A 1940 Ford coupe is considered a hot car now, but back in high school, Galen Mellott didn’t think so.
During the winter, he drove his friends around State College with blankets draped over their laps.
“We had a heater, but Ford wasn’t known for building a good heater,” Mellott recalled.
These days, though, his first car gives the Pennsylvania College of Technology warm feelings.
Mellott, now 70, donated the Ford to his alma mater’s School of Transportation and Natural Resources Technology last month. Students in the automotive restoration program will have the chance to make a true classic look like it just rolled off one of Henry Ford’s assembly lines.
A self-described “gearhead,” Mellott studied toolmaking technology from 1962 to 1964 at the college’s predecessor, the Williamsport Institute of Technology, before a long career as a tool and die specialist.
This spring, after learning of the new restoration program, he visited the college. Impressed by his tour, he decided the car should do more than sit in his Patton Township garage and remind him of his cruising days.
Penn College got a treasure with 84,000 original miles and a 1966 inspection sticker, its last. Restored models can fetch more than $50,000.
“It’s in fantastic shape,” said Bellefonte resident Michael Bierly, a Penn College collision repair/restoration instructor. “It’s sound as a pound.”
The 73-year-old body, he said, bears little rust, and the car’s intact inside and out.
“I tell you, it’s a great opportunity for the students, a car like that, a 1940 Ford coupe,” Bierly said. “It’s kind of a coveted car in the collectors world.
“It was a very generous donation, and we intend to fully restore it and put it up to an A-class restoration.”
Mellott hopes so. The Ford always will hold a special place in his heart.
He grew up in a house on North Atherton Street, next to the Penn State Mobile Home Park. His father worked as the park manager.
John Mellott already had bought his older son a green 1939 Ford when he picked up another used car. He and a local man cut a deal. After parting with a 1941 Chrysler Windsor and $50, he gave Galen Mellott his own set of keys.
“My dad was a horse trader,” Mellott said.
With a flathead V-8 engine and mohair seats, his black Ford took him through his sophomore and junior years in high school. He and his brother, Gerald, became known for their distinctive rides.
“I had the oldest car in school. My brother, too,” Galen Mellott said. “Of course, all the cops knew us.”
At some point, he stuffed a later Mercury engine under the hood — just for a little extra horsepower. For more rock ’n’ roll touches, he added fender skirts and a dual exhaust system with glass packs.
But in his senior year, he upgraded to another Ford and joined the tailfin crowd, switching to a more stylish 1959 Galaxie 500.
He found out looks weren’t everything.
“It wasn’t as nearly as good a car as the 1940 car,” he said.
Occasionally, he drove the coupe to school in Williamsport. He once took it to Bedford to visit cousins, its farthest trip from State College.
By the mid-1960s, it rarely hit the road. But Mellott hung on to the Ford, bringing it first to York and then, years later, back to Patton Township when he went to work for HRB-Singer in State College.
Five years ago, he and his wife, Cheryl, were at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg when they came across a Penn College booth. He registered as an alumnus and began receiving school newsletters.
Upon reading about the automotive restoration program, he came to a decision. In March of this year, he visited the school — his first time back since graduating.
The trip couldn’t have gone better.
“Like I was a king,” he said of his reception. “It was unbelievable, the hospitality they showed.”
The royal treatment paid off handsomely.
As the final details of the gift were worked out, the transportation technology school dean asked Bierly to check out the coupe. He went with low expectations, figuring a donation would be in rough condition.
It didn’t take long for the truth to hit him. After examining the Ford closely and crawling underneath, he left astonished.
“I thought, ‘Oh my God, we got lucky,’ ” he said.
Mellott even threw in the original flathead engine. Eventually, Bierly hopes, he and his students will rebuild it and have it power the coupe again.
In the meantime, they’ll begin making the Ford roadworthy — starting with a trip this week to the famous fall car show in Hershey. They plan to scour the flea market for various small engine items such as a radiator hose.
“The students are excited,” he said. “Mr. Bierly is going to show them how to do some picking.”
He looks forward to the day when they look at a show-quality car and admire their own handiwork.
“That’s the nicest part for me, seeing the students do something and it comes to fruition and it’s something really nice,” Bierly said. “That’s the fun part of education.”
Mellott is glad he could help. But as a flatbed truck rolled down his driveway carrying away his beloved Ford, he watched with mixed emotions.
“You have a soft spot for something you’ve had for 55 years,” he said.
He took solace in an open invitation.
“I’m welcome to go down any time and see it,” Mellott said. “It’s amazing how this came together.”
Chris Rosenblum can be reached at 231-4620. Follow him on Twitter@CRosenblumNews.