride is a look into country music legend, and Williams’ relationship with a young man hired to drive the troubled star and his then-new Cadillac from Alabama to Ohio in 1952, around New Year’s Day. Williams, who knew he was dying, and the young man who helped deliver Williams and his car to their final destination is a story in itself, which debuts in theaters next month. A trailer for the film can be seen at nashvillefilmfestival.org for those of you who want to see the car or get a glimpse of the movie in advance.
A white leather interior, done by Ray’s Upholstery in Kingston, and the baby blue exterior finish by Curtis Rice of Midtown were requested by the movie’s producer, and Walls complied. What is unique in this scenario is that the film company paid Rex $20,000 to locate and restore the Caddy to its former glory, with the provision that they did not damage it and the car would be returned after the completion of filming, which took place on location in Little Rock, Ark., and inside a studio. Such ’53 Cadillac convertibles are rare, but this one was also required to have the “Continental Kit” spare tire and fender skirts to replicate Williams’ original. Luckily, Walls is a guy that either has antique parts on hand, or knows where to find them.
One-time president of the Walden Ridge Region of the Antique Automobile Club of America, Walls has also been a barber, local police commissioner, vice mayor of Harriman in ’62, and chairman of the power board, all in the Harriman area. Born in Morgan County near Wartburg, he returned to the area in 1955 after a stint in the armed forces, and has always had a car or two he was working on for himself or others. One of his sons is the owner of Rising Sun Cycles in downtown Harriman, carrying on the mechanical interest and passion of his father.
While I didn’t find the vehicle I was searching for, maybe you will among those pictured here, or the ’62 T-Bird convertible with a 390 V-8, a customized ’58 Buick, a Lincoln hardtop with a 351 Cleveland engine, a ’64 T-Bird or a half dozen others either waiting for Rex to restore or to find a new home. Walls can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (865) 898-4200.
If you have a special car or a collection of cars, or an upcoming automotive event, e-mail Jason at email@example.com. Please allow at least two weeks in advance for your event to be posted.