Historic building renovated, filled with hot rods

Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Bret Voelkel poses for a portrait with one of his favorite cars, a 1970 Buick GSX, at his newly renovated private garage in Ireland on Friday. "It's my own personal play pen," Voelkel said about the space.


IRELAND — That old building, the one that sits at the only stoplight in Ireland, has become Bret Voelkel’s playpen.

On the outside, it shines with a bright new coat of paint and Texaco service station signs. Inside, it glistens, housing a museum-like showroom filled with hot rod cars that Bret has bought and souped-up over the years.

A 2016 Porsche GT3 RS, a ’70 Chevelle, a Buick GSX and more — all with their own stories, all parked inside the historic structure at the intersection of County Road North 500 West and State Road 56.

Bret estimates about 3,000 hours have gone into restoring the space. And though its primary purpose is to serve as a private garage, he and his wife, Sharon, still plan to open its doors to bring the public into a den of ageless power and cool.

“I think I’m gonna have a sign made for outside: ‘If I’m here and the lights are on, come on in. And if not, come back later,’” Bret said.

An air compressor at Bret Voelkel's private garage in Ireland.

Bret owned Ridetech in Jasper before selling it to Fox Factory Holdings in May. Even before that deal was made, he knew he’d one day need a place to store his slick sets of wheels.

One Friday afternoon in March, he wandered into the Ireland building for the first time since he was a kid. Little more than an hour later, he and his wife, Sharon, owned the place.

“I had had my eye on this building for the last two or three years,” Bret explained. “I thought, ‘What a cool place to store some hot rods. Have just a little playpen.’”

Bret grew up 4 miles north of the building, and he spent a lot of time in it as a kid. It was originally built in 1948 as a car dealership, later became an auto service business, then a Marathon gas station, and most recently, was home to the Tickled Pink antique store.

“It’s really cool, because every time we’re here, somebody stops in and tells us a story,” Sharon said. “Some tidbit of information, or somebody who used to work here, or something that happened here. It’s great learning the history.”
To Bret, the coolest antique available for sale at Tickled Pink was the building itself.

He discovered cars were a way to get away from home when he was 16 years old. After piddling with them in high school, he went to work as a tech rep for MSD and Auto Meter, two big names in the racing industry. He thought he’d won the lottery. Later, he got a job as the outside motorsports director for a California company, and he drove its truck and trailer across the nation for nearly a decade. The Voelkels formed a company focused on air suspension — Air Ride Technologies — in 1996, and in 2010, that business expanded under the Ridetech name.

Shortly after buying the Ireland building, the Voelkels gutted it to the shell before local companies were brought in to wire the electricity, set up the heating and air conditioning and plumbing, fix the floors, paint the walls, and on and on.

Now, Bret is in the process of bringing in memorabilia and putting the finishing touches on the interior.

Bret Voelkel's private garage in Ireland.

“And it’s not just generic reproduction or even vintage stuff,” Bret explained. “This is our stuff. I’ve had hot rods on the covers of 17 different magazines over the years. I’ve got one cover hanging up out here that’s got two of our cars on it on the same cover. That’s pretty rare.”

Sunday, the Ireland Historical Society visited the garage, and in the future, Sharon said she and her husband could someday host small groups interested in meeting at the garage and checking out their collection.

They are proud that the historic Ireland building plays host to such a big part of their lives.

“We’re here to be good citizens,” Bret said. “Good neighbors that could help Ireland potentially grow, and put some lipstick on it, and support the civic environment.”

He continued: “I want to help support the Lions Club and whatever needs to be supported. This community has supported us in fine fashion for all of our lives. And if we are in a position to return that in some small form or fashion, then I think we should do it. And this is a fun way to do it.”

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