Tag: Car Restoration

It took a no-holds-barred restoration to turn a patched-up 1929 Model A Standard Coupe into a prize winner – Mike McNessor @Hemmings

It took a no-holds-barred restoration to turn a patched-up 1929 Model A Standard Coupe into a prize winner – Mike McNessor @Hemmings

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Photography by Matt Litwin; Restoration Photography by Bruce LeFebvre

The Ford Model A’s good looks and low price of admission attracted millions of buyers before and after World War II. In later postwar years, those same qualities made the A one of the world’s most popular collector cars.

As a restoration project, you can’t beat a Model A: They’re simple, they’re supported by a vast network of specialists, and parts are widely available. That’s why hobbyists fixed ’em up decades ago and why many of those same Model A’s are being restored a second or third time by hobbyists today.

Here’s our feature car, circa-2012, as found on eBay by owner Bruce LeFebvre. The exterior looked solid, but the green paint was concealing a lot of makeshift body repair work.

Bruce LeFebvre, the owner/restorer of this month’s stunning Bonnie Gray and Chelsea Blue 1929 Model A Standard Coupe, is a history buff and had always admired the Model A’s styling. “They look cool,” he says. “And Henry Ford was a fascinating character who really put America on wheels.”

Bruce wasn’t what you would call a Model A expert when he started shopping for one of his own about a decade ago, but over the course of this project, he gained a lot of knowledge.

“I didn’t know my ass from my elbow about Model A’s, but I knew I wanted one,” he says. “I saw one online located in a town called Peculiar, Missouri—so I bought it for $6,500, then my friend Roger Parrott and I spent almost 10 days going out and back to get it.”

The coupe’s four-cylinder was treated to a rebuild and pressed back into service. A breakerless ignition stands in for the points and condenser, inside the stock distributor. Period accessory touches include a mount for the oil can and an Auto Lite heater.

Bruce’s reasonably priced, online auction fi nd was a nice-looking car, though maybe a little worn and in need of attention. It had already been converted to hydraulic brakes —a selling point and something which would’ve been on Bruce’s to-do list anyway. Outside, the car wore aged green paint and inside there was what looked like water stains on the upholstery. Some fresh interior pieces, some paint, and some general sprucing should have brought it back to like-new condition — or so Bruce thought. But once back at his shop in Connecticut, a teardown revealed a lot of hidden rust, wood rot, and some hasty body repairs, too.

“When I first saw the car, it didn’t look bad at all,” Bruce says. “But once we started taking it apart—we took the headliner out, the seats out, and the side panels —you could see it was packed with body filler and there was haphazard fiberglass work that looked like bandages holding it together

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From the Cover of Road & Track to Decades of Languishing, One of the Few Remaining Strother MacMinn LeMans Coupes To Be Resurrected – @Hemmings

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Editor’s Note: We recently heard from Dennis Kazmerowski, who has decided to resurrect a never-finished fiberglass body based on Strother MacMinn’s concept for an American coupe to compete at Le Mans. He’s making headway and wanted to share with us exactly how he got started with the project in the first place.]

It started in August 2021, still in COVID-19 lockdown with much time to think about the past, present and future. I was talking with my good friend Geoff Hacker (founder of Undiscovered Classics and auto archaeologist) and shared with him a dream of my youth: the car on the August 1960 cover of Road & Track, the LeMans Coupe. While the car may have been beautifully designed and was ahead of its time in styling (that’s one of the reasons I fell in love with it back in 1960), the LeMans Coupe is far more than a design study. The original project was the brainchild of John Bond, the publisher of Road & Track magazine.

Bond was not just a publisher, he was also a designer and engineer. For years he penned a column in his own magazine, Sports Car Design, where he talked about independent and production sports car development. It was toward the late 1950s where he challenged himself and his readers to design and build a car that would win the 24 Hours of Le Mans race, something his friend Briggs Cunningham had nearly done in the early 1950s. Bond pulled together a team which specialized in design and engineering, and over a series of articles in 1957 and 1958, the LeMans Coupe project emerged. The lead designer of the shape of the car was the legendary teacher, mentor, and stylist from the Art Center in California, Strother MacMinn. Looking back in history, this makes the LeMans Coupe one of the talked about and recognized “specials” back in the 1950s.

