September 8th, 2012
Title: 2012 Bodyshop Custom Refinish Award Winner
Subtitle: David St-Laurent got into the car business at just 14. This year he is being recognized for his exceptional work in rebuilding a 1932 Ford Roadster.
You have to wonder about David St-Laurent’s priorities. A reporter who tried to interview the bodyshop manager at Deschamps Chevrolet Buick Cadillac GMC, in early September, found this out the hard way. “I can’t talk right now,” said St-Laurent coldly. “I am getting married this weekend and am really busy….”
The slight was understandable. So St-Laurent was offered apologies and a chance to meet another time. “Wait a minute…,” said the 52-year old Quebecer, his voice suddenly turning friendly. “You want to interview me about hot rods? Why didn’t you say so? Come on over!”
The upshot was that on the Friday before the most important day in his life, when most men would have been out taking care of wedding details St-Laurent, who recently picked up the magazine’s 2012 Bodyshop Custom Refinish Award, for work he did rebuilding a 1932 Ford Roadster, was talking shop.
The plain fact is that St-Laurent, a long time industry veteran is car crazy, something he says his wife-to-be Sandrine Savaria, who is 39, understood from the get-go. During the 18 months after St-Laurent bought the old Roadster, and a second identical vehicle to use for parts, in January 2011, he spent more than 2,000 hours of his free time working on it – almost as much as he spent in his day job.
“(Sandrine) loves driving around with me in the hot rod, so she really does not mind my hobby,” St-Laurent says with a smile. “It really is a blast to take it out to go for an ice-cream on a summer night. We get looks everywhere we go.”
That attention isn’t surprising. The 712-horsepower jet black Roadster, its fire-engine red interior and shiny chrome motor parts (which won a prize the Granby International classic car exhibition) impressed us too. The vehicle has a je ne sais quoi visual appeal that makes it irresistible for a car enthusiast.
A long-time car lover
St-Laurent realized the Roadster’s potential immediately. “It’s a classic, driven by celebrities and enthusiasts and is much in demand,” said St-Laurent. “I have been driving fast cars all my life so I know what to look for. I got my first, - a 1971 Dodge Charger with a 383 Magnum engine, - when I was just 15 and a half. I had to wait six months until I was old enough to drive it. But when I did, I was hooked and have been changing cars constantly ever since.”
St-Laurent soon picked up a 1973 Dodge Dart 340 and then a couple of years later landed a 1969 Corvette. On each occasion St-Laurent did considerable work on the cars himself, before moving along.
It was St-Laurent’s association with a local entrepreneur, real estate developer and hot rod fan Maryo Lamothe, that really got him interested in refurbishing classic cars. “Maryo has his own racing team and has had close to 50 cars, including at one time a Porcha, Ferrari, Lambourgini and Corvette and I worked with him for more than 20 years on my free time,” says St-Laurent. “The experience really opened my eyes, and gave me good insights in to what was possible.”
The 1932 Roadster….
St-Laurent’s rebuild Roadster is a bit of a bastard vehicle, with the parts in it coming from all over the place. The motor is a late 1960s 350 cubic inch four barrel Chevrolet model, that was re-bored and re-stroked to 408 cubic inches and then blueprinted, with all of the sub-components rechecked from top to bottom. The motor is fed by a BDS Supercharger and two carburetors which pump in air and fuel and an accelerated pace, substantially boosting performance. As noted above, St-Laurent measured the motor’s strength at 712 horsepower, which he says enables the vehicle to get from zero to 60 miles per hour in less than three seconds and to do the quarter mile in under nine. The transmission is a Power Glide two-speed with a 4,000 stall torque converter.
Of course the data doesn’t tell everything. The fact is that the Roadster is a pack of fun to drive. During a quick test with this journalist, St-Laurent pushed the accelerator slowly down just half way and the vehicle already felt like an airplane taking off, with plenty of power left. It was like driving a motorcycle without a helmet.
However the Roadster was also built tough According to St-Laurent, the workmanship and vehicle components were combined to ensure that the car could accommodate a 1,000 horsepower engine. “Although I drive carefully now that I am older, when I was young I could be hard on cars sometimes so I am used to building them to last,” said St-Laurent. “I find it is better to err on the side of caution.”
Rebuilding the Roadster called for a huge investment in time and money. In all St-Laurent figures that in addition to the time invested he also put close to $50,000 in parts into the vehicle which he estimates is now worth $65,000. However to be sure, he had the vehicle insured for much more.
St-Laurent brushes aside questions about whether the time he invested in the vehicle (which works out to $7 per hour, as the Roadster is valued $65,000 and cost him $50,000, leaving him with a $15,000 profit for 2,000 hours of work) was worth it. “You don’t put in that kind of time for an economic return,” he says. “You do it for the love of the vehicle. I enjoyed every minute. So of course it was worth it.”
Support from the dealer
St-Laurent credits his boss Eric Deschamps, president of Deschamps Chevrolet Buick Cadillac GMC, a busy dealership in St-Julie Quebec, for his support and patience. Although St-Laurent is well set up in a two-story home garage, Deschamps lets him use the dealer garage and tooling when needed.
“We don’t see him as much around here when he is involved with a project like that,” said Deschamps, who operates the largest GM dealership in Montreal’s south shore, with a laugh. “But he pays us back by bringing the Roadster around once in a while….our customers love to look at it.”
Contributions by St-Laurent’s close friend Stephan Barcelo, a manager at ADF Diesel in Candiac, and a long-time drag scene veteran were also a big help. The two have been pals since they were sixteen and grew up in the industry together. According to St-Laurent, Barcelo, who will be the best man at his September wedding, put in 500 hours of his own into the vehicle at no charge.
However it looks like St-Laurent is about to return the favour. Barcelo recently bought a 1934 Roadster of his own and the two will be getting started refurbishing the vehicle in November. Less clear is whether or not St-Laurent told Savaria about his new plans.
No matter how patient wife-to-be is about his hobby, if St-Laurent hopes to spend as many of his nights in the garage during the coming year as he has during the last, he had better make sure that the ring is solidly on her finger before he breaks the news.
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