Mr. Stitches: Revival Of A Burnt 1931 Chevrolet Gasser

Reader Michael sent in this interesting story of life, death, and revival. I read the original article on Hot Rod Network, and simply had to tell the story! Gassers are still popular, but they certainly aren’t all the rage like they were back in “the day”! Pictured above is an undated picture from the 1950s or 1960s of Mr. Stitches. Mr. Stitches is a 1931 Chevrolet gasser that was raced in the 1950s and 1960s by a Maryland automotive upholsterer named Johnnie Gaither. Gaither won races including Little Eliminator in this car, and was well known in the area for Mr. Stitches. The car was eventually capable of high 12 second 1/4 mile passes at nearly 110MPH. Gaither was a well-known upholsterer in Frederick, Maryland and was a founding member of African-American hot rod club “Road Knights.” 

After retiring from drag racing in the 1960s, Johnnie Gaither continued enjoying and maintaining Mr. Stitches, keeping the 1931 Chevrolet at his upholstery shop when not in use. He showed the car at many local events up until the early 2000s. Pictured here is Gaither next to Mr. Stitches, sometime before an unthinkable tragedy struck.

In 2010, Gaither’s upholstery shop caught fire and burned to the ground with Mr. Stitches inside. A furnace backfired, lighting flammable upholstery materials on fire and quickly formed a blaze. Though Gaither fought the fire, trying to save his car, the flames became too much and he had to abandon his efforts. Gaither gave the burnt remains to his good friend Andy Sewell, but Sewell felt it was beyond repair. Enter Dale Grimm, a local car enthusiast and shop owner who remembered Johnnie Gaither from his teen years when Grimm worked at a Chrysler dealership for which Gaither did warranty work. Grimm remembers taking repairs to Gaither’s shop, “I would take stuff over there. I walked by that car I don’t know how many times. Never had a clue that I’d own it someday.” When Sewell offered Grimm the remains of the burnt hot rod, Grimm didn’t hesitate and removed it from the damaged shop with one of his wreckers.

Over the course of eight long years, Grimm patched Mr. Stitches back together with Johnnie Gaither occasionally checking in on the progress. With all of the original parts badly damaged, Grimm salvaged what he could and replaced what he had to, reshaping original sheet metal whenever possible to retain originality. Some body shops wanted nothing to do with a fire-damaged vehicle, but local body man Steve Procter was up for the challenge. With countless hours of work to straighten, reshape, and fit body parts, Dale Grimm finally has Mr. Stitches back together again. Gaither, who developed Alzheimer’s near the end of the process, was able to sit in the freshly restored Chevy and see his car. He put on the helmet, and refused to leave the car despite intense heat! Grimm recalls “Honestly, I had tears in my eyes. It was just so emotional for me. I said, ‘He can sit there all day if he wants.’” Though Gaither has since passed, during his last visit with Mr. Stitches he signed the dashboard. Grimm is determined to keep Mr. Stitches and Johnnie Gaither’s legacy alive, and so far is doing a better job than anyone would’ve thought possible given the fire! The full original article by Ken Gross can be found here on Hot Rod Network’s website with 50 additional photos of Mr. Stitches, as well as a plethora of information about the car.

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Comments

  1. Poptheclutch

    That is one heartwrenching story!
    The way the car looks now is
    Absolutely badass!…looks fast just parked the way it is!

  2. Barzini

    Body work like this requires a level of artistic talent comparable to that needed to create the works that you’d see in a museum of fine arts.

  3. Michael

    The results are amazing. Glad the wire wheels are gone. Sweet car.

  4. jo6pac

    Great story, Thanks.

  5. Suttree

    Great story. Great car. I’m glad Mr Gaither got to see its rebirth.

  6. Dave Wright

    Not many of this vintage Chevy cars left because of people’s unnatural fear of wood body framing. It is a challenge but not that difficult. We are rebuilding a burned farm tractor for a customer……..I love my sand and soda blaster………..

  7. Dick Johnson

    There’s a reason that gassers have put a soft spot in me. Doug Cook and Fred Stone were sure kind to this former 16 year old kid. I got to hang around them in their pit at our small town drag strip. My school “friends” never did understand why I got to be on the ‘inside’.

    • Rodney

      Being in the pit and, in my case, being part of the crew at the starting line while my friends watched was an incredible feeling waaaaay back when.

