30 October 2006

From Blacksmith Shop to Restoration Shop

The Old Stillwater Garage is a well-known restoration shop located in the rural northwestern part of New Jersey. The shop, owned by veteran car collector Lou Calasibetta, turns out both 100 percent original concours-quality restorations and custom cars that have been featured in numerous national magazines.

The building that the business operates in started out as a blacksmith shop in the late 1800s. The building survived through the horse-and-buggy era and later became known for expert collision repairs, custom paint work, restorations and modifications. Calasibetta likes to joke that OSG transitioned from horse shoes to bias-ply tires to whitewall radials, and from bits and bridles to rolled-and-pleated seats.

“Louie” – as most old-car hobbyists know him – established the current business in 1980 as a shop that does complete stock, custom and street rod restorations. Today it handles all aspects of vehicle restoration, except the re-trimming of interiors and chrome plating. “We do things the old-fashioned way” is the shop’s motto.

Calasibetta’s introduction to the old-car hobby in the 1970s reflected his personal interest in Pontiacs, and the Indian-logo brand is a specialty of the house. However, the shop has turned out other show cars like the prize-winning Chevys and Fords that are detailed below. The shop is also happy to perform general maintenance on vintage vehicles.

Several custom cars completed by the Old Stillwater gang have put the shop “on the map.” A famous 1960 Pontiac called the “Golden Indian” is one. This heavily customized hardtop was originally built by the famed Alexander Brothers when the car was brand new. It came to the shop in very sad shape. Louie’s staff carefully researched the car so it could be restored to look exactly the same as the day it left the Alexander Brother’s shop in Detroit. Since its restoration, the car has been featured in Rodder’s Journal, Rod & Custom and Smoke Signals (the monthly publication of the Pontiac Oakland Club International).

Calasibetta has also built two famous customized Pontiac Safari station wagons. His 1957 “Surfari” featured a surfing wagon theme and reflected the attention to detail the shop is known for in both its restoration and custom work. The car was featured in Rodder’s Journal, Rod & Custom, Pontiac Enthusiast, Hemmings Rod & Performance and Smoke Signals. It took a Top 20 Customs award at Lead East and a string of other trophies across the country. The second Safari – a Lime Green ’58 edition – also took show awards and appeared in magazines. (See photos.)

For those preferring original cars, the Old Stillwater Garage turned out a Thunderbird and a Corvette that both drew high-level notoriety. The Seaspray Green ’57 T-Bird took the prestigious Gold Medallion Award at the 2002 Classic Thunderbird Club International convention and was elevated to senior status by that organization. The dual-quad ’58 “two-tops” Corvette was restored from the frame up and won 1st-place trophies at numerous Corvette shows.

“Even though we are a small shop, we do a large job on all of our projects,” Calasibetta said. “We strive to put detail into our engine compartments and frame work. We learned the importance of working this way from our background in restoring original cars and the lessons learned really help us build better, award-winning customs.”

Calasibetta loves working on cars but continues to be heavily involved in the hobby end of things. “This cozy garage-style shop has hosted many car club cruise-ins and other functions,” he pointed out. “The vintage atmosphere soothes the minds of many old-car buffs and makes us all remember way back to when American car culture was cool.”

Contact The Old Stillwater Garage at 973-383-2001.

John "Gunner" Gunnell is the automotive books editor at Krause Publications in Iola, Wis., and former editor of Old Cars Weekly and Old Cars Price Guide.

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