While the design and history of the car is significant, it was always the visual impact that the car made on those seeing it that, too, caused me to remember the car for nearly 60 years. Sadly, Geoff, who has tracked down the surviving coupes built from MacMinn’s design, shared that the car shown on the cover of Road & Track magazine had been destroyed early on in an accident. But he knew where a virgin body was that was produced from the original molds. He shared the contact information with me and the wheels started to turn. I talked with the owner and after a few phone calls we agreed on a price, and my project began. Little did I know what I would be getting into.

So the project began when the body arrived at my New Jersey home in July 2021. I immediately re-read the Road & Track LeMans coupe articles, and I noted that one of the articles shared that production bodies were made very thin to keep weight down for racing purposes. This may have been good 60 years ago but over the years, with no inner structure, the sun had taken its toll and weakened the body. What I started with was a body shell with no doors, windows, wheelwells, or hood cut out. Just a shell. This project was and is going to take a lot of work

As I read the articles, I tried to hold true to the original chassis ideas but even they changed by the time I read the last article, so I went with the original dimensions and worked around what I had. It’s a long, thin car built for a V-8 engine. Could it have won at LeMans? That’s the subject for a different story. With Geoff’s guidance and my persistence, the car started to come together. Everything has to be made for it and when you think you have a problem solved – it’s not. The car is a work in progress and should be very fulfilling in the end, and I imagine that’s how Alton Johnson felt when he was building the first LeMans Coupe at Victress in North Hollywood, California.

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Ordered New and Later Restored, This ’61 Galaxie Starliner Has Become a Family Heirloom – Jim Black @Hemmings

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Photography by Jim Black

In the late 1950s and early ’60s, it was the full-size cars offered by the Big Three manufacturers that kept enthusiasts coming back for more. By 1960, the intermediates were still a few years away from entering production and Ford was now offering the less-than-thrilling compact Falcon, but with models like the GalaxieSunliner and Starliner, there was still plenty to get excited about within the Blue Oval camp. When Robert Fuchs, a self-employed farmer from Arlington, Nebraska, first began seeing ads for the Ford Starliner, it was love at first sight.

“I graduated from Arlington High School in May of 1961 and decided to treat myself to a graduation present by ordering a new Starliner,” Robert recalls. “Dad and I went to Diers Ford in Fremont, Nebraska, and we were told that the assembly plant was ending production, so they probably would not be able to fill any more orders for the remainder of the ’61 model run. I was really disappointed!”

Not to be deterred, Robert and his dad pushed harder on the salesman, who soon said that the dealership had placed an inventory order for one in white with a red interior and that he might be able to make some last-minute changes. “I wanted a blue one instead, and the salesman said he would call the Twin Cities plant and call us back later in the day,” Robert says. “True to his word, the salesman called back in an hour and said they had six Starliners left on the assembly line, and he had made arrangements that mine would be the last one assembled and as I had ordered it, in blue with a blue interior.”

In the summer of 1962, Robert installed a Borg-Warner four-speed kit from Ford and was running bare steel wheels, which were in style at that time

As promised, this 1961 Ford Starliner was the last car off the assembly line at the Twin Cities, Minnesota plant for the 1961 run, and Robert took delivery on July 3 of that year. The Starliner came equipped from the factory with the 352-cu.in. V-8, three-speed column-shifted manual transmission, 7.50 x 14 Goodyear white-sidewall tires, hub caps, backup lamps, cloth and vinyl bench seats, padded dash and visors, full carpeting, tinted glass all around, cigarette lighter, clock, push-button AM radio, and the all-important Cambridge Blue exterior paint. Base price was $2,730 and with options and destination charge the final MSRP was $3,056. Robert was given $600 in trade for his 1952 Ford Victoria, his high school car.

