Student Honors Deceased Father With Restored Vehicle

Published 05.31.2002

Student News

"Why did I get myself into this?"

Those words, muttered to himself, usually mark the beginning stages of a typical auto restoration project for Leonard Pasquale.

After all, gazing at the stark body of a stripped automobile surrounded by an array of seemingly incongruous parts can be a bit intimidating even for a grizzled garage veteran, let alone a first-year collision repair student at Pennsylvania College of Technology.

But like an experienced technician, Pasquale doesn't let initial trepidation paralyze his expertise. "Once I make some progress, I know why I started," he smiles.

There is one project that brought a smile to Pasquale's face prior to any progress. Before picking up his first tool, he knew exactly what he was getting himself into. It was a job that had been waiting for him his entire life.

"Some may have pictures (of a deceased parent); I have a car," Pasquale says. "It's my keepsake."

Pasquale's exhaustive work on his keepsake, a 1979 Corvette, has kept alive the memory of a man he never knew - his father, Leonard.

"My dad had a Camaro but sold it to buy a brand-new '79 Corvette for $11,000," Pasquale explains. "My uncle says my dad wanted to order a royal blue Corvette with white interior but the dealer couldn't get that combination, so my dad took the midnight blue Corvette in the showroom instead."

Leonard Anthony Pasquale didn't have much time to enjoy his prized possession. In August 1980, the elder Pasquale perished in a traffic accident. Four months later, Lenny was born.

"Obviously, I have no memories of my father," Pasquale, 21, says, "but as a kid, I can always remember the car being around. I knew I was going to have the car someday."

"Someday" had to wait until Pasquale had the experience and proficiency to restore the car to its original condition. As he grew up, occasional cruises in the Corvette, trips to car shows with his stepfather and his uncles, and projects such as building a dune buggy had to do.

"When I got my license, I decided to get an older car and see what I could do," Pasquale recalls.

It turns out, he did a lot.

The Brownsville native restored a 1967 Pontiac Le Mans and changed the paint from white to black.

"I sold it a year later and made some money off of it," he proudly declares.

Other projects soon followed, including the body and interior overhaul of a 1971 Chevelle and a complete engine, interior and body restoration of a 1965 Mustang convertible.

The experiences honed Pasquale's mechanical skills and helped generate his preference for body work.

"With mechanical work, there is always a book to follow," he says. "In collision repair, you don't always follow a book. It allows for more ingenuity. Everything is different. Every dent is different. Every paint job is different."

It was a forgone conclusion that Pasquale eventually would be ready to tackle a very "different" project: the 1979 Corvette. In fact, his stepfather, Larry Williams, who married Pasquale's mother, Tammie, when Pasquale was 4, sold his own 1981 Corvette to ensure that the family had the means to store and maintain the '79 vehicle.

But college came before the car.

Thinking about following in the footsteps of his mother, a high school teacher, Pasquale spent two years enrolled in the technology education program at California University of Pennsylvania.

"I enjoyed the teaching aspect, but I found myself leaving the classroom and going straight to the garage and painting," recalls Pasquale, who now dreams of opening his own custom painting shop. "I had to change my avenue."

His destination turned out to be One College Avenue in Williamsport, Penn College's main campus.

"I visited Penn College during my third semester at California University, and I enrolled on the spot for the following fall," Pasquale says. "The automotive shop was so nice. Everything was geared to hands-on teaching. Anyone can read materials to you. It's another thing for the instructors to have to show you how to do it. I'm a hands-on type of person."

After one semester in the collision repair major at Penn College, Pasquale decided to get his hands on the '79 Corvette. From his home 40 miles south of Pittsburgh, Pasquale braved a steady downpour as he navigated the Corvette on the Pennsylvania Turnpike for the three-and-a-half hour jaunt to Penn College and the start of the spring semester.

"The car isn't fun in the rain," Pasquale chuckles. "I think I hydroplaned the whole way here!"

Once safely in the Penn College automotive shop, Pasquale went right to work on the Corvette, which sports a 350 cubic-inch engine, a four-barrel carburetor, and a T-top roof.

"My uncle says when my dad had the car it was showroom clean," Pasquale notes. "He washed it almost every day. When I got the car, it didn't look like it was out of the showroom. I wanted to get it back to that state."

Pasquale's passion and determination caught the attention of Alfred Thomas, associate professor of collision repair and head of Penn College's automotive department.

"He used lab time, open lab time, personal time to work on that car," Thomas recalls. "The only time the guy left the shop was to go to his other classes. He took the car and put it back to a stock style of paint - lacquer."

Finding lacquer proved to be a daunting task.

"Lacquer isn't used anymore," Thomas explains. "It's really old technology. Only the purists of auto restorers use it. They use it because that's the way it was in the factory. Restoring the car so it was exactly the way his father had it was real important to Lenny."

After scouring the Pittsburgh area to no avail, Pasquale discovered lacquer on the shelf at Orelli Supply Co. in Williamsport. His 400-hour project that had been waiting for the past 21 years could proceed in earnest.

"I like the midnight blue (color), but I wouldn't have changed it even if I didn't like it," Pasquale says.

Actually, Pasquale changed very little.

After block-sanding the entire vehicle to eliminate natural imperfections and to straighten waves in the car's fiberglass exterior, Pasquale spent most of his time freshening up the '79 Corvette with the lacquer and working on trim pieces.

Those pieces included seven intricate Corvette emblems. Instead of buying new emblems, Pasquale brought the originals "back to life" by painting and polishing the designs.

"Ninety percent of the car is original," Thomas says. "Only a devotee would be able to see the last 10 percent that's not."

Or in Pasquale's case, hear what's not.

"It's by the books except for the exhaust system," Pasquale laughs. "I had to make it a little louder so everyone knew it was me."

Once Pasquale completed the job, Thomas knew he witnessed something very special.

"It jerks at my heartstrings," says the 36-year automotive veteran and father of two. "Lenny is the kind of guy, if he was your son, you'd be proud."

Pride wasn't Pasquale's initial feeling when he completed the '79 Corvette.

"I was pretty excited but more relieved that I didn't mess anything up," he admits. "I am very satisfied. I've received lots of compliments from classmates and instructors. When I took it home and showed my mom, she said, 'Are you sure an instructor didn't paint it?' After saying that, I told her that she's not allowed to take it for a spin!"

Even though the appraised value of the car far exceeds the original $11,000 investment, Pasquale says all future spins will stay within the family.

"I'm never selling the car," he states. "I'm not worried about the value. That's not a factor for me. I would love to hand the car down someday."

For today, Pasquale feels driving the car brings him close to the original owner - his father.

"It's different driving that car compared to all the others," Pasquale says. "I can't really explain it. It's just a different feeling."

The kind of feeling that makes him glad for what he got himself into.