The Fixer

Apr 17, 2013

Hugo V. Villar, MD, FACS, Chief, Division of Surgical Oncology and Vice Chairman, University of Arizona Department of Surgery

 Hugo V. Villar, MD, FACS
 Member since: 1988
 Institution: Arizona Cancer Center of the
 University of Arizona Health Sciences 
 Specialties: Surgical oncology
 ASCO activities: Past Chair and current
 member of the Multidisciplinary Cancer
 Management Courses  (MCMC) Working

As a surgical oncologist, Hugo V. Villar, MD, FACS, has a keen understanding of the body’s mechanics. When he’s off work, his interests turn to mechanics of an entirely different kind: restoring classic cars and antique clocks.

AC: Which did you learn to repair first, cars or clocks?

Dr. Villar: Cars. I was raised with car troubles and car issues in Chile. My father was always tinkering with cars, and he used to race stock cars too. Our family car always had hanging wires and was half-finished, and we were always pushing it because it was always broken. Then, when I was a surgical resident at the University of Texas Medical Branch, I learned by necessity—the pay in those days was minimal and I had to economize, so I bought a car that I had to restore.

AC: How many cars have you restored? Do you look for any particular kind?

Dr. Villar: I’ve probably restored 20 to 25 over my life. I’ve done only European cars, and usually attractive sports cars, because the first rule when I restore a car is to pick something I can sell. No one wants to buy a restored four-door sedan. I do the carpet, electrics, mechanics, engine, and brakes myself. I farm out the painting and the bodywork.

I have fixed cars for friends. I recently finished a car for a very good friend, Dr. Thomas Blanck (the Chair of Anesthesia at NYU), who wanted a 1973 Fiat Spider convertible. I also restored a 1971 Volkswagen convertible for my son, which came out very nice.

AC: Do you have a favorite car?

Dr. Villar:
I don’t have a favorite car. When you restore one car, you fall in love with that car. Then you sell it and you buy another, and fall in love again with that new one. You change your love as you change cars.

I like to go to the antique car shows and look around, but I’m not a collector who would be buying there. I just really love cars. A great thing about restoration, whether cars or clocks, is meeting people from many different backgrounds outside of your normal environment, which is very exciting.

AC: Any tips on choosing an antique car to restore?

Dr. Villar:
Never buy a car with a lot of rust. Rust is the cancer of the car: you can treat it but it will come back and metastasize.

AC: What’s the biggest challenge of restoring a car?

Dr. Villar: The hardest part is often finding a small specific part that you must have—a bumper, something in the dash. It might be available, but it’s often a question of what you want to pay, and you don’t want to lose money in your hobby. You also need the workshop manual for the factory specifications and instructions for taking the pieces apart.

You also must have an understanding wife when you have a couple cars in restoration, and they need insurance, and you don’t make money in selling these cars. If you can break even and have a lot of fun doing it that is great.

Selling the car is a challenge, but it’s a proud moment. You’ve restored the car, you know everything about it, and you want it to be perfect. You don’t want the owner to find trouble that you didn’t notice. You want the new owner to appreciate the work and enjoy the car as much as you did.

AC: How did you become interested in antique clocks?

Dr. Villar: Cars are big—they take up a lot of room in the garage. Clocks are easy because you can fix them inside the house, and like cars, it’s a mechanical challenge. I have about 10 clocks at home, and I’ve given one to each of my children. I have three that I’m working on right now. I’ve restored some old car clocks, which is also very challenging.



 Dr. Villar behind the wheel of a 1962
 Mercedes Benz 190 SL

It’s fun to look for an old clock. You can find a lot of American clocks from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. I find them everywhere. When you have a hobby like this, you always have to have your antennas up. You don’t say, “I’m going to get a clock today.” You have to be ready when the opportunity comes.

I tried to take a class on clock restoration, but it was canceled. Not too many people fix clocks now. I’d like to find another class because I need to learn more.

AC: How do you prioritize and make time for your interests?

Dr. Villar: Everyone who works intensively in their profession needs a distraction. It’s a good thing to have a hobby, and restoration is a hobby you can do at home. With the work I do, I spend many hours away from home, so something I can do at my house near my family is very rewarding for me.




Vanessa J. Eaton

Apr, 23 2013 9:41 PM

Congratulations, Dr. Villar, on being a well rounded surgical oncologist - not only do you fix people, but you fix cars and clocks as well.  Thanks for keeping us all ticking along. 

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