With all-new styling for 1961, the Galaxie Starliner (a two-door hardtop with semi-fastback roofline) was more rounded, sleeker, and much more cleanly styled than the previous year. The model retained a few of the 1960 design cues such as the lower beltline trim, bright-metal rock guards behind the rear wheel openings, and the signature trio of star emblems on the C-pillars. Although the Starliner still had rear quarter fins that were popular in the late ’50s, they were much smaller and clearly understated

The car’s real beauty, however, stood out in the rear, with jet-age-styled taillamps that contained backup lamps centered within. All Starliners rode on a 119-inch wheelbase and used upper and lower A-arms and coil springs up front and a live axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs at the rear. Just 29,669 Starliners were produced in 1961, making them a rare sight today.

The original 220-hp 352-cu.in. V-8 did not require a major rebuild, even though it had over 213,000 miles on the clock before the restoration began.

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Lowrider Hydraulics Pioneer X-Sonic Corvette to be Restored – David Conwill @Hemmings

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Back in November, we were excited to learn that Dave Shuten, of Galpin Speed Shop, will be restoring the X-Sonic Corvette to its 1960s appearance. The X-Sonic was a groundbreaking custom car in the late-1950s that not only inspired Ed Roth to begin crafting his famous bubble tops, but also helped introduce the custom-car world to hydraulics.

The circa 1960 version of the X-Sonic, demonstrating its hydraulics and sporting tunneled 1958 Dodge headlamps, but pre-bubbletop. Photos courtesy Kustomrama.

Hydraulic suspension (and its spiritual descendent, airbags) on custom and lowrider cars is commonly known today. But where and when did hydraulics make the leap from being aircraft parts to automotive suspension pieces? The answer, of course, is in post-World War II California, where two enthusiasts—seemingly separately and unbeknownst to one another—used parts found in military surplus stores to create the first suspension systems that could be impracticably low for car shows but raised for driving

One of those men was Jim Logue, a North American Aviation employee who lived in Long Beach in 1957 and took inspiration from Citroen’s factory hydropneumatic suspension to modify his 1954 Ford. The other was Ron Aguirre, a resident of Rialto, who around the same time saw a hydraulic ram being used for dent removal and thought he might use something similar to avoid future violations for the lowness of his 1956 Corvette. Today, Logue and his Fabulous X54 have faded from popular memory, but Aguirre’s bubble-topped X-Sonic persists as the poster child for “the first” hydraulics-equipped custom car.

The X-Sonic as it appeared in 1963 with bubbletop and no headlamps.

As a successful contender on the indoor-car-show circuit of the 1960s, the X-Sonic went through a few iterations and wound up heavily modified, including the aforementioned bubble top, substitution of a Turboglide transmission for the original three-speed, and even the elimination of a conventional steering wheel in favor of an electric motor controlled by toggle switches! The bubbletop and unconventional steering marked the transition of the car from street custom to all-out show car.

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Broken Circa 1928 and Stored Away, This 1926 Buick Standard Only Saw Fleeting Glimpses of the 20th Century Before a 2020 Resurrection – David Conwill @Hemmings

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In 1926, the Buick Standard had been around for a year already. It replaced the Buick Four series for 1925 and was priced below the larger and more powerful Master series. The Standard used a 207-cu.in., 60-hp six-cylinder and rode a 114 3⁄8-inch wheelbase, while the Master had a 274-cu.in., 75-hp six and a 120-inch (or longer) wheelbase. As a two-door sedan, the Standard offered much of the style and build quality of the Master, at a $200 discount (equivalent to nearly $3,000 today).

Those early days of this car’s existence are a bit murky. Bill says the oral history passed down to him, along with the physical evidence uncovered during his efforts to revive the Buick, suggest it was just a few years old when sidelined with a cracked engine block. A fine line is still visible from the resulting repair.

“Most of the miles were put on before 1928. After it was fixed, the original owners placed her in storage. Then came the Depression. She hibernated through World War II, Korea….”

