Dr. Nettles rebuilds cars in his spare time

By Brooklin Byrd
Assistant Life Editor

While Dr. Bill Nettles is chairman of the physics department by day, he is a scorekeeper, trombone player and car restoration specialist by night.

Nettles, a professor at Union for six years, came from Mississippi College in Clinton, Miss., where he taught for 23 years.

He is in his 30th year of teaching and is known around campus as the “bowtie biker” because of his Honda VTX1300 motorcycle.

Nettles’ scorekeeping activities include baseball, basketball, and football games.

“I like scorekeeping. It’s one of those numbers things again,” Nettles said. “I love numbers, the ideas of numbers, and how numbers relate to the real world, and that’s why I like physics so much.”

He plays trombone in the Union Jazz Band but in years past has played electric bass. That musical background inspired him to teach a course at Mississippi College about the relationship between physics and music.

“To my ears, music and physics go together, because physics helps us understand why certain notes sound well together or don’t sound well together,” Nettles said. “The numerical relationships between notes tells me something about the physics of it.”

He also has restored a rumbling 1969 V8 automatic Mustang Grande. The rusty, worn shell came with a transmission and a recently reworked engine.

Working on his 1982 Chevy S10 led to the car-building hobby, he said.

The truck had engine problems, so Nettles took it to ‘Big Pete’ and ‘Little Pete,’ his go-to guys for vehicle problems, he said.

“[My son] took it to Pete … So Little Pete said, ‘I think you need to do an engine and transmission swap in this,’” to which Nettles replied, “I can’t pay you to do an engine and transmission swap.”

The mechanic said to Nettles, “No, I mean you and Philip need to do it.”

Nettles and his son took on the project and for the next five months would call Big Pete and Little Pete for instruction, he said. By then he was hooked and eventually invested in the Mustang.

It took some time to find the right one, with Big Pete’s help, he said.

“I went and looked at this thing; it was out in the backyard, sitting on its belly, with boxes and boxes of parts in a storage shed,” Nettles said. “I made the decision … OK, yeah, I’m going to do this.”

Thus began the long restoration process, from 2004 to 2010, which included a new paint job – the original color used in 1969 — and replacing the ignition, upholstery, carpet, brakes, rims, pulleys, carburetor, fan belts, hoses, wires, air filters and brackets under the hood.

He also replaced the gas gauge, installed LED tail lights with sequential lighting, a radio and subwoofer, and built a wooden panel to go behind the rear seats.

All the features on the body are standard and original except the front two fenders.

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.