- The Washington Times - Friday, May 12, 2000

There's an all-purpose garage in rural St. Mary's County, Md., that enjoys a reputation of being able to fix anything from a heavy truck to a forklift, bulldozer or passenger car.

Occasionally, someone will drop off an antique car for restoration at Billy Cusic's Mechanic Service Inc. in Chaptico. Billy Cusic can handle restoration tasks, too.

A few years ago a 1956 Ford Fairlane arrived for a full restoration. It appeared to be in good condition until it was dismantled. That is when the need for a parts car became obvious.

A friend found a 1956 Ford Town Sedan for Mr. Cusic in neighboring Calvert County, saying that "from a distance" it appeared to have most of its original body parts.

Looks can be deceiving.

Mr. Cusic bought the relic and brought it home on the back of his truck. A lot of the car had been consumed by the rust monster, including the battery tray.

Out of curiosity Mr. Cusic wanted to see if the long-neglected old V-8 would run. Since the 292-cubic-inch engine appeared complete, he tied a battery in place, cleaned the four-barrel carburetor, checked the oil and gave it some fresh gasoline.

"On the second try the old engine sputtered to life," reports Mr. Cusic's wife, Joyce Ann. "In a few minutes it sounded like it was ready for a Sunday afternoon drive."

The engine ran so strongly that Mr. Cusic agonized over whether to take the car apart or to restore what Mrs. Cusic considered a "basket case."

Almost everyone Mr. Cusic solicited for an opinion on the subject opted for the parts car being used for parts.

Mr. Cusic decided otherwise, deciding to bring his parts car back to life. Mrs. Cusic and the garage secretary, Carol Wheeler, spent the next month trying to find parts for both cars.

The customer's Ford had priority and became a show winner. Mrs. Cusic says her husband's Ford became a box car; a box of parts here and a box of parts there.

Since the "parts car" was black with a white top, Mrs. Cusic suggested they make it into a police car. Mr. Cusic agreed even though that meant turning a top-of-the-line Fairlane into a bottom-of-the-line Mainline, skipping the midrange Customline altogether.

Factory-built sheets found beneath what was left of the seats indicated the Ford was an original California car. A like-new 1956 dime was also found under the seat.

Mrs. Cusic's research through several antique police car books finally located several pictures of black and white 1956 Ford California police cars. Now they had a pattern in which to mold their car.

"We decided this would not be a show car, but as close to the original police car as we could make it," Mrs. Cusic says.

As the car started to take shape Mr. Cusic's cousin, Ken, a corporal in the St. Mary's County Sheriff's Department, mentioned how unique it would be if his bride-to-be were to arrive at the church in an antique police car. The wedding was only a few months away, but that gave the Cusics an incentive.

The Cusics' son, Johnny, fabricated a unique wiring harness to accommodate the extra police lights, radio and radar. The headlights alternately flash when in the pursuit mode.

Various friends helped find a combination siren/red light unit for the right front fender, a period Motorola two-way radio with a whip antenna and what Mrs. Cusic calls "the crowning glory": a working red bubble light for the top of the car.

A working Mk VI A Speedalyzer was located, rechromed and mounted on the outside of the left rear door with the corresponding display unit mounted below the dashboard. "You just set it for the speed you want," Mr. Cusic says, "and when a speeding car goes by, it buzzes."

A spotlight was installed to add a touch of authenticity. Magnetic signs were made that read: "Deputy Sheriff" and "Prisoner in Transit."

Mrs. Cusic used the St. Mary's County Sheriff's Department emblem as a model when she created the design to adorn each front door.

"From start to finish it took nine months," Mr. Cusic says. The morning of the wedding the finishing touches were accomplished. "That was the maiden run for our 'parts' car," Mrs. Cusic recalls.

The bride made her grand entrance after Mr. Cusic delivered her to St. Francis Xavier in Compton, Md. with siren wailing and red lights flashing.

Mr. and Mrs. Cusic have several other antique cars but the police car is the one in which to have fun. The couple even have semiauthentic uniforms to wear at car shows.

The Ford was one of 224,872 such models built and sold new for $2,093. While it is not particularly rare, it ranks high in the fun factor.

The overhauled engine still runs strong and easily handles the 3,219-pound bulk of the car. The healthy growl rumbling out of the dual exhausts is barely muffled by steelpack mufflers.

Don't be alarmed if you see an antique black and white in your rear-view mirror this weekend. It may be the Cusics on the way to the antique police car show in Fairfax City, Va., scheduled for tomorrow.

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