Customs come out to play at Cobo for Autorama
Students push Hope, a 1951 Ford Sedan Custom housed at Roseville Junior High during construction at the high school. The car, which will appear at Autorama this weekend, was headed for touch-up paint work.
BY PAUL GULLY
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER
When Mark O'Brien, president of Roy O'Brien Ford of St. Clair Shores, forked over $6,000 last year for a 1951 Ford Coupe Sedan he intended to serve as his teenage son's first car, he figured it would take another $10,000 to get it into driveable condition.
But thanks to the Hot Rod High auto tech students at Roseville High School, seven months and nearly $150,000 later, O'Brien instead got himself an award-winning hot rod making the rounds on the custom car show circuit.
This weekend, the car, which the Roseville students dubbed Hope, will be featured in the 57th annual Detroit Autorama at Cobo Center.
"I never thought the car would end up like this," O'Brien said. "Our nice dark blue grandma car bought to be a daily driver was turned into a $150,000 trailer queen. These kids did an amazing job."
When the students in the vocational program first saw the car in May 2008, many were less than thrilled.
It was, as some of the teens recalled, an "ugly, ugly blue." And it was covered in a good deal of rust. Then there was the black gunk that coated the bottom of the vehicle.
"We spent a while scraping off that junk. It was awful," said Douglas Welch, a junior in the auto technology class. "It would get all over your clothes and in your mouth. You'd smell like it for the rest of the day."
Originally the class -- led by the father-son teaching team of Paul Tregembo Jr. and Paul Tregembo Sr. -- was merely supposed to install a new engine in the '51 and make a few minor adjustments.
It was nothing that the program's 155 students weren't used to doing.
But then they got ambitious.
Students first asked O'Brien whether they could modify the '51's head and taillights.
After a little guidance from their teachers (who are known simply as Junior and Senior by their students) the students asked to chop the top.
Things took off from there.
Seven months later, the clunker that many students avoided back in May was again keeping them at bay. This time, the kids found themselves keeping their distance from the '51 for fear of scratching its custom pearl white paint job.
"The rule was, if you were working on the '51, you had to take off anything that could scratch it -- jackets, because of their zippers and buttons, belt buckles, jewelry. A lot of the underclassmen were kind of afraid to go near it," said Eric Jozwiak, a junior in the program.
"The last thing we wanted was for that car to get nicked up. We put so much time and effort into it. It's hard to believe we accomplished everything we did," added Jozwiak, who worked on the car's frame and brake lines.
And the team did it with a fairly aggressive timetable.
The students -- many of whom volunteered over summer and winter break -- accomplished in less than a year what can take professionals two to three.
They chopped the car's top (lowering it 4 inches), redid its front end, customized and rebuilt its frame, rebuilt the engine and installed an air ride suspension.
"There were a lot of people who doubted these kids could get it done, but they proved everyone wrong," O'Brien said.
And at Chicago's World of Wheels hot rod show in January, Hot Rod High was rewarded for its work.
Hope landed the students several honors, including Best in Class for the Radically Modified Hardtop Division and Outstanding Custom of the Show, among others.
It was also named to the show's Top 20 among the approximately 450 cars there.
"Taking home all those awards was awesome," said junior Nic Dragna. "It just proved that when we work together, we can accomplish anything. And it gave us hope that we can amount to something, which is kind of where the car's name came from."
Since returning home, the students have been refining Hope in an effort to accommodate the more stringent judging process of Autorama.
Seemingly minor details can have a big effect on judges who, because of the high level of many of the cars at the show, are forced to nitpick to distinguish the award winners.
The Hot Rod High crew isn't chancing anything. They redid the garnish molding in the back of the car's interior, modified the aluminum splash panels in the engine compartment and had the door panels redone.
And the students also made sure to remove the barcode SKU stickers from the '51's brake line that may have cost them a few points in Chicago.
After making the rounds at car shows, O'Brien, who put nearly $150,000 into the car (not taking into account labor, which the students provide for no cost), plans to show the pearl-white hot rod in his dealership.
Hope, which will be the 86th car Senior has entered on behalf of his students in Autorama since 1973, will be one of three cars Hot Rod High will be showing among nearly 1,000 hot rods featured at the show.
Article from Detroit Free Press, March 5, 2009.
Senior Mike Weisenbaugh stands under Hope in the Vocational Auto Technology area. The car has a custom exhaust system.
Roseville High students Eric Jozwiak (seated) and Kyle Cook work on bleeding a brake line as Cory Minch lends his hand.
Roseville student Trammell Anderson polishes a 1966 Mercury Comet Cyclone GT named Tiffany, also to be shown at Autorama.
Hope, a 1951 Ford Sedan Custom, has a rebuilt engine and many plated and polished components. About $150,000 went into the car, not taking into account labor, which students provided free.
Roseville High School students, from left, Gerrad Marquardt, Don Griebe and Mike Weisenbaugh polish a 1966 Mercury Comet Cyclone GT named Tiffany. It is among three cars the students will show at Autorama.
Additional Facts Autorama
Where: Cobo Center, Detroit
When: Noon-10 p.m. Friday
9 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday
10 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: Adults: $18; 6-12 years old: $5
Children 5 and under: free
Discount tickets available at Murray's/O'Reilly's Discount Auto Stores
Discount general admission: $15
Children 6-12 years old: $4
Highlights: More than 1,000 hot rods, custom cars, trucks, vans and motorcycles; TV and film cars include Mach 5 from "Speed Racer," KITT from the latest "Knight Rider" show and a KITT from the original "Knight Rider" show; customizers Chip Foose, Darryl Starbird and George Barris
More information: 248-373-1700; www.autorama.com