Restoration students leave mark on automotive history

PHOTO PROVIDED Some members of Penn College’s Tucker restoration team gather at the college’s main entrance for the vehicle’s celebratory sendoff to California. From left are student Erik W. Weigle, of Linden; and faculty members Roy H. Klinger, Christopher H. Van Stavoren and Robert K. Vlacich.

Faculty and students from Pennsylvania College of Technology’s automotive restoration major are traveling with one of America’s most historically significant vehicles on a “dream come true” journey to the Super Bowl of car shows: the prestigious Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in California.

The team preserved the 1947 Tucker prototype, nicknamed the “Tin Goose,” which is on loan from the William E. Swigart Jr. Automobile Museum in Huntingdon and archived at the Library of Congress.

Five automotive restoration technology students who worked on the car are making the trip for the Aug. 26 event: Adam J. Davis, of Doylestown; Conner W. Desforge, of Martinsburg, West Virginia; Joshua E. Marr, of Shickshinny; Tucker C. Watson, of Skowhegan, Maine; and Erik W. Weigle, of Linden. They will be accompanied by Roy H. Klinger, instructor of collision repair, and Robert K. Vlacich, assistant professor of automotive service.

“This is a bucket-list moment for any restorer,” Klinger said. “It has been a privilege to work on such a historic vehicle, and I can’t thank Mrs. (Pat) Swigart enough — along with everyone who collaborated on this preservation.”

The college’s contribution will be included in a “parade of Tuckers” at Pebble Beach, honoring this 70th anniversary year for the vehicle’s official production.

The event’s media office said there is an established history of colleges entering cars in the Concours, but it is unique that the Penn College students who worked on the Tucker will display their work in person. The “Tin Goose” is entered for exhibition and will be eligible only for special consideration, a spokesperson said, and not for class awards or Best of Show.

The hand-built prototype — which incorporated many innovative design, technology and safety features not previously available in American automobiles — traveled the country to drum up public interest in the Tucker. Only 51 cars were made before the company ceased operations in 1949, a story detailed in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1988 movie, “Tucker: The Man and His Dream.”

The students involved in the eight-month project delineated the tasks, from electrical work to suspension and brakes, and played to one another’s strengths in accomplishing them.

“We had a list and all just picked what we like to do or try,” said Desforge, who is beginning his second year in the major. “I was on the ignition system and anything that had to do with that, but I also helped with other stuff, and so did everyone else. We had so-called ‘roles’ but, in the end, we just worked together as a team and got the job done.”

Desforge is also the group’s designated photographer and ­­ to document the experience and provide a reference for any follow-up work.

“My thoughts on being entrusted with such a piece of history at first was just ‘Wow!’ I mean, this car is very significant to the automotive world, and I got trusted as a student to work on it,” he said. “When I was working on it, though, it was special … but also normal at the same time. Sometimes, it felt just like working on my classic car, and I had to keep reminding myself, ‘I’m working on the Tucker Tin Goose!'”

Desforge characterized the experience as a “dream come true,” as he had only ever viewed a Tucker in photos — and certainly not the prototype — and always wanted to see one in real life. Getting to Pebble Beach is another once-improbable wish realized, as “it’s a big trip to undertake and (the Concours) also can be hard to get into.”

“This has been an exciting journey and will be coming to an end soon,” he said. “It’s sad to say ‘Goodbye’ to the car, but knowing I’m now cemented in the history books, I can say ‘Goodbye’ with a smile.”