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The Raven

1959 NHRA National Champion Custom

2009 Detroit Autorama 1st Place, Radical Custom Convertible

Raven

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.

Custom Features of the Raven

  • Built on a 1939 Dodge chassis with 6-cyl L-head engine
  • Through the bumper dual exhaust
  • Hand made cowl section, floors, wheel wells, and inner panels
  • Side body panels are highly modifed Kaiser
  • Headlights suspended in custom made housing
  • Body sectioned over the frame 2-1/2 inches
  • Doors mounted to swing up to avoid curbs
  • Dash, roof, window garnish moldings, and hinge covers made of fiberglass
  • Trunk made from modified Chevy hood, Lasalle tire cover, and hand rolled steel
  • Chrome rocker panels and window frames made by hand
  • Stainless steel door thresholds and interior trim
  • Finished in Ditzler DDL-9200 Double Deep Black Lacquer
  • Full leather interior
  • Studebaker dash gauges wrapped in custom made bezels
  • Custom fabricated floating headlights
  • Tailights are Dodge trim and Desoto lenses
  • Hydraulic clutch with custom single gate column shift
  • Collapsable steering column
  • Emergency flashers

Click to View The Raven Images from 1959

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.

Click to View The Raven In Arthur's Shop May 2007

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.

Click to View Moving the Raven from Arthur's Barn to Our Shop

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.

Click to View The Raven Under Restoration

    1. Frame, Chassis, and Driveline: We thouroughly cleaned and painted the frame and installed all new brakes, brake and fuel lines, shocks, and wheel bearings. The original L-head 6 cylinder motor was totally junk. Water rotted out several cylinder walls so we procured a replacement from a 50 Dodge and had it totally rebuilt. At the same time, the radiator, transmission, driveshaft, and rear end were also totally rebuilt.

 

    1. Body Prep: After assessing the condition of the body we decided to not strip it to bare metal but to carefully hand sand it down and then start from there. We wet sanded the car multiple times with 180-grit working our way to 400-grit sandpaper until we had it down to a workable foundation. I think we must have blocked it our 8-10 times at least. Each time was full days work. We only used the nitro-stan red lead as filler and only used lacquer-based primers to repair the body. Absolutley no machines or plastic body fillers were used in the body prep work.

 

    1. Body finish: We chose to use the same materials and methods that Arthur originally finished the body with and that meant it was going to be old-school lacquer based. Arthur gave me 4 gallons of 50-year old Ditzler DDL-9200 double deep black paint, which we are going to attempt to use. As it turned out we felt it was too risky to use 50-year old paint, even though a test panel seemed fine. We were able to buy some brand new DDL-9300 black lacquer paint. With about 8 heavy coats of lacquer paint on the body, it was a lot of wet sanding and buffing to finish the body. We sanded it down with 1000 grit, buffed it out with 3M compound and finised it off with Meguiars #3, followed by #7. There is probably 100 hours in the post-paint sanding and buffing but we think well worth the work to obtain the original finish.

 

    1. Interior: At first we attempted to recondition the leather but that proved to be a problem since the leather was hard and stiff from being stored in the barn attic for so many years. We contacted about 10 leather suppliers to try to match the color. Every sample was wrong; the turquoise color samples were just too blue for Arthur’s liking. Fortunately, we were able to get three large hides died in Argentina to match the original color. It was stitched exactly the same as the original.

 

    1. Chrome: The Raven has extensive chrome including large rocker panels that run the full length of the body. The main reason Arthur put the car away was due to failing chrome on the car. The original shop that did the chrome did not properly apply the chrome. Time really took its toll on the metal and the chrome restoration was a huge project in itself.

 

  1. Other: We put all new side glass in the car, new weather stripping, and refurbished the wiring where needed. The metal dash back-panel needed refinishing, but removable and disassembly of the dash was out of the question due to time constraints, so we carefully refinished it in the car.

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.

Click to View The Restored Raven

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.

Click to View The Raven at Autorama

For more information on the Raven or to obtain hi-res images, please contact Joe Germann at 978-618-2800


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