Gilbert Bunch of Livonia died before he could restore this 1970 Pontiac Firebird. His family has offered the car to WCSX-FM (94.7) and its Stone Soup charity project. (Jim O'Brien)
There’s a dusty tire sitting on top of the trunk, and random pieces of the body are stacked on the roof.
Where you’d expect to find the snarling engine on a 1970 Pontiac Firebird, there are mostly milk crates and cardboard cartons full of parts, paperwork and even a pair of canvas gloves.
Gilbert Bunch of Livonia was the kind of guy who could fix anything. The Firebird was going to be next. Instead, two months ago, he was rolling out of a Costco parking lot with his wife when he grabbed his chest.
“That was it,” says his stepson, Jim O’Brien. “Totally unexpected.” Bunch, 65, left behind his wife, Valerie; two other boys, Mark and Matt; and the Firebird, clogging not only the garage but a storage locker with enough parts and pieces to build another Pontiac. So what to do with the car?
WCSX-FM (94.7) is putting out its not-quite-annual call for a car. Not a restored car, or even a running car, but shell of a hulk of a hint of a car that could be classic and fabulous, if only hundreds of strangers combined their talents to re-imagine and rebuild it.
For the eighth time since 2003, WCSX will rally its listeners to restore a vehicle to raffle for charity. According to a longtime producer and current co-host of the morning show, “Trudi & Jim,” Stone Soup has raised more than $1.2 million.
Because it’s a tiny world sometimes, his name is Jim O’Brien, too.
Only in Detroit
The radio O’Brien says he has disc jockey friends in other cities who have tried to replicate Stone Soup. “They can’t do it,” he reports, because they’re not Detroit.
We have engineers and expertise and passion. We have 20 people show up on a Friday night to wire a 1965 Pontiac GTO convertible, part of a resurrection so perfect that the raffle winners have had to turn a spare bedroom into a trophy case.
We have a second-generation tow company owner in Oak Park who owns a 1926 Model T and a 1971 Olds Cutlass. Her trucks haul the Stone Soup cars everywhere they need to go, gratis, from the time they’re all but scrap to the times they’re preening at cruises.
“Once you get involved in it, it’s just awesome,” says Kim Monaghan of Monaghan’s Towing. “It’s amazing to watch a car go from a pile of rust, barely holding on to itself, to this beauty.”
It’s the pile-of-rust stage that’s the issue now.
“You know that car that’s been sitting in your garage or your barn?” asks the WCSX O’Brien. This could be its higher calling.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call the station at (313) 298-9279 to describe your potential contribution. Nominees will be posted on wcsx.com, with online voting set to begin Feb. 13. Ultimately, listeners will select everything from the transmission to the paint color as the swarms of volunteers go to work.
Raffle tickets will cost $10. The goal is to raise $250,000 for Holy Cross Children’s Services — something miles removed from the original intent of the promotion.
Started as a joke
“It was a joke. A wacky radio bit,” says O’Brien, 47. They would enlist listeners to build a junker, then trot it out for laughs at the Woodward Dream Cruise. But the mechanics and bump-shop workers had higher aspirations and crafted a showpiece.
Gilbert Bunch was a Stone Soup fan, says the other Jim O’Brien, 48. He liked the concept and the cars and the commitment to charity.
Bunch spent three decades as a building engineer. On the weekends, “he was always helping everybody else take care of their houses and their cars.”
Two years retired, he had finally cleared his calendar for the Firebird. Then he ran out of time.
There’s probably another buff who would buy a mostly primed Pontiac with abundant parts. Or, if the WCSX listeners pick another car, the three brothers could put it together.
But “the best thing we could do for him,” O’Brien says, would be a rolling tribute to generosity and gearheads: