MT. HOLLY -- "Art" is a fairly broad term. From painting to poetry, the creative mind and spirit can wander across almost anything, from the abstract to the mechanical. Restoring old cars and returning them to their former states of glory certainly qualifies as well. There's the vision, and then there's the nuts and bolts; literally, in this case.
Jason Marechaux, 45, of East Coast Collision and Restoration is one such artist. The Rutland High School graduate was actually all set to attend art school in Florida, when an interest in doing automotive body work got in the way of that. His mother was a little disappointed, he said, but the story has had a happy ending.
Now the owner of his own body shop on Route 103 between Mt. Holly and Ludlow -- he thinks of it as his studio, "because we work on the most awesome cars," he said -- Marechaux has been creating art through car restoration for the past four years and hasn't looked back.
"This is absolutely art," he said, admiring a torn-down English sports car. "It's sculpting, it's creative thinking, it's working with your hands -- my dream was always to have my own shop."
On this day, he and his six employees have several cars jammed into the small one-story building near the town line with Ludlow, and several others parked outside. There's another small building where they repaint the cars when they are finished tearing them apart and putting them back together. They will work and restore almost any car, domestic or foreign-made, but their specialty, of sorts, are English cars; MG's, Triumphs and Jaguars are all represented, in one form or another.
In one corner of the building, which ironically was a body and collision repair shop years ago, is a nearly totally -- and virtually unrecognizably -- dismantled Jaguar E type. They are rebuilding it from scratch, a "full rotisserie restoration," he said.
In another corner is an MG-TD, also stripped down its bare bones -- this one will get new "skins" or sheet metal, he said. When finished, they will be taking it to a car show in Massachusetts. Today, the shop is teeming with activity as they frantically work on another car, an early 1970s Buick GS convertible, that they will be taking to the Manchester Car Show in a couple of days. The hood has been detached, to get a thorough sanding and finishing, and revealing the big muscle car era V-8 engine.
Marechaux kneels down by one of the front panels and points to how, during an earlier restoration, the original sheet metal had been replaced with a piece that looked like it was stapled on. When they are done they will replace the entire panel, so it is structurally integrated and smooth. But for now they will only finish parts of it, leaving the earlier work exposed so that potential customers can see the difference between the two kinds of work, he said.
"We take restoration to a new level," he says proudly. "This shop is way more than a body shop. We take it seriously." They hand build or make their own replacement parts when they can't get new or rebuilt ones, fabricating them on several specialty tools to exact specifications. All told, they have about 13 restoration projects underway at the moment, he said.
They have a partnership arrangement in place with another restoration shop, Sports Car Services, in Westminster. On the English sports cars, Marechaux shop will do the body work while Sports Car Services rehabilitates the engines and drivetrains. On American cars, they'll do the entire project, Marechaux said.
"I love English cars," he said, adding his biggest challenge is simply finding the time to get the work done. There's no problem getting the parts.
A full-blown restoration job doesn't come inexpensively. The eventual cost can vary widely, depending on what needs to be done, but $40-55,000 is a rough ballpark figure for anything that approaches a total rebuild, where a car is stripped right down to its inner structural steel and put together again from scratch, with all the details attended to right down to shiny chrome.
Cars come in from all over the East coast -- the name of the business is not misleading even if it's nestled in the heart of the Green Mountains of Vermont -- and business is brisk enough to begin having him thinking that he'll need more space eventually.
"For the last four years I've done nothing but look ahead," he said. "We're all car people," he added gesturing at the crews assembling and deconstructing old cars. "Everyone has their specialty."
For more information about East Coast Collision and Restoration, visit their Web site at eastcoastcollisionandrestoration.com