AUBURN – The whitewalls came in a can, brushed onto tires with house paint. The bumpers, lights and steering wheel were discovered in a salvage yard. And the body was made of wood, cut from an image projected upon a wall.

Yet, the baby-blue title character of “’65 Mustang” looks real, if you squint a bit.

“I want to take it out just once,” said Jake Spellman, an eighth-grader who helped build the car for the play at Auburn Middle School.

It almost doesn’t matter that the wheels don’t touch the floor and the steering wheel – one of the few real parts in the prop – is connected to nothing.

It feels real, he said.

“It’s fun to watch these kids pretend they’re driving,” said Liz Rollins, the school’s director of music and theater.

Of course, not one is old enough to have a license. Their prop – the play’s only prop – goes a long way to keep the illusion alive.

The show chronicles a single car in five vignettes. Each is set in a different decade: the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and 2000s.

The full-scale model took about six weeks to build, beginning with plans drawn by Rollins’ brother, an engineer. Rollins, several parents and kids, including Jake and his dad, Rob, built the car on weekends.

Most of the kids helped. They painted the seats, screwed knobs onto the glove box and trunk, installed mirrors and attached Mustang logos to the tire rims.

Eighth-grader Jesse Williams was forced to paint on the whitewalls three times. The reason: The tires kept falling off and cracking the paint.

It all works for the crew and cast of 35.

The kids portray people who drive, ride and live in the car, which changes from shiny, new Ford to rusty relic to restored beauty.

Some of the crew also get on the stage, in the form of a jump-suited pit crew that ages the car between vignettes.

It’s not hard work, but it smells, crew member Claire Ross said. To create the illusion of rust, the kids use barbecue sauce.

It all cleans off for the final act. Each show ends with a pristine car, one that neither Rollins nor the kids wish to tear apart when the curtain falls after Sunday’s last show.

Perhaps the car will be raffled off or loaned out for another show, she said. If somebody were doing a version of “Grease,” it would be perfect.

“It’d make a great ‘greased lightning,’ ” Rollins said.


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