A used Standard Six sedan was a good car in 1928, but nothing ground shaking. Betty must have been in particularly nice condition to get repaired and then stored for what amounts to about three and a half decades. What had once been a common and unremarkable entry-level Buick was, by the early ’60s, an unusual sight.

A farmer in Richmond, Massachusetts, just southwest of Pittsfield, purchased the car around that time.“Other than touch-up paint and typical mechanical maintenance, she was all original,” Bill says. “The intention was to restore her to new condition since she was in such great shape. He started the motor and drove her around the farm to make sure she ran.

“All the parts were there and in perfect condition, but the project was sidetracked by his 1919 Buick roadster project. Betty was sold to a family in Pittsfield in 1968 for $50. I have the bill of sale from that purchase.

Buick advertised its engines as being “triple sealed,” in reference to filtration systems for air, fuel, and oil. Note the canister for the vacuum-operated fuel pump: Gasoline is drawn from the tank to a reservoir, then fed to the carburetor via gravity

“They were able to free her engine, fill the tires, and drove her home from Richmond under her own power. They changed the oil, replaced the horn, and added a brake light switch so they could get an inspection sticker. She still has the Massachusetts inspection sticker from 1970.

“They coated the hood with clear coat, touched up a few places where the paint had chipped, and painted the grille bezel to protect her bare steel. They replaced a couple inner tubes and used the same tires. I presume the tires are ’40s or ’50s vintage. They left the rest of the car as a survivor.

”After some fun in the summers of 1969 and ’70, however, the family wasn’t satisfied with how Betty was running.

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Building a Memory, Not an Investment: Finishing the Seven-Year Saga of a Long-Lost Corvair – Don Homuth @Hemmings

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After 6 long years of restoration, it is now as nearly perfect as it can be. It was in its first car show on 9/25/21.

It’s done. After seven years, plenty of money, and the able assistance of some local and national experts in Corvair restoration, my 1966 Chevy is done. Murphy’s Law applied many times, and many times the car resisted being rebuilt, but we did it.

Before 2014, I had been preparing to age out of the car hobby. But then I found the Corvair quite unexpectedly. It was my car—the very one I’d bought the day before going to Vietnam the second time, back in 1968. All the experiences I’d had and memories I’d made in it mattered more to me than the vehicle itself. My wife agreed that I should buy it and rebuild it. (Love that woman!)

As of the last report, five things needed attention to complete the restoration.

1/ The speedometer cable that runs off the left front wheel needed to be reattached. That was easy.

2/ After we got the engine running, we discovered the cylinder-head-temperature gauge didn’t work. The original thermistors have long since been out of production, and finding a working replacement was a formidable task.

3/ The stalk that controls the driver’s-side mirror needed to be replaced. Originally, that stalk had a Chevrolet bow tie on it. Corvair guru Duane Wentland found one; it was rechromed, and it’s on.

4/ The mirror-adjustment cables have plastic stops, which had deteriorated over the past 50 years. No replacements were available. But Duane had one, which he loaned to drivetrain builder Rex Johnson. Rex’s daughter had recently purchased a 3-D printer. We carefully measured the part and had the printer fabricate a new one. Installed, it works just fine.

5/ The engine ran ragged at highway speed. The four carburetors needed to be adjusted to run properly. Rex bought an air-fuel meter, which he inserted into the exhaust, and he drove the car a few miles. Turns out, it was running lean, not rich as I had suspected. After calibrating the carbs to the correct air-fuel mixture, all four work properly and the car drives beautifully.

A lot of people had never seen a Corvair at a major show. Mine got a lot of compliments and a couple of invitations to future shows in the Pacific Northwest.

Nothing is finished until the last detail is in place. Now it is exactly as it was.

