FORT BENNING, Ga., (Oct. 28, 2015) -- For many Soldiers - both American and international - having a hobby outside of work is crucial to leading a balanced life. Some Soldiers play football, some take cooking lessons and some collect and restore old cars.
Australian Sgt. Maj. Damien Perdon, sergeant major for the Directorate of Training, and Sgt. Maj. Stephan Engel, German Army Liaison at the Maneuver Center of Excellence, are two of the old-car collectors. Their shared hobby has given each of them the chance to travel and meet new people, and continues to provide them with work outside of the Army.
So how did their interest in classic cars start? What are they currently working on? And why do they continue to do it?
"My dad was a mechanic and a tow truck driver back when I was a young lad, so I grew up around cars and was always helping him with them - mechanically, with spray paint, whatever I could as a young teen," Perdon said. "After that he went into selling cars, which then continued for me, and then I joined the army and was old enough to buy my own cars."
"As for me, my whole life I have always done something to balance out my Soldier's life, and before I met my wife skydiving was my hobby," Engel said. "But with a Family, I couldn't do it as often. So I began looking for a hobby to pursue where I could take my Family along, and turned to American cars
"My wife's Family is into American cars, and part of our social life back in Germany became going with our friends and Family to American car shows and having a great time over the weekend."
For the sergeants major, the search for the perfect car began when they found out they would be stationed in the United States. Each of them spent months combing the Internet, trying to find the right car for their specific needs. In both cases, their wives gave them a budget and said they had the full support of their Families.
Eventually, Perdon found the car he was looking for -a 1967 Ford Mustang GTA fastback.
"It took me a while, but soon after we got to the U.S. I ended up finding my car in a car dealership up in Iowa," Perdon said. "I purchased it from there and shipped it down.
"The car is everything I wanted, except for the color. I originally wanted a presidential blue with black interior, but finding this car in original condition is almost impossible and I realized I needed to adjust what I could actually achieve within budget. And the car I have is 'red on red;' red with red interior. It has grown on me though, and I love my car."
Engel's wife ended up finding his car, a 1982 Ford F-100 short-bed Flareside, and he purchased it from a young Soldier at Fort Benning who bought it as a project and ended up without the time to work on it.
"I chose the '82 Ford pickup for two reasons: one, the price of the actual car and the amount of work were both within my range and abilities," Engel said. "Two, the Ford F-100 was discontinued in '83 and this is one of the last cars that was produced as an F-100. It also has more amenities for modern cars, so more manageable to work on myself."
Although classic cars are a hobby for both men, Perdon uses his for competitions and Engel uses his as an on-going restoration project.
"The most important feature of my car is that it is an all original vehicle - it has the same engine, transmission, differential and air conditioning unit that came with the car in 1967," Perdon said.
"Having said that, it has been restored; it went through a restoration period in the early 90s and was restored to concourse condition, which means every nut and bolt is exactly as it was when it came out of the factory in 1967. It's had a repaint but even the paint matches original paint codes and the original color."
Perdon's car came with a long and detailed history, along with a Ford Marti report that outlines exactly what came with the vehicle in 1967. When flipping through the report you can see each and every item still remaining on the vehicle.
"I've taken my car to two Mustang national competitions, one last year in Savannah where I got a silver award and one this year in Augusta where I got a gold award," Perdon said. "And the key takeaway for me has been that my particular model and style of car, when you go to shows, you no longer see them in original condition."
Engel bought his truck as a do-it-yourself project, and says he spends much of his free time working on the vehicle.
"With car projects, there are three types of people," Engel said. "The first ones give up because they are simply in over their heads. The second ones run out of money and time and then sells the car. And the third, a very small amount, actually go though the whole project and finish it. And I want to belong in the third category.
"However, not being a mechanic, I didn't want to jump into something that would be over my possibilities when it came to restoration and working on it. So my truck is an ongoing project, and I do as much as I can myself. I only use professional mechanics for some things, like security or safety issues.
So far, I have replaced the engine with a 351 Windsor from a 1984 Ford car, which is a suitable swap for the less than desirable engine the truck originally came with. I upgraded the brakes from regular to power, put in a new fuel tank, cleaned up the frame and put on new wheels. Next I will work on electric wiring and suspension.
"And after that, I want to do some bodywork and repaint," he said.
Engel said one of the best resources for working on his truck has been the Fort Benning Self-Help center. Allan Singleton and Don Sebastian, along with all the other mechanics, are "phenomenal and invaluable resources" who are always willing to lend a hand or give advice.
"That's another valuable resource you don't always have overseas," Engel added. "Old gear heads or car enthusiasts who have practical knowledge about the way old cars work. Also the classic car communities, full of people who can help you fix eve the smallest problem, and are willing to freely help just because they love cars."
"It's the friendships outside of the military that you can make through owning a classic car that make the hobby even better," Perdon said. "And I think its important to have something, an outlet, to think about besides just work."