17 October 2014

Schooled on the Avanti

There's a flurry of activity inside MFD Classic Motors, a Traverse City, Michigan, shop owned by Mike and Dawn Fisher. Dozens of European and domestic classics sit in various states of restoration, including a very special 1963 Studebaker Avanti.

The car carries a “99” on its build sheet, which signifies its origin as a training vehicle for Studebaker technicians. More than 50 years on, it still serves that purpose, though the technicians have changed. Donated by Hagerty Education Program (neé Collectors Foundation) founding partner Dave Kinney, the Avanti is now a trainer for Automotive Technology students from nearby Northwestern Michigan College.

In addition to Kinney and the Fishers — also founding members of the HEP — the Avanti Project is being overseen by restorer Adam Hammer, a McPherson College graduate and former Collectors Foundation scholarship recipient who opened his own restoration shop, Hammer & Dolly Auto Restorations, after graduation.

One night a week, Hammer supervises the small group of students. “They’re involved in this project not only to enhance their skills,” he says, “but to further their passion with classic cars. And it gives them much more experience than they would get in the classroom.”

In fact, in the classrooms of nearly any tech school in the country, students aren’t exposed to old cars, because training technicians for the future, not for the past, is the focus. But with the Avanti, Hammer says that students are gaining real mechanical insight.

Andrew Medley is an Automotive Technology student volunteer on the Avanti Project. He has always been into newer cars and didn’t think the Avanti would interest him much. That changed the first day, and he says the most important skills he’s learned are patience and troubleshooting. “In school, working on new cars with shiny parts, all the pieces come apart very easily. Here, however, you run into problems and you have to be able to address those problems in a creative way.”

Medley thanks Hammer for the lessons in patience and creativity. “Adam just has us come here and jump in. And we make mistakes, but he shows us how to fix them.”

For David Bajema, an automotive instructor at NMC who also volunteers on the Avanti Project, stepping out of the classroom has been refreshing for him as well. “It’s relaxed and much more one-on-one, which is hard to put a value on. This is like working with an uncle or a father, and there’s so much more information being handed off. It’s a very precious thing.”

Upon completion, the Avanti will be displayed at a handful of shows and then likely head to auction. More importantly, students from NMC will enter the workforce with skills that set them apart from other tech graduates.

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