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National Guardsman Returns Home for Car Surprise

When Andrew Stiles returns from Iraq in May, the Oklahoma resident will have a surprise waiting for him, perhaps sitting in the airplane hangar when he steps off to meet his family.

The 1973 Plymouth Barracuda he’s owned for 30 years this Valentine’s Day-and been meaning to fix up for quite some time-will be waiting for him. As for that restoration he’s yet to get around to, the students at WyoTech will have already taken care of it.

A neighbor of Stiles, with two nephews as WyoTech graduates, contacted the school about the project, and WyoTech has agreed to restore the car this spring in time for Stiles’ homecoming.

Bill Mikkelson, who coordinates the collision/refinishing/trim and upholstery programs at the Laramie campus, said the car hasn’t been driven since 1999. Stiles had begun the restoration on his own, replacing the seat covers and dash board, but that was as far as he got.

“For nine years, the guy’s been walking past it, looking at it, kicking the tires, wishing and hoping, and now he’s out serving,” Mikkelson said.

The red vehicle-whose torn-up interior and peeling, rusty exterior can’t disguise its muscle-car good looks-arrived in Laramie last week. Teams of students will tackle different projects as they take it apart, repair the body, put the interior back together and install an updated hemi motor and transmission. Mikkelson called it a “mild restoration,” which will be finished with a new stereo system, bright yellow paint job and a black stripe.

“We’re going to try to attack it top to bottom, front to back, inside and outside,” he said. “Each team will attack a task, and each team will be responsible for a task, and we’ll come together as a team effort to put it back together.”

Director of education Mario Ibarra said more than 60 students have applied for the project, which will be completed outside classroom hours. Students have to write a one-page essay to apply, and they will also be chosen based on attendance, grades and volunteerism.

“The students are wanting to do it as a favor for this guy in Iraq, but it’s also the additional training and experience that they’re going to get that they look forward to on this,” he said.

Mikkelson estimated such a project would cost at least $20,000, plus labor. WyoTech is getting help from industry companies such as YearOne, Summit Racing, Sherwin-Williams, Edelbrock and Bridgestone. Ibarra said students would also raise money to complete the project.

WyoTech has completed similar restoration projects for different causes in the past, but this is the first time it has taken on a project on behalf of a soldier, Mikkelson said.
Division president Frank Stryjewski, who’s based in Santa Ana, Calif., said WyoTech has had a long friendship with the armed forces.

“To give something back to people that are giving everything they have for us is really a special thing,” he said. “You think about the technical ability to refab something like this- it’s really an art form.”

Tagged with: Laramie, News, WyoTech
 

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