Concours travel helps McPherson students learn from the best

Concours travel helps McPherson students learn from the best

Car-restoration rookies get to see how the professionals do it in donor-supported field trips

Much was made recently in the world of fine art because an anonymous donor gave $1 million to establish a fund so art history professors and their students could travel to museums, as artnet.com put it, “to actually go see the art they’re studying.”

Though perhaps with fewer zeros behind the dollar sign, donors have been funding a similar program at McPherson College in Kansas for half a dozen years so students in the college’s pioneering automotive restoration program can attend concours d’elegance and other venues, from shops to collections to museums, to experience first-hand the subjects they study and have chosen to pursue as careers after college. 

An upcoming trip for four students and two college staff members will be the school’s first to the Atlanta Concours d’Elegance, scheduled for September 29-30 at the Chateau Elan Winery and Resort in Braselton, Georgia.

The restoration program does at least nine such trips each school year, and the student-organized car club also does day or weekend trips, and some years will do a week-long trip to California or Detroit.

“The experience is valuable,” said Amanda Gutierrez, the college’s vice president for the automotive restoration program. “It’s not just about looking at great or even pretty cars, there has to be an educational component to take them out of school and to use the donors’ money.”

Because much of the instruction in automotive restoration is hands-on, time away from class can be difficult to make up. “We look at how much time a student is going to be out of class,” Gutierrez said, adding that students not only attend, for example, a concours, but also affiliated seminars, auctions and other events.

At concours, they serve as apprentice judges, and sometimes are pressed into other responsibilities.

Students meet with the Pebble Beach judges

Answering judges’ questions

For example, at the recent Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, a car owner who lives in Europe became ill and could not make the trip to show his postwar preservation-class car. But he knew about the college and its students and contacted the school to see if two of its students who were going to Monterey Car Week might present his car on the 18th fairway of the famed Pebble Beach Golf Links.

Gutierrez said such a request might seem daunting, but the students figured out some issues with the car, including old fuel, got it running, drove it onto the show field and presented it to the judges.

“They had an understanding of the history and story of the car,” Gutierrez said, “ and of how to present a car to the judges and an ability to respond to the judges’ questions.

“It really epitomizes for me what it is we want for our students when they graduate, whether on the concours field or other show or in the restoration shop, to be that person who can do it all.”

On the trips, the students also have opportunities to network with people in the collector car community, including collectors, the shops and others who provide products and service. 

McPherson students help prepare a car for showing

A few years ago, Dustin Whitney was part of the McPherson group that  attended the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in Florida. After graduation, he went to work for the Oklahoma-based John Groendyke Collection.

Just a year out of college, Whitney ran into Gutierrez at a car show, said he’d been back to Amelia Island and realized there were no McPherson students there.

“We didn’t have funding,” Gutierrez said.

“What does it cost?” Whitney asked.

Whitney committed that if McPherson would send students to Amelia Island every ensuing year, he’d underwrite expenses for at least one of them.

“He felt it was that great an experience,” Gutierrez said. 

McPherson students have been back to Amelia Island every year since, one of them traveling on Whitney’s contribution.

Classroom work includes hands-on education in various disciplines of automotive restoration

It’s not just concours that McPherson students attend. 

Through a connection with Peter Mullin, Bugatti collector, owner of one museum and chairman of another, and with the American Bugatti Club, McPherson was approached about writing a troubleshooting manual for Bugatti owners taking part in club rallies.

“Two students and a faculty member took it on,” Gutierrez said. “It’s in the final draft before publication.”

In addition to the manual, the students were invited to the Bugatti anniversary event at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut during the Labor Day weekend.

“The students were side by side with Bugatti experts, working in the (racing) pits,” Gutierrez said. One of those experts, it turned out, was a McPherson graduate now working for a major West Coast restoration shop. 

Such experiences “give them such a full view of the industry and all the ways in which they might fit into it.”

And there’s a dividend for the industry, she said.

“To see that there are young people out there and they are interested in these cars and they are serious in what they are doing.”

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