No Longer One of the Best Kept Secrets in Maine! Columbia Classic Cars and New World Engine and Machine Works have operated at their all new 12,000 sq ft facility in the Winthrop Business Park for a nearly three years during which time they have continually expanded their business to include overall automobile restoration and repair of antique, classic, and collector vehicles. No stranger to collector car restorations, New World has been in business since 1977 providing complete engine and chassis restorations and for many years was located in Winthrop and then nearby Wayne. Columbia founded and owned by long time automobile collector and restorer Michael J. Fiori of Brunswick and Winthrop, merged the companies at its inception making former New World owner James Welch a partner in the venture. The combined companies provide the restorations services as well as buy, sell, and broker collector automobiles throughout the country. In addition to automobile restoration work the company specializes in antique and contemporary inboard boat engine rebuilding of makes such as Lyman, Chris Craft, Century, Gray Marine, Hercules, and Mercruiser.
For anyone interested in antique automobiles, a trip to Columbia Classic Cars is lots of fun. In their showroom there is always a collection of eight or ten classic cars for sale ranging from a 1930 Model A Sport Coupe to a 1937 Cadillac sedan with monstrous whitewalls, or even a sleek midnight blue Mercedes convertible. “The inventory is always changing,” Fiori says, Currently we have a good range of cars for sale including a very original 1933 Plymouth Sedan with “suicide doors”, a gorgeous 1940 Packard Formal sedan from California, an all original 1960 Cadillac, 1954 Ford Crestline with Continental Kit, 1959 Chevrolet, 1969 Corvette Convertible, Model As and Model Ts to name a few.” Right in front is a rare 1920 Columbia Six Roadster in totally original condition. The Columbia Automobile Company was only in business a few years and production numbers were low. After searching for several years for a “namesake” car for the company Fiori found the Columbia consigned to an auction. “It took me several hours of intense negotiations to talk the owner and the auction house out of the consignment but we did it and within 72 hours it was loaded on an enclosed carrier heading to Maine.” Now the unique vehicle sits proudly at the showroom door as the company mascot.
Fiori admits that Packards are his passion when it comes to antique cars and when one leaves it is like saying good-bye to a member of the family. “You have to wrestle the Packards from me,” he says with a smile. In fact, this year one of his Packards, a 1929 Dietrich bodied Dual Cowl Sport Phaeton has been invited to be shown at the prestigious Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in August at Monterey, California. A large facsimile of the official letter he received from the judges is proudly displayed in the showroom. “Yes, it is quite an honor to be invited to Pebble,” he says, “certainly it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” Three other associates from Columbia will be accompanying him on the trip to California. “It will be necessary to have a team from Columbia there to ensure that the car will perform properly in the 60 mile tour that is part of the entry requirements,” Fiori said. The big Packard Phaeton will be competing in the Preservation Class with just a handful of cars from around the globe that are considered uniquely original and unrestored (photos of the car can be seen on the company’s website at www.columbiaclassiccars.com ).
Throughout the building there are various antiques and classics in different stages of restoration including a 1918 Stanley Steam Car, 1920 Model TT One-ton Truck, 1939 Packard Super Eight Victoria Convertible, 1955 Packard Caribbean Convertible, 1957 Chrysler Imperial, 1965 Corvette convertible, 1965 Dodge Dart convertible, and others. “Both Packards came to us from Massachusetts,” says Jim Welch. “As strange as it may seem, both owners heard about our passion for restoring Packards and contacted us to do the restoration for them.” Nearing completion of the restoration is usually the most tiresome and tedious of the task because of the meticulous detail that is demanded. Fiori stated that only 500 Packard Caribbeans were manufactured in 1955 and finding correct body trim parts can be a real challenge. “We’re happy to see that body back on the chassis, the engine and transmission installed, and the project coming to completion.” Fiori demurred. “It has been a long year on the car from body off to body on, and both the owner and our shop are anxious to see it back on the road soon.” Roy Weymouth, a company Restoration Specialist who has been with Columbia since the beginning has done the majority of the work on the Caribbean and is specializing in Packards. Both Fiori and Welch smiled at him. “I taught Roy everything I know about Packards,” Fiori joked. “He has completed total restorations on three of them to-date including my 1948 Packard Custom Eight Victoria Convertible.” Quite an accomplishment, indeed, for someone 25 years old!
