Stefan Hard / Staff Photo
Steve Restelli of Barre poses with a personal plate in front of his beloved 1961 Porche 356B sports car that he sold in the 1970s and re-purchased 40 years later after finding it on eBay and having shipped to Vermont from Arizona.
BARRE — Her name is “Carmine,” and over the weekend Steve Restelli bought a metal sign for the dashboard of his 1961 Porsche 356B — the one that he proudly drove in the Barre Heritage Festival parade on Saturday and, weather-permitting, will enter in the Stowe Car Show next month.
The blue-and-white sign says: “Cool Story,” and Restelli, who lives in Barre, claims that succinctly sums up how he feels about the tale of the “notchback coupe” that he simply had to have when he was 19, had to sell when he was 22, and unbelievably managed to reacquire a full 40 years later.
“It is a pretty cool story,” Restelli admitted Monday while sitting on the front porch of his Pond Street home.
It was raining at the time and “Carmine” who won’t come out in the rain if Restelli has anything to say about it, was tucked safely away in the spacious-but-cluttered garage where she has spent most of the last year parked next to the stretch limousine that he bought a few years back. Both cars are white, but the 28-foot-long Cadillac and the sporty little Porsche with the newly rebuilt engine have little else but their owner in common.
A year ago they didn’t even have that in common, which, Restelli will tell you, is what makes “Carmine’s” serendipitous story so cool.
“I like to say: ‘The car found me,’” he said in a buckle-your-seatbelt-this-could-take-awhile kind of way.
Of course it was Restelli who found the car, but, he said, that happened by “accident” as part of a story that started in southern California back in 1970 and ended on eBay last summer.
Though Restelli, now 63, was born in Barre and settled back here in 1976, he moved to California when he was five and his father, who worked for local A&P supermarket, was transferred across the country.
It was there that Restelli met “Carmine” — “car-mine.”
“I was 19 and I had to have that car,” Restelli recalled of the once-royal blue Porsche with the finicky transmission that wouldn’t stay in fourth gear.
“It was just a hot, cool car,” he explained.
It was also the first thing that Restelli ever bought on credit. He took out a $1,600 loan to finalize a transaction that involved trading in his 1968 Volkswagen — “a California custom bug” — for the mechanically challenged Porsche with roughly 80,000 miles on its odometer.
“The payments were $37.50 a month,” recalled Restelli, who said in 1970 that was “real money” to a guy who was working part-time and going to college.
“I didn’t know if I could swing it,” he said. “But, boy I wanted that car.”
Restelli really did, and when his insurance company wanted to total the vehicle after it was rear-ended by a police officer barely a year after he bought it, he took the money, had it repaired and repainted silver, before moving to Tucson, Ariz.
Restelli said that is where he and “Carmine” parted ways due to a deal he struck with his first wife. The young couple was looking to settle down and Restelli said coming up with a down payment for a mobile home meant selling his only asset – the “hot, cool car” that he reluctantly sold to the proprietor of a Tucson paint store for $3,800 and a used Chevrolet Nova in 1973.
Restelli’s first marriage didn’t last and neither did the Nova. Both were in his rearview mirror when he moved back to Vermont in 1976.
Flash forward to last July, when Restelli, who has long-since remarried and more recently retired, said he was checking out Porsches for sale on eBay and spotted one that sure looked familiar.
“I’m always looking at Porsches to see what’s for sale and I’ve always thought in the back of my mind: ‘Maybe some day my car will appear there,” he explained.
The wistful musings of a guy who has “a thing for cars” turned out to be not as farfetched as Restelli imagined. Though he was initially a little skeptical, modifications made to the car after it was rear-ended in 1972, coupled with paperwork he subsequently obtained from one of its former owners, erased any lingering doubt.
“It was my car,” he said, explaining the “Carmine” was only briefly owned – and apparently raced at the airport in Tucson – by the man he sold it to.
According to Restelli, the car was purchased in 1974 by an Arizona engineer named D. Page Cotton Jr., who kept all the original paperwork and logged the 14,000 miles he put on the car during the 39 years that he owned it.
“It was basically in a museum for all those years,” said Restelli.
Cotton, who died earlier this year, was the last registered owner of the car, according to Restelli, who said he sold it last year to a collector who stripped out the engine and the fog lights and then re-sold it to the Ibrahim Kuzu.
Kuzu is the Dallas man who put the car on eBay, but halted the auction when he was contacted by Restelli.
“He (Kuzu) gave me time to come up with the money,” said Restelli, who sold one car — a 1965 Porsche 912 — to raise the money and make room for the one he sold in 1973.
Thanks to some help from Bellavance Trucking, Restelli said he was able to have his old car trucked from Texas to Vermont where he has spent most of the past year trying to get it running.
With the help and ingenuity of Waterbury mechanic Tom Jones and a box of engine parts from a 1965 Porsche, Restelli said “Carmine” has been “street-worthy” for a few weeks, though he has only driven about 200 miles and is still tweaking the completely rebuilt engine and the fuel mixture.
“It’s a work-in-progress,” he said.
According to Restelli, his first test drive — to the end of his street and back again – brought back memories.
“I always missed driving this car,” he said. “I’d rather have this car back than to have won the lottery.”
Restelli, who paid considerably more for the car than he sold it for in 1973 and has since poured even more than that into rebuilding the engine, said he is enjoying the opportunity to show it off. He got the chance in Barre on Saturday, and, if it doesn’t rain — he’ll drive to Newport for a car show this weekend and Stowe the weekend after that. He said, he’ll happily share his car’s “cool story,” but he won’t be entertaining any offers.
“I would not sell this (car) for a million dollars,” he said. “This car is priceless to me. I’ll own it until the day I die.”
End of story.
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