Car painter takes his art to new heights

December 13, 1993|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,Staff Writer

An article in Monday's editions of The Sun stated incorrectly that Thom Lombardi is under contract to customize Donald J. Trump's personal helicopter. Proposals are being prepared, but no contracts have been signed. Also, Lou and Kathy inn, of Perry Hall, own the car that attracted Mr. Trump's attention. It was customized by Mr. Lombardi, whose correct age is 45.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Over the centuries, artists have found their wealthy patrons in palaces and castles. Thom Lombardi of White Marsh is no exception.

He found his patron at Trump Castle in Atlantic City, N.J., where he'd gone to show his gold-plated 1988 Corvette. Known as the Gold Nugget, the one-time muscle car with $90,000 worth of 24-karat gold plating caught the eye of "The Donald" himself -- mega-millionaire businessman Donald J. Trump.


Now Mr. Lombardi, 41, is under contract to customize Mr. Trump's personal Super Puma helicopter.

The two men met last month at the American Dream Pageant, a custom car, beauty and talent show Mr. Trump sponsored at his Atlantic City casino. These combined events are popular on the West Coast and Mr. Trump wanted to stage one here, said Mr. Lombardi, who won the custom car competition.

"He's very knowledgeable about cars and he's very easy to talk to, not snobby or anything, very down to earth," Mr. Lombardi said. "We spent about 30 minutes talking about cars and colors, then he turned to his bodyguard and asked him, 'Do you think he could do my project?' "

Mr. Trump explained that he wanted his French-built helicopter redone inside and out, "and he asked if I would be willing to do it," said Mr. Lombardi. "I said I'd like to look it over."

With that, Mr. Trump ordered his pilot to fly the chopper next morning from its base at Teterboro Airport in northern New Jersey to Atlantic City for Mr. Lombardi's inspection.

"It's a venture we haven't done before and it's going to be a high-profile job," Mr. Lombardi said.

Mr. Trump bought the French-built chopper in 1986. Currently painted black with red stripes and the name "Trump" on the sides, it can carry 10 passengers and two crew members. The interior is custom-fitted in leather and red oak with gold-plated fixtures and trim.

Mr. Lombardi said Mr. Trump wants the new livery to be red and black, with gold and white trim. He has started sketching designs using a silhouette of the chopper.

"I'm going to give him 30 to 40 paint schemes in different styles to choose from and different styles for the Trump name and his corporate logo," Mr. Lombardi said.

Steve Bell, 31, of Gaithersburg, who collaborated with Mr. Lombardi on the Gold Nugget, said he will design a new, "more upbeat" interior for the helicopter. The two men have won many prizes in custom-car competitions on the East Coast and as far west as Ohio.

Once Mr. Trump selects the design, probably next month, the helicopter will be flown to Newcastle Airport in Delaware, the closest airport with facilities to do the customizing job.

It will be stripped by Atlantic Aviation, Inc. and prepared for Mr. Lombardi's paints.

After the paint job, which will take about a week, Mr. Bell will take over, spending four to six weeks installing the new interior.

Atlantic Aviation will test all the interior materials to make sure they meet FAA standards for fire resistance, Mr. Bell said. For example, the 24 buckskin-colored cowhides for the interior surfaces -- including four chairs, two sofas and the two pilot seats -- must be treated with flame retardant.

And because Mr. Trump doesn't drink, the drink dispensers will be taken out of the passenger compartment to make more storage space.

"The wet bar and the microwave are going, too," Mr. Bell said.

Most of the red oak woodwork, such as fold-out tables and the partition separating compartments, is in good condition and will be refinished and trimmed in black walnut.

Richard H. Kimble, Mr. Trump's chief pilot, said the twin-turbine Super Puma is the only one of its kind in the United States and is the largest corporate helicopter in the country. The craft are common in Europe and often are used to fly people and equipment to off-shore oil rigs. He said the president of Mexico has several.

Built in 1984, the chopper flies at 140 knots and has a range of 560 miles, twice that of the average helicopter, said Mr. Kimble, who learned his trade in Vietnam.

The Gold Nugget, the classy Corvette that landed the job for the Baltimore customizers, belongs to Lou and Kathy Lin of Perry Hall. They brought the car to Mr. Lombardi's two years ago to be customized for show competition. It has been modified at least five times, and the door hinges are reversed so that they open from the front.

The underside of the body is decorated with 24 coats of candy apple red and charcoal silver paint, with highlights in black and gold -- just like the top. Almost every exposed metal part has been gold-plated, including the exhaust system, the brake rotors, oil pan, water pump, suspension, valve covers, hinges, wipers, nuts and bolts and trim.

The Corvette can be driven -- but isn't. Heat would turn the gold-plating black.

Thousands of cars from across the country were considered for the Atlantic City event, and 17 were invited to compete. Of those, 13 were chosen for a calendar -- one for the cover and one for each month. The Gold Nugget was the first choice.

Mr. Bell said he turned to customizing interiors "to do something different" from his friends, who went into mechanics and body work. He designed the Gold Nugget's interior and began a collaboration with Mr. Lombardi.

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