Our real-time restoration of a 1961 Ford Starliner has come a long way since I hauled it home from Claresholm, Alta., in 2003.
Nearing the end of a frame-off, rotisserie-body restoration by the autobody students at Kildonan East Collegiate, it's been a shop training aid many of the students have had a hand in.
Last week at Kildonan East, the senior class and instructors said goodbye to Project Starliner. From the start in 2005, everyone knew this was going to be a long and slow process. We hoped the car would offer an opportunity for the students to be involved in a full restoration and allow them to take part in some real panel fabrication usually only seen in professional restoration shops.
Then there was the commitment from the instructors, Paul Asselstine, John Kelly and Dan Labossiere. The autobody repair and refinishing program at Kildonan East covers the metal repair and painting procedures on automotive vehicles. Students are afforded the opportunity to develop skills that will enhance their ability to make autobody repairs to vehicles and to seek employment in autobody, welding related fields, estimating, parts management and the automotive industry as a whole. Over the years, the car has seen dozens of metal panels welded in and probably as many removed and redone until it was felt the car was where it should be with contour and fit.
While this was happening, in the power mechanics shop recently retired instructor Murray Malcolmson led the students through the installation of all-new front suspension and braking components as well as new brake and fuel lines and shock absorbers. The program is designed to teach students how to service, maintain and repair the various electronic and mechanical components in the automotive, transportation and power equipment industries and offers a broad base of exposure to many vehicles.
Then came the job of replacing the body on the frame and getting everything fastened down with new hardware and rubber insulators.
All of this year's senior class has seen the Starliner in the shop for a few years and worked on it, but the car has almost become a part of the school. There are many students who are now graduates and many working in the automotive trades that at one time or another took part in the body restoration.
Following was the task of priming, blocking and sanding to get the car the car straight enough to accept the Raven Black paint finish. You have to appreciate the scale. This is a full-size 1960 car riding on a 119-inch wheelbase and measuring 80-inches wide and 210-inches in overall length. I often referred to it as being as big as a submarine!
With the bodywork completed, student Bryce Goralchuck took point as team lead with Ashley Weber, Elijah Langevin, Darryl Merrit and Mason Holland, to get the Starliner through weeks of work until it was ready for final preparation and its trip to the paint booth.
"It was a good project and one I enjoyed working on," said Goralchuck.
Sept. 24 was the day the Starliner would receive its final paint. The painting duties were split with Weber on one side and Goralchuck on the other.
"It was a chance to work on an early muscle car and something I wanted to do," said Weber.
By the time the paint settled, Project Starliner was dressed in a new black suit. After curing, unmasking and polishing, it's now ready for the next phase: reassembly.
So why a 1961 Ford Starliner? Well, 10-plus years ago it was affordable to buy and a car that appeared to have some appreciation potential. Ford Starliner values have been escalating over the past decade and while our project car is coming along, it still needs everything else to fall into place before we can say we've seen a successful investment.
Ford only built the Starliner in 1960 and 1961, producing 68,641 and 29,669 units respectively, and they have become increasingly rare over time. While a decade ago the 1960 Starliner was the more popular of the two-year production, the '61 is the least seen and its popularity has continued to increase in values, now exceeding the 1960 model.
The Starliner was also regarded as Ford's new weapon on the NASCAR racing circui. With its aerodynamic fastback roofline and new FE series engines, it easily topped 150 m.p.h. on the super speedways. These overlooked muscle cars of the early '60s are now becoming sought-after collectibles.
In short, if you're going to invest time, effort and funds in a restoration project, you want it to at least be one that's worth something down the road. We can only hope the trend continues.
To the River East Transcona School Division, and Kildonan East Collegiate and its instructors and students, thank you for the opportunity to show the readers and auto enthusiasts the time and perseverance required to perform a major part of the restoration of a 50-year old vehicle. It's not magic, it's just old-fashioned hard work.