Paul Cutajar -Restoration of a 1937 dodge D5
DODGE D5 1937, 7 Passenger Sedan Restoration
By Paul Cutajar
For classic car enthusiasts, D-Day beckons when their beloved 'babies' need to be taken off the road for a while to undergo restorative work. Rehabilitation is lengthy and laborious, but at the end of the tunnel, a gleaming vehicle eventually emerges, not much different from when it came off the production line all those decades ago.
Paul Cutajar has just been through this experience. The proud owner of a rare 1937 Dodge D5 seven-passenger sedan, he decided to take it off the road in January 2007 to start a required restoration project. After many trials and tribulations over 18 months, this American limousine was gracing the local roads again in July 2008.
The Dodge is a Cutajar family heirloom. "My father Anthony bought it from a Valletta hire service garage in 1945, soon after the end of World War II," Paul recounts. "As soon as the authorities gave the green light and permits were granted for the reopening of car hiring services, he established a car hire garage in Lija, competing with another similar establishment in the area. Even at that time, with its regulatory overall pitch black colour, and contrasting white number plate with striking registration 5969 in red, it was the talk of the town."
From an early age, Paul was always pottering around with his father around the Dodge, learning the basics about the four-wheeler, and frequently accompanying Anthony on trips. He even learnt to drive at a tender age.
"It was a totally different era", he recalls. "Not many people had cars in those days, and even for simple social events like a baptism, a wedding or a Sunday trip to the seaside, a family had to hire a car".
The American icon continued to give sterling service for 20 years. Then in 1965, Anthony decided to replace it with a Vanguard Ensign Estate Car, and so the Dodge was taken off the road and garaged. It was left idle for about 9 years. "In 1974, mainly on the insistence of my brother Joseph, I started to remove the cobwebs and embarked on a lengthy process to breathe life into it again". Paul explains that besides the mechanical work, he decided to respray the Dodge in Davos White, which after seven years was later changed to Diamond White.
It was a three-year labour of love, and seeing the resplendent results of Paul's passion and enthusiasm for the vehicle, the rest of the Cutajar clan decided it would be more than appropriate to pass on the family car to him. For 30 years, Paul and his Dodge were inseparable.
Paul has a purist and meticulous streak when it comes to anything connected with his Dodge. Although the car rarely gave him any problems, and its appearance did not leave much to be desired, he decided that another major overhaul was required. "I felt that if I were to continue participating in public shows and events, the Dodge would have to undergo another thorough restoration," he says.
Thus for the next 18 months, working mainly on his own, Paul embarked on a major task which involved dismantling the whole body, with the exception of the engine. All parts were scraped and sandblasted, and the painting process was started from scratch. Even the undersides and bottom were not spared the fiery revamp. After the basic layers of paint were applied, the car was taken to a professional sprayer for the ultimate touch, then returned to Paul's garage, where he completed the polishing.
Alterations were made where required: no problems with spares were encountered, Paul being a deft hand at acquiring what was needed from internet stores in Canada and the US.
Paul's fondness for the car shines through when he dwells on the technical intricacies of the 2.783cc petrol, six-cylinder, side-valved engine. The vastness of the car is striking - its length tops six meters, while its spacious interior, with two quaint extra folding seats behind the driver, reflects bygone days.
The car also sports a number of period extras, which include two turquoises, elongated, glass flower vases attached to the inner column between the two doors, wheel embellishers, rear wheel skirts, and spot lamps and mirrors.
"There are only four such vehicles on the road in Malta," Paul points out. "They came out in 1936, 1937, 1938, and 1939. There is another one which is awaiting restoration. Although one may think that being manufactured so near to each other would make them identical, this is far from the truth, for every year the company would come out with some different alternative, some innovation."
Paul has always been a strong believer in teamwork, and this led him at an early age to set up the Lija Motoring Group in the late 1960s with a group. "We were young, keen motoring enthusiasts who used to meet in the same premises which house the Old Motors Club. Soon afterwards, we joined the Forces Driving Club, and were actively involved with them in marshalling duties and navigational tasks during rallies and hill climbs."
He was also one of the first members of the Collectors Vehicle Club (CVC), and when this folded, he eventually joined the Old Motors Club, for which he has been membership secretary for the past four years.
"This involves the setting up and maintenance of an updated date base of more than 300 members, with details of their cars. Then there is also the collection of membership subscriptions, as well as helping out with the addressing aspect in sending out the OMC monthly newsletter," Paul explains. He laments the fact that the OMC club premises are not eagerly patronised on the one evening a week in which they are open to members. On the other hand, he sees "encouraging" attendance at public club events. "Although approximately only half of the members participate in these events, the other dormant half still remain paid-up members, and this is healthy."
Wrote for the Times of Malta by Mr. Joe Busuttil, PRO of the Old Motors Club.