Car Enthusiast Turned Legislative Advocate… and Spreading the Word

By Colby Martin

Like most car enthusiasts, I don’t recall a time when I wasn’t into cars. Mastering the form of a chopped hot rod coupe through drawing became an obsession early on. Owning one seemed nearly impossible. At an early age, I wondered if I could earn a living using these interests as assets. The results have proven unique.

School brought many interesting subjects, none of which could match my art classes—where hot rods were favorite subjects. Local car shows gave me a chance to showcase my illustrations publicly and design commercially. In college, I began freelancing for the automotive specialty-equipment industry. While employed by the renowned SO-CAL Speed Shop in 2002, I purchased the chopped ’31 Ford Model A pictured above in a very rough state.

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SEMA SAN Strike Force

John Kowalski (right) and his dream car—his homebuilt custom 1949 GMC ‘Jimmy’. Along with Tim Neuhaus (left) and Holly Ansman (center), they’re shown at the KUSI television studio in San Diego at the start of “Hot Rod Holly’s Christmas Morning Cruise” last year. According to John, “This event began in 2011 and gives gearheads without family commitments something to do together and help support those in need.” While toy drives were held the first two years, they have been delivering supplies to the San Diego winter homeless shelter since then.

Some folks are willing to lend much more than just a “helping hand”—more akin to a whole limb. This description certainly applies to dedicated SEMA Action Network (SAN) member John Kowalski. His pals in the Over the Hill Gang San Diego and Camaro Club of San Diego can reinforce the notion. In addition to assisting local charities with his car clubs, he has provided invaluable volunteer assistance to the SAN on numerous occasions—all to better a good cause. Kowalski appreciates the way that the SAN force works with lawmakers to find fair solutions in state legislatures. “Without the SAN, I would only represent one voice on state and federal politics,” says John. “Living in California, we need all the help we can get with the legislature here. We are banded together through the SAN and are able to sway the vote if enough of us participate and stay involved.” Like many gearheads, working in the garage with his father was an early inspiration for Kowalski’s love of the car hobby. “In my teens, my dad and I rebuilt an old Manx style dune buggy,” he explains. He and his friends later would get together and install their own car stereos.

John’s “serious wrenching” began when started to work on his 1949 GMC ‘Jimmy’ pickup (pictured above) after joining the Navy. While he’s had the truck since his junior year in high school, it’s been in the family since the early ‘60s—when his grandfather purchased it from the original owner. “When he passed away in 1968, my dad got Jimmy and gave it to my brother a few years later. He never had the funds to get it back on the road, so he gave it to me in 1982,” recalls Kowalski. The truck was in and out of storage until 2007, when it was moved to San Diego from Nebraska. At that point, John tore it down to the bare frame and slowly started to rebuild from the ground up—adding custom touches along the way. He drove it for two years in primer to figure out the vehicle’s issues and necessary changes after completing assembly in 2012. “Now I am in the process of correcting everything before final paint, which will hopefully be early next year.”

May your kindness inspire others as we enter the holiday season, John! Thanks for spreading so much cheer and have fun finishing your cool truck.



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