This article appears in the June issue of 400 Life.
On most days, city of Cumming Mayor Troy Brumbalow can be seen around town performing his elected duties: attending city council meetings, speaking to local groups and tending to city business.
To those used to seeing him in his official roles, the sight of the mayor caked in oil and grease restoring classic cars might be a shock, but the mayor has his own separate reputation in the world of classic car restorations.
Brumbalow’s most recent project is a recreation of the iconic Pontiac Firebird Trans Am made famous by Burt Reynolds in “Smokey and the Bandit,” which had parts of the film shot in Forsyth County on Buford Dam Road and Ga. 400.
“It’s a ’78 Trans Am. I bought the car kind of like it is paint and body wise, but we updated all the running gear: it got a new-model Camaro engine and transmission that’s been bumped up to about 600 horsepower, made a Posi-traction rear-end, wheels, tires, brakes,” he said. “We went with a modern wheel that is a re-creation of the original but gives it more of that modern look.”
Brumbalow said while the exterior of the car looks like it would have in the ’70s, he added air-conditioning, a new motor and other modern touches.
“That’s called a resto-mod, where you take an original looking car, but then you update all the running gear and brakes and all that and make it perform much better,” Brumbalow said. “Like this car originally was 225 horsepower, now its 600 horsepower, it has much better brakes, a six-speed automatic. It gives it the modern technology, but you make that into an old car that has those classic lines.”
When running for the mayoral seat in 2017, Brumbalow’s 1962 Dodge Town Wagon was a common sight around town, and, like the Trans Am, featured some new amenities in a classic car.
“It was the same thing: we put a new-model engine and transmission in it, brakes and all that kind of stuff,” Brumbalow said. “So we had updated it, but left the outward appearance … even the roof had rust and that kind of stuff. That’s kind of an in-thing now. It used to be everything had to be perfect and shiny and everything like that. Now, it’s cool to have one that has old, rusty paint and all that kind of stuff.”
While Brumbalow is finishing a car known for its role in the movies, it should be noted that one of his own creations has made its way to the big screen.
Frankencuda, a custom 1971 Plymouth Barracuda, was featured in Fast 5, the fifth movie in the Fast and the Furious franchise, including two of the film’s three trailers. Brumbalow was able to meet stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Vin Diesel and the late Paul Walker.
Diesel and Walker even shot a scene talking about the car that didn’t make the film but didn’t wind up on the cutting room floor either.
“I hung out down there for a week, and then had to go back later,” Brumbalow said. “When they left Atlanta, they had all the motion picture film wrapped up and warning tape ‘Motion Picture Film: Do not X-Ray.’ Well, when they went through the Atlanta airport, a TSA agent insisted on X-raying one of them. That was a million dollar roll of film … then I get a call about a month later, ‘We need your car back.’”
Brumbalow joked that the car is still featured in the movie “but don’t blink ’cause it’s gone.” Two films later, he came to help a friend who was working with cars on the movie and had a chance to catch up with Walker just days before his untimely passing.
“We talked for like 30 minutes. He remembered me, my car from two movies ago and asked me what I was working on now. The guy was just the salt of the earth, no bodyguards or anything. He was just a super guy,” Brumbalow said. “Then, he died in that car wreck like two or three days later.”
Frankencuda is likely Brumbalow’s best-known work and hits several of the checkmarks for his creations: it’s unique, it’s Mopar — such as a Dodge or a Plymouth — and it’s very fast.
“It’s weird, a lot of the stuff I’ve done is custom, one-off, like Frankencuda and I did a Vipercuda that had air ride and a reverse opening hood and Lamborghini doors and all that stuff and made it a Viper engine and interior into a 1970-model car,” he said.
“The fun stuff is kind of dreaming it up and building it and showing it off for a while. It’s almost like you get a little bored with it and you get some new idea in your head that you want to go create, so I’ve never really kept them a long, long time.”
All in all, Brumbalow estimated he has built somewhere between 15 and 20 cars from the ground up.
“A lot of them, it’s been every nut and bolt, you completely disassemble the car to just the bare body, there’s nothing bolted together,” he said. “Then you sandblast it and do all the bodywork, replace any rust, then you assemble it, literally every piece of the car, it’s new or it’s been reconditioned. You basically build the car back from scratch.”
Brumbalow said he has a particular interest with Mopar, a stance he said he has had since he started driving.
“The first car I ever fell in love with, I had a Richard Petty blue, ’73 [Plymouth] Barracuda, and they’re so different,” he said. “In the South, it’s mainly Chevrolets and some Fords, Mopars were not as common back in the day, so when you saw a really nice one, you were really seeing something, and back in the muscle car era, they had some of the fastest cars around, so I just liked them because they looked different. I loved the looks of them.”
Though Brumbalow said he never had any formal training as a mechanic, he’s learned from working on cars “just out of necessity” with his dad as a kid.
Since then, the hobby has taken him all around the country, including his next stop, the Hot Road Power Tour, hosted by Hot Rod magazine, which he will take part in this summer.
In previous years, the tour has taken him from Texas to Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin one year and from Florida to New Jersey in another.
“You’ll have about 10,000 old cars that are going from an event to the next event,” Brumbalow said. “You’ll get up early in the morning, clean your car, then you’ll drive and it’s just this caravan for a couple of miles of old cars. They’ll have a predetermined route that you’ll take, and you go through little towns. People are sitting out in the lawn chairs. They know it’s coming so they’ll sit out there and wave and hoop and holler.”
From small towns to movie stars, Brumbalow said there is a certain camaraderie and passion in all classic car fans.
“Something about riding around driving classic cars, it’s a cool feeling,” he said. “Classic cars, they’re cool no matter how cool you are. You take teenagers today, and I was no different, you look back at cars built before you were born, but they’re cool. The lines of the cars, they’re really almost legendary.”