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Defrosted ‘Ice Car’ is no worse for the wear

It was encased in ice for at least 2½ days. A crew finally freed it with bags of calcium flakes. And even after it was left overnight under a heat lamp, ice remained on the windshield and roof.

But when a worker at the collision shop turned the ignition key of the now famous “Ice Car,” the vehicle started immediately.

“I never had a doubt,” said Justin Yelen, the car’s 24-year-old owner.

The 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer, embedded in ice and parked next to windswept Lake Erie at Hoak’s Restaurant on Route 5 in Hamburg, went viral this week on social media.

The car was freed Wednesday and reunited with its owner Thursday.


Photos: Liberating the “ice car”


“The amount of ice on the vehicle weighed it right down to the ground,” said Nick Ortwein, collision estimator at West-Herr Collision in Hamburg, where it was towed. “The suspensions on the cars are only meant to handle a certain amount of weight as far as any springs and the ride height of the vehicle.”

The car withstood plummeting temperatures, vicious winds and pounding waves. Local and national television news crews jockeyed for position to film the man and his car.

The Weather Channel saw fit to record its rescue live Wednesday morning with reporter Mike Seidel calling the vehicle “amazing.”

All the while, Yelen went about his life, working nights at Eddie Brady’s, eating lunch with his brother and fielding requests for interviews from reporters. Yelen, who had left his car at Hoak’s Sunday night after watching football and hockey with his friends at the bar, remained surprised at the reaction to his predicament.

“My car has been pretty faithful,” Yelen said Thursday. “I’ve gotten stuck before, but nothing like this – and I’m always running into crazy scenarios.”

As it turned out, Yelen just wanted to pay for the tow and get his car back, but family members urged him to report it to his insurance company, which arranged for Lake Erie Towing & Recovery to retrieve the vehicle and take it the Camp Road collision shop.

“We just brought it inside and put it under the heat overnight,” said Ortwein. “I was surprised because I figured the ice would be gone in the morning. But even though it was under heat all night – a good 75 degrees – the car still had a good chunk of ice on the windshield up past the roof. Even the sides of the car had five or six inches of ice. But it runs and drives. We’ve even pulled it out and had it detailed.”

Next door on Camp Road, Robert K. Phillips, general manager of Hamburg Mitsubishi, watched the developments with interest.

He, too, had seen news accounts about the ice car by Lake Erie, and when he discovered the vehicle was a Mitsubishi he immediately tried to contact Yelen.

“I wanted to bring the car in and get it defrosted for him,” said Phillips. “We were poised to call him ... . I missed the opportunity. We actually quoted him a price on a new Evolution, trading in his Lancer,” said Phillips.

“I still plan on reaching out to him to see if he would like to do a testimonial. Look at what that car went through. The Ice Car is definitely a testament to endurance. I mean, how much did that ice weigh?”

Ortwein at West-Herr believed the frozen shell that encased Yelen’s car could have weighed from 400 to 1,000 pounds.

“There was a lot of excitement out there when it came in,” he recalled. “I have a family member in France who said they saw it on television. That’s just how popular the car actually got.”

Yelen, cool and smiling, summed it up best when he was asked what he learned from the experience.

“A lot can happen overnight,” he said.