The St. Donatus Body & Paint shop, in a town of 140 people, seems an unlikely spot to find a Ferrari, a Formula Ford race car, a 1965 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud III that's now in the garage. But owner Greg Kalmes doesn't blink an eye and folks around here are used to seeing these exotic machines sitting out front as the primer paint dries.
Greg, 52, who has lived in St. Donatus all of his life, never intended to become an expert auto body man when in high school. (See today's Ramblin' column in The Gazette.) But, working on cars intrigued Greg enough that he learned the craft at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids.
Greg gained an appreciation for classic cars while working at the Studebaker garage in Dyersville and got his big break in 1980 after he'd set up his own two-stall shop in St. Donatus. Dr. John "Jack" Frost, a Dubuque dermatologist who lived up the road, asked Greg to work on his 1959 Chevrolet Corvette.
Of course, Greg knew a little bit about Dr. Frost, who died in 2006. Greg was just 11 when his own father died, so Dr. Frost took him under his wing as a surrogate father.
According to his obituary, "Jack was known as an 'excessive' automobile enthusiast. He campaigned several drag racing cars under the logo 'Doctor Orders' through the '50s, '60s and '70s, setting several national records in the process. During this period of time he also owned a racing speed shop 'Hypo, Inc.' Jack is probably best known as a visionary car collector, acquiring some of the most desirable vehicles in automotive history. Jack also was an aspiring automotive journalist with several published articles."
Obviously, Greg did a bang-up job on that classic Corvette, which led to work on other cars for the good doctor including a 1957 Corvette, a 1950s Hudson Hornet (a dominating race car of its era), a couple of Rolls-Royces and a pair of Ferrari Daytonas, one a coupe and the other a spyder.
"Dr. Frost was really good about letting us take his cars to shows and parades and stuff," Greg says.
All the exposure brought Greg additional customers with their classic cars. Greg has worked on a lot of '40s and '50s cars, some street rods, some muscle cars and a lot of his favorite make, Ford's Mustang. (Click here to see Greg's Web site photos of some projects.)
The list also includes the Cooper T-79 built in the mid-1960s by famed racer and car builder Bruce McLaren as well as a couple of Formula Ford race cars. The Lotus, BMW, Porsche and Jaguar nameplates have also been frequent visitors to St. Donatus Body & Paint. He once even repainted a 1957 BMW motorcycle by mail order from San Francisco -- the body parts were shipped to Greg who shipped them back when he was done.
In Greg's garage now, in addition that 1965 Rolls, you'll find a 1967 Shelby GT500 Mustang, a 1965 Mustang coupe and a 1970 Mercury Cougar XR-7. Out front is parked Greg's "shop" car, the one he uses to run errands, a blue 1970 Ford Mustang Mach I.
"One time," Greg says with a chuckle, we figured the average age of a car in here is 40 or 45 years old."Because, like any car nut will tell you, they don't make 'em like they used to. And it takes somebody like Greg to keep those cars of yesteryear in the shape they've always meant to be in -- shiny, clean and dent free.