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Inside one hot rodder’s drive to build muscle cars for disabled veterans

19 July 2013

From his Virginia hot rod shop, Dan Short of DRS Automotive Fantomworks has been able to parlay his talents into a Fantomworks cable TV series on Velocity and a growing reputation for quality car restorations. Short, a former Green Beret, launched an effort six years ago to build hot rods that wheelchair-bound veterans could enjoy. This Sunday, Short will show off the results — and how close he came to failing.

Most solutions for helping paraplegic or similarly disabled veterans get back on the road involves transforming some kind of van, simply because there's no other vehicle typically capable of carrying the veteran, his or her wheelchair and all the power equipment necessary to raise and lower access ramps. Those conversions can also be costly — starting around $12,000 and escalating from there for just the equipment and hand controls — meaning most veterans shop for used vans to save money.

Short says the idea of providing wounded veterans with a better ride though a charity he calls Wounded Wheels was one of the reasons he founded his own shop:

"I want to put them in a sports car, a muscle car — something they desire to drive — rather than a minivan," he says. " I knew I had a better shot of getting pregnant than getting some other fab shop to let me put a wheelchair in a muscle car."

Short chooses to make his first attempt at a Wounded Wheels transformation with a 1970 Chevy Chevelle SS in good condition. By modern standards, the Chevelle SS is a big car; by wheelchair-accessible standards, it's unworkable. On the Velocity show Sunday, Short's challenges mount quickly, from needing to cut and create a third door in the Chevelle's flanks to modifying the wheelchair itself. "We expected the Chevelle modification process to be tough," Short says, "but it's far worse than we ever thought."

I won't spoil the ending of the show, but Short proves himself committed to the project. You can see how it turns out Sunday evening on Velocity TV at 8 p.m. EDT/7 p.m. CDT

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