Former pilot turns to hot rods after nightmare flight
By Kyle Barnett - Jun 06, 2013
As he was piloting a small Cessna airplane over the Gulf of Mexico, Marc Majoria was looking out the window for any sign of land.
He and his then 11-year-old son had flown in from the Ama air strip for a day trip to do some fishing, but had decided to leave in a hurry before a thunderstorm hit the area.
"I turned around and there was this huge storm cloud. It was the biggest mistake of my life," he said. "I decided to get back in the plane to take off and I got hung up in it, it blew me way off course."
After flying over open waters with no sign of land for over two hours, Majoria began to worry that he and his son would not make it back to land.
Fortunately, they had gassed up right before take off and still had a few more hours of flight before exhausting their fuel supply.
"I was really a rookie pilot and I was airborne for four hours. Luckily my instructor always taught me to top off the wings and make sure you have enough fuel if you are going from here to there because it is better to have than not have it," he said. "Anyway it saved my butt."
Not being able to see through the clouds below from 1,500 feet in the air, Majoria was lost. In addition, he was not sure if his compass was working correctly and instead of heading for the Gulf Coast he thought he may be headed for Mexico. However, not long afterward he finally saw land.
"I think I made it around either Mobile Bay or Waveland, Miss. somewhere around there. Once I saw land I knew I wasn’t dead," he said. "I knew I would be in some trouble, but I knew it wasn’t that bad."
Given that they had no radio and he had been having trouble navigating he decided to make a risky maneuver. After first spotting I-10 running through Mississippi and into Louisiana he followed it west and then veered off and followed I-12 along the Northshore. Still not sure exactly where he was he decided to put the plane down on the highway.
"I took a long straightway and I came in over a watermelon truck, pulled off the side and got out," he said. "Cars were stopping left and right saying ‘what is going on?’ A legitimate reason to bring your plane down is if you lose oil pressure. So I said ‘I lost oil pressure, I had to put this thing down.’"
After asking one of the drivers who had pulled to the side of the road, he found out they had landed just near Robert and only a few miles east of the I-55/I-12 interchange in Hammond.
"I said ‘Stop traffic! I got to go,’" he said. "I got back into the plane, cranked it up and took off. I was getting out of there and here comes the state police and he was trying to wave me down and I was just waving back at him. I knew he wasn’t going to shoot me down."
Although Majoria got back into Ama he still had to put down the plane on an unlit air strip in the dark, which he did safely. He said the experience scared him off flying…for a while at least.
"I broke all of the rules. I dodged a bullet. I did something I wasn’t supposed to do and really I am not proud of that," he said. "I am proud of the story that I survived and it proved one thing to me – a self accomplishment that I didn’t crack under pressure because you’ve only got one shot."
Although it was flying that started his passion with motor vehicles, he has in recent years turned toward a more grounded hobby.
For those who do their grocery shopping in Boutte, you have very likely noticed Majoria who is often seen in his office overlooking the liquor section of Majoria’s Supermarket.
The 66-year-old Luling native is part owner of the grocery store with his three brothers, but when he is not at work he can be found in his garage working on a variety of motor vehicle projects.
In the past few years he has taken on numerous car restorations including his two prize possessions - a 1967 Corvette Stingray coupe and a 1971 Dodge Challenger, both of which he keeps under cover and high in the air on hydraulic lifts he has installed in his expansive garage.
The Corvette he bought in mint condition from an Ohio company specializing in vintage Corvettes, but the Challenger has been a project car from the start and he has received a lot of help from restoration experts.
Much of the research he does for his projects comes from the Internet where he utilizes Ebay and Craigslist to find vehicles and vehicle components and Youtube to gain the knowledge to pursue restorations.
"I found the Challenger in Texas online and bought it and went and got it myself. I drove it here and around the block. Then I started pulling it apart to have it built the way I wanted it built," he said.
Included in the restoration of the vehicle has been a complete overhaul of not only the car’s major components, but also a first rate custom paint job and interior restoration.
"It is strictly a horsepower high performance car. There is very little comfort involved, no air conditioning or any of that stuff," he said. "It is all mechanical, no computers. It is a crowd pleaser."
He originally had a high performance clutch and shifting mechanism installed, but after undergoing a double knee replacement he found it was not feasible for him to drive a high performance manual transmission. He now has the car pulled apart and is in the process of installing an automatic transmission.
Along with the two transmissions he is swapping out of the Challenger there are numerous other parts of another project car laying around that is preparing to become his next big piece of work.
He has all the components to build his second "rat rod," which is a custom car that combines elements of the old and new, but appears in an unfinished state.
"Old cars have always been a hobby of mine and I always did love them and then the fad with the rat rods came around and you can’t mess up a rat rod," he said. "The worse it is the better it is so that fits me perfect."
In 2009 he built his first rat rod, a custom 1930 Ford Model A Coupe, which he named the "graffiti coupe" due to a paint job where he invited visitors at car shows to sign their names in paint on the rusted car body and eventually gathered around 10,000 signatures.
That was not the only interesting component to the car, which took him four months to complete and included a custom built chassis, tractor components in the exhaust coming directly out of the engine and a shifter made out of a shotgun barrel.
Majoria said he likes the challenge of taking a car from conception and brainstorming on different elements he can install in it to make it stick out.
"You are driving down the road and they give you a thumbs up and everybody wants to take pictures with you while you are riding," he said. "You can’t have a low profile when you are driving something like that."
He said putting together such a car is more of a creative exercise than one of pure mechanical prowess.
"That rat rod, it is old and raggedy, but it is a work of art," he said. "The car kind of dictates to you what it wants to be and your personality kind of comes out in it too."
After selling the "graffiti coupe" earlier this year, Majoria is ready to begin work on a 1937 Plymouth Coupe that features suicide doors. The car body sat out on a North Dakota farm for a number of years before he picked it up.
Majoria points out holes in its roof.
"These are actually bullet holes. It was in the field and somebody was taking pop shots at it," he said. "Absolutely I am going to keep them. They call that patina that gives the car character and personality."
He has already had a custom chassis built and tracked down a rare 1961 Chrysler big block engine that has carburetors on each side that will stick out from each side of the car’s hood. Now he just has to put everything together.
"This car here it’s a puzzle and I have all of the pieces that I just have to put together, but that takes time and money and knowledge and I’m always two out of the three for the equation whatever that might be," he said.
In addition to his car projects, Majoria also has a few bicycles he has motorized and now he is also preparing for perhaps his most ambitious project–his return to flight, albeit this time in a different form. He has ordered a kit to construct his own ultralight aircraft, which is a small engine aircraft with an open cockpit that does not require a pilot’s license to fly.
"You buy a kit with all of the parts and there is no welding involved. What it is you pop rivet everything together," he said. "It comes with instruction manuals, DVD videos and it is a project that should only take $200 to be built. I have the room and I am starting to have the time."
When asked why he wants to return to flight after going through such a terrifying experience, Majoria said it is an idea he just can rid himself of.
"This is my thing. If you go back to the beginning of time man has a lot of limitations to fly. Just to look at the concept that you can defy gravity," he said. "I just like the idea that man can fly and I don’t want to miss out on that in my lifetime. Now I don’t care if I fly five feet off the ground, I just want to fly."
Majoria said it will take at least two years to construct the aircraft, but given the dedication apparent in the other projects that fill his garage it will not be surprising if before long St. Charles Parish residents notice a grey haired man with a large beard up in the air in an open cockpit plan. Maybe if he is close enough to the ground they will be able to pick up a huge smile plastered across his face.
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