Like Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins, Ben Damus has been overseeing the reinvigoration of a Tech institution. Unlike Collins, Damus faced a mission requiring the procurement of a specific model and make of an 89-year-old car in good condition, which sounds a lot more challenging than recruiting a tight end.
When Damus – this year’s driver of the Ramblin’ Wreck – leads the Yellow Jackets onto Grant Field before Saturday’s home opener against South Florida, he’ll be doing so in a vehicle that has been lovingly restored since last football season.
“It’s great to be able to work in the Wreck’s best interest to keep her running for years to come,” he said.
By vote of the Ramblin’ Reck Club, the school spirit club that is the caretaker of the iconic 1930 Ford Model A Sport Coupe, Damus has the honor of driving the Wreck (club members prefer to spell it “Reck”) for the 2019 calendar year. It was on the watch of the fifth-year business major from St. Augustine, Fla., that a three-year project to restore the car was completed this summer.
“Mostly, there were cracks in the fenders and in the body near the rumble seat, and those were our main pieces that we were concerned with repairing,” Damus said.
The fissures were the result of a hurried repair in 2007, when the Wreck was severely damaged in an accident while being towed to a wedding in Savannah. In the haste to have the car ready for football season, some of the panels were not replaced but merely patched with putty. Beyond the cracks, panels weren’t aligned properly. In its state, Damus said, the car’s safety and integrity were compromised.
“But having had the car for almost 60 years, there were just some things that over time we would make some changes to, and now that we were able to do it in such a complete manner, we were able to make some improvements in areas that might not have been necessarily bad but were more preventative,” Damus said.
With funding from alumni, the club entrusted the restoration to Bentley’s Antique Auto Service in Maysville up I-85 near Commerce. Shop owner Bentley Bohanan has serviced the car for the Reck Club since he opened his shop in 1995.
Wanting to restore the car was one thing. Having the parts was another. The club and Bohanan needed to find another 1930 Ford Model A Sport Coupe that had remained intact over the decades so its components could be grafted onto the Wreck.
“I went online, I’d find them in California or New York or wherever, but they’d send you pictures and you could see they were rusted out or they’d been in a wreck,” Bohanan said.
Through his membership in a Model A restorers club, though, Bohanan found a family south of Atlanta ready to part with its Model A, the same make, model and year as the Wreck.
“I had known the car,” Bohanan said. “It was a good car.”
To Bohanan, to find a match in good condition in close proximity was nothing less than a stroke of luck. The club purchased it, and Bohanan’s shop replaced damaged panels on the Wreck with those from the donor car, sandblasting them and painting and detailing them to the club’s precise specifications. The interior was reupholstered and the top replaced. It was a 12-week process over the summer, Damus said, with the Wreck returning to campus in the beginning of August.
“I’ve got a shop with five guys, and we pretty much all five had to pile on to get it done, to get it finished by the start of the football season,” Bohanan said. “So we’re real proud of it.”
The Wreck is now back in the custody of Damus and the Reck Club, ready to lead the Jackets onto the field for the 59th consecutive season, an instantly recognizable symbol of the school and team. As part of his service to Tech as Wreck driver, Damus plans to take it to every road game, which means hauling the Wreck in an enclosed trailer about 675 miles for the Miami game and about 800 to Philadelphia when the Jackets play Temple. In recent years, the Wreck has normally made it to one road game per season, Damus said.
“I thought it was a great opportunity for us to be able to have that connection with a lot of fans and alumni that can’t always get to Georgia Tech for games,” said Damus, a car nut whose other car is another gold Ford – a sandstone 2010 Lincoln MKZ.
On Saturday, Damus said that the ride-out, as the drive onto the field is called, will be a little bit different than in years past, though he was not at liberty to divulge much more.
He said the Wreck will still drive out in front of the team, but, “I just think it’s going to be really high energy.”
The refurbished Wreck, looking like new, is prepared to lead Collins’ Jackets, tight ends and all.
Said Bohanan, “It should be ready for another 40 years, easy.”