Historic muscle car up in drawing funds to support local cancer victim

........................................................................................................................................................................................

When his older brother was diagnosed with cancer in October, Art Gonzales immediately began thinking about how he could help.

Gonzales decided to help his older brother Gilbert, 55, fight cancer with good old American muscle.

Well, a good old American muscle car really.

The proud owner of a 1967 Oldmobile 442, Gonzales says the high-powered car is rather rare and very valuable.

He has put at least $25,000 under the hood, and collectors have appraised its value between $50,000 and $65,000.

"For $2, someone is getting a heck of a car," Gonzales said.

To raise money to help his brother with mounting bills, Gonzales is raffling off his car at $2 a chance. The lucky winner will be drawn on July 27.

Gonzales said Gilbert, who has been married to his wife Kathy for 35 years and lives in Socorro, was diagnosed with neruoblastoma, a cancerous tumor that develops from nerve tissue, this past fall.

"At first he had a lot of back pain and couldn't use his right leg. He had to use a cane," Gonzales said. After he was diagnosed, Gonzales said Gilbert had to take an early retirement after 23 years working for New Mexico Tech.

"When you retire early, your pension isn't as much," he said. "We are not affluent people, so I started thinking about what could I do to help."

The chemotherapy and radiation treatments were covered by insurance, but the traveling expenses weren't, Gonzales said.

"There are just other things you have to pay for when you need to get from point A to point B," he said.

Gonzales bought the car in 1991, quite by accident. He ended up out in Punta de Agua, while looking for an address in Tajique.

"I went a little too far and on the side of the road, I saw the rear end sticking out of this little car port with a dirt roof," he said. Gonzales stopped and knocked on the door, asking about the car.

"There was this little old man there, probably in his 80s. I traded him a camcorder I'd paid like $250 for," Gonzales said.

Gonzales did all the engine work himself, and his cousin in Socorro painted the car.

"He stripped off everything. I was a little worried; there was stuff everywhere," he said. But everything made it back on the Olds with a fresh coat of a custom DuPont paint color, "Purple Art."

Selling raffle tickets for the car has become a long-term project, as Gonzales takes it out to different communities so people can see it.

Residents in Valencia County can get a first-person look and purchase tickets, when the car is parked at Tillery Buick GMC in Los Lunas on Jan. 5.

Gonzales is also selling the tickets via mail. Entrants can send a check or money order made out to Art Gonzales to 21 Sonnenberg Loop, Belen, NM 87002, with a self-addressed stamped envelope. The ticket half with the entrant's information is kept by Gonzales and the other half will be mailed back.

The winner will be called on the day of the drawing, so the entrants must include a valid phone number, with area code.

Gonzales understands that asking people to just send him money is a bit unorthodox and may look questionable. But there is a simple solution.

"If people think this is a scam, don't buy a ticket," he says.

Gonzales has gotten entrants from places such as Las Cruces, California and Deming, and has sold about 3,000 tickets so far.

The tickets are kept in a white five-gallon bucket in his living room.

The only requirement to enter the raffle is entrants must be 18 years old, Gonzales said.

"You really have to understand the concept of this car," he said. "It's a lot of power and you can get seriously hurt. The winner needs to understand that."

Although it was never his intention to sell the car, Gonzales says muscle cars are a passion he and his brother share.

"We'd race as kids, and when I'd beat him, he'd say, 'Oh, I had carburetor problems.' It was always something," he says, laughing. "People ask me why I'm selling off the car. You know, I can find another car. Rebuild it again. Spend a small fortune again."

He stops speaking. It's clear from his silence that while there are many other cars in the world, there is only one Gilbert.


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.