Lori Butler, director of Greenville High School’s venerable dance and drill team, the Flaming Flashes, happened to receive her childhood dream car as a gift from her father in 1988 when she was in her mid-20s---a bright red 1979 Volkswagen Beetle.
After driving it for several years and letting her niece and nephew use it for a few more, the car sat in Butler’s garage unused. But after her father passed away, Butler decided to have the car restored as something to remember him by.
Being a teacher, Butler brought the car to Greenville High School’s auto mechanics and paint and body shops at the beginning of the 2016--17 school year so that its restoration could also serve as an educational experience for the students. Another benefit of taking the car into the high school automotive shops was the price.
“I think I probably, with the paint, might have put $2,000 into it to redo it and get it going,” Butler said. “I was really surprised at that because anything else I’d ever looked at, when I looked at the parts for it, it was like $5,000 for this and $5,000 for that. I don’t know how Bobby (Brumley, GHS’ auto paint and body instructor) came across it all for that low of a price.”
When Butler first brought in the car, automotive mechanics instructor George Kroncke’s shop gave it a check-up.
“Basically, what we looked at was drivability,” Kroncke said. “So basically, when the car came in, we assessed it, ordered a carburetor, and there were a lot of issues in the break system because it sat for so long.”
During some of those early tests, Butler watched as some staff members put the nearly 40-year-old car through its paces.
“They just floored it, and that little car tilted up, looking like Herby the Love Bug coming to life,” Butler said with a chuckle.
After the initial testing and assessment, the car entered the paint and body shop, but they had to wait on the completion of some new construction before the actual painting could be done.
“We started on all the prep work last year, but we didn’t get to start painting it until we had the (spray) booth up and going,” Brumley said. “Basically, when we got it in, we pulled off the bumpers, all the lights, all the trim and the fenders. Then, we sanded everything down to bare metal, because sometimes, if you paint over old paint, you get problems later because you have a reaction between the paints.”
While both Brumley and Kroncke stressed the importance of providing their students with hands-on work experience, they also made clear that having the auto shops at the high school do the work is a decision to consider carefully.
“Projects, like with Lori’s car, are the kinds that work better for a long-term project,” Kroncke said. “You have to really have someone (a customer) who understands how a school works, how our workday works.
“You have prep in the beginning, where you have to get them ready to work, and actual hands-on time is an hour or so. The projects take a long time, so it requires a lot of patience and understanding on the part of the person who’s bringing the vehicle to be worked on.”
More recently, Butler spent another $900 on new carpet, seat covers, chrome trim and lights for the car. Once Brumley’s auto paint and body shop is finished with its work, the car will move over to the auto mechanics garage, where Kroncke’s students will reassemble the car with a new carburetor, brake system and a new radio (per Butler’s request). The goal is for the restoration project to be completed by the end of this school year.