Gary Sassi’s life was really good before he was infected by the “old-car-bug”.
His Dad, Gino, was a lifelong stone carver in Barre, Vermont and Gary grew up in his Dad’s shop, learning the trade. When the time came, Gary decided he wanted to go back to his family’s old country to further his training, where he speaks the language fluently. After four years he graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Cararra, Italy. Today, he will have been in the trade for fifty–five years. His family’s work can be found in many parts of the world, but you can easily find Sassi masterpieces here in Vermont, especially at Hope Cemetery in Barre.
And then life got really good, when someone in his shop showed Gary a picture of a restored old car in a magazine, and the old car bug infection happened!
It was not long before the space age Studebaker caught his eye and any self restraint that remained was toast. The unrestored 1955 Studebaker President Speedster (pictured below) was soon parked at his shop, one of 2215, built that he found in Los Angeles. Eighteen months later, Gary had finished his restoration.
One big difference in this perfect factory restoration and others that you see in magazines, is the owner had his hand in much of it. Friend, Gary Scott, has a collision repair shop in the area and he worked his magic on the body and paint, while Sassi covered the country retrieving needed parts and spent every free minute of the 18 months doing his part.
The project was completed about 22 years ago and Gary decided to see what others thought of his Studebaker. He decided to enter the car in the VAE Shelburne Show to be judged. That iswhen he met VAE Judge Gene Napoliello. Gene looked the car over and found only one item “not factory”, a tailpipe clamp on the dual exhaust system. When Gary produced the correct clamp, Gene proceeded to crawl under the car and install it; he then proclaimed the President Speedster “Best of Show”. With his background in stone carving and the need for exacting detail, Gary knew he was proficient there, but he says he had not realized how that trait influenced the Studebaker project until the day Gene presented that award. In fact what Gary thought was just a normal restoration turned out to be one of the best. Some of the awards pictured right are just part of the total impact the President has made over the past 22 years.
There was still an old car virus problem the President did not cure, when a Studebaker cousin showed up in Barre along with 50 boxes of parts and pieces. A new beginning for a 1957 Golden Hawk, and a hopeful cure for Mr. Sassi. He had rebuilt the 4-barreled 259 engine in the Speedster, so he had no problem diving into the Hawk’s 289 engine, until he got to the McCullough supercharger…. that was new territory! Friend Gary Scott did his magic on the body while Sassi did his on the rest, and soon there was a very gold vehicle traveling the streets of Barre.
The latest quest for the cure is a 1965 Fastback Mustang. The engine is sitting on a stand at the Sassi shop, being rebuilt. The body resides in Gary Scott’s garage.
A discussion came about when the Mustang color needed to be decided upon. Mr. Sassi does not like silver, the correct color for the car, and Mr. Scott does not like going “non-factory”. The winner is, says Mr. Sassi with a grin………….Mr. Scott!
Gary Scott’s involvement with his first complete restoration was the Speedster, twenty-two years ago. Since then, he has become very well known in the auto restoration business.
Pictured left is the famous “Gene Napoliello exhaust clamp”. The impact he has made at our annual August show with our judging program is undeniable. Gary Sassi will also tell you of the impact Gene has had on him for restoration correctness. Mr. Sassi has been a VAE judge for the past 22 years.
We lost Gene when he passed away this last April. Mark Bennett has now taken Gene’s place as Chief Judge.
The Studebaker Company began in 1852 where they built wagons in South Bend, Indiana. Their first automobile was an ‘electric’ in 1902 then a ‘gasoline vehicle’ in 1904. In the beginning they partnered with the Garford Company, then EMF and then Flanders. In 1912, Studebaker dropped all affiliations and produced its first fully-built automobile. The last Studebaker rolled off the assembly line in Hamilton, Ontario on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th, 1966