Shop people at Columbia acknowledged that a complete restoration of a collector car can take up to 3,000 hours depending on what the customer wants to accomplish. “There is a huge difference between restoring a car as a “driver” versus making it a top quality project worthy of competing in big car shows,” said Larry Nadeau who along with Paul Duplin coordinates the activities in the company’s body and finishing shop. On display there was testimony to his statement. A customer wanted his 1965 Corvette convertible to have a “top notch” paint job and the Corvette had a mirror-like finish in metallic Glen Green, an original color for the car. Nadeau and Duplin would not divulge how much time they had in preparing and finishing the car. “All I can tell you,” chuckled Nadeau “is that the owner dismantled the car 29 years ago and scraped the paint off with a putty knife and paint remover and brought us the car in pieces.” Duplin laughed adding “I could not tell you how many times I have been around that car priming, sanding, putting lines back in and preparing it for painting.” The result of their efforts is spectacular.
In the adjoining building and machine shop there are many other projects being attended to including a 1934 Chevrolet Firetruck from Winthrop, several gigantic 1920s era Ahrens-Fox engines for fire trucks shipped in from Missouri being sleeved and babbitted for bearings, a nearly completed 392 Hemi engine for the 1957 Imperial, a Triumph TR8 with a new engine, various work being completed on a 1968 Mercedes, and more. “Yes, we do it all here,” laughs Welch and Roy Weymouth. “If we can’t fix it then you don’t need it,” they joke. There is evidence everywhere that this may be true. Recently they finished a rare 1936 Packard Super Eight engine for a big convertible sedan that required the company to have a new aluminum head cast for it. “Replacement heads for that engine just don’t exist and one of our contacts in California came forward and said they would manufacture one for us,” Welch said. “The car runs now runs just like the day it left the factory,” he added. A glance upstairs at the upholstery shop reveals that Columbia will do some custom upholstery and canvas work on cars and boats as well.
Almost from the beginning the company expanded to retail sales of used automobiles. “Being a licensed car dealer we have a lot of people who ask us if we can find a good, reliable, economical car for them or their son or daughter, “We often find a good used car or truck for a client and it evolved into the pre-owned automobile business.” “It really is rewarding,” Fiori says, “to have a family come in and rely on us to provide a safe, clean, affordable car for their family member and to know that we will stand behind our product and service. When people look at our shop and what we do with the classics it gives them a lot of confidence. We like to say that our slogan is Our Reputation is Your Guarantee.”
One might ask what is next for Columbia Classic Cars and Fiori provided the answer. “In our conversations with collector car owners and traders throughout Maine we are told there needs to be a good collector car auction venue in the State. So we are exploring this as something that might be a good service for our customers and friends in the business in the near future” With that in mind the company registered the name Downeast Classic and Collector Car Auction with the State of Maine as a licensed auctioneer.
And since so many customers have asked for service from the company for their daily drivers Columbia decided that they would offer routine and maintenance services for automobiles. Now, Fiori and Welch say that the same quality work that Columbia and New World customers have experienced with their collector vehicles is offered to the public including complete engine mechanical repairs, all engine gaskets, timing belts, power steering, seals, and a host of other related services. Welch shared that they do a lot of work in areas typically jobbed out by other shops. “What others don’t do we make a specialty here.” Columbia is also a licensed Motor Vehicle Inspection Station and provides this service for its customers.
Roy Weymouth serves as the shop coordinator for scheduling the general service work to be provided. Call PH: 377-2076 for general automotive service and exterior and interior detailing. For overall engine and chassis restoration work call James Welch at PH: 377-2107, for body and finishing work call Larry Nadeau at PH: 377-2076 and for inquiries relating to the purchase or sale of a collector vehicle and complete restorations ask for Michael Fiori at PH: 377-2076. Columbia Classic Cars is open Monday through Friday 8:30 am to 6 pm, Saturday 9 am to 12 noon.
Cruise Night is open to all automobile enthusiasts and the public and is held every Wednesday evening 5:30 7:30 PM through Labor Day – Good Food and Music! Columbia Classic Cars is located at Route 202 and in the Business Park at 42 Winada Drive in Winthrop, Maine.