Mechanic helps high school students restore '57 Chevy Bel Air

By Linda Gittleman
Morning Sun (Mount Pleasant)

SHEPHERD, Mich. (AP) — When Bandit Industries donated an old car to Shepherd High School, industrial technology teacher Clif Lehner had to take a step back.

While the school has received three or four junkers in the past, “This was a classic — a 1957 Chevy Bel Air.”

Lehner knew he needed help: too many kids and not enough hands. So he put an ad in the paper looking for someone to help in the restoration of the vehicle.

Retired mechanic Anthony Dellert said he doesn’t remember any ad.

“I think my daughter had something to do with it,” he said, noting that he ended up as a volunteer teacher and restorer on the two-year project.

Even so, for a long time, he’d had the idea for a project just like that, Dellert said.

“It was nice to know I could still teach something,” the Detroit native and now Shepherd resident said. “It was a lot of fun. Got my hands dirty. It was quite the experience.”

The car, Lehner said, had been restored about 20 years previously but then it sat for all that time.

“Mice got into the interior and it stunk,” he said. “The brake fluid jelled. The engine compartment was original but it rusted for lack of use.”

While all of Lehner’s students worked on the car, a special team, consisting of Dellert and seniors Nick Wallace, Gene Hillar and James Kindig, worked three or four hours a day after school, sometimes as much as four times a week. Sometimes a couple of weeks would go by without any work.

“It would depend on when the parts came in,” Lehner said.

A rebuilt engine was installed along with new brakes and a lot of other repair work, he said.

“Engines R Us” worked with us and Mid Michigan Upholstery helped,” Lehner said. “And we got rid of the mouse. A good scrubbing is what it took.”

Bus driver Walt Cuthbertson, who had some experience in detailing, showed the youths how to do that. Others also helped.

But for two years, up to 80 students worked on the car. With Dellert providing the expertise, the students received one-on-one instruction.

“It was almost like having a personal instructor,” Lehner said.

When Dellert was growing up in Detroit, there was a gas station on the corner, which is where he hung out in the summer.

“I was greasing cars when I was 8 or 9,” he said. “It was something to do in the summer. Hang around the gas station.”

But his interest in cars stuck and he was a lifelong mechanic in the Detroit area, working his last job for the city of Melville.

For the countless vehicles he’s worked on through the years, the 76-year-old said he’s not sure he could do much of anything with today’s high tech cars.

And that was the beauty of the project, Lehner said.

“(The ‘57 Chevy) was a great teaching tool,” he said of the car that provided a bridge from the way they were made then to the way they are now. “I’m going to miss it.”

The school paid about $2,200 for the parts, he said, and the project generated a great deal of interest.

Shown off in the Maple Syrup Festival parade, the car is now up for auction. Starting or reserve bid is $14,000.

“I’ve been thinking about bidding on it myself,” Dellert said. “But I don’t know what I’d do with it.”