During a Reunion showcase of creative work by Bates alumni, we were surprised at first to see a large display of car imagery in one corner of the room.
But we shouldn’t have been. If much of the exhibition Artists, Artisans and Authors was given over to intriguing examples of painting, fiber art and writing, Mac Reid ’67 is living proof of the creativity that can be found in the engineering and aesthetics of the automotive world.
The most eye-catching set of wheels in Reid’s display of photos and drawings was his 1955 Chevrolet Nomad station wagon, stunning in bold reddish orange paint called Corvette Flame Red. But the Corvette influence on this award-winning vehicle goes more than skin deep: Reid discarded the Nomad’s original running gear and replaced it with the engine, transmission, suspension and rear end from ‘Vettes of various model years.
“It all fit perfectly,” said Reid, whom we last encountered in 2003 as his band — the Hanseatic League, Bates’ first electric rock band — prepared to reunite for its seventh Reunion performance.
This time around, he was one of a dozen or so members of the classes of 1967 and 1972 showing creative work at the Olin Arts Center Saturday afternoon.
The Nomad wasn’t Reid’s first experience souping up an old car with a younger, faster power train. The first, in fact, was the car he used to burn up the streets of Lewiston — and that itself burned up on Frye Street in October 1964.
Reid was 14 when he bought the 1932 Chevy Coupe that he would transform into his dream car. His father towed the car on a chain for more than 60 miles to their home in Littleton, N.H., as Reid piloted the Chevy. It was lacking brakes and a seat, so he perched on a box behind the wheel and, when his dad hit the brakes, engaged the clutch so the drag of the lifeless engine helped slow the car.
As Reid told us, those were different times.
Chevrolet’s 1932 Coupes were popular raw material for later hot rodders who would beef up the engine and strip down everything else — faster, louder, more fun! Reid spent two and a half years on his machine, and the ’32 he had at Bates rode a 1955 Chevrolet chassis and power train, including the legendary small-block V-8 introduced that model year.
How did he know the two model years would work together? “I didn’t. When you’re 14 years old, you just assume things are going to work.”
The dream went up in flames in front of Frye House. John MacEwan ’68 was riding shotgun when Reid, smelling a smell, pulled over. He got out and looked around, but couldn’t see where the smoke was coming from — until he looked back inside.
The fire was behind MacEwan, caused, Reid believes, by a short circuit. Also behind MacEwan, in the trunk, was the gas tank, connected to the engine by a hose of transparent — and inflammable — neoprene. Reid had liked watching fuel flow through it.
“I reached through, because it was a narrow car, opened John’s door, and pushed him out the other side,” says Reid. Neither youth was hurt, except for Reid’s feelings.
The fire department doused the flames. The engine was fine, but the interior, including the carpet that Reid’s mother had installed, was ruined. (On the bright side, Elizabeth Krause ’68 was away from her Frye House room that day. Who knows if she would have married Reid, her husband for 43 years and counting, if she had witnessed this blow to his pride?)
“It was a very sad day,” Reid said. But his dream car will roll again, or at least its replica, as he tracked down another 1932 body and 1955 frame about five years ago, and is getting it ready for the road.
“I’ve never been without some sort of an old car or a hot rod or something,” said Reid, who has spent his career in public education, most recently as superintendent of the Shirley School District, which became the Ayer-Shirley Regional School District, in Massachusetts. His display at Bates also depicted his 1972 Chevelle Super Sport convertible, which is largely stock; and a snazzy pickup that mixes old and new components by Ford and Chevrolet — as well as by Reid himself, who designed, patented and will soon be marketing the fenders.
“People I’ve worked with in education find it hard to believe that I get my hands dirty on the weekends. But I just love the machinery and tinkering with things, building and designing things,” he said.
“If I can put my own touch on it, that’s what I enjoy.”
Slide Show: The Arts at Reunion