Students build car for senior internship

Not every senior internship takes place in an office. For Wilton High School students Harrison Toll and Alex Ackerman, the last four weeks of high school were spent building a car from the ground up at Speed Sport Tuning in Danbury.
A leftover Factory Five kit car that Toll’s father had lying around sparked the idea. It was for a replica of the discontinued Daytona 65 Coupe model — a race car. There were only six original Type 65 Coupes ever made.
“Despite the fact that the design never entered production, those six cars ... became symbolic of the end of an era,” reads a letter signed by Factory Five President Dave Smith on Factory Five Racing manufactures component kits for six models of race car.
According to Toll, the original 65 Coupe was built by Americans to compete with Ferraris in the 24 Hours of Le Mans — “probably the world’s best-known automobile race,” in the words of the Encyclopaedia Britannica editors.
Toll and Ackerman planned their internship around two criteria.
“One: We wanted to have a cool car. Two: We wanted to learn the inner workings of automobiles in general,” said Toll.
The process
The duo worked for four hours each day, assembling paneling, rivets, electrical components and brake lines.
“A lot of building is thinking ahead,” said Toll, to which Ackerman agreed, pointing out that although there may be a perfect place for a part, putting it there without considering the entire design can be counterproductive in some cases.
“Several times, I wanted to put something somewhere, but Harrison warned that if we did, we wouldn’t be able to put something else in. It all had to be in order,” said Ackerman.

A father’s influence

Ackerman and Toll spoke highly of one another. According to Toll, Ackerman did the most work on the vehicle. According to Ackerman, Toll is the one with the engineering background that enabled him to put in the work he did.
Toll’s father was an engineering major at Purdue, and an engineer in the Navy for five years. He engineered an oil tanker in Mississippi that now makes regular runs up and down the Gulf Coast.
According to Toll, his father is more of a businessman nowadays, but he retained engineering as a hobby throughout his adult life. For instance, he kept an unfinished Cessna 310 monoplane as an ongoing project for years.
Toll’s father also had an old, disassembled 365 Porsche. Toying with that Porsche was what gave Harrison Toll his general engineering know-how.
“Every Sunday,” began Toll, “my father and I would head into the garage and piece together anything we could. We never had an overarching design plan; we just put things together. This goes here; that goes there — that sort of thing. It doesn’t sound like much, but I learned a lot from those Sundays.”

A learning process

If senior internships are meant as rehearsals for the real world, then Ackerman and Toll’s was a success. In addition to experiencing a technical profession, the friends learned a valuable life lesson. In the same way that life sometimes throws curveballs, vehicle construction can bring about unexpected problems.
“Things don’t go to plan,” said Toll of his experience. Whether it is missing parts or incorrect instructions, building a car is never a clear-cut process.
“For example,” said Toll, “the manual included in the kit was for a different model. We were able to reference the manual for some of the building process, but for most of it we were left to our own devices.”
Ackerman agreed with Toll’s observation that plans are never set in stone, pointing out they ran into trouble with acquiring the proper tools.
“At one point, we needed to drill a hole five-eighths of an inch in diameter through thick sheet metal. When we went to do it, we realized that we were working with a half inch drill bit. So, naturally, we went out and picked up a five-eighths bit. When we got back we found that our drill wouldn’t accommodate five-eighths bits!”
“So,” he continued, “we resorted to drilling a half inch hole, and then we ground away the difference.”
“First,” said Toll, “we went at it with little files, which was a pain; then we switched to a Dremel grinder. The whole process took upwards of three hours.”
“We broke a couple of bits along the way,” added Toll with a laugh.

What’s next for the car

The plan is to get the car driving. Ackerman and Toll are not finished yet.
The car needs an engine and transmission, as well as a wiring harness, which, as put by Ackerman and Toll, is the greatest challenge to install.
“Putting in the wiring harness is the hardest part. In fact, Factory Five knows that it is the hardest part, and they have someone who comes around and helps people like us with a thing like that. We’re going to be contacting him in the coming weeks,” said Toll.
Speed Sport Tuning will tune the wheels once the car is finished.
Toll plans to take the car to college his junior year. He also expressed interest in bringing it by Caffeine & Carburetors — a gathering of automotive enthusiasts that occurs six times a year at Zumbach’s Gourmet Coffee in New Canaan — once it is finished and driveable.
“It’s his car,” said Ackerman in jest. “I’m just happy to have helped build it. I’ll get my chance to drive it soon.”

What’s next for the graduates

Ackerman will attend Boston College in the fall. He plans studies related to business. Interestingly, he came to the internship late because he had to take the AP microeconomics exam at Wilton High School.
Like his father, Toll will attend Purdue in the fall, to pursue a degree in a similar field.