As a 25-year veteran of the North Las Vegas police department, native Southern Nevadan Victor Dunn has always been an automobile enthusiast.
By happenstance, the 49 year-old Dunn ran across his latest purchase, a 1956 Chevrolet pickup in 2006.
The story of how he landed the classic car is as interesting as the car itself. In a sense, Dunn — a deputy chief with the NLV police department — ran into the deal of a lifetime.
“I was talking with my friend Mario Berlanga, Jr., about the fact that I wanted to find a classic car to buy in memory of my dad (Harold Woods), who had died about a year earlier,” said Dunn, who lived in Bastrop from 1964-70 prior to moving to Las Vegas. “I wanted something that I could restore in my dad’s memory.”
What happened next was mind-boggling considering that Berlanga made Dunn the offer of a lifetime; especially when considering today’s value of classic cars. The two had become friends considering that they were friends in high school and Berlanga was also a North Las Vegas reserve police officer.
“Out of nowhere, Mario suddenly informed me that he had a ’56 Chevrolet pickup,” explained Dunn. “We went to his house to look at it and it was exactly what I wanted.’
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Just when Dunn began to think about the price, Berlanga sweetened the deal even more.
”He gave the title and the keys to the truck and said that we’d talk price later,” Dunn said. “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.”
To this day seven years later, Berlanga — a North Las Vegas businessman who owns Mario’s Westside Market — continues to say, “We’ll talk about it sometime,” so no money has changed hands.
“I keep asking him when we’re going to settle up and I get the same answer every time,” said Dunn shaking his head. “Needless to say, this may be the best gift I have ever received. Mario knew my dad, too, and we used to go out together whenever my dad would come to town. We would have dinner and talk about the old days.”
Dunn immediately went to work reviewing automotive magazines. He discovered that his ’56 Chevy pickup was a long bed and the short bed model was more popular in what would become a frame-up restoration.
“I assembled a team that included (former off road racer) Howard Ringe, who is a fabricator now living in Idaho,” said Dunn. “The team also includes Ken McDaniel, (he built the 454 cubic inch Chevrolet power plant), Henry Mendoza (interior) and Norberto Hernandez (ADESA Las Vegas Car Auction painter).
“We had many others who contributed to the project, but these were the key people who were involved.”
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While Dunn doesn’t have an exact figure, he’s relatively certain that he has about $60,000 invested in the project. In fact, he spent much of his time working with the folks of Ed Bozarth Chevrolet in the northwest valley.
“I talked with the mechanics at Bozarth when we were building the motor,” explained Dunn. “I went from a small block 350 to a big block 454 and it took some specialized mechanics to figure it out. You learn to appreciate people like the mechanics at Bozarth when getting involved in a project like this.
“It’s been worth every penny. It’s a tribute to my dad and something that I think about every day.”
Dunn and his family have brought the pickup to Bastrop, where a memorial will be held for his father on Friday, July 5, at 6:30 p.m. at Trouser Hill Cemetery, off the Collinston Road. Dunn’s pastor, Dr. Robert E. Fowler Sr., is sending associate pastor Rev. Charles Smith of Victory Baptist Church to conduct the memorial.
“It’s going to ride really nice on the open road,” said Dunn of his ’56 Chevy. “And my brother tells me that there is nothing close to this truck back there, so I’m sure the looks will be amazing.
“Since we got it done, driving it on the streets has really been interesting. People love looking at the truck. It’s going to be one heckuva ride.”
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