One of the biggest joys about being in the Mopar community is not the cars; it’s the people you meet. Over the years, I’ve had the honor of meeting and becoming good friends with a lot of fantastic people in the Mopar world. While many of these people I’ve never met in person, they are ones I talk to weekly and can relate to; people I call my friends. Yet, sometimes, being a young enthusiast growing up in the Mopar world can be tough at times.
There are a lot of naysayers and just plain negative people out there, especially on the Internet. Between these people and the over-inflated prices on everything Mopar, it’s hard for the younger generation to get into these cars. Around 2009, I met Tyler Valcich from Montauk, New York, through one of the various Mopar forums we frequented. Tyler was a year younger than me and a Mopar nut too so we instantly bonded over that. We would talk endlessly about Mopars. He owned a blue 1971 Dodge Power Wagon that was absolutely stunning and a F6 Green 1969½ A12 Dodge Super Bee that he was restoring.
Over the next few years, Tyler would keep me up to date on his Super Bee restoration. Based on what I was told by Tyler and the pictures I saw of the car, I knew it was going to be a stunner when it was done. Tyler was truly excited to the core about the car and couldn’t wait to drive it. Unfortunately, he never did. On May 26th, 2014, we lost Tyler at the age of 20. I still remember the moment I found out like it was yesterday. It rocked my world. While we lived over 3,000 miles apart and never met in person, it was those conversations about cars that made us good friends. I couldn’t believe he was gone.
After that, I never heard what happened to his Super Bee but often wondered about it. His Power Wagon occasionally popped up in pictures taken at the charity car shows hosted in his honor. On May 24th this year, just before the 3rd anniversary of his passing, I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed when I saw a picture of a fully restored F6 A12 Super Bee. It immediately caught my attention. When I took a closer look, I noticed Tyler was tagged in the picture and his mom Valinda had posted it. As it turns out, the Valcich family along with family friend Joe LiPani had been working hard on the Super Bee since Tyler’s passing to finish it in memory of him.
I reached out to Valinda, told her my story about how Tyler and I were friends and asked if I’d be able to write an article telling Tyler’s story about him and his Super Bee. She was more than happy to help and we very much appreciate her hard work and help with all of this.
Valinda says, “Most children find their passion as they navigate through their school years and have the opportunity to experience various activities, hobbies and experiences. Tyler seemed to be born with the passion and love of cars, motor bikes and trucks. At two years old, Tyler only wanted to play with trucks, motor bikes and cars! He was fascinated by the trucks in his yard and in his everyday life. We have run a very successful, well-respected landscape and carting company, so trucks and big machines have been part of our family’s lives from the inception of the business, which began long before Tyler was born.
“By the time he was four-years-old, not only was he riding dirt bikes and hanging out on the residential trucks but he was also winning competitions and building the reputation of a strong, motivated and talented youngster.”
“As soon as Tyler learned to use the Internet and read car magazines, it became clear that he wanted to learn more and more about these fascinating machines. When Tyler was only 12 years old, he began looking for old cars that needed to be restored. He became focused, in fact almost obsessed (in a good way) about the 1969½ Dodge Super Bees! The day finally arrived when Tyler and his good friend Brian Smith found the car he was looking for on eBay around 2007. It was sitting out on a farm in Alabama. He could hardly contain his excitement when he went ahead; with the love and support of us, and bought the car with the intent of fully restoring it to its original condition.”
She continues to say, “I remember one beautiful sunny morning when the flat bed arrived with the Super Bee on the back. Tyler was beside himself with excitement while I looked at the ‘pile of rust’ and thought “Oh my goodness, how will he ever get this done,”
Brian tells us, “The auto transporter didn’t say a word nearly the entire time he was unloading the ‘Bee. Finally he turned around and said, ‘This is the rustiest car I have ever transported.’ Tyler and I would often repeat that quote (using a Southern drawl) out of the blue and it would always bring a big laugh to the both of us.”
