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Model T a legacy of father-son team

Chrome is where the heart is

In almost 30 years of working together on cars, it was the last car Russ Freund, of Post Falls, restored with his dad, Claude, that has attracted the greatest acclaim.

In January, the purple 1925 Ford Model T Roadster won prizes for design, engine and finish at one of the country’s most prestigious car shows, the Grand National Roadster Show in Pomona, Calif. The car has been featured on the cover of two street rod magazines and has been photographed for a third. Journalists have called from New Zealand and France.

On Saturday, Russ Freund will show off the car to a hometown crowd at the 21st annual Car d’Lane classic car show in Coeur d’Alene. But the homecoming will be bittersweet after the sudden death of his father and partner on April 27 while recovering from surgery. Claude Freund, a master builder of classic cars in Newman Lake, was 64.

“It’s really hard,” said Freund, who is 33. “He was my best friend. He’s always been my mentor. We were a team. The last car we happened to do was mine.”

Claude Freund was born and raised in Spokane and built his first classic car – a Ford Model T – when he was just 13 years old. He and his wife of 45 years, Susan, who were sweethearts at East Valley High School, lived in Newman Lake in a replica of a 1916 Texaco gas station.

“He’s always had that passion. I’d go over on dates and we’d be in the garage,” said Susan Freund, tears in her eyes. “It was such a lifestyle.”

Claude Freund’s memorial service on May 7 at St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Otis Orchards was billed as a “car show and celebration” of his life. Hundreds of people showed up in classic cars, and in lieu of flowers they brought 3,000 Hot Wheels toys to be donated to children’s charities.

Russ Freund caught the passion from his father early in life. Family photos show him crawling under cars with his dad at age 5 or 6. He learned to drive in a 1934 Ford Coupe. Over the years, father and son restored numerous cars, attended dozens of shows with their families and landed their creations on the covers of classic car publications.

But the 1925 Model T was a step above.

He restored it on a budget, using income from his day job of selling automotive paint. He notes that some competitors’ cars have had professional restorations costing up to $1 million.

At the Pomona show, only two of the top cars were built by their owners; the rest were bought, he said.

“Normal people can’t afford $200,000 cars,” Freund said. “For me, it’s a pride in ownership thing. I built that car.”

He chipped away at it over the course of two years with help from his dad and his buddies in Thee Inland Emperors car club. Though it might not have some of the features of other cars, Freund said, his father always told him “it’s not how much money you spend on a car; it’s what you do with that money.”

When he headed to Pomona with his dad and a bunch of friends, he said, “I’m broke. I’m flat busted. I’ve put my heart, my soul, into this car. The goal was to go, just to go there.

“We never thought in a million years we had a shot at winning.”