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T.F. students refurbish 1957 Chevy pickup

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Thornton Fractional Center for Academics & Technology collision repair students will have their work on display at the Chicago World of Wheels auto show this weekend in Rosemont.

Kids in collision repair I and II and the collision club have spent the last two years restoring Memo Garcia’s 1957 Chevrolet pickup.

The job was a complete overhaul, including body work, wiring, glass and chrome. The entire truck was stripped down, digital dashboard was installed, wheels were upgraded, interior and paint were redone, air conditioning was added and the exhaust system was repaired. The total cost of new parts was about $20,000.

“Every nut and bolt on it was replaced,” teacher Jorge Navarrete said.

The finished product gave the students a reason to be proud.

“I liked it because it’s so different from new cars today,” T.F. Center senior Isvan Bobadillia said. “I like the style, how it sits on the floor with the tires. It looks like a mean truck.”

About 20 different students put work into the truck, Navarrete said.

The class has restored vehicles for the World of Wheels since 2009, Navarrete said. The first was a 1963 Chevrolet Impala, followed by a 1972 Buick Skylark and a 1951 Chevrolet Coupe. Garcia first met Navarrete and saw the class's work at the auto show two years ago.

Garcia had the pickup in a garage for about 10 years, he said, but it’s been in his family for 35 years. He was once a vocational teacher himself and jumped at the chance to give kids the opportunity to use his truck for training.

“I wanted to help the kids expand and grow and learn,” Garcia said. “I was very surprised with how beautiful (the truck is).”

Garcia, of Skokie, plans to use the truck as a show car and to help advertise for vocational training. He’ll be seeing the students for the first time since they finished his truck at the World of Wheels this weekend.

Navarrete said Garcia allowed the class a lot of freedom to choose how to restore the truck.

“We picked the color, the interior, kind of did what we wanted to do,” Navarrete said. “He’s seen stuff we’ve done in the past and he liked the way we did things so he said 'I trust your judgement' and he loves the truck.”

Students chose the black color because it works with their plan to build a truck that was both modern and had a classic hot rod look.

“It was a fun experience, hands on. I’ve never had a class like this,” Oscar Baez said. “It was hard. The body work took a while. It’s not like the TV shows that make it look easy.”

Several local businesses donated parts and expertise, including Damage Auto in Lansing, Full Metal Customs in Hammond and MC Custom Interiors in Highland. That gave the kids a chance to network for a potential future career.

Damage Auto and Full Metal Customs have each already taken on former T.F. Center collision students, Navarrete said.

“I want to work with my hands. I want to go into finishing,” Bobadillia said. “I know I could be a good painter. Practicing (on the truck) I got better and better.”

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