STAMFORD — The black 1954 Mercury Coupe is one of two 1950s Mercury automobiles Jim Ferrara owns, he said Sunday. His love affair stretches back to his first car, a 1941 Mercury convertible he drove to school during the Eisenhower presidency.
“It’s just what I’ve always liked,” Ferrara said.
The 75-year-old also owns a 1950 Mercury Coupe he takes to car shows, noting the car is the same model driven by actor James Dean in the 1955 movie, “Rebel Without a Cause.”
Ferrara has upgraded the stock AM radio in the 1950 coupe to include a CD and cassette player so he can play his favorite tunes while driving around town or on road trips to other car shows, he said.
“When you get into one of these cars, you feel 16 years old again,” Ferrara said. “Listening to music like rock and roll is all part of that.”
Ferrara and fellow members of the Stamford-based Black Road Auto Club were among the more than 200 classic and vintage car owners parked behind J.M. Wright Technical High School Sunday for the school’s second annual Car and Motorcycle Show.
First- and second-place trophies, welded out of car parts, were awarded for pre-1959 and post-1960 cars, and in other categories.
Ferrara, a retired carpenter, and his fellow Stamford natives and 1960s era Wright Tech graduates John DeLelle, 74, and Frank “Butch” Macchio, 76, credited the school with giving them a means to make a living.
“It’s nice to see it revived and rebuilt,” Macchio, a retired electrician, said of the school. “I learned my livelihood here.”
“There’s a need for trades training,”said DeLelle, an heating, ventilation and cooling specialist. “If you have a trade, you can work almost anywhere in any state. But finding apprentices these days is a tough job.”
On Sunday, faculty and students from the school took part in open-house tours of the 200,000-square-foot school building that reopened in 2014, after a five-year shutdown. To bring the school’s automotive, nursing, digital media and building trade workshops up to date, the state invested $90 million.
Rubi Simon, 17, who was named a student of the month in her junior year at the school, said she is studying carpentry, which she said helps her access her creativity. She moved from the school’s automotive industry program before becoming interested in carpentry.
“I wanted to have a different experience of high school that went beyond just academics,” Simon said.
With an estimated 130 students enrolled as freshmen next September, school administrators are hoping to have a total student body of 500 in the school’s fourth year, Principal Eric Hilversum said.
Students at the school alternate six-day cycles of high school academic subjects with career-oriented training in spaces and workshops dedicated to plumbing, culinary arts and sciences, health technology, facilities management and tourism and hospitality.
“The important thing is this is no longer a life skills school,” Hilversum said. “It used to be a place where they sent kids who might be misbehaving or couldn’t handle academics. But all our students need to be proficient in math, science and technology, because their professions will demand it.”
Willow Hresko, 16, a sophomore at the school, is studying digital media, which includes diverse requirements like learning graphic design in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, television production skills and video editing.
“I basically like starting projects and being able to finish them, whether it is making a brochure or editing a video,” Hresko said. “It was a good decision for me.”
At the show, Jim Anderson, of Norwalk, used the flatbed of his 1971 green Chevrolet El Camino to display two large dioramas he built — one featuring sightseeing stops on the former federal highway Route 66, from Chicago to California, and another including dozens of Matchbox cars associated with famous films and TV shows like “The Munsters,” and “Grease.”
Anderson said he began building the dioramas two years ago to fill the flatbed of the El Camino, and to help spur conversations during car show visits.
Anderson said he chose the car because its “half car, half truck” design is interesting and because so many were produced between 1959 and 1986, it is less of a “big dollar,” car to maintain.
“It is nice to come out here and meet people who have a passion for old cars,” Anderson said. “It’s a community that you become part of.”