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GOOD TO GO: Northern's Auto Tech

A Teal Green Geo Metro?

Student Kevin Montoya is running a diagnosis on a blue station wagon belonging to one of the Fatherhood Program staff at Las Cumbres, a local community organization. Correction: This is not a blue station wagon; it is a Teal Green Geo Metro. Teal MetroWhatever the color, the car came in with a misfire and no power to the engine, so Montoya is looking to identify the problem through a series of tests. The little blue “engine that could” passes the vacuum test: the engine held steady at idle. This shows that the vacuum pressure is even and not fluctuating, which indicates the engine should be in sound mechanical condition. The compression test shows the correct amount of pressure as being less than 10% difference between cylinders, verifying the vacuum test results.

So the engine earns another passing grade. Instructor Gil Sena, Career Technical Education Department Chair, tells Montoya to pull the distributor cap off so that they can determine whether or not electricity is moving properly through the components of the ignition system.

White Sparkle

On the other side of the shop, student Joe Romero, who started the program in the summer of 2010, rubs a sanding block lovingly over the fender of his 1966 Impala. There White sparkleis no way to determine the former color of this car; it is now a vague grey primer color with pale green body-filler material in patches here and there. But, according to Romero, “it’s gonna be white sparkle.” The first part of this work-in-progress was removing the old bent frame and replacing it. This is known as a “Frame off restoration.” When asked how many hours Romero puts in at the Shop, he replies, “three days a week, six to eight hours a day.” He purchased the body for this car in 2010, and soon after that he replaced the back right quarter panel. Romero is retired from his job as security guard at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He worked there for 15 years. “I had no idea what I was doing with this car,” says Romero as he sands, “I came to Northern to get the skills I needed to finish the job.”

There is more than meets the eye to a perfect paint job on a vintage automobile. After sanding, Romero adds more filler to shape the car.  Then, the car is washed and an acid wash is added to the metal primer. After sanding the surface again, Instructor Dean Moya demonstrates how a light application—what he calls a “guide coat”-- of black spray paint shows where the low spots are. Next step? More sanding.

Tricycles, Bicycles, and a Blue Monte Carlo

Standing in his office, Moya points out photos of tiny tricycles and bicycles that he has restored and repainted. He finds old two- and three-wheelers, graces them with custom paint jobs, then brings them to his mother’s day care facility. “She watches a bunch of the nieces and nephews. They like to ride these up and down her driveway. See, this one has a Batman logo and over here I did the Green Hornet on this one.”

Then Moya points to a series of photos on his office wall. Underneath the plaque that identifies him as a veteran of the first Gulf War hang pictures of a group of Dean and Bikestudents standing by a cerulean blue Monte Carlo shining in the sun. Moya reaches into his desk and pulls out a folder full of old newspaper clippings. Thumbing through the yellowed pages, he finds what he is looking for: A 2004 Rio Grande Sun story about a student in Northern’s Auto Body Refinishing Program who was working on his car. During the semester, he was killed in an accident. “He never got to enjoy his car,” says Moya, “so the students in the program finished it for him.”

Back at the shop’s corner laboratory, Kevin Montoya is still scanning for a diagnosis of the Geo Metro’s problematic engine. It all looks innocuous enough; Montoya and instructor Sena are gazing at the screen of a laptop PC. Sena explains that they are in the process of looking at automotive repair software that provides Original Equipment Manufacturers’ (OEM) factory specifications. “Repair shops and programs like ours have to subscribe to this. It’s, a web site that gives all of the OEM specs from the factory where the car was assembled.” 

More than just a ride

Even to an outsider, it is clear that these cars are neither just possessions, nor are they simply modes of transportation for their owners. They seem to be an extension of the person and an expression of the individual’s unique qualities. They are also imbued with more than horsepower. The time-consuming process of restoring and rebuilding a car and its engine takes an extraordinary amount of love and dedication.


Home page photo by John T. Denne
Photos this page by Terry Miller