December 21, 2014
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LYFESTYLE
From Dear John Letter to HAPPY CAR DAYS
Joe Kernan
COOL CAR GUY: Peter Sacchetti regularly drives his unrestored 1971 Corvette. He likes the way the car shows its working life history in its faded paint. Peter drove a 1978 Corvette when he was a junior in high school, the envy of many a teenaged boy.

Ever since men went off to war and women stayed behind, the most dreaded wound a man could receive at the front was a Dear John Letter. So it was with Richard Sacchetti, except that the sweetheart he lost was his beloved 1962 Oldsmobile Starfire. It was a car he longed for since the first day he laid eyes on it in the early 1960s. It was the car he left at his Pawtucket home when he went off to Vietnam in 1967, believing it would still be there when he came back in a year. Imagine his heartbreak when he got a letter from his family telling him they sold the car.

“My father is the baby of six [children] and his mother was 47 when he was born,” explained Peter Sacchetti. “His dad was so sad when he [Richard] was overseas and the sight of his beloved ’62 Starfire brought his father to tears every time he saw it.”

Thinking of sparing the constant reminder of his son off doing battle in a foreign land, Peter’s aunts decided to sell the Starfire so that Peter’s grandfather was not so sad all the time.

“But my father, on the other hand, was not so happy when he received his Dear John Letter telling him so,” said Peter.

Fortunately, Richard returned from Vietnam and, even without his beloved Starfire, made a life for himself selling insurance and buying classic cars. It was only natural that Richard Sacchetti would offer insurance for classic and specialty vehicles through his broader based agency at 845 Post Road in Warwick.

“It allowed us to meet other people who loved cars and, because we are collectors ourselves, we know how our clients feel about their cars,” said Peter.

So, the Sacchetti family kept its heart close to the classic car business and managed to indulge their passion for classic cars and endear themselves to other “car guys,” a generic and gender-neutral term to describe people who care more than they should about four wheels, a motor and driving fast. Fortunately, the Sacchetti women shared their passion, at least to a point.

“My mother loves cars too,” Peter said, “but she also realized that she could have a few new living room sets” that came around the same time as a new classic.

So, now it’s 1991 and Richard Sacchetti is making a good living selling insurance and his painful memory of getting that Dear John Letter in Vietnam is fading when he gets a call from an old friend, a friend who knew how much Richard loved that Starfire.

“His friend, Lenny Azevedo, called him and told him he found my father’s Starfire in Arizona,” said Peter. “Not the same car but one exactly like it, with all the options of the first one. My father bought it, sight unseen.”

The red 1962 Oldsmobile is kept in a Warwick garage, along with other automobile restorations that have been done, are being done or will be done, including a convertible version of the ’62 Starfire. A look under the hood of the Starfire goes a long way toward explaining why a young car guy would regard it with near worship.

The '62 Oldsmobile Starfire featured a V8 that churned out 345, which, combined with a relatively light body, makes it a precursor of the “muscle cars” that would come later in the decade. The styling is Jetsons elegant, with a sleekness that echoed the lines of the Lockheed F-94 fighter of the same name and signified the start of America’s space age. The outside styling featured brushed-aluminum trim with elegant chrome details on the taillights and door handles over a generally swept-back posture that practically urged you to speed. The coupe was priced at $4,131. The Starfire convertible was priced at $4,744. The Sacchettis have both models and consider the cars precious beyond price, but it is the coupe that has become almost a totem.

“That car is as important to him as my sister and I are,” said Peter. “It’s part of our family and business now.”

Also part of the business and the hobby are several notable cars that are in various stages of reconstruction in their Warwick garage. One especially beautiful project is the low-mileage 1951 Lincoln Cosmopolitan that the Sacchettis bought from a collector in Governor Francis Farms.

“It still had the ‘suicide doors,’” said Peter, as he demonstrated.

The doors are hinged to the front and rear and open in the middle like French doors, exposing a generous space inside that few new luxury cars offer. It was as if Lincoln wanted the world to see that the same industrial might that saw the world through the World War was also capable of creating beautiful objects to be enjoyed in peace.

“The car is in almost perfect condition,” said Peter. “The only thing my father intends to do is replace the original fabric on the seats.”

The Lincoln is lushly refined and the Cosmopolitan is considered by many to be the “real Lincoln” of 1951, when other Lincoln models were based on the same chassis as the Mercury and Ford. It had a 125-inch wheelbase and cost around $3,900, which was a year’s salary for the average American at that time. Several sources say only 857 were made that year, a number far too small for a major automaker to conceive of today.

Another pet project is the 1967 Austin Healey 3000 roadster that is getting a ground up restoration, including a rebuilt original engine, new soundproofing and a refreshed paint job in Ice Blue, the color this particular car left the factory with. By an odd coincidence, Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” an online television show, features Seinfeld and British comedian Ricky Gervais bravely battling New York traffic in the very same year, model and color Healey that the Sacchettis hope to roll out this spring.

For people who are looking for some signs of generational discord between Peter and Richard, they are wasting their time. These guys agree on their business model and share the same passion for cars. There must have been many an envious classmate at Shea High School in Pawtucket when Peter came to school in a 1978 Corvette and the Corvette remains a favorite of Peter’s to this day. He currently drives a 1971 Corvette he says is all-original and, like most collectors, he has mixed feelings about restoring it.

“Many people like a car to show its history, the scars and the time they’ve come through,” he said. “But there will come a time when I have to fix it but, as they say, ‘It’s only original once.’”

Needless to say, the Sacchettis have learned a lot about classic cars by working on them, so when their national affiliate, American Modern Insurance Group, decided to do a build in Cincinnati, Peter was a perfect fit to participate in its social media project called “The Build.” It's a crowd-sourced rebuild of a classic 1965 Chevelle Malibu SS featured on Facebook and YouTube.

“It was great,” he said. “For years, you talk to people on the phone and get to know them but when you meet them in person and do a project like that, it makes it a lot of fun.”

Peter readily admits that he was not very enthusiastic about going into the insurance business with his father, which seemed

much too boring work for the young man.

“I don’t think I would have stayed in the business if my father didn’t start doing the classics insurance,” he said. “That part of the business is fun. You are dealing with people who are happy to see you, people who are getting insurance so they can take their toys out and play.”


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