“Cledus Snow,” played by Reed, replies, “Probably sit around and watch the cars rust.”
Wolfgang Geiger and his team at Elite Custom Paint and Body in LaFayette certainly don’t follow that assumption, as the tiny custom shop turns rusty cars into exciting restorations and tricked-out modified vehicles.
One of the shop’s current projects is the 1977 special edition Pontiac Trans Am featured in the hilarious original movie “Smokey and the Bandit.”
“The Super Bandit will take our business to the next level,” Geiger said. “It will be the absolutely best Bandit ever built with the customer supporting everything for it.”
Both the movie and Geiger’s shop share a fondness for fast cars — and both started in Georgia.
Geiger and crew are taking the entire car through a restoration that will allow it to be seen from “Atlanta to Texarkana,” as the vehicle is to be featured in a few national magazines, according to Geiger.
The “Super Bandit” will be more refined while smoothing body lines and removing handles modified for remote-controlled doors and hood.
The six-figure project will replace the original 270-horsepower turbo 400-cubic-inch engine with a 2012 Cadillac LS-9 engine capable 535 horsepower.
The crew, already than 700 hours into the project, has been busy with sheet metal fabrication during late June after the engine was mounted.
The car will be similar, with a black exterior and red and black leather interior.
The hood design will be custom-painted by hand by renowned airbrush artist Mike Lavallee.
Lavallee is from “Killer Paint” in Snohomish, Wash., and is being flown in as the project is nearly completed.
The owner of the Super Bandit will not worry about passing a “Kojak with a Kodak” (a famous line from the movie), as the car is not to be driven on the road.
He plans to unveil the creation during the high-profile annual Year-One Car Show in Atlanta in September.
Fixing out of necessity
Elite Custom Paint and Body began by accident, quite literally, in 2003 as Wolfgang’s son Mark crashed his Ford Mustang and begged his father to find someone to fix it.
Geiger let his son use his van while he sought a garage to make the repairs. His son then wrecked the van within the following week.
Geiger approached Elaine Thomas at Thomas’ Body Shop at 261 Bandy Estates Road.
He found the body shop closed due to Thomas’ husband Chris passing away.
Wolfgang was shocked by the loss and discussed how he could help. He gave Thomas a check for the first month’s rent after 15 minutes of conversation.
Geiger had visions of restoring a few hobby cars he collected. He made the repairs but quickly became too busy to work on his project cars, which include a Trans Am, Datsun 280Z and an older Jaguar.
“It’s like the builder who never got to build his own house,” Geiger joked.
Geiger moved into the 7,500-square-foot Goodyear building located at 220 W. Patton St. in 2007.
Geiger remarried in 2010 and he credits his wife Crissy for helping build the business.
“If she would not be here, all of this would not have happened,” Geiger said.
The two had been dating prior to Geiger opening the Elite Custom Paint and Body shop.
Her “let’s go for it” enthusiasm helped him believe the business would be successful.
On June 1, Geiger bought the (former) Maxi Muffler location, as owner Jerome Blackwell retired after 29 years.
The shop will be known as Queen City Complete Car Care located at 303 N. Main St.
Geiger has basic concepts for the building, approaching it in similar fashion to the vintage vehicle restorations.
“We know it was a Sinclair gas station in 1949, but that is all we know,” Geiger said
He hopes that locals have memories or photos of the establishment as he begins to return the building to its historic former façade.
During January 2012, Geiger opened a collision repair business next to his current Patton Street location, the former Queen City Hardware store.
The business has a unique feature in that customers are sent daily updates through a website as their vehicles are rebuilt.
“We show them the tear-down process of the car, what we are removing and whatever we are replacing or repairing with several pictures every day,” Geiger said. “We have built our reputation out of trust and the quality we provide.”
The concept was developed at Geiger’s ECPB shop a few years ago. The garage currently has one restoration vehicle from Waco, Texas, from a customer who has only communicated by phone.
On April 24, 1986, Geiger was merely discussing the American dream with his first wife while living in Vienna, Austria.
“Her mother lived in Ringgold and I was always a fan of the United States, ever since I was 13 years old,” Geiger said. “Somehow we came to the conclusion we were going to move to the states.” His wife asked when. Geiger grabbed the phone and called the Vienna airport and booked the next flight to Atlanta.
Two days later, Geiger’s wife and son made the flight and eventually bought a home in LaFayette for $25,000.
After selling much of their belongings, Wolfgang rejoined his family six months later without knowing a word of English.
Fortunately his family had begun to learn the language and Wolfgang quickly caught on.
“I totally forgot about it, but I needed a vehicle here,” Geiger said. “Vienna, Austria, is like New York City. A car is a luxury item and you don’t need it there.”
He arrived with $1,000 and quickly bought a used Toyota Corolla in Ringgold so he could get around in his new rural surroundings, leaving $100 to live on.
Geiger’s desire for cars started upon studying electro-mechanical engineer at the University of Vienna.
“I loved to build machines, but my ultimate machine was always the car,” Geiger said. “I have always wanted to design and build my own cars. As a kid I always wanted to work in a factory like Volkswagen (in Austria).”
His fascination with vehicles began as a child with his grandfather’s motorcycles.
At age 18, Geiger moved out on his own, living above a service garage where he worked on vehicles.
Upon moving to LaFayette, Geiger was the chief engineer at the Ronile of Georgia plant on Broomtown Road from 1986-2003.