I invite readers to check out the entire saga, which is documented on this site in considerable length with text and photos. It details how I bought the car in the first place, sold it to buy a Corvette, got it back after marrying the woman who bought it, sold it again when the divorce was imminent and storage was an issue, then lost track of it. How I remained mildly curious about what had happened to it between 1978 and 2014, wondering whether it had been junked, maintained, restored, or left to rust away in a field somewhere. How a Craigslist ad posted on a North Dakota site got a response from a fellow in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, who believed he had it. And how a scrap of paper in an old briefcase had the VIN, which confirmed it was the same car.

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A barn find Cadillac, parked until it was too late to realize the dream – Don Homuth @Hemmings

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This is the story of a car obsession. The family asks that the actual names not be published, but otherwise the story is true in every particular. In the late 50s, Roy was a typical “1960s father” who cared for his family, but was never really close or part of it. All of his friends and peers used to regard him as one of the smartest people they knew…  and it was probably true. He ended up being self taught in electronics for years before going to school to finally get his degree. Roy’s family has always looked at the story of his decline with sadness, seeing someone so brilliant fall into such a delusional place in his later years.

Roy’s neighbor in 1958 bought a brand new Cadillac Fleetwood Sixty Special, as they did every two years. That car spoke to Roy and he was determined to have it. In 1958, it was nearly the pinnacle of luxury and, after all, Cadillac was the “Standard Of Excellence.

He pestered his neighbor, almost from the day they bought the car, to sell it to him. He always intended to get it with less than 10,000 miles on the odometer and he was determined to keep it that way. It didn’t happen. When Roy bought it, the odometer had rolled past the 10k mark, just barely, and he was quite upset. But he bought it anyway.

In those days, that was okay. Any obsession that wasn’t particularly severe could go unnoticed, and things would go on just fine. Early on, though, Roy’s obsession with the Cadillac was clear. In his wife’s words, it was like “him getting to pick out his favorite child from a group, and dote all his attention just on that child. But for him it was a car, and not a child.”After Roy bought it, he hardly ever drove it.

Over the years, he kept it in the home garage. He’d fire it up, wash and wax it, but then never went on any long drives. So, from 1961 for another decade, Roy only drove the Cadillac about 400 miles. Really. Other than a funeral once, most trips were about a mile down the road to his friend’s shop to clean and detail the car, about two times a year.

The last time the car was driven was in 1969 and the last time it was registered was in 1972. But even then it was never driven in most people’s sense of the word. In 1980, Roy bought a house “in the country,” an hour and a half outside of Chicago. The car remained in the city garage, completely untouched, until 1989 when it was brought to the country house. Over time, Roy became more and more protective of the car, allowing no one to drive it or sit in it.

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Project Apollo X: Perdition by the dashboard light – Joe Essid @Hemmings

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The end of 2020 meant that my 1974 “rolling restoration” Buick Apollo wore a few coats of primer and ran well enough for longer road trips. It still needed some attention paid to small items after five years of heavy lifting.

A few things inside the car have been bothering me a great deal. As always, my mistakes and small triumphs are here to encourage readers to pick up the tools and DIY it. An average Joe, even one who is a faculty member in an English Department, can get an average old car back on the road. Why wait for that perfect (mentioning my favorites) E-type or GTO? Start with something you can afford, even something with four doors, and learn by doing.

After my last column on the car, we did indeed go apple-picking before the arrival of what passes for winter in Virginia these edgy days. I was working on other projects during the cool months, so the Apollo went only on a few jaunts.

Then, around New Years, I removed the dash to put in a vintage radio and address a few other issues. I’d yanked a hideous aftermarket RADwood-era FM radio with a cassette player, a box with flashing turquoise lights and busy displays, taking it to the electronics recycler. Begone! Then I began to hunt down a Delco from the mid-1970s that would fit. Or mostly fit.

I imagined that as soon as I switched my radio on, I’d hear songs coming from David Bowie’s swan-song to Glam, Diamond Dogs. You remember? Halloween Jack who lived in Hunger City, atop the ruins of “Manhattan Chase”? There was nothing cooler for a 14-year-old in the second half of the Cold War. Our parents had built fallout shelters just before we were born; we early Generation Xers joked about rushing with tanning blankets to Ground Zero. Bowie was whistling with us in the Atomic Dark.

