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Frazee teen's Fiero finshed after nationwide group of enthusiasts pull all-nighter

Tyler Shipman smiles at the hood of his car, which was autographed by volunteers. (Vicki Gerdes/DL Newspapers)2 / 3
Tyler and the Shipman family pose next to the finished car. (Vicki Gerdes/DL Newspapers)3 / 3

It all started with a message on an Internet forum for fans of the classic sports car known as the Pontiac Fiero.

Having recently learned that he had terminal cancer, 18-year-old Tyler Shipman of Frazee posted a plea to anyone who might be able to help him realize a long-held dream.

"I have an '86 Fiero GT that I've been slowly fixing up," he wrote on Oct. 29. "Well now here I sit at the hospital with cancer, and they can't treat it, and not knowing how long I'll be here ... I'm just trying to find some way to get it restored before I pass."

What he was asking for was not a handout, he explained, but a helping hand. What he got was so much more than that.

Approximately 24 Fiero fans from across the U.S. gathered at Frazee Auto Body & Glass this past weekend to make Tyler's dream come true -- and many more contributed to the cause from afar.

They came from Florida, California, Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Texas -- all four corners of the country. Those who couldn't be there donated parts, money and even plane tickets for others to make the trip in their stead.

While he couldn't be there to take part in the restoration process himself, there was one other person, currently living on the other side of the world, who took a special interest in the weekend's proceedings.

Andy Wiegle, a soldier from Pennsylvania who is currently serving in Iraq, is the person who helped spur on the effort to make this weekend's restoration happen. When the finished car was unveiled, Wiegle was watching via the Internet.

On Monday morning, he posted this message for Shipman: "I hope this turned out to be more than you could have imagined, and I hope this keeps a smile on your face for a long time to come."

Local businesses and volunteers did their part too. In addition to offering the use of the shop for the duration of the restoration project, Frazee Auto Body also donated a complete new paint job.

"That's when the project took off," said Chris Kliewer, the Inver Grove Heights man who coordinated the weekend's restoration efforts as well as donating a new stereo for the project.

From that point on, the list of donors grew quickly. Hedahl's in Detroit Lakes donated a new brake system, with the installation donated by Tires Plus. Dakota Tire in Fargo came through with a last-minute donation of four new tires. And that's just a handful of the contributions made: A full list of donors can be found at the project's official Web site,

Though originally white, the car's new yellow-and-black exterior had been selected by Tyler and his younger brother Carter. The color was a carefully held secret that members of the Internet forum didn't discover until just before the unveiling took place on Sunday.

"I'm blown away by the whole thing," said Tyler's mother, Daneele Shipman, shortly after helping her son get out of his wheelchair and into the driver's seat of his newly restored Fiero. "People from all over the U.S. came to this little town to help my son -- is that not the greatest thing?"

Though not a car enthusiast herself, Daneele said both Tyler and her husband, Jay, "are very mechanical," and spent hours talking about the project before the official restoration began on Saturday.

Even she was impressed with the results. "This is the first car that's ever made me cry tears of joy," Daneele joked.

When Chris Kliewer, the Inver Grove Heights man who coordinated the restoration, asked the young man if he was ready to get behind the wheel, Shipman didn't hesitate to say, "Yes."

The grin on his face as he started up the engine spoke volumes, as did the quiet "Thanks, guys," he uttered as he slowly wheeled his chair around the outside of the car in preparation for getting behind the wheel.

"He was really excited," Daneele said. As she slipped into the passenger seat of "Tyler's Toy" -- the name now engraved on the car's engine -- for a quick spin around the block, she asked her son what it felt like to be behind the wheel.

"Really good, Mom," he responded, a grin stretched across his face from ear to ear.

"He'll be wearing that smile for months," Daneele said after she had given up her seat to the next family member. "For him to be able to give everybody rides ... that was pretty special."

So, too, was the look on Tyler's face when the shiny yellow-and-black car rolled out of the garage at Frazee High School Sunday morning, surrounded by fog (courtesy of a fog machine supplied by Kliewer), the theme song from TLC's "Overhaulin'" blasting out from the car's brand new sound system.

"It's his favorite show," Daneele explained later.

The restoration

After a meet and greet on Friday night where they met Tyler and his family -- and in some cases, each other -- for the first time, the two dozen car lovers got to work early Saturday morning. Continuing on throughout the night -- with no sleep whatsoever, according to Kliewer -- the dedicated volunteers completed the restoration by 7:30 a.m. on Sunday.

The entire restoration was broadcast live on the Internet, with Fiero lovers from across the globe huddled in front of their computers to watch the process.

"The forum has about 18,000 members from all over the world," explained Kliewer. And while he himself is a proud Fiero owner, who knows the car "very well," Kliewer said that the car knowledge of some of the people on hand for the restoration "puts me to shame."

A complete "from the ground up" restoration of the type that was completed on Tyler's car this weekend "would normally take about two years," Kliewer said. The members of "Tyler's Dream Team" finished the project in just a little over a day, he added.

All of the Fiero owners who brought their cars for the weekend's activities participated in a caravan following the unveiling, with Shipman taking the lead.

Unfortunately, the drive took a bit longer than anticipated. As Kliewer noted after they had finally pulled back into the parking lot at the high school, "You're not officially a Fiero owner until you've broken down at least once."

"That was a sight to see," said John Panicci, from West Palm Beach, Fla. After Tyler pulled his car over to the side of the road, nine other Fieros pulled over right behind him -- "and 10 mechanics jumped out and swarmed the car," Panicci said.

"How many of us have ever had roadside assistance like that?" he joked.

It turned out that one of the new parts they had installed was defective. Fortunately, however, "we had an extra," Panicci added.

John Yoraway, a mechanic who owns Integrity Auto in the Twin Cities, said he was "thoroughly impressed with the 24-hour turnaround" on the restoration.

Even with the lack of sleep, Yoraway added, "It was fun."

For the members of the Shipman family, it was a memory to be treasured.

"It was a little overwhelming when we walked into the shop (on Saturday) and were surrounded by cameras," said Daneele.

Not one to enjoy the spotlight very much, Tyler has found all the attention "a little difficult," she added. "But he's handling it pretty well."

When asked to describe her feelings after the car was unveiled, Daneele said, "There are no words."

"It's pretty great, I tell you," added Daneele's mother, Joyce Cass. "He deserves it ... he's a special kid."

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454