MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. --
After a day spent managing and repairing the tools that mechanics use to fix CH-53E “Super Stallions,” one 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing Marine turns to his own tools to restore classic automobiles.
Sgt. Matthew A. Siegrist, a tool room chief with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 466, has repaired more than 30 automobiles in 21 years. His first car was a Chevrolet 1970 Monte Carlo SS, and one of his latest projects, a Chevrolet 1968 Chevelle, are just some of his masterpieces.
“Working on and restoring cars gives you such a satisfaction when you can repair something that someone gave up on,” said Siegrist, a Willow Springs, Mo., native. “After a day of working at the hangar, it’s a great release to take your parts and tools and breathe new life into something old.”
Siegrist, who serves with the squadron known as the “Wolfpack,” learned his skills as a child from a local mechanic, Ben Grundon, who taught Siegrist the tricks of engine building that he uses to this day. After completing high school, he took technical classes at a local community college, adding to his hands on experience in auto repair shops.
In 2003, Siegrist felt compelled to join the Marine Corps while working at an automobile repair shop in Kansas City, Mo.
“I was 28 years old, and I decided I wanted to do something different with my life,” said Siegrist. “It just so happens I went to high school with my recruiter and he influenced me. I wanted a career option that would be easy for me to transition into so I decided to become a helicopter mechanic.”
He has renovated nearly a dozen automobiles since enlisting as a Super Stallion mechanic. Siegrist uses his wisdom gained from countless hours spent under the car hood and applies it to being a Marine.
“Sometimes you have that car that everybody thinks can’t be fixed, just like those Marines who people think can’t be fixed,” said Siegrist. “I don’t give up and I restore that car like I do with those Marines. Then you surprise everyone with the improvements. I don’t believe there’s such a thing as too far gone.”
The 35-year-old mechanic spends his workday keeping track of thousands of tools, from wrenches, to pliers to engine testing equipment. Siegrist’s experience as a CH-53E mechanic enables him to work in the tool room and other sections of his squadron. He holds a qualification as a collateral-duty inspector, has a forklift license and often assists Marines with auto-related issues.
“We’ve worked on cars together since he was first in the Corps,” said Gunnery Sgt. Shannon F. Malone, the substance abuse counselor for the Wolfpack. “He’s helped me repair my 1966 Chevrolet truck and my 1976 Corvette. He’s the kind of person who isn’t afraid to lend a helping hand. I wish more sergeants were like him.”
Siegrist has a repair shop in Spring Valley that he uses to repair the myriad of cars he has acquired. He frequents salvage yards and swap meets to find the needed parts to transform old car frames into renewed classics. He currently owns a 1988 Ford Mustang and a 1968 Chevrolet Chevelle.
“My dream job would be to renovate a 1963 split window Corvette,” said Siegrest. “There were only 10,000 of those made and they cost about $30,000 just to buy one borderline unrepairable. I would give it a black on black color scheme, lake pipes on the side and some other tweaks.”
In addition to selling his creations, he also has drivers race his cars at Barona Speedway.
“There’s something about that natural aspiration of the engine that I love,” said Siegrist. “I love working on muscle cars because back in the 60’s, automakers made cars the way they wanted to. They didn’t worry about emissions or miles-per-gallon.”
Siegrist is always looking for a new project and new challenges in auto repair. He intends to continue with his renovation work, putting cars back on the road while assisting the squadron as they put Super Stallions in the air.