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Hometown Treasure: Gilpin's Jim Baird

| Monday, April 30, 2007

Jim Baird's cars are more than sets of wheels; they're his vehicles of artistic expression.

The 28-year-old Gilpin man -- a graphic artist by day working at Costello Printing and Graphics in Tarentum -- spends four to eight hours each week custom-building two cars to showroom condition, little by little.

His attention to detail was rewarded for the seventh straight year at the International Show Cars Association's competition in Pittsburgh in mid-January. The ISCA sanctions the largest group of indoor car shows produced in the United States and Canada, according to its Web site.

"This is how I convey my artwork," Baird said. "I like to do it on something with wheels."

It all started in October 1994. His grandmother Ruth Baird bought him and his brother Dave a go-cart called a Mini Monster. They rode through trails and mud for five exhilarating years.

But one day, Baird sensed the potential for showroom greatness in this go-cart.

He retired it to the garage. He stripped it down and started customizing it. Unique parts were added throughout including a DVD system with five screens inside.

His brother Dave provided a striking paint job of school-bus yellow with metallic red in a "splash" themed design.

The judges at the ISCA-Pittsburgh have liked it ever since. In January, the go-cart got first place in its class.

"My grandmother bought it one month before she died," Baird said. "Since then, it's been nothing but gold awards."

In 2002, Baird went further and decided to turn his daily commuting car -- a red Volkswagen Beetle -- into his second showpiece vehicle.

It has a sporty hood styled like a Ferrari. It has stainless steel grill inserts cleverly machined with little VW Beetle logos. It has black German spec headlights, LED taillights and neon throughout. The car has racing wings from cars that competed in Germany's Beetle Cup. It's got 2,000 watts of electricity, a sound system that could shatter glass and red and black racing seats. It also has a full video system that features the new PlayStation 3 system with a 15 inch LCD TV in the trunk and five separate monitors throughout the car. Even the stereo plays the video on its custom screen.

And the engine• Clean enough to eat off of. He even used his graphic design skills to draw a logo on the underside of the hood -- his signature, if you will, on a labor of love. He did most of the work himself.

As show cars, he doesn't drive the cars in order to preserve them. He stopped using the Beetle for transportation when he began customizing it, and he uses a trailer to haul the cars to and from competitions.

Also used as a daily driver for now, he has a 2002 yellow Mini Cooper Sport. Already he has begun customizing it with 18 inch wheels, racing stripes, and body kit. Soon this will be another "project car" and be ready for shows also.

Sometimes at car shows, other competitors revel in their flashy sponsorships from companies. Baird prefers the clean look to all those company stickers and logos cluttering up a car's exterior.

"With a lot of people, sponsorships are a big thing," Baird said. 'With me, I'm 'self-sponsored.' It's a hobby. It might be an expensive hobby, but it's all I do."

Additional Information:

Jim Baird

More pictures of Jim Baird's cars can be found online at: http://www.showoffcars.com/member/one_bad_bug and http://www.showoffcars.com/member/mini_ford . Also they can found at Car Domain's website at http://www.cardomain.com/ride/2200567 and http://www.cardomain.com/ride/2202231 .

Name: James Baird

Age: 28.

Family: Parents: Randy and Gerry Baird; brother, David.

Hometown: Gilpin.

Favorite thing about the Valley: Nice quiet place to live, especially out where we live.

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