hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

January 18, 2012

Students restore city man's 1920s car

By Tim McCarthy
tmccarthy@hgazette.com

It might not pass state inspection, but a car from the distant past is otherwise ready to hit the road.

Students of the Greater Lawrence Technical High School have restored an antique car owned by the vice president of Adamson Industries, a Haverhill business. Their work brought a piece of 1920s culture into the present.

The school's auto body and automotive shops, known as the Reggies' Restoration Shop, restored the 1924 electric Custer Car, a single-seat electric car meant for low-speed travel.

"They did a very nice job," said Steve Contarino, Adamson vice president. "I've had jobs done by some of the best restorers in the country and this one came out very good. This is something the kids and staff at Greater Lawrence Tech should be very proud of. It's back to its former glory."

Contarino collects classic and off-beat cars. Besides the Custer, he owns a sedan used on the set of the "Mission: Impossible" TV show.

Students worked through December removing rust fro the Cluster, repainting the body to fire-engine red and renovating the car's interior. Students from the school's carpentry shop created a new driver's seat.

"They redid it all," Contarino said.

He said that when he bought the car, it was in a dilapidated state. He spent three years collecting parts to rebuild it.

Thomas Hatem, an automotive shop teacher at the school, said students needed to make entire parts of the chassis because original parts don't exist. Despite the challenge, Hatem said six students persevered to recreate the past.

"They thought it was a rust bucket," Hatem said. "But they started looking at it with different eyes. It was a real fun project for the kids to do."

The students have also worked on restoring an antique vending machine at Mann Orchards in Methuen and an engine from a Lawrence mill.

Julio Morales, a junior in the automotive program, said he enjoyed working on a car unlike anything he has ever seen.

"You can see a little bit of history in your shop," he said.

Thanks to the students' ingenuity, the car needs only a battery before it is drivable once more.

Contarino estimated the cost of their restoration work would come to $8,000 if done in a professional shop.

"I couldn't believe the quality of work they did," he said. "They're a really talented group of people there."

Hatem added the shop will restore a particular object only once to make sure students get a variety of projects to work on.

"If we've done it once, we're not going to do it again," he said. "I don't want them to be afraid of trying different things."

The Custer Specialty Car Company operated in Dayton, Ohio, and created smaller cars meant for women, children and amusement park rides. In the 1920s, no federal laws existed to create standards for "road ready" cars, Contarino said. In Massachusetts, the only requirements for cars were a single tail light and two headlights.

"It's the original Prius," Hatem said.