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SUNLAND : Car Collection Drives Some to Distraction

Shirley Barnes has a thing for Metropolitans. She can’t stand to see one of the funky ‘50s-era coupes wind up in the junkyard.

Unfortunately, say her Sunland neighbors, a junkyard is just what her yard has become.

In Barnes’ back yard, beneath a layer of leaves and veiled in cobwebs, sits a silent, rusting tribute to America’s first imported automobile.

After nearly 30 years of collecting, Barnes, 57, has accumulated 13 of the antique cars--which she likens to inverted bathtubs on wheels.

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“They’re so ugly, they’re cute,” said the spry Sunland native with sandy hair and wire-rim glasses. “I just love them.”

But her obsession goes beyond collecting.

Known as “The Metropolitan Car Doctor,” Barnes has 20 “patients” in Southern California and makes house calls as far away as Apple Valley, about 100 miles east of Sunland.

An accomplished mechanic who estimates that she has fixed 1,000 Metropolitan engines over the past two decades, Barnes said she learned the trade from a 74-year-old mechanic on the verge of retirement.

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“I was his hands,” she said of her former mentor. “He had the brains, but he just couldn’t do the work anymore, so I was his hands.”

Barnes said she doesn’t have the money to refurbish her fleet, but she can’t bear to sell any of the cars, either. But one woman’s treasure is another man’s trash.

“How would you like to have that junkyard next to your house?” asked James White, a next-door neighbor. “If my hobby was collecting Andy Gumps (outdoor toilets), do you think I could put 50 Andy Gumps in my front yard? Hell no I couldn’t.”

Furthermore, White complained that most of the cars have been sitting in Barnes’ yard for years, gathering dirt and dust. “She doesn’t restore anything,” he said. “It’s nothing but a junkyard.”

After receiving complaints from neighbors, Los Angeles Building and Safety officials required Barnes to put up a fence around her yard in February. Though she complied, Barnes said she doesn’t really understand what all the fuss is about.

“Some people say my cars are an eyesore,” she said. “But I’m just trying to have a little fun, that’s all.”


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