Published March 24. 2013 4:00AM
Westbrook - Fast cars and neurosurgery would seem an unlikely combination.
But it's part of the life that Matt Cavicke of Lyme came to know as the youngest son of Harvard-educated David Cavicke, the late chief of neurosurgery at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, whose Allard sports car came in second at the famed Watkins Glen race course in 1959.
"Like most young guys, he enjoyed fast cars," Cavicke said. "I'm sure it was a little irrational."
Cavicke, whose family is having the 1953 Allard J2X restored at Vintage Motorcars, remembers times when his father would ask him to hold a flashlight as he tinkered with the car, which by then had been retired from racing.
The Allard, a legendary British brand that produced only about 1,900 cars in all, largely sat idle in a barn at the family's Lyme homestead after Dr. Cavicke, by then also a professor at Yale Medical School, died in 1992 at the age of 65. One by one, the family sold off other vintage cars Dr. Cavicke had collected, but the sentimental attachment to the Allard was too great to let it go.
So the family last year asked Rich Willard of Lyme, owner of Vintage Motorcars, to begin restoring the jazzy red, low-slung machine to its old glory.
"We have a lot of family memories with that car," Cavicke said. "We wanted to make some more memories. ... It was for nostalgic purposes."
Cavicke, who was only 17 when his father died, didn't remember the car in its glory years, when his racer dad won class titles at Lime Rock and Watkins Glen. But he does have fond recollections of a time in 1984 when the car came out of storage for a vintage racing event at Lime Rock.
He also recalls a story his mother tells of an early date with Dr. Cavicke in the tiny car where driver and passenger are mashed close together.
"One time he grabbed her knee instead of the gear shift, and she thought he was being fresh," he chuckled.
Dr. Cavicke had largely given up racing by the time he had a family, his son recalled. He bought the car for only $2,650 in 1955, but the family is spending much more to bring it up to speed.
Willard, who employs 10 people at his shop, said it's expensive to restore old cars. Parts have to be found, and in some cases made from scratch. Old upholstery requires specialized work. Wooden interiors sometimes need to be laboriously recrafted. And motors often must be rebuilt.
The results, though, as seen in his expansive 30,000-square-foot shop and showroom on Boston Post Road, is a bit of history coming to life. Some of the vehicles Willard has worked on recently include a 1928 Packard, a 1941 Oldsmobile Woody, a 1969 Monteverdi 375 and a 1948 Chrsyler Town & Country.
Willard's shop also works on fire engines, pedal cars, old gas pumps, trucks and the interiors of old planes.
"A lot of people come in here and think it's a museum," Willard said.
Yet Vintage Motorcars, which started as a bit of a hobby in the back yard of Willard's boyhood home in Old Lyme, provides a one-stop restoration service, including paint, car servicing and body shops.
Willard said some people come in with the intention of showing their old vehicles, but auto shows are not for everyone.
Nearly everyone who decides to restore an old vehicle - and Willard has done jobs for clients on both sides of the Atlantic - does so out of a sense of nostalgia, especially for the cars of their parents' generation. So while older clients appear to be more interested in the earliest autos, the younger generation is more in tune with cars from the 1960s and 1970s.
The late 1970s is pretty much Willard's cutoff. Metal from cars of more recent vintage is so thin that it's difficult to work with and rusts easily, he said.
While women have been known to come into the shop, Willard said vintage cars are still largely a guy thing.
"I've probably had less than half a dozen women clients over the years," he said.
It's the Cavicke sons who are leading the charge to bring their father's old Allard out on the road, including oldest brother Dave, who is a Chicago lawyer, and Dana, a doctor living in Lyme. But their mother, Tedi, is said to be excited to have the vehicle back on the road as well.
Willard started by fixing some of the Allard's electrical problems, and then moved on to work on the brakes. His aim is to get the Allard back out on the road sometime this summer, rather than do a full restoration.
"He's a full-service group," Matt Cavicke said. "He takes care of the whole thing. With a group like that, you know where all the problems are."
Willard said a test drive in the Allard proved to be a scary experience with its powerful engine and lack of protection from the elements. It made Willard think about the early days of racing, when drivers like Cavicke had to fashion their own roll bars to protect themselves during a crash.
The Allard, dominant in early racing with only the Jaguar as major competition, is still active on the vintage race circuit. But while it would be great to see the Allard race again, Cavicke said, the family will likely use the car mostly for outings to the beach or to show off at local parades in Lyme.
"You don't have to be going fast to feel like you're going fast," Cavicke said.