Mustang Makeover

Auto Museum Showcases Students' Restoration Effort

by Tom Wilson, writer/editor-PCToday.

Four Pennsylvania College of Technology students received a heroes' welcome when their laboratory labor of love – restoration of a 1965 Ford Mustang for public display – was triumphantly returned to the Antique Automobile Club of America's Museum on June 26.

Returned by students to showroom quality, a 1965 Ford Mustang looks at home on the museum floor. Photo by Cindy Davis Meixel.As temperatures and humidity rose on that barely summer Saturday, with pets panting on the concourse and concessionaires' wares melting in the swelter, the vintage automobile clearly was one of the coolest things in sight. The car was displayed near the museum entrance, its new paint job and dazzling chrome catching a glint of sun (as well as the warm admiration of passersby) during the institution's 15th annual car show on its grounds in Hershey.

"I knew the results would be good, but the students have certainly exceeded our expectations."

Amid the crush of car enthusiasts and the whirr of cameras, Penn College students Micah C. Kauffman, Beavertown; Charles D. Peterson, Cogan Station; Thomas G. Sylvester III, Manalapan, N.J.; and Daniel J. Walsh, Absecon, N.J., were applauded by attendees and complimented throughout the day by grateful museum officials.

"I am thrilled with the results. The car looks stunning and has received numerous comments from our guests," said Jeffrey Bliemeister, museum curator. "I knew the results would be good, but the students have certainly exceeded our expectations."

The project began during the Fall 2008 semester, when museum officials – learning of the college's reputation from the automobile club's active Susquehannock Region chapter – first entertained a joint venture. Earl L. Mowrey Jr., a part-time architectural technology instructor in the college's School of Construction and Design Technologies, and Ed Stroble (both members of the AACA chapter's board of directors) were instrumental in furthering the project and encouraging the students' work as it progressed.

Micah C. Kauffman painstakingly buffs the 1965 Ford Mustang in the collision repair lab. Photo by Larry D. Kauffman."It really began as a crazy idea, a way to put the collision-repair business into a historical perspective," explained Mowrey, fittingly self-described as the "spark plug" for the cooperative undertaking. "The college has this massively gorgeous collision lab; why not coordinate something between the students and the museum?"

After months of discussions among Colin W. Williamson, dean of transportation technology; the museum; and the AACA chapter, the car traveled through the main-campus entrance and into its temporary College Avenue Labs cocoon.

Throughout the Spring 2010 semester, the four students and automotive technology instructor Roy H. Klinger – who termed the car a definite "cream puff" – worked at a diligent pace in the new Restoration/Modification class. With gloved hands and near-surgical precision, the students tagged and bagged and stored for safekeeping every piece removed from the automobile – from entire fenders to the smallest hardware – until reinstallation. Numbered swatches of masking tape dotted the exterior, marking blemishes that ranged from scarcely perceptible water spots to obvious dents.

The finishing touch to the restoration project was a new paint job – delivered via a waterborne basecoat system donated to the School of Transportation Technology by PPG Industries – one of the latest innovations in auto-body technology applied to a vehicle that came off the Ford assembly line a quarter-century before the youngest of Klinger's students was even born.

Penn College students and benefactors stand behind their work outside the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum. From left are Earl L. Mowrey Jr., Susquehannock Region chapter board member (and part-time Penn College instructor); chapter board member Ed Stroble; and students Daniel J. Walsh, Kauffman, Charles D. Peterson and Thomas G. Sylvester III. Photo by Tom Wilson."What is more realistic than taking something and doing a full-body restoration?" asked Steven H. Wallace, assistant dean of transportation technology, who introduced the students at Hershey and connected their painstaking project to the hands-on philosophy of Penn College's "degrees that work" before giving Bliemeister the keys to the museum's iconic vehicle.

Also witnessing the car's official return were Debra M. Miller, Penn College director of corporate relations; Loren R. Bruckhart, a member of the collision repair faculty; and representatives of the AACA's Susquehannock Region, who funded and shepherded the project.

The students and their guests were treated to a VIP tour of the museum, including areas generally off-limits to patrons, and got a peek at the next car to be restored at the college: a rare 1978 Pontiac Firebird Esprit, owned by an Army nurse from the Washington, D.C., area who bought the vehicle as an 18-year-old and donated it to the museum in December.

"This was my first time at the Hershey museum, and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the tour, and looking at the vast array of classic and antique automobiles in its collection," Walsh said. "I was also very flattered and came to realize how much people appreciated our work and dedication. It was at that moment that all of the hours we put in to this project paid off!"

The Mustang also has made the rounds of such high-profile car shows as Carlisle and Canandaigua, N.Y., thanks to Mowrey, who said he's "really tickled" about the success of the project and touts the students' handiwork everywhere he goes. The new relationship with the museum also has opened the door for other vehicles to be shared with students – including a 1908 Ford Model K brought to campus for a close-up, hands-on inspection by students in the Ford ASSET and collision repair labs.

With another academic year under way, Klinger's students are back in the lab for at least seven hours a week. And Walsh – who knows firsthand the joy of touching automotive history – wished the "best of luck" to the students working on the next project passed along by the museum.

"The Firebird is a special model, quite uncommon in terms of production numbers," explained Bliemeister, who hand-picked the car from among the museum's many donations. "It was purchased new by the donor when she was a teenager about to enter the Army nursing program. She was initially considering selling the car and found us because an appraiser … suggested it be donated to the museum."

Nearly a dozen students are working on the Firebird under a projected two-semester schedule, spending their Tuesday and Thursday evenings in the collision repair lab with Klinger and their industrious classmates.

"I knew the car needed more work than the Mustang, but I also knew it was worth fixing and was interesting from a young person's point of view. I had told the donor that I would propose the car for the school to work on, but could not guarantee anything," Bliemeister said. "Needless to say, she was thrilled when I e-mailed her that the project was accepted."

The original owner is planning to travel to Hershey from Virginia when the car is completed, the curator added.

"All of us at the museum are grateful to the region and the school for their ongoing commitment to this yearly project and deeply impressed by the quality of the work produced by all the parties involved in this unique relationship," he said.

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