Body shop fire damages vintage cars

Staff Writer

Last update: March 22, 2005

ORMOND BEACH -- Randy Crabtree was about to climb into the shower Monday morning when his wife, Kathleen Brennan, yelled that his nearby auto body shop was burning.
Running barefoot into the smoke-filled shop, Crabtree said he was too late to save several vintage cars and NASCAR memorabilia he has collected over many years.

The fire, which destroyed 70 percent of Randy's Auto Body, 82 S. Yonge St., was labeled suspicious by the State Fire Marshal's Office.

"The cause of the fire wasn't apparent," said Joe Radcliffe, the city's public information officer.

The blaze damaged an official 1981 Pontiac Trans-Am Pace Car, a 1966 Shelby Mustang, a 1965 1/2 Mustang, a 1966 Mustang GT with 15,000 original miles and a 1972 Alfa Romeo, Crabtree said. Numerous other vehicles also were damaged, he said.

Three racing motors were destroyed, including a 1969 427 Chevrolet NASCAR motor, he said. A racecar hood from a Richard Petty car, a hood from a 1959 "Bruno" Porsche and other items also burned.

"That's all my hot rod stuff in there," Crabtree said. "Hundreds of thousands of dollars for parts you can't get anymore. All the parts to the Shelby were in the shop. The body was out back and not burnt."

Crabtree said his grandfather, Herman, started the shop in 1939.

Radcliffe said the fire started about 7:15 a.m. in the office area of the auto body shop and quickly spread to the ceiling then throughout the building. Nobody was in the auto body shop when the fire started, he said.

Flames threatened to spread to the neighboring Crown Pawn Shop to the north and a vacant house to the west, which city officials said "might have been John D. Rockefeller's maid's house," built in 1915, also owned by Crabtree, 50.

But firefighters were able to contain the blaze to the auto body shop, with only minimal damage to the vacant house.

Paul Howes, president of the 16-year-old pawn shop, said the firemen had the fire "pretty well contained" by the time he arrived, before 9 a.m., to check his own building which "smelled like smoke."

Crabtree also owns additional surrounding properties, about 5 acres in all, including his own residence, he said.

"I ran out with no shoes and went right into the building and out the other end. I heard one explosion and it all went quick."

The fire temporarily puts 15 employees out of work, although Crabtree said he would put some of them back to work cleaning up and trying to rebuild.

"What bugs me is that the insurance company never paid yet for the hurricane damage," Crabtree said.

"I have been struggling to keep the place going for the last six months and just got it back to running order in the last six weeks." Several customer vehicles were also damaged in the blaze, he said.