NEW CASTLE — The first moment Tom Schweikert placed his hands on the steering wheel of his 1928 Pontiac Landau coupe was magical.
It was the same steering wheel that his father gripped the few times he drove the Pontiac.
The vintage car has been in the family since when it was purchased new by Tom’s aunt and uncle for $745. The Akron couple drove it for nine years. Then it was placed in a garage on Martha Street where it was stored for nearly 70 years.
In 2006, Tom decided to restore the car to pristine condition. It took six years working almost every night and weekend. In doing so, he captured a senior award at the Antique Automobile Association Club of America fall meet in Hershey — a prestigious award given to cars that meet very stringent criteria. A team of five judges looks at the engine, interior, paint and even under the car. No detail is unobserved.
“It has to look like how it was when it was brand new,” Tom said.
The Hershey show was the biggest of its type in the world.
“The senior awards means it’s as good as it gets,” he explained, adding he also has the original owner’s cards.
This beauty is named Emma in memory of Tom’s aunt.
“For some reason, we car people like to name them and it always seems to be a woman’s name.”
Restoring the auto was a thrill for the Union Township man who has updated a 1952 Chevrolet convertible, and restored a 1972 Old Cutlass Supreme and a 1954 Chevy Bel Air, which he also still owns. Winning the senior award brought a different type of thrill.
And driving her for the first time in 2011 brought back memories of his dad who died when Tom was 12.
“As children, we climbed up on the running board to look into the window,” Tom told me. “We were fascinated and as fate would have it, I wound up with the car.”
His eyes still light up when he tells the stories.
“It needed everything,” he described about the Pontiac. “It was body off and frame restoration, and the original six-cylinder engine was rebuilt. I kept it as close to the original as possible.”
Photos of the car as it first appeared in 2006 reveal it was covered in soot.
Tom did 99 percent of the work including all upholstery except the seat, painting and mechanical work. When it was finally done, it brought about a deep sense of accomplishment and personal satisfaction.
Today, the Pontiac isn’t driven much but he and wife, Patty take it to classic car shows.
“Almost all the cars of the 1920s had one color body and the fenders were always black.”
The Pontiac also appears in an automobile association’s Worldwide calendar for March 2014.
Besides car restoration, the retired mailman still works as a cabinet maker. He renovated the kitchen in their 1930 Sears and Roebuck home that was built for $1,200. It was owned by Patty’s stepfather.
But restoring cars is his passion.
“I have always been a car nut since I was 14. It’s in my blood.”