Industry programs paving the path for preserving vintage vehicle market

March 21, 2016
Adequately staffing the restorations of vintage vehicles and the creation of custom classics has become an area of concern as high school auto shop classes go by the wayside and vocational training increasingly tilts toward electronics and other sophisticated repair techniques.

You can’t repair a Model A by plugging it into a computer. Looking ahead towards going back to the future, some automotive industry educators are intent on training today’s technicians to work on yesteryear’s vehicles.

Adequately staffing the categories involved in restorations of vintage vehicles and the creation of custom classics has become an area of concern as high school auto shop classes go by the wayside and typical vocational training increasingly tilts toward electronics and other sophisticated repair techniques.

“The generation that built these cars and knows how to work on them are dying, and schools are failing to train young people to work on cars without computers or diagnostic equipment, with very few exceptions,” observes David Madeira, CEO of America’s Car Museum (ACM) in Tacoma, Wash. “What’s going to sustain the industry? If the cars can’t be preserved, restored or maintained, who’s going to Pebble Beach? Who’s doing a car show? What cars are available for auction? All of that goes away, and it goes away rather quickly.”

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Along with being celebrated for its 165,000-square-feet of stunning display space spread over four levels, ACM annually presents “The Drive Home,” an epic 3,000-mile road trip through the snow and ice from Tacoma to Detroit for January’s North American International Auto Show (NAIAS). This year’s caravan featured a 1957 Chevrolet Nomad, a 1961 Chrysler 300G and a 1966 Ford Mustang that paused for pit stops along the way at themed events and rallies hosted to salute the contributions of the Motor City’s historic Big 3 automakers.

And, ACM administers the Hagerty Education Program (HEP).

HEP, previously known as The Collectors Foundation, supports hands-on, career-based training institutions in their endeavors to prepare interested students by providing grants that help fund scholarships, internships and industry apprenticeship programs.

Since 2005 HEP has awarded more than $2.75 million to dozens of restoration educational courses throughout the U.S. and Canada; 2015 recipients include the Central Carolina Community College Foundation, the Maine Maritime Academy, the Pennsylvania College of Technology, Thornton Fractional High School, the Wexford-Missaukee Career Technical Center and McPherson College.

“There has been a concern in recent years that fewer young people are learning the trades and skills needed to preserve historic vehicles,” says HEP national director Diane Fitzgerald. “With these grants, HEP offers an opportunity to help institutions continue their commitment to direct education in this field.”

“HEP is the centerpiece for our education programs, and we’re integrating it into the center of our vision because the collector car market is somewhere around a $7-billion to $10-billion-a-year industry,” according to Madeira. “So for us, it’s natural to focus on education and provide opportunities for meaningful work and good remuneration to young people. And in our small way, we might have a real impact on helping Amelia Island, Pebble Beach, the auction scene and all of these things continue.”

Madeira says, “if we’re really thinking about making an impact – say in the way of preserving America’s automotive heritage – it’s going to be through the HEP. Hopefully people recognize this, and that gives them a reason to support America’s Car Museum.”

In May of last year, HEP tapped record-breaking racer Lyn St. James to become an industry ambassador for promoting the programs. “With the growth of vintage racing and the excitement of motorsports, we need to create a pipeline of skilled and passionate people to restore and preserve extraordinary vehicles,” says St. James as she urges established aftermarket businesses within the segment to boost their own interests by assisting with financial contributions. “It will attract the best and the brightest students for the job.”

Says Fitzgerald: “We’d like to see more racing enthusiasts join the movement to protect America’s automotive heritage by supporting educational programs of restoration and preservation.”

Maintaining stylistic integrity

HEP funding has allowed Pennsylvania’s Berks Career & Technology Center to purchase a 1966 Mustang, a 1937 Chevy Roadster pickup, a 1972 Chevelle Malibu and a 1977 Corvette. Students have eagerly taken on the assignment of restoring and customizing these classics with an additional goal of applying environmentally friendly products to the projects.

They have been disassembling and reassembling, performing body repairs and completing refinishing tasks using waterborne paint. Interior components are restored along with suspension and drive train overhauls. The Malibu, for example, underwent a complete frame off restoration with the majority of the sheet metal from the doors on back to the rear being replaced.

The curriculum included restoring the Chevelle, and it was additionally “tastefully customized using modern drive train components and a modern paint scheme while maintaining stylistic integrity,” reports Berks spokeswoman Eileen Rinaudo.

With a particular desire to pursue a career revolving around body work, Jimmy Riegner was pleased with the knowledge he gained while laboring over the Mustang. “Students were given the opportunity to learn not only technical skills but also teamwork, professionalism and patience,” he says. “Everyone who worked on the project had a lot of fun and learned things that will contribute to their success in the collision repair industry.”

Located in Kansas, McPherson College recently achieved accolades by clinching the International Historic Motoring Awards 2015 Industry Supporter of the Year honors. Included in the festivities was a gala ceremony at London’s St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel.

“This is the international stage affirming the quality and value of what we’ve built during the last 40 years,” says Amanda Gutierrez, McPherson’s vice president for automotive restoration. In 2001 the college began offering a four-year Bachelor’s degree – making it the only automotive restoration program offering a comprehensive liberal arts and technical education in the craft.

Unique opportunities

Perhaps some of these graduates may be entering the related real-world realm of kit cars. December’s signing of the bipartisan-supported “Low Volume Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Act of 2015” by President Barack Obama is expected to bring significant benefits to replica manufacturers, suppliers and end-driving buyers.

“With this new law, Congress has demonstrated that it understands the importance of enabling U.S. companies to produce classic-themed vehicles that are virtually impossible to build under the current one-size-fits-all regulatory framework,” says President and CEO Chris Kersting of the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), which has been pushing for passage of the legislation since 2011. “This program will create auto sector jobs and meet consumer demand for cars that help preserve our American heritage.”

The low volume provision allows small automakers to construct up to 325 replica cars per year, subject to federal regulatory oversight that entails establishing a separate structure within the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Replica cars resemble production vehicles manufactured at least 25 years ago, and the American marketplace has been constrained by a single system for regulating automobiles dating back to the 1960s. Because these outmoded standards were designed for companies that mass-produce millions of vehicles, the new measure now eases the category-stunting challenges faced by entrepreneurs who produce a small output of custom releases.

“This law gives enthusiasts the opportunity to buy turn-key replica cars while preserving their option to build one from a kit,” explains SEMA Chairman of the Board Doug Evans.

“It recognizes the unique circumstances associated with limited production replica vehicles, such as the ’32 Roadster and ’65 Cobra, which are primarily used in exhibitions, parades and occasional transportation,” he adds. “With enactment of this new law, kit car companies and SEMA member companies that supply equipment and components can take advantage of this unique opportunity.”

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About the Author

James Guyette

James E. Guyette is a long-time contributing editor to Aftermarket Business World, ABRN and Motor Age magazines.

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