By Vinde Wells
A German Valley man’s college auto class project may soon become a legend.
Steve Zettle’s 1965 Pontiac GTO is one of 18 finalists in the 2019 Hot Wheels Legends Tour.
The shiny red muscle car was chosen last month as the winner of the Chicago car show that one of 18 stops on this year’s tour.
The overall winner will be selected in November, and that car will be replicated into one of the miniature cars Hot Wheels is known for.
Zettle said he didn’t expect to be the winner when he attended the show July 13 with family members and friends.
“We were all floored,” he said. “There were a lot of nice cars there.”
His car was one of 350 entered in the competition, and all entries are by Hot Wheels’ invitation only after an application process.
Zettle, 37, bought the car in 2002 when he was a student at Highland Community College, Freeport.
“The guy I bought it from was going to scrap it,” he said.
He worked on restoring the vehicle for two years, doing the body and paint work in class, and rebuilding the motor and transmission with the help of a friend of his father.
Another friend hand-painted all the lettering on the car.
The car has not had a sheltered existence — Zettle said he frequently takes it to local shows and cruise nights.
“I drive it everywhere, as long as it’s not more than 25 or 30 miles. The motor likes a lot of fuel,” he said with a grin. “I used to drive it to work every day.”
He works at Bowman Electric, Polo.
The judges on the Legends Tour are looking for cars that were built by the owner.
“Kind of the ‘garage-build’ I guess your would call it,” Zettle said.
The tour’s website bears that out, saying that finalist at each of the 18 shows are selected “based on the criteria of authenticity, creativity, and garage spirit.”
Zettle said he has loved cars ever since he was a youngster.
“I listened to my dad and his buddies talk about their old cars and how they wished they had them back,” he said.
The Legends Tour began in March with a show in Miami, Florida. Other shows have already been held in Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Bentonville, Charlotte, Philadelphia, New York City, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, and Denver.
Yet to go are shows in Seattle, Phoenix, San Jose, and San Diego, wrapping up in Los Angeles on Oct. 19.
A special stop on the tour on May 15 celebrated Hot Wheels’ 51st anniversary at it headquarters in El Segundo, California.
Zettle, along with the other 17 finalists, each win a trip to the SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) Show in Las Vegas Nov. 5-8 where judges will line them up side-by-side and choose the grand prize winner.
The car chosen will be inducted into the Hot Wheels Garage of Legends, “a collection of one-of-a-kind cars that embody the brand’s challenger spirit and legendary design,” according to the website.
Hot Wheels held it first Legends Tour in 2018, looking for custom automotive builders across the country.