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This is 80
Bernie’s Hobby Garage was warm and festive the afternoon of November 30, despite cold, slick and snowy conditions outside. Over 90 people joined to celebrate the guest of honor, Bernie Tyrrell, on his 80th birthday arranged by son Mick, daughter Michele, grandson Josh, their spouses and his wife Mary. The group shared stories, had some belly laughs, and listened to John Gross and the Blue Oval Boys Band.
“Turning 80 feels just like 79,” joked Bernie. Surrounded by family and friends in his garage on that wintry evening, he was certainly in his element. Memories came flooding back – many involving Bernie’s beloved cars.
Bernie’s passion for cars started at a young age. He remembers finding a 1947 six-cylinder Chevy on a farmer’s grove close to Yale, South Dakota, where he grew up. His
dad said, “I’ll help you fix it.” They got the car up and running when Bernie was in 8th grade.
“The car had some problems,” said Bernie. The most serious was the motor had a rod knocking so his dad said he'd show him (one time) how to put a rod in it from the bottom. After that, Bernie was to be on his own. He put in two carburetors and
a 2/4 split exhaust, resulting in several rod failures: hence trading it off for a Ford.
Bernie graduated from Yale High School in 1958, and before age 21, he was operating his own garage – Bernie’s Motor Clinic – in De Smet. Throughout his life, Bernie found joy in restoring old cars and attending car shows. In fact, Bernie helped run Automania for 10 years, seeing it through its evolution from downtown Sioux Falls to the fairgrounds to Brandon. Bernie also worked with Winterfest of Wheels on the original show, securing the motorcycle with the airplane engine and he secured vendors for the first three years of the show. Bernie also encouraged Joe Floyd to show his personal car collection.
“I enjoyed seeing a variety of cars from all over the country,” said Bernie, who put out the Automania magazine every spring and fall.
One of Bernie’s most cherished memories involved a vintage car that improved a man’s quality of life. Bernie learned that Corvette owner John Sweeney was a cancer patient weighing only 92 pounds. John was told that unless he reached 120 pounds, he wouldn’t be able to undergo chemotherapy and would pass away.
The Automania group decided to restore John's 1962 Corvette Roadster to cheer him up and appointed Bernie as project chairman. Bernie secured 21 sponsors who donated everything from the tires and wheels to the painting, transmission, engine and upholstery. They finished the car in nine months and proudly presented it to John, who was blown away by his dream car.
“John gained the weight, and his doctors and nurses said that his life was extended by three years,” said Bernie. “The Corvette was a big part of that.”
The best part of the story is that John was able to drive his daughter Shanna to her wedding in the newly restored Corvette. A priceless memory. John's wife Micki still has the car and shows it frequently at many car shows.
Bernie now lives in Sioux Falls with his wife of 57 years, Mary. His driver is a 1946 Ford with a Flathead V8 and he built a car show promo vehicle, a Yugo which is wrapped in bright colors, flowers and symbols from the Scooby-Doo theme, with the slogan "Yugo... I go... We all go to car shows!"
“It’s just like the Scooby-Doo mobile, and the kids love it!” Bernie chuckled.
Bernie was involved in a three-generation project with his son Mick and grandson Josh building a 1929 Essex. He also has other projects in process including a 1940 Lincoln V-12 flathead, '34 Chevy with a '96 Lingenfelter Corvette engine and running gear, and a ‘60s sprint car built in California by Bill Weinkauf. The car was sold and raced at Huset's by Leon Keenan and was Gary Zitterich's first ride.
Due to an accident a few years back that left him with metal in his left leg, a hip replacement and a prosthetic on the right leg, Bernie has had to slow down on restoring vintage cars.
Though he’s had to take it easier, Bernie’s fire for cars still burns brightly. He recently saw the movie Ford vs. Ferrari and thought it was excellent.
“I’m definitely a Ford guy, but have worked on restoring several makes and models –even an Oliver 6-cylinder tractor!”