LEARNING AS A LABOUR OF LOVE

FOR FIX AUTO WINDSOR AND THE LASALLE POLICE FORCE, AUTOMOTIVE RESTORATION IS A COMMUNIT Y AFFAIR

BY SARAH PERKINS

When restoring a vehicle, it can be easy to get caught up in the drive for the finished product. In taking an old vehicle and turning it into something new—or better yet, something better than new—it can be easy to forget that the act of restoration is also an archival process that can help to preserve both the history of a vehicle and all those connected to it. While an often-overused phrase, it can be true that the journey and not the destination can reveal the spirit of the project being undertaken.

For the LaSalle Police Services in the town of LaSalle, Ontario, the restoration of a 1957 Pontiac Laurentian in partnership with Dominic and Anthony Domenic Iannetta, owner of Fix Auto Windsor East in Windsor, Ontario, served as a project that not only honoured the past, but also celebrated the spirit of collaboration that comes from working on a true labour of love. The story of this labour of love first began all the way back in 2003 when LaSalle Police Sergeant, Dave Dean first proposed finding a car to restore in the style of the old LaSalle police cruisers. After speaking with Senior Constable Mauro Tonin and pitching the idea to then Lasalle councillor John Tedesco, and Police Chief John Leontowicz, the two formed a historical vehicle committee and began their search for the perfect vehicle. Also joining the committee was Duncan Davies, John Tedesco and Vito Campanaro who helped spearhead the project.

This vehicle, the 1957 Pontiac Laurentian—to become the award-winning Car 48—was found for sale by a private owner in Little Britain near Lindsay, Ontario and was originally outfitted with seats from an old Ford Mustang and a chassis done up in red and white paint. The original plan for the restoration was to debut the vehicle at the town’s Santa Claus parade. However, now over 20 years later, Car 48 has grown to become so much more than just a parade showpiece.

When speaking with Domenic Iannetta, co-owner of Fix Auto Windsor East, he noted that the vehicle has become a legacy that has touched the lives of several generations and helped forge community bonds.

Iannetta discussed how when the LaSalle police officers first approached Fix Auto Windsor to help with the restoration, the officers had no previous knowledge of fixing cars, let alone antiques. Now, “when they win events, they always call. It was really rewarding getting to show the officers how to fix the vehicle and teaching them to help work on it themselves. I remember one of the officers joking that after learning how to sand the panels, finally, his fingertips have come back from all the work.

However, the most rewarding part of the whole thing for me, is the pride that the officers feel.” Iannetta further commented that when they first began the project in 2003, his sons Nicolas and Max children were toddlers who helped by being the excited faces that got to appeared in the back of Car 48 during its parade appearances. Now, all grown-up, the same children, who are now business partners with their father, are hands- on in the vehicle’s latest touch-up project.

When Car 48 began its initial restoration, eighty percent of the vehicle was replaced or refinished in a frame on off restoration. Ianetta also noted that the interior was redone as was all of the chrome work. The car was repainted, and the logo was brushed in rather than spray painted in order to be as historically accurate as possible. The Fix Auto Windsor East team also sourced vintage sirens and a radio from an auto parts collector in Windsor.

With the original police officers who first began the project either retired or preparing to retire, Car 48 is in the next generation’s hands to help ensure that it can continue to carry the LaSalle community legacy forwards into the future.

In October 2023, Car 48 began to show signs of wear and tear, including scratches, dents, and cracks and fading paint, and so a decision was made to overhaul its body and apply a fresh coat of paint with the help of both familiar and new faces.

In particular, Maria Rosati, a local LaSalle artist, now residing in Halifax, is, according to Iannetta, more than prepared to help keep Car 48 looking better than new.

“Maria is painting the vehicle by hand and has done a lot of research to ensure that all of the steps she takes are as period accurate as possible. She’s even using specialty horsehair paint brushes. From there, all the stainless-steel moldings will be polished and reassembled.”

In this way, when interviewed by the Windsor Star in 2013 after winning Best Police Car at the Lights and Sirens Cruise – the kickoff to the Woodward Dream Cruise in Michigan, police Sergeant, Mauro Tonin spoke about how “one day our kids, our grandkids can look at [the vehicle] and say, grandpa, nonno worked on that.” Having become “a jewel of the LaSalle Police Services,” Car 48 is not only something that friends and family can take pride in, but the community at large whose history is, in part, represented in the hard work of those willing to turn a dream into an automotive reality.

LOOKING BACK WITH LASALLE

Bodyworx magazine also sat down with Senior Constable Mauro Tonin and Sergeant Dave Dean of the LaSalle police force who were part of Car 48’s original restoration. Check out below for an exclusive scoop.

Bodyworx Professional: What was the initial inspiration for the project?

Mauro Tonin and Dave Dean: We had noticed that there were a large number of restored fire trucks in parades and shows, but we seldom saw restored police cars. We felt a restored replica police car would be beneficial for us in parades, community events, fundraisers as well as in promoting the LaSalle Police Service and the town. No police service in Essex County when we started the project in 2003 had a restored police car.

BWX: What was the most challenging part of the project?

MT and DD: One of the most challenging tasks was finding a photo of an original 1950s era LaSalle police car to use as a reference. With the help of the public, we were able to locate one photo of a car from the era. The original LaSalle police vehicle found in the photo was a two-door Pontiac Laurentian.

This made it even more difficult to locate as the majority of the police cars from the 50s were either Chevrolets or Fords.

Another challenging part was trying to find parts for a Pontiac! There are lots of parts available for a Chevrolet, but you seldom find any for a Pontiac. As we had a Pontiac Laurentian (which is the Canadian version of the American Star Chieftain), parts were very scarce! We could not use the parts of the American vehicle version as the Laurentian is about five inches wider. One of the only things we were able to change with a Chevrolet was the windshield, as it was the same for a 1957 Chevrolet Belair. Committee members attended swap meets to find parts and we made several contacts with car restoration clubs, Pontiac owner’s clubs and eBay.

BWX: What was your favourite part of getting to work on the project?

MT and DD: One of the best parts of working on the original project was having the participating police officers (who basically knew nothing about working on cars) be guided by Vito Campanaro, and Domenic and Anthony Iannetta. With their vast knowledge of bodywork and how to restore vehicles, for us, this was priceless.

BWX: What does the vehicle mean to you and your team?

MT and DD: The proudest moments for us are the various community events we have attended and how well the car is received and the numerous compliments citizens have given us. We have also won three awards in the United States (most recently in 2023), Ferndale Lights and Siren Show’s Chief’s choice award (with a 21-year-old paint job!) as well as several awards in Canada. It validates for us the fact that all of those countless hours of hard work, sacrifices and dedication to this project made it worth it. Now, with the new paint and graphics, the car will continue to be enjoyed for many years to come.

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