  8. Steve A.

    That’s what it’s all about! Or at least it used to be. Very heartwarming story.

  9. geomechs geomechs Member

    That’s a great story! I’ve heard of dedicated people restoring a fire-ravaged car and often wondered why they would attempt such a collosal project. But it’s definitely in the journey. I really have to give the craftsmen credit for bringing a Chevy back from a firey demise; there’s a lot of wood in those bodies and it isn’t easy to restore. I remember when George Barris’ Ala Kart caught fire. It didn’t look that bad but I guess there was a lot of damage under the surface so they had their work cut out for them. It’s one of my favorites…

  10. grant

    Anyone else notice how dusty it is in here? Great feature. Thanks for that.

  11. Solosolo KEN TILLY Member

    Only fault, if you can call it that, that I noticed, is that the tail lights are out of line. One being quite a lot higher than the other, but that is one helluva beautiful restoration job. Kudos a million to Mr. Dale Grimm.

    • Bill McCoskey

      Ken –
      What you’re seeing is called “perspective”, because you are looking at a flat photo. Yes, the right taillight looks too high, until you compare it to the height of the bumper. Because we can see all of the bumper, it looks ok even when it’s “higher” on the right end in the photo. But in the photo we cannot see the base of the taillight arm, so our brains tell us its not correct.

      • Solosolo KEN TILLY Member

        @Bill McCoskey. Hi Bill. Go to the Hot Rod Network website and look at the pic where the car is at the drag strip start line where you can see that the tail lights are definitely out of line.

  12. FordGuy1972 Fordguy1972 Member

    Amazing story. Car guys like Dale Grimm will keep the automotive past alive for future generations. A lesson for us all who love old cars.

  13. Robert Hadley

    Great story, not only rebuilt a damaged var, but rebuilt part of a damaged memory. GOOD ON YA!
    Thanks for bringing us this story

  14. Dirk

    Fantastic. I love this story!

  15. Rob S.

    Love reading stories like this! We need more people like Mr. Grimm!

  16. Pat A

    Great story, great people, but calling this car a “restoration” is a stretch. They took a few original bits of bodywork and built it around a new car. Completely in the true spirit of hotrodding, but not a restoration.

  17. Beatnik Bedouin

    Thanks for sharing a wonderful story.

  18. Robert W. Lovell

    Greetings All,

    Love this for a lot of reasons, all of them make me glad I’m in this hobby.

  19. Barry Klotz

    Great looking car. I Believe the story. Old Gassers are never forgotten. Thanks for the memories. Barry K.

  20. Sheldon Braffman

    So cool to see a Maryland Hot Rod! The Grimm family is well known for its interest in Rod’s and Restorations. Nice ’31 Gasser!!!

  21. Terry J

    One of the problems in a fire damaged car is that it changes the temper of the steel. I think (?) it makes it harder and more brittle.That can be true of the sheet metal and the frame,etc.(Anybody know more on this?)
    That really does create challenges for a restorer. Cool Car! :-) Terry J

    • George

      metal that thick doesnt have the same issues

  22. gto4ever

    Awesome story. Great history

  23. Troy s

    High twelves at 110 may not impressed some folks here, but that’s a scary ride in these old rod’s! Great story.

  24. Joe Haska

    Everyone has already said it everyway you can, but I have to say “What a great story”.

  25. Mountainwoodie

    What a great guy to put Mr. Stiches back together. Thats the America I hang on to!

  26. Dickie F

    What contributes largely to this story are the old photographs. These add so much…

  27. George

    Old Chevys never die… They just go faster.

  28. Steve H.

    I love the story of the resurrection of a car that everyone thought lost. But since my Mother just recently passed from Dementia, I really appreciated the fact that the original owner was able to sit in the car before he passed and relive moments in his life that were dear to him before his brain gave up and left him unable to enjoy his life here on earth. GOD Bless him !!

  29. al peckenpaugh

    Warms my heart. Johnnie was a friend of my fathers. Took me to 75-80 Dragway to see him run. I raced at 75-80 kartway. Always loved the name, never forgot it. Became a custom marine canvas fabricator myself, do some upholstery too.
    Mr Stitches…
    There was a spool of thread with a needle stuck in it painted next to the name on the side. I can still see it!

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