When General Motors bought back its Pontiac dealership from Wedekind Motors, owner Dave Elmendorf was left with an empty showroom and a trio of mechanics with some time on their hands.
Elmendorf found himself brainstorming for ways to grow his business, while the mechanics began toiling with their own automobile projects around the shop. Rich Valletta, Fred Brock and Paul Cirincione had an interest in rebuilding hot rods, while Elmendorf had an interest in selling them.
The end result was a fully restored 1923 Ford Model-T hot rod — and a new division of Wedekind Motors aimed at restoring luster to classic vehicles. The prototype vehicle is now prominently displayed in the former Pontiac showroom off State Street as a physical advertisement for the company’s hot rod body restoration branch.
“When we lost the dealership, we were looking for something extra to do,” said Valletta, a mechanic who has worked at Wedekind for nearly two decades. “We thought this might create a buzz.”
Sure enough, it did. Within weeks of advertising the “hot rod heaven,” a man from Hudson walked into the showroom, purchased the Model T for $16,000 and asked when they planned to restore another.
Wedekind started selling Pontiacs during the 1970s and was among the premiere dealerships for the brand. But when GM launched its Project 2000 — a plan to put the brand under the same roof with Buick and GMC — the company began urging Elmendorf to relocate the business out of Schenectady.
Elmendorf refused to leave the building his dealership has occupied since 1935 or the city it has served since 1921. And eventually, GM agreed to purchase Wedekind’s stake in Pontiac, including its entire new-car inventory, all Pontiac parts and any specialty tools.
Less than a year later, GM axed Pontiac altogether. In April 2009, the division known for the Trans Am and GTO was shuttered as part of a plan to slash 6,500 dealers across the nation.
“In hindsight, we looked like geniuses,” he said Thursday. “But really, we were lucky.”
The void left in the wake of Pontiac’s departure in July 2008 was partially filled by Wedekind’s used-car business. But in the months that followed, both Elmendorf and Valletta began mulling ways to branch out the business.
“We decided to start thinking outside the box,” Elmendorf said.
Elmendorf said the new division is still in its infancy and he’s still feeling out the direction to take it. But after advertising it a few times this year month, he said the reaction has been formidable.
The crew now has a replica 1937 Ford Coupe dismantled in the body shop to receive a sleek maroon paint job. Valletta said other customers have approached him about restoring a 1949 GMC and a 1978 Trans Am.
“They’re older cars, where they don’t have anywhere to get them fixed,” he said.
For the time being, the dealership is putting the finishing touches on the skeletons of roadsters that are mechanically complete. Valletta said the mechanics all have the know-how to rebuild engines, but are focusing more on aesthetics with the new venture at Wedekind.
“We’re using it as a fill-in business, so when we slow down, we have something to do,” he said.