Her True Colors, in Plain View

EAST MEADOW, N.Y. — Over a lunch of grilled cheese sandwiches at Panera Bread on Hempstead Turnpike here, Kim Schreier told the stories behind the tattoos that, she said, covered some 60 percent of her body.

“This is my military arm,” she said, raising her left arm. “There’s a P-40 fighter plane and battleship from World War II. The ship is for my grandfather. He served on one.”

The tattoos on her back, covered by a sweater that spring day, include caskets, skulls and other macabre imagery, she explained. Many were done by Tattoo Ritual, a shop in Farmingdale.

“And this is my hot rod arm,” Ms. Schreier, 26, said, switching sides to point out a motorcycle she once owned, a pinup girl, an American flag and her black 1951 Ford Club Coupe.

The Ford replaced a ’53 Chevy project that she finished but felt little love for.

“I spent more time pushing it than driving it,” she said.

Ms. Schreier said that as a child she showed a knack for mechanical things. But she began working on cars only after making friends with other enthusiasts in high school, when she was 16.

That was also when she walked into Long Island Veterinary Specialists in Plainview seeking work. “I got a job bathing dogs, and I’ve been there ever since,” she said.

Ms. Schreier works a midnight shift, helping to care for animals recovering from surgery. At the home she shares with her 86-year-old grandfather — her grandmother died at the end of last year — she cares for a menagerie of rescues that includes two dogs, a cat, a rabbit and a dove.

“They all get along,” she promised.

Walking to her 63-year-old Ford in the parking lot after lunch, Ms. Schreier apologized for not having the car washed.

“It’s a satin finish, and it really shows water spots from the rain,” she said.

The exterior, which looks largely original aside from its chrome wheels, cloaks the many modifications that increase performance in addition to making the car safer and more reliable.

The biggest change became obvious as soon as she turned the ignition key and the engine started with a rumble. The source of the thunder is a high-performance version of the 302-cubic-inch V8 that served as a mainstay of Ford vehicles from the late 1960s and into the early 1990s.

“It’s got about 375 horsepower — the Flathead never had more than 110,” she said, referring to the old car’s original V8.

“The exhaust runs to about the middle of the car, with Cherry Bomb mufflers,” she said, clearly satisfied with the raucous bellow. “I had a hot-rodded ’68 Falcon that was even louder. The neighbors’ windows would shake when I started it.”

She grappled with the large, thin-rimmed steering wheel, using both hands to maneuver out of the parking lot.

“I love that she has manual steering,” said Ms. Schreier, who usually refers to her car in the feminine, sometimes with a throwback slang term.

“I call her The Broad,” she said. “When my friends call to ask if I’m going to a show or cruise night, I’ll say, ‘Yup, I’ll be there with The Broad.’ ”

She also likes that her car was built with an automatic transmission, though more for its relative rarity than the ease of driving; 1951 was the first year that Ford models were offered with the self-shifting Ford-O-Matic. Ms. Schreier’s car has been upgraded with a C-4 transmission, a lighter 3-speed automatic introduced by Ford in the 1960s.

Among other hot rod modifications, Ms. Schrier lowered her car three inches for a hunkered-down stance. She credits helpful friends like Anthony Galvin, along with the Long Island shops of P & G Motors and Continental Car Care.

Typical of cars from this era, the Ford’s interior seems austere, even though its Custom nameplate indicates it was a step above the base model — called, oddly enough, the Deluxe. A simple painted metal dashboard houses a speedometer, a clock and the original AM push-button radio. A two-panel windshield, common on early 1950s cars, conveys a vaguely aeronautical feel. Its metal trim molding, secured by exposed screws, has an industrial look also characteristic of the period.

The floors are bare metal, and Ms. Schreier intends to leave them that way: Carpets, she said, would muffle the reverberating engine beat inside the cabin. The bench seats have been reupholstered in a patterned fabric, and there’s a tachometer clamped to the steering column.

A cherry ornament hangs from the rearview mirror, and the cherry theme is repeated on a cushion that Ms. Schreier uses as a booster. The cherries are a homage to “Cherry Bomb,” the 1976 song by the Runaways, an all-female band featuring one of Ms. Schreier’s favorite musicians, Joan Jett. (The song’s title is tattooed on Ms. Schreier’s chest.)

Other favorites she plays on the Ford’s modern audio system include country stars who have cultivated out-of-the-mainstream personas, like Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings.

Even so, she also enjoys driving her rowdy Ford to Long Island beaches for quiet time to read — usually World War II stories. Her current book is “Devil at My Heels,” the 1956 autobiography of Louis Zamperini, an American runner at the 1936 Berlin Olympics who survived a plane crash in the Pacific Ocean only to be captured by the Japanese and be subjected to two years of brutal treatment as a prisoner of war.

“I’m an old soul,” Ms. Schreier said, acknowledging an observation that she seems beyond her years. “Most of my friends are older than I am. I was raised by my grandparents, so their generation was an influence. They taught me to work for everything I wanted. Nothing was just handed to me.”

No wonder, then, that the cars of an older generation hold special appeal for Ms. Schreier.

“I’m drawn to ’50s cars for the airplane styling,” she said.

She bought the Ford from Paul Cairo, a friend who had lobbied her to instead choose his customized 1940 Chevy.

“It was too flashy for me,” Ms. Schreier said of the Chevy. “It was street-rodded, with an electric paint job and lots of chrome. I prefer a more stripped-down, bare-bones look. When I saw the Ford in the corner, blending in with the plants, I knew it was my ride.”

Though the Ford had only two previous owners, it needed a great deal of work. The paint was chipping away, and there was considerable rust in the rear wheel wells and beneath the driver’s door. Five years ago, Ms. Schreier paid $5,000 to restore the body; the few chrome trim pieces that are missing will be installed when she locates the correct fasteners to attach them.

In fact, she was more concerned about the car’s mechanical condition.

“The cloth wiring was 60 years old and frayed, a fire waiting to happen,” she said. “And it still had the original brake system. I had to stand on the pedal in the hills.”

With help from a friend, Ms. Schreier spent four days replacing the wiring and 6-volt electrics with a 12-volt system. She upgraded the brakes with a modern dual circuit master cylinder and front discs.

“Now she stops on a dime,” she said.

Ms. Schreier is especially pleased with the body style. The Club Coupe was one of several two-door models Ford offered for 1951. It used a shorter roofline and a longer trunk than the traditional two-door sedan or the Victoria pillarless hardtop that was new that year — and sold in lower numbers than either of those models.

“I love the bullet theme,” Ms. Schreier said, pointing out styling elements that are repeated in the grille, taillights and steering wheel hub.

Ms. Schreier drives her Ford in all seasons, in clear weather, though her daily transportation is a black Ram pickup. She has friends in the Rumblers, a New York City-based international hot rod club, and the Miss-Fires, a women’s motorcycle club in Brooklyn.

But she is not a member of either.

“I like to do things on my own,” she said.

On a sunny spring afternoon, Ms. Schreier enjoys nothing more than aiming her boisterous bullet across Long Island’s suburban landscape, accompanied only by her music.

“I like to take it down to Ocean Parkway and open it up a bit,” she said. “It’s my therapy.”

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