Photos By: Mitzi Valenzuela | Story By: Tony Colombini
It’s dismembered body sat in the dark next to the hand-formed tubular bones of it’s former self, some 40 years earlier as a prized kitty. Northern California auto enthusiast Robert Neumann traveled to San Francisco answering an ad for a Datsun 240Z power plant. As the gentle lady presented the motor, she shared the scene of the historic cat just yards away in a separate garage.
Robert knew he stumbled on something unique and called on his buddy Paul Shaughnessy of New Metal Kustomz just 50 miles north to come down to “The City” and take a look at this legendary feline. It was 2005 and Nancy Garcia was looking for a qualified owner of her late husband’s pride and joy deuce roadster.
Since Paul is a relatively young gun in the industry in his 30s, it was a bit challenging to convince Nancy that he not only he had the ability but also the passion to carry the project through and see it into a complete restoration and more. It didn’t take long for her to see Paul’s vision to rebuild the car in its ‘60’s glory with the fit and finish of today’s show vehicles.
The painting of Sylvester with a magnet on the cowl was the first clue that this car had a very special history. This was the type of project that Paul was looking for, a true ‘60’s era custom: upon further research they discovered this was indeed a 1962 Grand National Roadster Show contender with a once in a lifetime narrative, so they vowed to give this ol’ kitty a new life.
The first year in the shop there was plenty of buzz going around. Research to be had, and previous owners were contacted. The car was a bare body with no floor, no engine, no interior. The chassis was all hand-built with tear-drop shaped tube rails. Paul and partner Marcus Owens at New Metal Kustomz found some small photos in various publications in the past. No featured articles, no real details. They developed the plan to work on the project between jobs with keeping the late ‘50’s, early ‘60’s tradition. That meant no CNC machining, all hand-built as they would have done over 50 years ago.
The shop grew busy. So much so, that when the car was a roller, it sat covered in the corner of the garage for almost 5 years until a customer encouraged them to get it ready for the 2012 Grand National Roadster Show to compete for the title of America’s Most Beautiful Roadster – exactly 50 years from its initial showing!
Let the thrashing begin. It’s August 2011 and the shop in Cotati, California is experiencing a heat wave of fury over the kitty. The original tear-drop frame rails were kept but all the gusseting, crossmembers and mounts were hand forged and expertly applied in a high-art fashion.
The front torsion bars float through the motor mounts, the rear torsion bars attach above the floor in front of the seats to create a visual splendor and catch the eye like that of a precious stone. The mounts are all hand-built, each with a dozen parts and splined for infinite adjustments.
The body was massaged to it’s original glory with welded doors and deck lid. This time channeled to sit even lower. The grille shell was hand-formed as well as each individual stainless grille bar expertly finished. The driver is shielded by a slightly re-worked split windshield, which sits at a bit more rake than the original design.
The original builder shaved the cowl vent, but the boys at New Metal Kustomz like cowl vents so they created two triangular vents to fit the cowl under the windshield. Another nice detail that sometimes goes unnoticed. The paint color was discovered after heavy polishing of the original dash. A base coat of Solar Gold got hit with five coats of HOK Candy Apple Red and 10 layers of clearcoat to bring it to its traditional glow. The body was softly touched with pinstripes and iconic Sylvester cowl art by Rory. The shiney parts were plated and polished by Sherm’s Plating.
Paul and Marcus hunted down found a 401 cid Nailhead and fitted it with an aluminum log-style Weiand manifold, a six-pack of chrome Stromberg 97s, Mallory Ignition, and polished, finned Fenton valve covers and valley pan. A unique chain-drive throttle and shift linkage adds to the incredible detail. The headers and flanges are polished stainless steel. The recessed chrome firewall reflects the jeweled mill from the bell housing forward to the hand-forged fan shroud. Another expert nod to the past. The original 12-gauge insert firewall was a first of its kind in the early ‘60s.
The line between exterior to interior is blurred in this roadster. The painted dash and two-toned ’59 Impala steering wheel draws your eye in. Plante Interior Company worked the white tuck and roll interior in true ‘60’s fashion. The dash features original Stewart-Warner wing gauges. The tall shifter is based by a unique polished chain linkage to the transmission.
The details are simply beyond belief: the drilled gussets on the frame rails, the Currie 9-inch rear with special Watts-link mount, the front Watts-link mount in the lower radiator support, the list goes on and on. Original ‘50’s Buick brakes stop the original reversed chromed steel wheels. The wheels were taken apart to clean up to show perfection then painted off-white on the inside. The same paint was used on the steering wheel, inside the velocity stacks and the zoomies.
So how did it do at the Grand National debut? With an estimated 5,000 hours in the build, the last several weeks were a true thrash session of all-nighters to get the car to the show. A magnificent contender in a field of excellent cars Sylvester III won Best Paint, Best Engine, and Best Undercarriage.
Yet the best award of all was when previous owner Nancy Garcia wept with emotion on seeing the car under the lights. Other previous owners became aware of the car from its debut and saw it with pride at the Sacramento Autorama. It is nice to see a bunch of young guns appreciate the past and give this cat another opportunity to purr again.