We don’t care who you are—we know you have a favorite TV or movie car. It’s not just car folks who have a connection with the car(s) anthropomorphized on the little or big screen. It’s everyone. Back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s characters were defined by they cars they drove, and those cars had a personality all their own. Sometimes quite literally, as in the case of Michael Knight’s best friend KITT, a highly advanced and artificially intelligent Trans Am.
We all imagined ourselves jumping over Rosco’s police cruiser at the wheel of General Lee from Dukes of Hazzard, or plotting with the truckers on the CB while driving Trigger from Smokey and The Bandit. Even if you were the less adventurous type, you could still see yourself hunting ghosts with the Scooby Doo crew in the Mystery Machine.
Not many of us went on to do anything about it. We just lived vicariously through the tube. Those who have, more often do so by purchasing the regular ole production version of their favorite car star.
Very few go so far as to replicate the overall theme. Even fewer have more than one TV/movie car in their personal collection, but it just so happens that Gabriel Hink of Hot Rod Alley located in Billings, Montana, does—in fact, he has eight.
For Gabriel, it started in high school; a time when public schools regularly offered “shop class.” The idea behind these classes was to expose children to the basics of home repair, manual craftsmanship, and machine safety. In Hink’s case, auto shop class sparked a life-long fascination with cars.
Through these classes, Hink realized that the mechanics of a car didn’t excite him as much as the paint. “Don’t get me wrong, mechanics are cool, but nothing is as dramatic as fresh paint,” he clarifies. His attraction to any of it might have waned if not for his father, but not in the way you think. Young Gabriel expressed the desire to restore a car with his father, but dad was disinterested. “He was an amazing father. He just wasn’t into cars. The fact that my dad didn’t want it, made me want it even more. My drive might have fizzled had he taken me up on the offer.”
The first car Hink painted was a ‘77 Corvette purchased from a Gunnery Sergeant in his unit while serving in the Marines. Originally, he wanted to pay to have it painted, but after a few estimates decided he would rather learn to paint himself. “I figured I could screw it up 3 times and still save money,” he chuckles. And so he enrolled in night school at his local college, and after 60 credit hours had finally learned paint and body on his ‘77 Vette.
Once finished serving with the Marines, he moved to Vegas and opened a Martial Arts school. Oddly enough, this is when he figured out the art of flipping cars. The school wasn’t making enough money to foot the bills, so in 1997 he signed up for an account on eBay and used the fledgling auction site to buy cars, fix them up, and re-list them for a profit. “The advantage of doing this was being able to work out of my home shop and under my time frame,” he notes. In a span of 7 years, Hink auctioned off well over a hundred cars—and made a decent amount of money doing it.
Eventually, Hink would start a family. Not wanting to raise the kids in Vegas, he moved back to his hometown of Billings, Montana. By the way, this was no regular “pack up the wife and kids in the U-haul” kind of move. This was the kind of move that took 18 car haulers to transport the 50 cars Gabriel the Power Selling Painter had acquired while living in Vegas.
Once back in Billings, Gabriel opened an official restoration shop. At the same time, and perhaps as a marketing ploy, he began work on his very first TV car tribute. “General Lee was the first car I wanted. I told my great Grandmother many years ago I would have one,” he recalls. By 2006, Gabriel had created his personal version of General Lee.
A year later, Hink would happen upon an auction he couldn’t resist—that of a ‘87 Trans Am which would be transformed by Hink into one resembling KITT from his second favorite television show as a kid growing up—Knight Rider. “I remember watching it back then thinking I could own a car like that someday,” he recollects.
The next addition to his TV car fleet was a ‘64 Ford Econoline Van that he bought via the local nickel paper. Unable to resist the temptation to build a Mystery Machine from Scooby Doo “for the kids,” he snapped it up and got to work on what would ultimately become the “attention whore” of the bunch.
Seemingly on a roll, Gabriel bought and turned this ‘84 GMC Vandura into an A-Team Van look-alike. As fate would have it, Hink would finish the van just in time to enjoy a tie-in with the local movie theater when the big screen version of the classic show was released in 2010.
The next car, a ‘77 Trans Am, is his favorite. This one pays homage to Trigger from Smokey and the Bandit. What we haven’t mentioned up until now is the majority of cars Hink has painted in the past 15 years have been 2nd gen Trans Ams, with the number hovering around 100 or so. He even has a T/A bird tattoo on his right arm. If that isn’t love, we don’t know what is!
Gabe isn’t loyal to eBay. He scavenges for deals wherever he can find them. This ‘72 VW Bug was discovered on Craigslist, and he couldn’t turn down the opportunity to create a Herbie the Love Bug Tribute. “It’s totally the wrong year, but kids still love it,” he says. We’re sensing a theme here with the “for the kids” justification, are you??
Gabriel is not ashamed to admit he’s not the builder of every car in his collection. It’s important to note that Gabriel is a collector. The whole eBay/car flipping thing has always been a way to feed the, as he calls it, “1:1 scale Hot Wheels collection.” This ‘77 Camaro Bumblebee resembling the one from the blockbuster hit, Transformers, is the only car in the collection that Hink didn’t paint himself. “I found it on eBay for less money than I could build it,” he explains. When you already have 6 TV/Movie cars, why in the world would you stop there and risk passing up a good deal?
Last (for now), and certainly not least, is his latest creation in process: a ‘75 Torino which pays respect to the legendary ’70s show, Starsky and Hutch. “I have plans to make the this one into a dependable driver. I want to have some serious fun with it,” he laughs. By the looks of daily photos posted to the Hot Rod Alley Facebook page, work is going down fast and furiously and should be finished in no time.
When we asked if these cars would be seen on eBay, the answer was, “I think it’s inevitable. You can’t take ‘em with you. That being said, I have no plans to sell anytime soon. And then, I would only sell if I had a better one ready to go.” So, if you are in the market for a TV/movie car tribute, you are going to have to find your own, or better yet, have Hot Rod Alley create one for you.