5 November 2013

Wicker Francis: The Design

Look at the before and after images of his 1960 Giulietta Sprint Speciale. He bought the car sight unseen from a man in Tennessee who promised that it "just needed to be put back together." Instead, a rusted-out husk of a car arrived with all the parts stuffed in the interior.

"It reminded me of a Thanksgiving turkey with all the gizzards shoved back inside," he jokes.

He can laugh about it now; after years of hard work, Francis has restored the car to a pristine condition.

"People are always asking me where I get my cars restored or worked on," Francis says. "I tell them I do it myself. It's a creative outlet - and it's hugely satisfying."

Francis grew up around cars, but he was fascinated as much by how they're put together as how they run. He never had any formal training, but he spent a lot of Saturday nights tinkering in the garage rather than chasing girls.

"I discovered that it was possible to take a car apart completely and make it right again by putting it back together the way it was meant to be."

And then he discovered Alfas. He bought a used 1974 GTV to commute to his first job working for a health care consulting firm, much to the chagrin of his colleagues who were driving Cadillacs and Oldsmobiles.

"You're not going to be able to fit your files in that thing," he remembers them joking. But his love affair with the marque had begun.

"Alfas have such beautiful engines," he said. "There's something quite special about the way Italians do things. They're such creative craftsmen."

His '74 GTV didn't fare well in Pennsylvania's tough winters, and snow and salt took a toll before an eventual accident. He went on to purchase another '74 GTV, only to be hit by a drunk driver, but his third'74 GTV was the charm. He took it completely apart and restored it the way it was meant to be -- and he still has it.

Why all the Alfas?

"I'm just crazy for its design - actually for all their designs: the lines, the stance, they way they make you feel when you sit in them," he explained. "Some people complain they feel cramped in Alfas, but they must be built for people with small legs and long arms, because they fit me like a glove."

At his suburban Philadelphia home, Francis has plenty of room in his self-described "garage mahal" for his cars and a loft for woodworking projects. He's since expanded his horizons beyond 1974 and added some other Alfas to his collection.

First was a 1960 Giulietta Spider that turned out be a Veloce. He took it down to its chassis, repainted the entire thing and put it back together. "It may even be better than the original now, but when you're being so meticulous, how can it not be?"

After taking a little break following his challenge with the SS, he's scored a 1967 Sprint GT once owned by Dean Batchelor, former editor of Road and Track. It's the actual car the magazine used in its 1967 tests. Now fully restored in its original green hue, he recently showed it at the Radnor Hunt Concours, where Francis' handiwork earned the "Debutante Radnor Award."

"I wouldn't buy a car that doesn't need work, because you never know what you're getting," he says. "Different people have different ideas about restoration."

Yes they do, Mr. Francis. They sure do.

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