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Dream wheels
ATEC students restore classic car
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Students are restoring the Mercedes Benz using the knowledge theyve acquired from the Inner Industry Conference of Collision and Repair program (I-CAR) taught by Weaver. I-CAR is a worldwide curriculum that prepares high school students for entry-level jobs in auto body shops immediately after high school, or gives them a chance to earn course credits at participating post-secondary technical schools. - photo by Photo provided by David Weaver

A Kershaw County School District (KCSD) faculty member’s classic car is getting a new shine at KCSD’s Applied Technology Education Campus (ATEC).

Certified School Psychologist Patrick Owen bought a 1972 280 Sports Edition Mercedes Benz last summer that is currently being fully remodeled by students in the Auto Collision Technology course at ATEC.

Determined to have a car like his father once owned, Owen searched it on the Internet for several years before he located one. For his 60th birthday, his wife bought Owen the car, and they had it moved from Kentucky to Columbia.

“In 1972, my sister and her two friends went to Europe for six weeks. My father knew they would need to get around, so he bought the car in Stuttgard, Germany, for my sister and her friends to use while they were there and then had it shipped home,” Owen said.

When Owen received the car last summer he took it to Brown Motor Works in Columbia. In about five weeks, the company did a full mechanical inspection of the car and replaced the car’s motor, transmission and drive line. After discussing a restoration with Auto Collision Teacher David Weaver, Weaver’s students went to work in September.

Weaver has documented the process with photographs which he periodically sends Owen. Owen said he sent a few of those pictures to Keith Huggins, owner of Brown Motor Works, who told Owen he was impressed by the pictures and the work Weaver and his class are doing. According to Owen, Huggins said that restoring the car will be a great experience for the students who can use it in their portfolio.

“David is a master craftsman, detail-oriented and very professional,” Owen said.

The car was previously repaired due to an accident, Weaver said. Students dissembled it, removing the chrome details, dash, wood paneling and many other major parts of the car. Tail lights were cracked and the back exterior was heavily rusted and dented.

“We had to sand it baby-butt smooth,” said Chris Morrow, 18, of Camden High School. “It’s a beautiful car,” he said, admiring it in the shop parking lot.

Upon completion, the Mercedes will be completely restored for daily use. The teacher-student team sent parts needing to be fixed to Elgin, Columbia and Eastover in South Carolina, and to Georgia and California. Weaver said car parts that were missing or needed to be completely replaced, however, will be shipped from Stuttgard  because Mercedes manufacturer parts aren’t available from within the United States.

The only difference between Owen’s car and the car his dad bought is the color. His father’s car was blue. It took ATEC students three tries before they were able to create the right formula for Owen’s “Mercedes Green” car. The green, which made its debut in 1962, was used until 1976, Weaver said.

Weaver said material to remodel the car cost an estimated $2,500. The team has worked on the car for about 125 hours so far. In a shop, a customer would need to figure on paying about $38 per hour, Weaver said.

Full of 1970s technology, the car has an AM/FM radio, vacuum-assisted cruise-control and a padded dash. Morrow is laminating and refinishing the car’s mahogany wood panel.

The curriculum

Weaver teaches ATEC’s Inner Industry Conference of Collision and Repair (I-CAR) curriculum. Created in 1979, I-CAR is a non-profit technical training organization. ATEC applied to I-CAR for training and alliance membership 10 years ago. The program requires Weaver to take classes in I-CAR curriculum and test out of each class with an 85 percent or higher score in order to teach the curriculum.

“It’s a worldwide curriculum” Weaver said. “There is nothing that the students are exposed to here that they won’t see anywhere else.”

Weaver is certified to teach 56 subjects, 10 of which are “pertinent” to high school students who might apply for entry level jobs immediately after high school. With the training alliance, I-CAR provides training materials in book and PowerPoint form. Through I-CAR, Weaver also teaches certification renewal programs at ATEC to technicians from various parts of the state including Columbia, Rock Hill and Sumter. With the I-CAR program, high school students who go on to post-secondary technical schools can exempt certain courses that they’ve taken in high school with documentation from Weaver.

“On the flipside, it’s neat because if they apply themselves well enough, I can help them find a job in a body shop and they don’t have to go to college,” Weaver said.

Weaver has several stories about students who furthered their education and students who went to work immediately after high school who are currently making a good living. In one case, a high school student contemplated dropping out of school because his girlfriend was pregnant.

“I told him to stick with me and I’ll teach you to make a living,” Weaver said. “It’s that teaching them how to fix thing.”

There are a lot of options for people interested in the auto body business, Weaver said. There is the insurance aspect or running a side business or create a micro-business by performing repairs on just one type of car.

Ladies in the room

Auto Collision gets a few girls every semester Weaver said. Although the overall number of non-traditional students taking his class is up, he would like to see even higher numbers. This semester there is one female. Katelynn Strauss came in at level one of Auto Collision and is preparing to attend the Nashville Auto Diesel College after she graduates in May.

Katelynn said she “plan(s) to make a career out of this.” She comes from a family of automobile technicians, but says it is “tough” being a woman in a shop because of the physical labor. Being in the Auto Collision class is still enjoyable for her because she likes being hands-on.

“To a certain extent I have to push myself to keep up with the guys, but not so much where I am breaking my back,” she said.

Katelynn expressed interest in pursuing custom-painting because she likes the creative license. Although her family is supportive -- her dad and uncle have previously been mechanics -- her grandmother and her friends aren’t sure what to think.

“My grandmother isn’t so keen on it, because she doesn’t think it is a stable job,” Katelynn said. “My friends think it’s odd; they never suspected I would choose this as a career.”