November 24, 2020

Vintage Revival: Derek Iwen Keeps the Classics Classy

Derek IwenFor Derek Iwen, there’s nothing better than wrenchin’ in the shop and rollin’ down Iowa’s back roads. If you can’t find him at MaxYield Cooperative in Mallard, he’s probably working on a classic car in his garage or at his Grandpa Virg Auten’s shop in Mallard.

“I’d drive an old car any day instead of a new vehicle,” said Iwen, 28, who handles outside operations for MaxYield. “They are classy, and you can fix them yourself.”

These aren’t just any old cars, though. We’re talking 1967 Camaros and other gems. While Iwen keeps some of these vehicles, he’s more of a flipper. In fact, he has bought and sold about 18 cars through the years. “I have a car fund and add money as I sell vehicles so I can keep my hobby going,” Iwen said.

Here are five things that keep Iwen fired up about restoring America’s automotive heritage:

1. Taking the road less traveled.

Iwen credits his father Brett and Grandpa Virg Auten for sparking his interest in classic cars. “I’ve been on a lot of adventures with Grandpa to find old cars and trucks. I got the bug for collecting when I’d go to auctions with him.” This interest led to job opportunities. While Iwen’s fraternal twin brother, Justin, played sports in school, Iwen preferred to work at Larson Oil, which his uncle, Heath Sabin, ran in Mallard. Starting in middle school, Iwen handled oil changes and learned how to replace belts, hoses, alternators, and more. During high school and college, Iwen helped his father and grandpa Fred McDevitt in routine services of their semi-trucks oil changes, drive line lubrication and changing tires. “I like to take things apart and see how they run,” said Iwen, who bought his first car, a 1977 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, at age 15 at a swap meet in Spencer. He also worked at his Grandpa Virg’s business, N & A Manufacturing in Mallard, where he learned to weld. It’s a skill that comes in handy when he’s working on his latest project, a 1950 F3 Ford he found in Ringsted. “The truck didn’t have a box, so Grandpa and I built our own flatbed,” said Iwen, who has been exhibiting his vehicles at car shows and car rides since he was 17.

2. Mastering the art of bringing history to life.

Iwen took four years of shop and art classes at West Bend Mallard High School (WBMHS). “You need creative vision to restore cars,” said Iwen, a 2004 WBMHS graduate who studied auto body repair at Iowa Lakes Community College, where he earned his degree in 2006. Iwen is also fascinated by American history, especially World War I, World War II, and the 1930s through 1950s. This knowledge, combined with his auto body fabrication and repair skills, helps him to restore pieces of the past, like the 1969 Chevy short-bed truck he bought from a man in Mallard. “While the cab was pretty much gone, I found a cab in Algona,” said Iwen, who spent most of one summer restoring the truck. “I put the cab corners and rockers on it and put a big-block engine and four-speed transmission in it, too.”

Derek Iwen

Iwen next to his first car, a 1977 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme.

3. Forgetting all show and no go.

Iwen’s restored cars and trucks are meant to be driven— and hopefully turn a profit. When Iwen bought a 1968 four-door Ford Galaxie for $200, he fixed it up and drove it during his junior year of high school before selling the car for $1,700. He doesn’t sell everything, though, like the 1925 Model T C-Cab truck that his Grandpa Virg found in Plover. “It has a wooden body and looked like a piece of junk when we started, but Grandpa wants to make it a parade vehicle,” said Iwen, who made rear fenders for the truck.

4. Capturing the magic of an Oldsmobile.

While he has worked on all kinds of vehicles, it’s hard to beat a good Oldsmobile, said Iwen, who has been known to swap a V6 engine for a V8 engine in a 1981 Olds Cutlass. One of Iwen’s latest finds is a 1973 Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser station wagon with 94,000 original miles. He’s the second owner of this car, which a couple in Manson originally purchased in Fort Dodge. The interior is about as close to new as possible, said Iwen, who noted that there were only 5,000 of these station wagons made in 1973. “I have a soft spot in my heart for Oldsmobiles, because they last a long time, and I like their style.” This fall, Iwen took his 1977 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme on the Cruise to the Woods, which is one of largest cruise car shows in the Midwest, with more than 1,000 vehicles. “This is my favorite event,” said Iwen, who enjoys the drive through northwest Iowa.

5. Discovering that variety is the spice of life (and work).

Just as Iwen likes to work on lots of different cars, trucks, and motorcycles, he likes handling a variety of duties at MaxYield. After starting in the grain department at Mallard more than two years ago, he switched to agronomy and runs a tender truck in the spring and summer. He also prepares MaxYield’s equipment for the busy fall season, from checking anhydrous tanks and tool bars to ensuring that machinery oil changes are complete. In the fall, he drives a tender truck and applies anhydrous. During the winter, he oversees equipment maintenance. “I appreciate the variety in my job,” said Iwen, whose uncle, Val Auten, is MaxYield’s client care representative at Kerber Milling in Emmetsburg. “No two days are alike.” While he appreciates the slower pace of life in rural Iowa, he has no plans to slow down his car restoration hobby. “I like anything old and enjoy giving it a new life.”

Editor’s note: Iwen’s wife, Ashley, supports his “car habit.” If he’s not at work or tinkering with a car, you might see Iwen working out and running his regular route through Mallard.


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