Bentleys to Buddhas: Vintage Car Shop Restores Temple Statue

After weeks of restoration, the statue, originally made in Sri Lanka, was brought out of the Exoticars workshop by co-owner Dave Ley.

Jessie Wardarski / AP

After weeks of restoration, the statue, originally made in Sri Lanka, was brought out of the Exoticars workshop by co-owner Dave Ley.

The main branches of Buddhism are often referred to as “vehicles” or paths of spiritual practice.

So it’s only fitting that when the monks at the Pittsburgh Buddhist Center needed a major restoration of its exterior Buddha statue, they turned to an auto restoration shop specializing in classic cars.

This partnership between ancient Asian spirituality and modern American craftsmanship recently came to fruition with the relocation of the newly renovated sparkling white statue to the central temple.

Workers pull the newly restored Buddha statue into the Exoticars paint booth.

Jessie Wardarski / AP

Workers pull the newly restored Buddha statue into the Exoticars paint booth.

With his eyes closed and seated in the lotus position, the Buddha endured weeks of painstaking work at Exoticars in the town of McCandless, north of Pittsburgh. The statue sat amid an array of vintage vehicles, from Bentleys and Corvettes to Porsches and a 1951 Ford pickup.

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Workers removed several coats of deteriorating paint and primer – a task that required precision tools when working on the Buddha’s hair, depicted by detailed curls.

Exoticars removed several coats of deteriorated paint and primer from the 15-year-old statue and repainted it, a process that took weeks.

Jessie Wardarski / AP

Exoticars removed several coats of deteriorated paint and primer from the 15-year-old statue and repainted it, a process that took weeks.

They also fixed cracks in the fiberglass, added a strip of metal to strengthen the base of the statue, and applied a new coat of white body paint, giving it a glassy sheen in the sun.

According to Dave Ley, co-owner of Exoticars, the repair job has fascinated customers as well as classic car enthusiasts who bring old hot rods and sports cars to the store’s Friday night happy hours.

“There is always something here that people are tracking progress on,” Ley said, and for a few weeks this fall, the Buddha “has been a big hit.”

The company also repaired cracks in the fiberglass and added a metal strip to strengthen the base.

Jessie Wardarski / AP

The company also repaired cracks in the fiberglass and added a metal strip to strengthen the base.

The Pittsburgh Buddhist Center practices the Theravada vehicle of Common Buddhism in Sri Lanka, where the monks originated and where the statue was made.

Paid for by a donor, the Buddha was first installed in 2006 at the temple’s previous location in Harrison Township, another suburb.

After the original paint began to deteriorate years ago, the monks applied new coats to the top as a temporary measure, said temple abbot Bhante Soorakkulame Pemaratana.

Classic and exotic cars that Exoticars usually works on a workshop space shared with the Buddah.

Jessie Wardarski / AP

Classic and exotic cars that Exoticars usually works on a workshop space shared with the Buddah.

But when they moved earlier this year to their current location in West Deer Township, also north of Pittsburgh, they started looking for a more permanent solution. A carpenter who had previously worked for the temple recommended the auto store.

The result, unveiled recently at the temple, is “so awesome” and “beyond my expectations,” Pemaratana said. He expressed his gratitude to Ley and his team for stripping the paint off by hand rather than using an electric sander, which could have damaged the statue.

“I also appreciate his courage in accepting this job,” said the abbot. “It’s beyond his comfort zone.”

Monks gather for the unveiling of a recently restored Buddha statue at the Pittsburgh Buddhist Center.

T. Sarath Fernando / AP

Monks gather for the unveiling of a recently restored Buddha statue at the Pittsburgh Buddhist Center.

Buddhists use such statues to help focus their devotions and contemplate the virtues of the founder of the religion.

According to Pemaratana, this represents the Buddha in a pose symbolizing samadhi, or stillness. The monks take him regularly to an annual festival celebrating the birth of the Buddha, a gathering that brings together the various Buddhist groups in Pittsburgh.

Pemaratana visited Exoticars for one of the Friday happy hours, delighting many people who he said had never met a Buddhist monk before.

A figurine of the Buddha now sits on the desk of Dave Ley, co-owner of Exoticars.

Jessie Wardarski / AP

A figurine of the Buddha now sits on the desk of Dave Ley, co-owner of Exoticars.

“They saw monks in the movies, but not a real monk,” said the abbot. “I am so happy for the relationship we have built.”

Ley too.

“We thought we were getting good karma,” he said.

Ley also tried out what could become a slogan for the store: “We work on everything from Bentleys to Buddhas. “


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