'I need automobiles anonymous': Belleville man has about 25 cars in various states of repair

News-DemocratSeptember 29, 2013 

Mike Bach has restored, repaired or rebuilt so many vehicles, he can't even come up with a number.

He estimated 50 until his friends in the Southern Illinois Street Rod Association insisted it was more like 100.

"I'm addicted," said Mike, 54, of rural Belleville. "Instead of Alcoholics Anonymous, I need automobiles anonymous."

Mike was in his element last weekend at the Belleville Oktoberfest Car Show, which he organized with wife Marcia. Everyone seemed to know him.

Ken Moreland stopped to chat about his 1970 Plymouth Barracuda with a white convertible top and seats and original Sassy Grass Green paint.

Mike opened the hood to reveal a sparkling new motor. The car even has air conditioning.

"That's a pretty rare bird," said Ken, 56, of O'Fallon.

Lee Schaefer admired Mike's 1931 burgundy Plymouth roadster with a black top and artillery-style wheels.

He bought the car last year from the son of a St. Louis man who had died after partially restoring it. Mike finished the job.

"I love that car," said Lee, 53, of Belleville. "It's just pure class."

Her husband, Rick Schaefer, had his eye on another Bach vehicle, one that turns heads everywhere it's driven or displayed: A 1937 Dodge Westchester station wagon.

The "woodie" has rear bodywork made of wood, specifically hard maple with a mahogany strip.

"The Beach Boys made woodies famous back in the '60s," said Rick, 63. "It was the ultimate surfer car. You just threw your surfboards in the back."

Mike is the owner of Mike Bach Auto Body in Belleville, which goes hand-in-hand with his hobby.

"He does excellent work, and he's always willing to give advice on a car," said fellow street rodder Vernon Thacker, 60, of Smithton.

Mike has been rebuilding old vehicles since he was 17. The first was a 1937 LaSalle four-door. Next came a 1948 International pickup.

Today, Mike has about 25 vehicles in various stages of restoration or repair. He and his son, Jeremy, work on two or three at a time.

"I've been going to car shows since I was a baby," said Jeremy, 29, of Belleville, who drives a metallic-amber 1959 Chevy El Camino. "It's just something I grew up around, and I kept doing it."

Jeremy works at Mike Bach Auto Body, and mother Marcia serves as office manager. Sister Kim, 25, isn't involved in the business, but thanks to Dad, her second car is a blue 1934 Fiat roadster.

Marcia has learned to live with her husband's obsession, like other wives deal with golf or hunting.

"If it wasn't such a good group of people (in the street rod association), it'd probably be an issue," she said. "But it's such a good group of people, I don't mind doing whatever needs to be done."

The club consists of about 25 men who own street rods, ride in car cruises and hold car shows, raising money for Hospice of Southern Illinois and Belleville Area Humane Society.

"Every Thanksgiving weekend, we have a club project where we work on a member's car, helping him get it on the road," said Al, 66 of Glen Carbon. "And Mike opens up his shop and lets us use all his equipment and materials."

Mike's woodie is his favorite. He knows of only about a dozen Westchesters still rolling in the U.S.

Mike bought the stationwagon in California. It was in such bad shape, it had to be secured with chicken wire for the trip to Illinois.

Mike replaced much of the wood and painted metal body parts Go Man, Go metallic orange.

"It sounds like an old peddler's van going down the road," he said. "It squeaks and creaks. And then every time it rains, the wood expands and contracts, and all these gaps (between wood panels) change.

"Of course, that makes it squeak even more. But that's OK. It's still fun to drive."

The Southern Illinois Street Rod Association welcomes new members. For more information, call President Al Way 618-210-9373 or visit the Facebook page.

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