We are not the first to report that the good news is that the bad news is wrong. In this case, the bad news is that lots of aging collector car owners are fretting over the future of their vehicles. The lament is that the next generations aren’t interested in cars at all, let alone in the preservation or restoration or even the celebration of old ones.
But the good news is that there is growing evidence that young folks do care about cars, and that there are people working hard right now to spread that interest and to be sure that a large enough group of those young car enthusiasts will be equipped to preserve and restore cars for generations to come.
Several dozen people who are working hard right now met this week for the first of what promises to be a series of regional gatherings staged under the theme of Young People & Old Cars: The Future of Restoration. Attendees ranged from local collectors and restoration shop owners to educators and even a local car club that’s been working with high school students to prepare a student-restored car for The Great Race.
Organizing this first event, and those to follow, is part of the mission of the Hagerty Education Program at America’s Car Museum (aka The LeMay). The Arizona Regional Summit Meeting was held on the campus of EVIT — the East Valley Institute of Technology — in Mesa, Arizona, which may well become the next school to offer automotive restoration education.
Part of the plan for the meeting was to share information, such as the fact that there are six colleges in the U.S. that offer programs focused on classic car restoration and preservation. The oldest and best-known is at McPherson College in Kansas, but there also are programs at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, at Baker College in Michigan, at Central Carolina Community College, at the Pennsylvania College of Technology and even at Stanford University, through its Revs Institute, that are preparing students for careers in the collector car industry.
Diane Fitzgerald, who leads the Hagerty Education Program, said the Phoenix area was chosen for the first regional summit because the area is a “hot spot” for the collector car hobby, with everything from collectors and restoration shops to the annual auctions and concours d’elegance.
During the most recent Arizona Auction Week, Fitzgerald first visited EVIT, where some 5,000 students from 10 area high schools are preparing for careers in fields from nursing to culinary arts and from the construction trades to becoming automotive technicians working at new-car dealerships and collision-repair shops.
The school’s superintendent, a dynamic educator named Sally Downey, noted that two-thirds of EVIT students go on to attend college, but with skills that can provide jobs rather than a dependence on student loans. “Every scholar needs a skill” is one of EVIT’s mottos. Another is that EVIT is “where we turn passions into paychecks.”
In 2012, Time magazine featured EVIT as the school that works.
One reason the summit was held at the school was to expose students and administrators to the potential in collector car restoration. Former Indycar racer Lyn St. James is involved in the Hagerty Education Program and talked about how exposure can trigger passion.
A practical demonstration of that potential also was part of the day as several large groups of students gathered in triple-digit temperatures as Phoenix-area collector Alan Travis shared his 1898 Jeanperrin Voiturette, 1904 Mitchell and a turn-of-the-century motorcycle.
Randy Bush, restoration manager at the Kip Motor Company in Dallas, talked about the increasing need for restoration specialists; Stacy Puckett, a graduate of McPherson, talked about her career in the field; and Ryan Levesque, a graduate of Penn College’s program, talked about what sparked his passion for restoration while he was a business major.
Educators from McPherson, Penn and the Academy of Art University shared details of their school’s programs, growing enrollments and internship and career opportunities in the restoration field.
And it’s not just colleges that are hosting such programs. David Schaeffer, executive director of the new World of Speed museum in Oregon, said high schools in the museum’s area no longer offer auto shop classes, but that the museum is housed in a former dealership building with 12 lifts. So Schaeffer worked with area schools to provide students and with the local community college to provide instructors, and now high school students are earning college credits as they learn to be auto technicians.
So was the summit a case of all talk and no action? Not at all. Before participants left the EVIT campus, a steering committee had been created to work with the school on adding a vehicle-restoration program to its curriculum.