Down the end of a dusty dirt road in Palmyra, across from grazing Belted Galloway cows, Emery Pratt works tirelessly taking somebody else’s junk and turning it into treasure.
To say Pratt works on cars does a disservice to both his art and his passion. The 38-year-old is a restoration specialist, working almost exclusively on Ford Mustangs, and what he produces are show cars, “eye candy,” he said, not for street use.
These aren’t souped up hot rods with flames painted on the hood. These are the real enchiladas, completely restored to their original production status with authentic paint, parts and even tires.
For more than 12 years, Pratt has worked seven days a week at his business, Central Maine Mustangs, and it is paying off. He has garnered a nationwide reputation and national honors: his fully restored 1970 Boss 302 Mustang recently placed second in the country in a national competition in Sturbridge, Massachusetts.
“It was restored to 100 percent stock,” said Pratt, lovingly running his hand along the car’s canary yellow fender. “I’ve been offered $50,000,” he said, but the car is not for sale.
The restoration job is so complete that Pratt once drove 200 miles, one way, just to get a small linkage part for the clutch. “I ended up buying the whole car from the junkyard just for that one part,” he recalled.
Another one of his restorations, also a 1970 Boss 302 Mustang restored for a Waterville radiologist, was recently featured in the April 2004 issue of Hot Rodding magazine. “This Mustang is an ultimate achievement among the masses of poorly executed Mustang G-machine project cars,” the magazine assessed.
Next to his log cabin home, Pratt’s garage is filled with cars in various stages of restoration. To the untrained eye, it looks like a demolition derby gone wild. Authentic 1960s and 1970s parts are piled everywhere, as well as in the second story of the garage that houses everything from fenders and rims to stacks of 35-year-old tires.
Pratt estimates that he has owned 500
cars – nearly all Fords. “I’d rather walk than ride in anything but a Ford,” he joked. Between authentic parts and the dozens of ready-to-restore vehicles, Pratt estimates he has more than a half million in inventory, including 10 vintage Boss Mustangs.
When asked if his wife, Beverly, objects to his car passion, he said, “She hasn’t complained yet. She owns her own Mustang.”
Pratt began his life’s work when he was a teenager, under the tutelage of Mike Braley of Mike’s Auto Body in Pittsfield. “He is my inspiration,” said Pratt. “He has such a dedication to quality that he set the bar for me.”
The duo began restoring cars as a hobby 20 years ago but the demand for Pratt’s work grew so large that he needed to go into restoration full time. In 1992, he founded Central Maine Mustangs.
Pratt said he can only complete one to two total restorations a year. “You can fix a car up and make it look good,” said Pratt. “But it is wholly different to restore it to its original condition.” He does all the work himself, including parts fabrication and interiors. Braley still does the painting.
Pratt fell in love with Mustangs when he was 10 years old, riding his bicycle on Route 100 in Detroit.
“I heard this noise behind me and there was this maroon, 1969 Mach One Mustang coming at me about 100 miles an hour,” said Pratt. He pulled his bicycle off the road and watched, almost as if it was in slow motion, as the car passed him, blowing the hair on his head. “That was it for me,” he said, admitting he was instantly and forever in love with the car.
“They seem to connect people with their past. Besides, it grabs your attention. The Mustang is probably the best-selling Ford. It is rich in history.”
His business is on three levels: restoration, authentic and recreated parts sales and collision work. He does no advertising; all his customers are referred by word-of-mouth, his reputation for quality and attention to detail gaining him attention in the car world. “I get calls from all over the country,” he said. “I can’t imagine how some of these people find me.”
Currently he is restoring a 1971 Ford Torino, which he estimates will take about 900 hours. He is also working on a 1968 Shelby Mustang originally from Montana that is worth $75,000 before restoration and a 1993 Cobra Mustang with only 3,000 miles on it.
“I’ve bought cars and parts from California to Canada,” said Pratt. The walls of his garage are decorated with the license plates from 44 states from cars he has purchased or restored. Sometimes it takes him years to find just the part he wants. “I spent three months just tracking down the windshield for the Torino,” he said.
Three times a day he checks eBay and Internet sites, as well as trade publications to search for cars and parts. He’ll hang onto parts for 20 years, waiting for just the right car.
When he knows a part is becoming rare, he’ll often make and sell a reproduction. He recently bought a Boss 429 bracket on eBay for $300 and is now manufacturing a reproduction at $17 each.
“These cars are so sought after by collectors like Jay Leno, Tim Allen and Kevin Costner,” said Pratt. “That is my dream, to work full time, right from here, for one of these guys.”
Across the property from Pratt’s garage is a new foundation for a 50-foot-by-100-foot new garage. “It was going to be built this summer,” Pratt admitted. “But I bought a car instead.” It took him four years to broker the deal for a $30,000, 1970 Boss 429 Mustang that he will pick up later this month in New Jersey. “I can’t wait.”