Tyler began working on the car every free second he had. He worked tirelessly after school, on weekends and holidays. His commitment was unprecedented but aligned with his personality. Tyler would go to school during the day; work at the family carting business after school and spent Saturday’s working side-by-side with Joe on the Super Bee. “Instead of media-blasting the car, Joe had Tyler sand every part of the car by hand. In particular, I remember the rear axle took at least two full Saturdays; with Tyler slowly going over every inch of the axle with finer grades of sandpaper until it was free of any and all blemishes, as if he were preparing it for Pebble Beach. Joe and Tyler made each component jewel-like,” says Brian.
He continued, “During the build, Tyler and his dad were able to take a restored Butterscotch A12 out for a drive and discovered that the factory drum brakes and not-so precise steering left a bit to be desired. For a while, Tyler began considering upgrading the car to disc brakes, swapping the automatic for a four speed (like the Butterscotch A12 had) and stroking the 440 but Joe always kept Tyler grounded, reminding him of the original goal of a stock class trophy at Carlisle.”
Sadly, as the restoration was about 70-percent complete, we lost Tyler. Brian tells us, “I had lunch with Tyler at a car show the day before he died; and he could not have been happier. He grabbed me by the arm and dragged me over to his prized 1971 Power Wagon to show me the aftermarket wheels his dad had bought him for an early birthday present. He was so excited and he said, “My parents said I’m only getting a card in August on my birthday,” but that was perfect with him because he was so excited about the new wheels.” After that, the grieving Valcich family decided to proceed with the restoration and finish the car for Tyler. “Tyler’s friends wanted to help finish the car but Joe wanted to do it alone. It was really hard on him so it was a way for him to cope with the loss,” says Brian.
According to Brian, the car itself gave some issues during the restoration. “After the 440 was rebuilt, it was dyno-tested on a stand with heart-breaking results. It was deemed that the few non-factory internals installed made for a disaster of an engine. The engine was taken to a different builder who tore the engine down completely and made everything factory-correct which solved the issue. The paint was another big problem. After the car came out of the paint booth, it was noticed that the green was slightly lighter than it should have been; so everything was sanded down again and repainted. Perfection on the second attempt.”
When the Super Bee was finally finished, the result was jaw dropping; exactly as Tyler would have wanted. Tyler’s Super Bee is a factory A12 car with a 440 Six-Pack and column-shift automatic transmission and everything has been restored to 100-percent factory original specifications. “It is absolutely the most beautiful car. I feel Tyler’s spirit with the ‘Bee more than any place else,” says Brian.
“The ‘Bee is currently sitting in my garage now; with a proper garage being built for it in the near future. It’s now a family heirloom, with his sister Carin taking the reins of the A12. The only people to ever start it or move it is Joe and Tyler’s uncle Richard (who got Tyler hooked on Mopars when he was in grade school). His family and friends plan to bring the A12 to Carlisle and we hope to meet all of the kind people who befriended Tyler on the online Mopar forums there,” Brian continues.
Valinda tells us, “Tyler’s commitment to his community was almost as important as the car. He was the first junior volunteer fireman and in fact a founding member of that group. He was one of the kindest, most generous and caring young men who not only volunteered endlessly with the department but would be the first on line to donate blood, help with a fundraiser or just be there for a friend.”
Valinda would also like to mention another project they have started in memory of Tyler. “The Tyler Project” was established to increase suicide awareness and improve coordination and delivery of mental health services for students, young adults and families in the Monatuk community. The foundation focuses on raising funds that will be used for counseling, educational services and programs to help predict and prevent some of the crisis’ facing young people today.
In addition to supporting numerous programs and resources, awareness events are held throughout the year. “Too many of our community’s children and adults are suffering as a result of often undiagnosed mental health challenges including but not limited to depression and anxiety disorders. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in Americans, with someone dying of suicide every 13.3 minutes,” says Valinda. We invite everyone to check out “The Tyler Project” Facebook page to access multiple resources.
We will forever miss you Tyler. We would like to sincerely thank Valinda Valcich and Brian Smith for all of their help with this tribute to Tyler. – Cody]