Sunday, November 28, 2021

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Car Restoration is a Labor of Love for Shoreline Residents


Sunday afternoon at Guilford Point was a buzz with a car show, boaters, people fishing and grabbing a bite to eat. 

Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier

Sunday afternoon at Guilford Point was a buzz with a car show, boaters, people fishing and grabbing a bite to eat. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier)






For many people, summer means car shows. It's a chance for those who enjoy looking to check out cars from both the past and the present and get a glimpse at the passion that the owners have for their cars. For the car owners, it's a chance to show off the hard work they have put into the restoration and talk to others who enjoy the same hobby.

As with any hobby, there are many ways to be involved in car restoration. Some owners purchase fully restored cars, others see the potential in a rusty, non-working vehicle and bring it back to life. Some choose to attend car shows to share their work, while others prefer enjoying the drive. One thing those interested in the hobby share, though, is a passion for cars and an appreciation of the work the hobby entails.


Rich Willard, Vintage Motorcars, LLC, Westbrook

Ever since he was young, Rich Willard has been involved in car restoration, a hobby his dad, Sam, had when Rich was growing up. When Rich was going to school for accounting, his dad asked him to help on a job and it eventually grew into Vintage Motorcars, LLC, a restoration shop in Westbrook.

I restored that car with him and then there was another and another and before I knew it, I was in business,  said Willard, a Lyme resident who has had his shop in Westbrook for 21 years.

Though Willard focuses on restoring cars for others, he has restored 30 to 40 himself over the years, often selling them once he is finished. The first project he took on as his own was a 1946 Ford convertible. His current favorite is a 2001 Ferrari.

Over his many years in business, Willard has seen people's interests shift from cars from the 1930s to more modern-day classics like Broncos, Jeep Wagoneers, or Volkswagen buses. Willard favorite part about the job comes when a project is complete.

"I love seeing the owner's reaction when it's done," he said. "The process is so personal and emotional and means so much. It's a whole different mentality than working on someone's regular car–it's a labor of love for them."


Diane Valley Mierz, Branford

1963 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia convertible

Diane Valley Mierz has always had an interest in cars, but with her dream car being a Karmann Ghia convertible, she found that the price range was out of reach. In 2009, though, a friend in California found a Craigslist ad for a car. Though it was rust-free, the car had been painted and Mierz originally passed.

Friends convinced me it was a worthy project," said Mierz. "I knew it originally has been painted Pacific Blue–my favorite color from this era–and figured I would just repaint it and redo the interior. When it arrived I discovered I could chip some of the paint off–turns out it was painted twice–and that's what started my restoration process.

Over the next two years, Mierz literally chipped away at her project to expose the original finish, spot painting areas that had been sanded down to bare metal. She made several attempts to change the color of the interior back to the original color–Ice Blue–finally finding an original interior available through a website dedicated to Volkswagens. She repaired the interior and installed it last year.

"Now, even though it was far from original when purchased, it appears to be an untouched original car," said Mierz, who enjoys driving her car locally and on tours. "I won 'Drivable Dream' at one of the Hemmings Cruise Ins in Vermont last year."


Scott DePierro, Madison

1971 Porsche 911 Targa

With a career in business, Scott DePierro wanted a hands-on hobby as a form of relaxation. Growing up, he remembers watching his dad fix any problems that came up with his family's cars and learned to work on his own car when he got to high school.

The car hobby lets me do something very different from my day job, something mechanical with a tangible result," said DePierro. "And it's fun on a Saturday morning to ask myself, 'Which one will I drive today?'"

DePierro's interest lies in German cars from the 1960s and 1970s, including Porsches, Volkswagens, and BMWs, but he also has an English Mini. His primary restoration focus has been a 1971 Porsche 911 Targa, which he finished last summer after working on it for 10 years.

"I bought it locally from a friend and it needed a full restoration," said DePierro. "It was rusty, not running, and much of it was disassembled and in boxes. I'm pretty good at the mechanical work, but I left the bodywork and paint to professionals. It's finally back on the road and it's perfect."

In addition to seeing the transformation of the car, DePierro enjoys the camaraderie he has found through his hobby. He has several friends who share his passion for cars and so do his children.

"It doesn't always have to result in a perfect restoration, often it's satisfying to just get something back on the road–and it's fun to drive something interesting that gets attention or starts a conversation; the '63 Beetle and the '72 Mini are good at that," said DePierro. "Both my kids are big fans of old cars so we always have something to talk about."


Joe Mulhern, East Haven

Volkswagen Beetle convertible

Joe Mulhern's interest in restoring cars began when he was just 16 years old. He got a 1968 Volkswagen Beetle and fixed it up so he had a car to drive to school. His interest developed from there and still includes vintage Beetles, but has also expanded to include Italian cars like Ferraris and Alfa Romeos, as well as 911 Porsches.

"It's rewarding after you do the hard work and you take the car for a ride and know it was all worth it," said Mulhern.

The most recent car Mulhern has worked on is a Volkswagen Beetle convertible that he discovered as the owner was putting a sign on it on the side of the road.

"Cosmetically the car only needed an interior and I had to get it running," he said. "I put months of work into the car here and there and have enjoyed it the last two years."

Mulhern enjoys attending car shows where he finds a camaraderie with others who are interested in the hobby. He is also a police officer in East Haven and has run the union's car show for the past 12 years.

"I've met a lot of people from going to car shows," said Mulhern. "You know you'll have something in common–it just depends on what kind of car they have and what kind of car they like."


José J. Gonzalez, Jr., Clinton

1966 Pontiac Tempest Wagon & 2017 Dodge Challenger Scat Pack Shaker

Ever since he was small, José J. Gonzalez, Jr. can remember spending time with his dad and his uncles in the garage where they worked on cars. His dad also had a 1966 Pontiac Tempest that Gonzalez always admired.

"My dad was always fixing cars to earn extra money and he was into old cars," said Gonzalez, who works on cars for a living. "It was a big hangout and I got exposed to it. I always looked forward to owning that car, but he won't give it up so I bought the same one, but it's a wagon."

Gonzalez and his wife, Emily, bought the car in 2006 and he did some mechanical maintenance so that it is reliable enough to drive locally. Gonzalez brings the Pontiac to local car shows.

"It still needs to be restored, but it's a rare car so when we found it, we bought it and we'll fix it up as we have the money," said Gonzalez, who also owns a 2017 Dodge Challenger Scat Pack Shaker. "It's fun to have a new car and the old car. The new car is my daily driver, but I'm still meticulous about it."

Now with two sons of his own, Gonzalez enjoys sharing his passion with them, as well as his father. He and his dad still go to car shows together and his family also enjoys participating in car shows and attending them.

"I always bond over cars with my dad and we always talk about stuff we're working on," said Gonzalez. "We went to the Dream Ride Experience for Special Olympics in Fairfield last year with the whole family. It's huge and we saw all kinds of cars you'd never see anywhere else."

Jenn McCulloch is the Correspondent for Zip06. Email Jenn at .

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