Kurt Graham isn’t your typical artist.
Instead of canvas or clay, his medium is cars.
And his latest work, a modified 1963 Corvair Panel Van, won first place in the Mild Van category at the Detroit Autorama custom car showcase, held Feb. 24-26.
Graham, a 1980 Oxford High graduate, first purchased the van for a humble $500 in 1984 while he was enlisted in the U.S. Navy in Yorktown, Virginia.
Since then, he has spent countless hours improving and renovating the van, in hopes of someday showing it off among other car enthusiasts at a car show.
For Graham, his mission became more urgent after his health began to decline and he lost his sight to diabetes four years ago.
“You kind of have a reality check when all of a sudden you go from 60 miles an hour to 0 when you lose your sight,” said Graham. “This is part of my bucket list… I spent the week prior toAutorama going down there sick as a dog. It’s gotten to the point where I can’t do that kind of work anymore. It was time to finish it and get it done right. It’s for the love of the automobile.”
With the help of friends and family, Graham began renovating the van’s interior and repainting its body last June.
The renovations were finally completed in January.
The van is now painted a plum purple color with a dark purple and silver interior, as tribute to English rock band Led Zeppelin.
The interior also features Led Zeppelin-related embroidery— such as the band’s famous Icaurus logo and the “ZOSO” symbol, which was designed by guitarist Jimmy Paige and featured on the band’s fourth album cover.
Much to Graham’s surprise, his hard work paid off and he was given a trophy on his very first car show entry.
“I was just elated to be there,” he said.” That was a lifelong dream, just to go down there and get a car entered… but then to win a prize, which I didn’t anticipate… it was like the icing on the cake.”
Graham said he was thankful to his daughter Kayleigh, 19, son Rory, 25, and girlfriend of seven years, Dawn Rizzi; Oxford residents Roland Smith and Bob Kennedy, for their help throughout the project.
For their work on the interior of the van, Graham said he was also grateful to the employees of Paul’s Auto Interiors Inc. in Pontiac.
“They did an impeccable job on the interior. It was just flawless, over-the-top outrageous. It was everything I ever wanted,” he added.
Graham dedicated his win to his mother, Mae Joan (Mapley) Graham, of Oxford, who passed away several years ago.