POWERS - When North Central High School senior Andrew Kleiman shows off his 1974 Volkswagen Beetle sitting in the far side of the welding and auto shop at the school and says, "It's starting to look better!" it wouldn't be a stretch to suppose that anyone looking at the stripped framework might ask, "Better than what?"
The "automobile" contained little more than its frame, some windows and perhaps an axle or two. In fact, one can only guess what the recently-added coat of blue paint on the exterior might be covering up.
But if you have the audacity to ask Andrew these questions, don't worry that you'll hurt his feelings. It's obvious his vision is looking beyond the vehicle most would have condemned to the scrap heap long ago. He is envisioning a fully-restored car he's already referring to as his "Sunday Cruiser."
Dorothy McKnight | Daily Press
The members of the North Central High School Auto Club pose for a photo in the back of a half-ton pickup truck they are dismantling for parts to restore a Nash Rambler. The members of the group are: from left front, Stephanie Huber, Jacob Gerlach, Tristen Harper, club advisor Tim Wood, and club president Andrew Kleiman. In back are Damon Labre and Ryan Hammerberg.
NCHS Auto Club president, Andrew Kleiman, works on replacing the floorboards of a 1974 Volkswagen Beetle he is in the process of restoring.
Andrew is one of a number of North Central students who are part of an auto club that he and fellow member, Joe Mahoney, formed at the school. Andrew is the club's president; Joe is vice president. Six other students representing grades 9-12, including one girl, are now members. Each Wednesday, the teens can be found in the workshop, either helping Andrew work on his "classic" or else a Nash Rambler they are using the parts of a 1979 Chevy two-wheel drive half-ton truck to restore.
"The parts aren't interchangeable, so we're having to do a lot of fabricating," he said.
The club members, especially Joe, already have their sites on using the Rambler as a drag racer and are planning to take turns driving it.
Andrew paid $150 for the Beetle that he found lying in a field in the Powers area. He shelled out a few more dollars - $350 to be exact - to pay for a motor that was found abandoned in another field. The car recorded 98,000 miles on it and the motor he purchased has 81,000 miles. The car does, however, have its own transmission, but it's uncertain at this point whether it works.
"When I got the car, it had eight to 10 inches of moss on it," he said. "It had no floor and 21 bullet holes in it. It was probably used for target practice." He added with a grin, "actually, it was far worse than it is right now. I think it's what people call a parts car."
The club members have been working on the Beetle on and off for about three months.
When asked why the group painted the Beetle before most of the restorative work had been done, Andrew casually stated, "we had the paint and they guys wanted to do it."
Ever the optimist, Andrew added, "but once I get the floor inside and put the engine in it and the body work done, it should be good to go."
Although he won't be able to fully restore the Beetle to its original form because he is unable to obtain any of the original parts, Andrew said he will be satisfied with whatever the result is.
"If it was a restored classic, it could be worth about $24,000," he said.
The Beetle isn't Andrew's first attempt to restore a vehicle. He said he's about half done working to restore a 1988 Camaro.
"This is a really fun hobby," he said. "It's great to see something so old and neglected come back to life."
The auto club is the brainchild of both Andrew and Joe. The suggestion of forming the group came with the full approval of their advisor, Tim Wood, and the North Central School Board. Wood has been teaching vocational education at the school for the past two years.
"This group has gone hog wild," Wood said. "It's gone from a couple of guys hanging around after school to sometimes as many as 10 students. For a school that has less than 200 kids, that's exceptional. The board is very pro-vocational arts."
Club member Dayten LaBone said he joined the group as "something to do." He said he has bought vehicles but always had to fix them. He is currently working on a 1992 Toyota and his work with the club will provide him with a little more expertise.
The lone female of the group, junior Stephanie Huber, is the club's secretary/treasurer. Although she admits to taking a ribbing from the club's males, she endures their jests and, on occasion, is only too happy to reciprocate.
To help the club members raise funds for their work, they have been soliciting donations from throughout the community. They also held a raffle during a recent car show in Hermansville.
"A man donated the Rambler to us because he said didn't want it anymore and wanted to get it out of his yard," Andrew said. "Right now we're putting a different engine in it and the front suspension from the truck is almost in."
The club has used much of the funds it's received to purchase hand tools for the shop.
"We'd be able to do much better if we had better tools," said Stephanie. "We need tools!"
At present, the club members would like to be able to purchase some power tools, as well as a tire changer and engine hoist.