August 2, 2012 at 8:32 am

Soup it up

Detroit man doesn't let disability stop him from pursuing dream

                                 By Larry Edsall

                                 Special to The Detroit News


Marcus Simmons may be blind, but he is able to modify his Mustang.

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Marcus Simmons may be blind, but he is able to modify his Mustang. (Larry Edsall / Special to The Detroit News)

Marcus Simmons was just a youngster when he started modifying cars.

His first was a 1:25th scale model of a Jaguar XK-E. Simmons upholstered the seats, replaced the six-cylinder engine with a Pontiac powerplant from another model car, modified the exhaust system, and used springs from ballpoint pens to create a functioning suspension system.

When he turned 21, Simmons bought his first new car, a 1965 Ford Mustang, which he quickly turned into "a 6,000-rpm hole-shot street racer," and with which he temporarily lost his driving privileges as the points piled up on his license.

But Simmons turned his automotive interests to more accepted avenues. Despite his increasing disabilities, he took classes at two community colleges and graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from Wayne State University .

He built cylinder heads at the Mound Road engine plant. He maintained and repaired engines from test vehicles at Ford. He did blueprint work at Bendix. For nearly a dozen years, he worked in compliance engineering at the GM Tech Center.

At one point, he built an entire car from the ground up and for three years in a row that car won its class at Detroit 's Autorama hot rod show.

Now, at age 68, Marcus Simmons continues to work on cars, doing everything from souped-up engine installations to new brake lines to building complete wiring harnesses from scratch.

Yet Simmons has been pretty much blind since not long after he modified that Jaguar model.

Simmons started to lose his hearing in grade school, and attended the Detroit Day School for the Deaf. He was just a youngster, actually getting lost while on a Boy Scout campout, when he realized he was losing his vision as well.

Simmons was diagnosed with Usher syndrome and retinitis pigmentosa. He hasn't driven a car since the early 1980s well, he did make one spin around the block when he moved to Southfield in 1986.

When he worked at the GM Tech Center, he'd have to take four buses from the west side of Detroit to get to work each day, which is one reason he and his wife moved to Southfield, where he could take one 12 Mile bus back and forth.

Back in the early 1970s, Simmons and some friends formed a car club, the Motown Automotive Professionals. More recently, he has kept the name but modified the mission: Motown Automotive Professionals is a 501(C)(3) nonprofit ( that wants to open a school to train young men and women to be automotive technicians.

"If society was able to give me breaks along the way, I'd like to help others," Simmons said. "There are lots of kids in school who like cars. I want to give them the breaks I had."

Simmons often speaks to school groups. Once he convinces students that "a blind person can build a car," he reminds them that "everyone has some disadvantage, but if I can do it, so can you."

Though he now "rides shotgun" instead of driving, Simmons often takes his souped-up and immaculately maintained he is a stickler for precision and details 1970 Mustang to local car shows.

But not last weekend. Last weekend, he stayed home to rewire the turn signals on a friend's 1949 Cadillac

From The Detroit News: