by John Adams-Graf
Gary Wirth’s entry into the historic military vehicle hobby was much like that of many of our readers. The son of a WWII veteran (his dad was a waist gunner on a B-24), Gary grew up around veterans, watched war movies and built model kits of planes, tanks, ships and wheeled vehicles. When he was in high school, he took extra classes at the Dakota County (Minnesota) Vocational Technical College where he matured his eye for detail that had emerged while making from the plastic models when he was younger. Now, he applied that skill to do vehicle body work and apply paint. In addition, he learned the intricacies of vehicle maintenance. More than two decades would pass, though, before his two passions—restoration and military history—would merge into one calling.
A FAN OF COLORS
By 1995, Gary had already worked for more than 20 years as a body and paint man, perfecting his skills as he rebuilt, restored and reconditioned muscle cars, hot rods, family vehicles and even a few minivans. He worked for a body shop until the mid-1980s, when he left to work for a custom shop. Following that gig, he worked as an “itinerate restorationist” for about five years. In that time, he perfected his skills: If it had wheels and needed paint or bodywork, Gary was able to meet the challenge. In fact, people hired him to restore everything from boats to old gas pumps. It was about this time one of his automotive projects won “Street Rod of the Year,” a coveted award annually bestowed on just one vehicle by the Minnesota Street Rod Association.
One day in 1997, as Gary drove home after a day of bodywork, a truck alongside a driveway caught his eye. Even though the military paint and markings were no longer visible, Gary recognized the martial appearance of the truck. When he stopped to look it over, he discovered it was a Korean War-era Dodge M37. Telling his dad about the truck, Gary volunteered, “If you buy it, I will restore it.”
Little could anyone imagine the path this 3/4-ton truck was about to blaze.
A NEW COLOR: OLIVE DRAB
Years before he discovered the M37 on the side of the road, Gary had already worked on “military vehicles”—he just never realized there was a whole hobby connected to it.
While working for a private contractor, Gary was asked to detail a number of Chrysler V-12 engines. In fact, his instructions were, “Make them look like they are brand new.”
It wasn’t until he completed the project, and the motors were shipped off, did he learn they were destined for the Israeli Army.
It was that M37 that his dad bought, however, that opened the world of historic military vehicles to Gary. As he collected information on the original configuration, he began meeting a whole different breed of vehicle enthusiasts. “In the collector car hobby,” he explained, “people are always scrutinizing each other’s vehicles.” He noted that in the military vehicle hobby, “There is a camaraderie because of the connection of history with the vehicle.” Gary discovered that historic military vehicle enthusiasts share a common passion for all military vehicles.
HE DIDN’T PLAN IT THIS WAY
Just as in any community, word of a good bodywork man spread. Soon, Gary was doing military vehicle bodywork and paint for others. By 2013, his reputation was well established. People who wanted someone with an eye for detail who didn’t cut corners contacted Gary to see if he was available to complete their projects.
His reputation was growing: To date, he has completed the paint and bodywork on no fewer than 14 MVPA National Convention 1st place awards (more than any other individual!); six Military Vehicles Magazine cover vehicles (again, more than any other person!) and restored or partially restored 7 WWII Jeeps, 6 3/4-ton command cars, 4 1-1/2-ton Dodge 6x6s, 3 M38s, 2 M38A1s, 4 M37s, 2 M42s and more than 30 other vehicles and accessories ranging from a Bren carrier and M20 armored car to 8 reproduction WWII bicycles and a WWII Quonset hut.
He hadn’t set out to restore historic military vehicles for a living, but the volume of work that he and his son, Paul, have completed, finally convinced Gary he needed to protect his shop, investment and family. This past year, Gary and Paul formed a partnership called, “MV Specialties, LLC.”
Gary is reluctant to publicize the business too widely. “Primarily, my work comes by word of mouth,” he explains, adding that he doesn’t want to commit too far out in the future. Already on his docket are a number of vehicles, including a WC-56, another Universal Carrier and even an AH-1 Cobra helicopter.
When pressed if he considers any one vehicle to be his specialty, he says he doesn’t have a particular favorite, but prefers to work on vehicles 1-1/2-tons or smaller. He did note Jeeps are a lot of fun to restore, but are much more complicated than larger trucks because of the number of parts involved.
A WHOLE FAMILY HOBBY
Gary admits one of the benefits of restoring historic military vehicles is that it has become a hobby for his whole family. Together with his wife, Sherry, and son Paul, and his wife, Alissa, the Wirths enjoy dressing in WWII fashions and participating in living history events, parades, USO dances and veteran memorial events. Paul and Alissa have enlisted their friends to put on 1940s fashion shows. The military vehicles provide the context, background and transportation, but are not the primary focus—that would be enjoying time with family and friends.
For more info:
MV Specialties, LLC
Gary and Paul Wirth
18765 Red Wing Blvd
Hastings, Minnesota 55033