Ellie’s Garage: Restoring Her First Car Before She Gets Her License

This inquisitive Virginia teen and her dad set out to rebuild her 60s-era dream car before her 16th birthday.

Autobody Source Staff

A first car ranks highly with most teens on their way to adulting. Some don’t care what they’ll drive and are glad just to be licensed & mobile. But Virginia teenager Ellie had that sorted by the time she was 10, and shortly before COVID she jumped on an 18-month quest to buy and restore her first car before her 16th birthday.

With a year-and-a-half timeline, Ellie didn’t take long to settle on a favorite. She struck a deal with her parents that they would purchase whatever car she wanted, but she would pay for everything else. The criteria were simple: The car of choice couldn’t be obnoxiously hard to repair, and parts had to be affordable and readily available. Then came the tough questions: What kind of engine would they need? Could they add air conditioning? Coupe or sedan? Iconic rides like the Bel Air, Packard, Mustang and Corvair were in the running. Ultimately, she and her dad Matt logged months of web searches before their 800-mile road trip back home with a classic—a 1965 Ford Falcon she named Carl, in a nod to her favorite Disney movie couple.

Carl was in pretty rough shape, needing a new engine and transmission, electrical system, and updated brakes, lighting, and safety components before they could even think about bodywork.

If you follow her Ellie’s Garage episodes on YouTube, you’ve learned that Ellie has always been mechanically inquisitive and artistically creative. A high-school theater major, she also likes cars and loves to build things. “I’ve always loved old cars, those 50s and 60s cars with the big fenders and the cool headlights and taillights.” She likes hot rods, too.

You won’t see her on-camera, but the show’s producer, Ellie’s mom Robin, orchestrates from behind the scenes, researching every mod for safety to make Carl crashworthy before he hits the road.

Ellie explained, for example, that back in the 60s, Ford dealers only installed side-view mirrors as an option on original Falcons. Carl only has a driver-side mirror. “Stock is cool, but safety is better,” Robin says. “One of the things I’m going to insist upon is that she have a side-view mirror on her passenger side.” This March, Ellie also installed front and rear 3-point seatbelts, which also weren’t a thing in cars 50 years ago.

Ellie and her dad spent months planning each step of the project, so at first the idea of fixing up an old car on-camera didn’t seem time-consuming. But they’ve learned a lot that most vloggers and viewers can relate to. “It’s horrifying,” Ellie laughs. “We’ll do different things that take a lot longer than we would have expected, and then it’s this mad rush because dad has to edit my videos and I have school, so we have to find some kind of time to get this done.” Matt says he’ll begin a task thinking “Oh, this isn’t gonna be so bad, and then as soon as we start, the first thing we do is break a bolt. What’s funny is that I was cutting those scenes out of the first episodes, but we’ve learned that that’s the stuff people want to see.”

Ellie admits that she wasn’t open to filming the rebuild initially. “I didn’t want to do it at first, quite honestly. I absolutely hate being in front of a camera. And I told my parents: I have no clue what I’m doing. I will mess up and destroy the whole thing.”

“I simply set out to get a car, and I thought it would be really cool if we built it because I’ve always been interested in engineering and learning that kind of thing. I thought it would be amazing to know how a car works, because a lot of people, girls especially, don’t know how cars work. So I insisted that we have to focus our channel on learning and that yes, I’m going to make mistakes, but watch Ellie as she learns.”

“Another reason I love chronicling my project is that hopefully before I go to college I’m going to write an awesome essay about how I spent multiple years rebuilding a car.”

Robin says the show has been therapeutic for Ellie, who battles with severe social anxiety, noting that Ellie has never viewed one of her own episodes. “I’ve always been most comfortable behind the scenes,” Ellie says. “It’s been really good at building her self-confidence and helping show her that she has a voice and that her voice is worthy to be heard too,” Robin adds

Ellie says she had realistic expectations that she couldn’t afford to rebuild Carl on her own. “So I had to figure out how to get money while also not having a job. And this is my job now, at this point. I’m earning money from it, and I have to put in a lot of effort in order to build my car.”

But she doesn’t typecast herself, nor feel pressured by expectations of what an automotive gearhead or any career path should look like.

“Car stuff is not my main interest. I absolutely love my car, but I’m not really interested in cars, which people find surprising because this is basically my job. But I have a life outside of cars.”

Ellie, host of Ellie’s Garage

“Car stuff is not my main interest,” Ellie says. “I absolutely love my car, but I’m not really interested in cars, which people find surprising because this is basically my job. But I have a life outside of cars. I have school and friends and theater and I like to sew. Cars are just one of the many things I absolutely enjoy. It’s really fun to not only do that, but also the other things I love in my life.”

“I’ve been asked whether I’m going to be a mechanic when I’m older and I really don’t think so. I don’t think that’s where I’m being called to be. I think I’m going to do something in engineering or math in general. I have a lot of different callings.”

Ellie’s dad, who isn’t a mechanic either, calls his daughter an incredible artist and a great graphic designer. He’s learning immensely from the experience as well. “As a dad, one of my side goals for Ellie with this project was to explore any interests she didn’t know she had.”

Robin imagines Ellie exploring aeronautical engineering, potentially applying the experience of rebuilding Carl to engineering a car for Mars. The trio are very much learning as they go, and it’s refreshing to see the space they’ve created to explore her interests as a team. “And that’s what we wanted the YouTube channel to reflect,” Robin says, “Ellie’s enthusiasm and Matt getting to spend time with her.”

As of this writing, Carl is sanded to bare metal and ready for primer. Would Ellie’s story inspire a future tech you know? Pass it along or check her out on YouTube!

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