Neil Ottaviano, a clay sculptor at General Motors, bought an amazingly decrepit 1962 Austin Healey Sprite from a Pontiac, Michigan junkyard, and spent months turning it into a bed for his son. The transformation is incredible. Check it out.
“It’s the size of, like, a bed,” you can hear my former coworker Kristen Lee say about the Sprite in our video walk-around of the U-Pull And Save salvage yard in Pontiac, Michigan. It was unintended foreshadowing, as a little over a month after Kristen and I hosted our video, Ottaviano’s friend was out at that very yard looking for parts. He showed Ottaviano some images of his January Easter Egg Hunt.“He was showing me pictures, and I was like ‘What’s that in the background?’” Ottaviano told me over the phone. “And we looked at it, and I was like: ‘That looks like a little Austin Healey.’ So that’s kinda how I found it.”
Ottaviano had been looking for a car to build into a bed for his three year-old son, who is apparently “obsessed with cars.” Ottaviano told me he’d considered a 1947 Chevy, but it was too large. This Austin Healey in the background of his buddy’s junkyard photo would be perfect, though it’d definitely require lots of work.
Getting the little British roadster out of the yard was a tall task on its own. The clay modeler told me that shortly after he decided to pull the trigger, he headed to the salvage yard with a trailer, only to be denied the chance to buy the whole vehicle. “They wouldn’t sell me the car because it’s a salvage title,” Ottaviano explained to me.
“What if I just cut the car in half, can I have it then?” Ottaviano asked the yard’s manager, who gave the approval. “So I wind up going out there on that cold wintery day,” he told me, “and nine Sawzall batteries later...that’s how I got it.” What he wound up with after arduously toiling on the icy day was a vehicle in awful shape (see above). As Ottaviano began digging into the convertible further, he realized that the decrepitude was more than just surface-deep.
“Once I dove into the car, I couldn’t believe how much body filler was on this car,” he told me. “Once I started stripping it to get down to metal, especially up on the front on the top of the front fender, I must have pulled off—no exaggeration—it had to be an inch and a half of bondo.” The good news is that the metal underneath seemed fine, so Ottaviano figures the bondo was just there because a crash had caused the entire front end to come out of alignment, causing panel fitment issues.
Some parts of the car, though, were really nasty. “There’s no metal left in some areas to even weld,” he said, mentioning cardboard, burlap, and fiberglass used to patch up certain sections of the machine.
To start the build, Ottaviano began with the mattress. “I took the mattress, I put it on the floor in the shop, and I’m like ‘How do I get a car around this?’” From there, he built a rectangular structure with a flanged top (for safety) and steel legs at bottom with wood feet. Bolted to that frame is the car’s body, which required some heavy “massaging” to get it into the shape you see below.
“I took out I think eight inches out of the width,” the GM employee told me, saying he reduced overall length from roughly 11 feet down to eight. “So really the only thing that’s still left is part of the rear and part of the front fenders, and basically I cut everything else out, and I refabbed the whole body side because I moved the wheel opening,” he explained over the phone.
“I really kept, like, where the turn signals are, the headlight bucket, and the deck-lid opening—then I remade the deck-lid because that all opens and closes.” Yes, you read that right: The trunk is still functional, and acts as a dresser. That’s just awesome.
As you can see in the images above, the bed is all-metal, and only has body filler on certain parts to smooth out the shape. There’s a bit more in the rear driver’s side quarter panel area, due to a large dent that existed before. “I had to re-hammer and dolly whatever metal I did end up keeping,” Ottaviano told me.
There’s a lot of clever custom fabrication work here, much of which is what Ottaviano refers to as “hotrod tricks.” For example, the front bumper is the factory Austin Healey bumper, but it’s been flipped upside down and cut into a number of pieces before being stitched back together.
“I made it more like what would have been on a ‘54 Chevy, you know how it wraps around the front end,” he told me. “it was cut in the middle, and then I actually turned it upside down, and then I cut it in three places so you’d get that feeling if it wrapping around.”
As for the rear, he says he was inspired by a ‘49 Buick rear bumper, in that it “wraps around the ends.” The bumper is actually from a 1952 Chevy, and it’s been cut up and sectioned just like the front bumper.
You can see in the image above that rear bumper wrapping around the pontoon-esque body sides just below the stock Austin Healey taillights. Those lights, and the headlights, by the way, are regular 115-volt bulbs, like Christmas lights.
The grille has 1954 Chevy Corvette grille teeth with a bronze-colored mesh behind them. The chrome fender moulding is from a 1952 Chevy Styleline Deluxe, and the white-wall tires are actually 13-inch trailer tires with Flex Seal adhered to them to make them look like real whitewalls. In the middle of the rubber donuts are surprisingly cool eBay hubcaps, which hide four lug nuts that fasten the wheels bolt to an armature that hooks to the steel bed frame.
I was curious to know how Ottaviano’s son actually gets into the bed. Apparently he enters the front, and slides off the side. That makes sense, as climbing up over those pontoon-esque sides would be tricky, and who wants to crawl all the way back to the front to the car to get out?
It’s an awesome bed, and the fact that it originated as a crappy old Austin Healey whose rusty floorboard hole my colleague Kristen had to help me get my stuck foot out of is remarkable.
What an awesome bedroom—and incredibly talented dad—this child has.