I have always had a desire to refurbish an old car and the car of choice was to be an early model Mercury Comet or Ford Falcon. The lines on the automobiles for some reason held a special appeal to me.
One day I casually mentioned to the friend and master mechanic of mine that I desired to refurbish such an automobile. At the time my friend was the current owner of a very beautiful 1932 Ford Coupe. He was truly an old car enthusiast and has owned many different models over the years. Her also has a real desire to see old cars restored to the original condition when possible.
A few weeks later and to my surprise he called me at work and told me he had found the car the I wanted. It was located in a few miles from town in a small town. He had been out cruising in his old car when he just happened upon this vehicle. The vehicle just happened to be a 1963 Mercury Comet Custom Convertible with a 260 V8 engine and 2 speed automatic transmission. He immediately called me to tell me of the vehicle and the next weekend we went to see and drive the vehicle. I knew it was what I wanted and the owner wanted a fair price. The vehicle was in reasonable good condition but needed a number of rusted areas replaced. The motor and transmission appeared to be in good working order as did the convertible top motor and other mechanisms However, as I expressed to my friend, “I have no place to store, disassemble and otherwise refurbish the vehicle.” He offered to allow me to store the vehicle in his 2 bay garage and also offered the area for the duration of the restoration. Needless to say the vehicle was in the garage the next weekend.
The first thing that was done to the vehicle was to perform a complete tune-up and brake job on the vehicle. My friend actually did these while I looked on trying to learn something. He did all of the work for nothing and in fact would not even consider taking a fee for the services.
As I should have expected from my friend, he took command and began calling body companies, meeting them at the garage and getting estimates on the replacement of rusted areas, no bondo allowed, and repainting. After he had called several he discovered a company in the same town that the car was purchased that specializes in the restoration of older vehicles. We got an estimate from this company and decided, even thought the price was somewhat higher than one of the others, that this would be the best company to do this work. I agreed to disassemble the vehicle and remove all interior and exterior items including all chrome, bumpers, radio, seats, molding and essentially everything on the vehicle except the steering wheel, ignition switch and trunk lock. This took a couple of months mostly because I worked on it at night and the garage was approximately 20 miles from my home. The fact that I did not really know how to disassemble some of the pieces hurt as well but my friend was always there to assist and he always knew exactly what to do.
As soon as the disassembly was finished off it went to the body shop. This took a lot longer than anticipated because the body shop owner contracted a rather sever illness and could not work on the vehicle for 2 months. I was patient, after all I had waited all this time for an opportunity to own an older vehicle. My friend and I monitored the progress of the refurbishment by visiting the restoration shop every couple of weeks. All rusted areas were replaced with new sheet metal and made to look just like the original body. The refurbished vehicle was completed and returned for me.
While the vehicle was in the body shop, I researched chrome shops and sent the chrome off to several locations for rechroming and researched upholstery shops for the seats and convertible top replacement. All under the watchful eye of my friend.
Disassembling the vehicle was one thing. Reassembling it proved to be much more difficult. Being a novice to this I did not really expect it to be as difficult. Nevertheless, my friend was always there to give advice, lend a hand and in some cases perform the work himself. Taking the windows out was difficult but nothing compared to replacing them and getting them properly aligned. The last thing that we (he) did was to clean and repaint the engine compartment. It now looks as if it just came off of the showroom floor.
Ten months after purchasing the vehicle the restoration was 95% complete and the vehicle was in good enough condition for me to take it away from my friends garage. The day I drove it off, I truly believe that I could see water welling up in his eyes. He had taken to the vehicle and I believe having me come by to work on it on a regular basis.
During the restoration process I got to know my friend much better and began to appreciate his passion and meticulous attention to detail. I got to know his family and in fact his wife would help out on occasion. Who really knows what work was done on the car while I was not there. My friend was always looking at and finding something that could look better.
About 5 months into the restoration process my friend contracted a disease and was out of commission for a number of months. I would go by and work on the vehicle almost every weekend and he was always in the garage with me and if not lending a hand just sitting there and offering advise as needed. I could see in his eyes and his demeanor that it was painful for him to sit there and watch because the therapy he was receiving was leaving him too weak to perform any work.
The disease caused my friend to have to retire as a profession mechanic and job that he truly loved. The day he made the decision to retire was almost as painful for me as it was for him.
It looked as if my friend was on the rebound and recovering from the disease that struck quickly and without cause. However after some initial good news the disease came back and took is life. He had a passion for old cars right up until the end and during my visits to him at home he would always want to discuss some aspect of the restoration process and how my car might look better.
My Friend was Larry Vann., family man first, friend second, old car enthusiast third and Master Mechanic fourth.
My desire and dream of owning an older vehicle was made possible through his generosity and expertise. I will miss him immensely.
Steven D. Bridges
318 Greenwich Lane