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The Handyman
Published on: March 6, 2023

The Handyman

When you think of a handyman, you think of someone who can do any job that needs to be done and having experience and knowledge in many areas. When Roger was starting the #50 Tempest project, he knew he needed someone who knew cars inside and out, could do a little of everything, and do it right. He reached out to someone he had worked with before, John Lombardi of the Detroit area, when it came time to decide who would be best to help put the pieces of the #50 1963 Pontiac Tempest together.

John had worked for 31 years at GM in their Product Liability Group as a liaison between the engineering and legal departments. He knew cars. He also knew how big a project this would be and accepted the challenge anyway. With this project he became not only the engineer, but he became a parts designer and fabricator, as well as an installation man. Truly, the list of all of the things that John did for the Tempest is exhaustive.

Since we had many different people working on parts of the car at its various stages, everything had to be carefully fit together. Starting with the wheels and tires, John had to make concentric pilot rings with the correct diameters in order to mount the wheel to the special hubs. He had to install the NASCAR-styled valve stems as well as properly mount and balance the tires. He also modified and installed custom built brakes. Since the original #50 Tempest used drum brakes, our brakes were upgraded for safety.

All the Parts

Plumbing and electrical were two other monumental pieces of this project. John plumbed all of the fuel, cooling, brake, and oil lines as well as installing all of the electrical wiring throughout the car.

The steering column, tie-rods, and a clutch assembly were all built and installed by John. Next up and needing some modifying were the transmission and bellhousing. An index plate was also fabricated in order for the starter motor to properly mount on the bellhousing as was correct for a 1963 Pontiac.

The accelerator and brake pedals and their mounting boxes were modified to properly fit around the new driveshaft tunnel.

For the fuel system, besides the plumbing, John made and modified fittings, he built the new vent for the trunk lid, and he found and fitted a proper fitting fuel cap.

John found many of the gauges needed for the six-gauge dash panel and installed them into the gauge panel plate that sits on the dash. Then he wired them into the car.

One of the more unique fittings was the specially made radiator. It took John a couple of days (of fun and fabrication according to Roger) in order to get the special NASCAR radiator, secured by #50 Tempest team member John Chonacas, to fit properly.

For the exhaust system, John used an original photo of the first #50 car to fabricate a complete matching exhaust system and side pipes from scratch.

To ensure the car was straight and right, John went ahead and made some needed adjustments to the bodywork on the car.

Engine Work

Since the engine was completed much before the time came to install it, John went through the entire engine to make sure it was ready. After installation, he filled with all the proper fluids and set the timing. When the day finally came to start the car for the first time everyone was excited and just a little anxious. It started up with the first turn of the key!

John even worked on the interior, making mounting brackets for the seats and spare tire, which sits in the back seat area, and installing them.

Throughout the entire process, John made sure that properly graded fasteners were used for the entire project. This was one of the first things that Roger and John had talked about in the beginning. They both wanted to make sure the car was as correct as possible and more importantly safe.

Even though this project was bigger than John had ever expected, he spent countless hours, including many late nights, making sure that each piece of this large intricate puzzle fit to perfection. When needed, he called in friends from the GM Technical Center in Warren, Michigan, Jerry Schimelfening and Brian “Bones” Scott, each a specialist in his own field, to lend a hand. We couldn’t be more appreciative of all the work that John put into our project car. Besides a beautiful car, Roger and John have built a lifelong friendship.

Published by: Cyndi Vander Horn

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