Fire destroys classic car shop
By SAUNDRA AMRHEIN, Times Staff Writer
Published September 30, 2003


PORT RICHEY - He tried to make jokes, even though his heart was breaking.

Dave Koorey watched as fire officials pulled pieces of singed steel and crumbling fiberglass out of the rubble.

On a windy, overcast Monday afternoon, he saw his dreams lying in the ashes of what was once Dave Koorey Street Rods, where he has built vintage automobiles for the past 12 years. Sitting on the front lawn of his business was the black chassis and melted fiberglass of a 1923 Ford Model T-Bucket and a 1935 Ford.

From scratch, he and his employees had made bodies and frames of the T-Bucket cars, as well as 1932 roadsters, coupes and sedans. He had spent countless hours in the shop, getting the custom-made cars ready for sale to others with a similar passion.

"I put my time and love into them, and they go out with my signature," he said.

But on Sunday night, Koorey stood by as flames devoured his 7,000-square-foot shop on Afton Lane. All he could do was help police push spectators back from the wall of fire. And on Monday, he waited to go inside to pick through the remains of 20 automobiles, several of which had been ready for sale and the start of the car show season.

"It's heart sickening to see loving creations that you make, almost like family members, that you built ... " he said, trailing off before catching himself. "But it isn't going to rip me apart. I believe God will get me through this."

No one was injured in the fire, which started about 8:45 p.m. Sunday. But because of the presence of a 55-gallon drum of resin and a similar-sized drum of acetone used on the cars, officials closed part of Ridge Road from Leo Kidd Avenue to Congress Street and evacuated residents from Formel Avenue until the fire was put out about midnight.

The state Fire Marshal's Office worked the scene Monday, trying to learn what had started the fire. The cause remained under investigation Monday afternoon, said state Fire Marshal Lt. Mark Sauls. He said officials are expected to return to the scene today.

Meanwhile, Koorey said his insurance will probably cover the loss of the building and the cars, which he estimated will total $500,000 - half of that for the cars and half for the building. But he didn't know how much money he would have left to start his business over again and buy the molds for the cars.

Aside from his own loss, Koorey said 10 families who worked with him at various times in the shop will be affected by the loss. Employees had left the shop about 4 p.m. Sunday, and Koorey checked on the shop again about 7 p.m. after eating dinner. All the breakers had been shut off except for the exhaust fan in the ceiling, Koorey said.

Koorey was alerted to the fire by his own alarm service just before 9 p.m. Several blocks away at home, he raced to his car in his bare feet and sped to the shop, where flames were already shooting through the northern end of the roof. Koorey said he called 911, but within five minutes, the entire roof was engulfed in flames.

Units from Pasco County Fire Rescue and the Port Richey and New Port Richey fire departments responded.

The fire spread rapidly, he said, possibly fueled by gasoline in some of the cars.

Koorey, 58, fell in love with classic cars in the late 1950s. He learned how to fix them at a technical school in Cleveland. But Koorey entered the jewelry business for the next 25 years. He returned full time to his passion in 1979, when he started a vintage car business in Naples.

His cars have been in circuses and in Broadway shows, he said.

The yellow 1923 Model T-Bucket whose charred remains sat outside the shop Monday would have gone for $16,000, while the 1935 Ford would have sold for $25,000, he said.

Koorey tried to show a strong front even to customers who called and got the news from him on his cell phone. But at one point, he shook a bottle of painkillers.

"I'm smiling," he said, "but I got a headache."