The Raven is a custom car designed and hand built from scratch in the 1950’s by Arthur Bentas. Arthur grew up in Chelmsford, MA on the family’s chicken farm. It was here, in an old chicken coup, that he toiled for 9 years perfecting the Raven. Arthur only built one car in his lifetime, but what he built was considered one of the finest custom automobiles of its day. In 1959 Arthur completed the car and won the 1959 NHRA National Champion Custom Car Show in Detroit, Michigan. During that year and the following, he won over 25 awards with the Raven. Then, suddenly in 1961, he put the car on blocks and covered it in the back of his shop where is sat for 46 years.
My first encounter with the Raven was in the summer of 1959. I was 10 at the time and like many little boys, I was intrigued with all sorts of things mechanical. Arthur came over to our house with his custom car, that he had just built, to take my Dad and I out for a ride. I remember that the car was big, black, shinny, and it had no roof. I was sitting in a little luggage area behind the front seat. Arthur was driving the car, his girlfriend was next to him, and my dad was on the right side. We drove up Durant Street towards the turkey farm, took a left onto Beacon Street and headed towards Dracut for a country ride. I don't remember too many of the details but I do remember that I was wowed by the experience.
That would be my only ride in the Raven and it wasn't until a few years later that I would see the Raven again. I was at Arthur’s farm when he and my Dad were painting my mothers 50’ Studebaker and I got to see the Raven again. By that time the Raven was parked in the corner of the shop, with some of the chrome and other parts removed. I never thought too much of it then, but I guess by then the Raven had been “put away” into would turn out to be 46 years of hibernation.
I would see Arthur from time to time during the 60’s and 70’s. When he opened up a Honda motorcycle dealership I would visit him more often. I was then of driving age and had a motorcycle of my own. When my father passed away in 1971, Arthur was there but I saw less of him afterwards. In 1980 I moved into the same part of town as Arthur and I would stop by to see Arthur more often. We would talk of my Dad, look at the projects Arthur was working on, and I would sometimes get another glimpse of the Raven in the back of his shop.
As the 90’s approached I became more infatuated with the Raven. I would visit with Arthur and he would show me the car and we would talk about him restoring it. Arthur always had good intentions but other things always got in the way of restoring the Raven. I would often tell Arthur “If you ever get rid of the Raven, please consider selling it to me”.
Over a chat in Arthur’s back yard about 5 years ago, Arthur told me he was thinking of what to do with the Raven but it would be another 3 years for him to decide to actually part with the Raven. I ran into Arthur at Town Hall in May of 2007 and Arthur shocked me by telling me that he was ready to part with the Raven and I told him I would come by on the next day to talk with him about it. For the next 24 hours I could not fathom what was going to transpire and was most anxious to find out. The next day, when I went to see Arthur, we walked out to the shop and started to uncover the Raven. As each blanket and obstruction, like sheets of plywood leaning against it, were removed more of the Raven’s beauty started to show. Arthur was telling me in detail how he built things, where parts went, what needed to be done, and then he dropped the bomb “Joe, I want you to have the Raven”. My heart thumped like crazy and my brain spun like a top. All I could think of was that first ride in the Raven nearly 50 years prior and of riding in the Raven once again.
In July of 2007 my brother-in-law, Bob Dover, my wife Isabelle, and our friend Jeff Bernier moved the Raven from Arthur’s barn over to our house, a half-mile away. It was at this time, we got a real good look at the Raven and were able to assess its condition. Remarkably, it was in good “barn find” condition; gentle deterioration, no critical parts missing, no rot, just the effects of time wearing things out. However; a simple make-over was not going to do, it needed a full frame up restoration.
Due to another car restoration project and a construction project at our shop we had to put aside starting the Raven’s restoration until September 2008. What may seem like a crazy schedule, I had committed to Arthur to bring the Raven back to Detroit in 2009 to celebrate it’s 50th anniversary of winning the 1959 NHRA National Champion Custom Car Show. That meant we had only 6 months to get the Raven restored and it had to be of the same show quality that Arthur won the championship with. No pressure at all.
The restoration went along fine without too many problems that weren’t able to overcome. These are the restoration highlights.
As with any project of this magnitude, we got a ton of support from some really great friends who busted hump helping us get the Raven restored. Credits go to Gary Dascoli, Bill Douglas, Charlie Douglas, Bob Dover, Jay Lemarche, Darrell Lantco, Nico Landry, Frank Messere, Liz Small, and Joe Wood. Without their help we would have never made our self-imposed maniac schedule of only six months for this major restoration.
On March 6th, 2009 we unveiled the restored Raven to Arthur Bentas at the Detroit Autorama show and needless to say he was extremely happy. We chose Detroit as the place to show off the Raven for the first time since this is where Arthur won his most prestigeous award, the 1959 NHRA National Champion Custom Car Show. The Detroit Autorama show is by far the best hotrod show in the country and is also where the Ridler Award is given to the best newly-showncustom car. Since the Raven was previously shown, albeit 50 years ago, it was not eligable to compete for the Ridler Award. However, the Raven won 1st place in the Radical Custom Convertible class. Needless to say we were all extremely excited to have taken the top award in our class at the show. Even after 50 years, the Bentas Raven is still able to take top awards. Simply awesome.
For more information on the Raven or to obtain hi-res images, please contact Joe Germann at 978-618-2800
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