With my luck, however, I figured the first sound I’d hear would be “Muskrat Love” by the Captain and Tennille.

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Reminder: The perils of neglecting your classic – Jim Richardson @Hemmings

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One night, I was driving home on the freeway when an old, neglected 1956 Mercury passed me at a good clip. As it flew by, its left front wheel came off, hubcap, hub, and all. It wobbled crazily out into the fast lane of the highway and bounced over the center divider. Fortunately, no cars were hit. Simultaneously, the Mercury dropped to the pavement, creating a shower of sparks, and then careened off onto the shoulder. I had heard of such things happening, but had never witnessed them before

.I doubled back to see if I could help, but there was nothing I could do. The driver was unhurt, but the car was most likely damaged beyond repair, unless the fellow had a lot of money and knew of a shop that could handle it. Parts for such cars are no longer available at Pep Boys.

Why did it happen? The answer is simple. With cars from the 1960s on back, the front wheel bearings need to be packed with fresh grease every 10,000 miles. If that isn’t done, the bearings will eventually run out of grease, get hot, wear out, and even seize on the spindle. And if you are doing 70 mph at that moment, you could lose a wheel, lose control, and destroy your car, and probably not do yourself any good either.

I know this as I did routine maintenance at “service” stations as a lad. They were called service stations, because they did a lot more than just pump gas. You see, cars from the early Sixties and prior needed regular attention. They required oil changes every 1,000 miles, along with a chassis lube. And they needed ignition tune-ups every 10,000 miles in order to run properly.

Also, cooling systems needed to be flushed and refreshed every year. And universal joints needed packing every 5,000 miles, too. But sadly, most people were blissfully unaware, and didn’t do all that routine maintenance, with the result that most of what we now call classic cars were neglected to death. The few that were scrupulously maintained, on schedule, lasted nearly forever.

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A 1958 Dodge Royal Lancer battles back from project car to show winner – Jim Black @Hemmings

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Big fins and wide whitewalls were all the rage in the late ’50s and no one did it better than the Chrysler divisions. Dual exhausts were an extra cost option. Jim Black

United States car sales slumped in 1958 due to a nationwide recession, but, on the heels of a successful 1957, Dodge rolled out an updated lineup. The division’s 1958 cars were longer, lower, wider, more colorful, and sported an abundance of chrome. Plus, Dodge’s model offerings consisted of the entry-level Coronet, the Royal, the Custom Royal, and a new, top-of-the-line Regal Lancer. Dodge described them as the “Swept-Wing” 1958s in all of its marketing brochures.

Phil Shaw, from Auburn, Nebraska, is a 64-year-old retired UPS driver and Mopar enthusiast of the first order. Phil was looking for a retirement project that spanned the 1957-’59 Dodges when he came across a 1958 Dodge for sale online. The owner was from Norway, the ad was confusing to read, and a gallery of low-quality photos made it difficult to determine the car’s overall condition.

“The owner told me he had purchased the car online, from a seller in Bradenton, Florida, and then had it shipped to a shop in Rosenberg, Texas, to begin the restoration,” Phil says. “But after some work had been done he halted the restoration. He found out a short time later that he was terminally ill with cancer and decided not to see the job through.”

An RCA record player was a rare option not found on many cars of this era. The 45-rpm player held 13 records and played them upside down, so that the weight of the record kept the needle from skipping.

At that point, the car had also been completely disassembled and media blasted, and the shop had performed some sheetmetal repair on the floorpans and trunk floor. Reluctantly, Phil decided to bid on the ’58, not sure exactly what to expect since he had not seen the car in person. He won the auction and purchased the car in January of 2011. No other potential buyers bid against him, which sent up another red flag.

“I picked the car up a few days later. All the window glass had been discarded, and all the parts were in boxes and not well identified,” Phil says. “I examined the bare body and saw that a lot of rust repair was needed around the back window, but the rest of the body seemed to be solid and in good shape.”

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