MIDDLEVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — Stepping into Dean “Dino” Arnold’s body shop in Middleville is like stepping back to a time when muscle and design ruled the road.
Classic street rods and customized Corvettes are parked side-by-side or on racks.
“Everyone teases me: ‘You live in a dream world, man. Why don’t you come down to wherever people live?’ I say, ‘Well, I’ve done this my whole life. This is all I know how to do,’” Arnold told News 8.
He got the car bug as a teenager. A stint in the U.S. Air Force brought him to Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda, on the other side of the state, in the 1960s, during the height of the war in Vietnam. He said is mechanic skills likely kept him stateside on order of his commanding officer.
“Every time I got a shipment to go out, he turned around and said, ‘You can’t leave yet, my 44’s not done yet,’” Arnold said.
After his military career, Arnold opened a body shop. In the 1980s, he got into custom design. He builds street legal copycat versions of the classics from scratch.
“There’s some variations and differences and stuff from the original pieces,” Arnold said. “But they’re pretty much on track to what the original ones were made.”
But a recreation of the original Ford GT40 holds a special parking spot in the garage.
The new movie “Ford v. Ferrari,” released Friday, provides the cinematic explanation. In the early 1960s, the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race was dominated by the Europeans. Henry Ford II, grandson of company founder Henry Ford, and his right-hand man Lee Iacocca wanted to get into the race. They had a deal to purchase Ferrari, the Italian carmaker was the one to beat at Le Mans at the time. A meeting was set with Enzo Ferrari.
“Enzo’s sitting up in his office and looking down over the factory and he says, ‘Know what? I’m not going to sell. I’m going to keep it.’ Infuriated Ford so bad, they wanted to beat them at the Le Mans racing circuit,” Arnold described.
Enter Carrol Shelby. The famed auto designer was hired by Ford to do one thing: beat Ferrari at Le Mans and establish Ford as a performance brand at home. The GT40 was end result.
By 1966, Shelby and driver Ken Miles accomplished Ford’s goal.
“They kicked their fanny across the track for about five years,” Arnold said.
That legacy lives on in Arnold’s garage: there’s the replica GT40 and another Ford creation of the era, the Daytona.
Arnold builds them to customer specs, including some modern conveniences. Most of the recreations sticker out at between $50,000 and $100,000.
The price tag on an original GT is in the millions.
“Even though we kind of hang close to the original specs and all that stuff while we’re working on it — because why reinvent the wheel when it worked good then? — we want to make it affordable for the average guy,” Arnold said.
Some of Arnold’s replicas will be on display at Celebration Cinema North in Grand Rapids this weekend to celebrate the release of the movie.