WORDS: ELLIOTT HUGHES | PEBBLE BEACH CONCOURS
For several years, organisations such as FIVA (Fédération International des Véhicules Anciens) have warned that the most celebrated vehicles in history could be lost to time. The main cause of alarm is a growing skills shortage in the restoration industry.
Happily, McPherson College in Kansas is helping to reverse this worrying trend by offering a four-year Bachelor of Arts degree in automobile restoration. Even so, McPherson College stands alone as the only institution to offer such training to undergraduates.
Restoring a car to Pebble Beach standards is no mean feat and is a vaunted achievement in its own right
For the past seven years, students at McPherson College have been restoring a 1953 Mercedes-Benz 300S Cabriolet with the lofty goal of fielding it in the prestigious Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
“I have seen this 300S Cabriolet at every stage: when it was bought, while it was being torn apart and then during the slow process of bringing it all back together,” explained Tom Cotter, a member of the McPherson Automotive Restoration Advisory Board.
“I am very impressed. Any restoration is hard; this one is over the top. Imagine restoring a car where members of staff are changing every year, and then imagine it being done in addition to each student’s regular classes.”
On August 20, 2023, the students’ dream became a reality when the 300S took its place on the hallowed lawns of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Restoring a car to Pebble Beach standards is no mean feat and is a vaunted achievement in its own right – doubly so when those undertaking the restoration are a group of young undergraduates.
The students’ achievement is made even more remarkable by the fact that the Mercedes-Benz came second in the Post-War Luxury category. Not only was the 300S the first-ever student-restored vehicle curated for the event, but it was also the first time such a car had placed in the top three.
“Many collectors dream their entire lives of just competing at Pebble Beach, so for our students to earn a Second in Class is truly an exceptional achievement,” enthused McPherson College president Michael Schneider.
“This accomplishment puts our students on par with the professionals of automotive restoration. As an alumnus and president, I could not be more proud of everyone who had a hand in this historic day for McPherson College.”
McPherson students have always been familiar with Pebble Beach, even if 2023 marked their first time competing there. The Pebble Beach Company Foundation has long been a supporter of the college’s automobile-restoration programme, and has awarded more than 25 scholarships in honour of Formula 1 World Champion and renowned restorer Phil Hill. Many graduates now own or work for businesses engaged in the restoration or management of classic cars.
Another long-time supporter of McPherson College is comedian and car enthusiast Jay Leno, who said:
“Congratulations to the McPherson College students. I’m proud to be associated with the college. Much like art historians who clean and repair works of the Renaissance era, the young men and women at McPherson are doing it with automobiles, recreating skills and techniques long forgotten – and they will make a good living doing it. Our hobby and heritage are safe in their hands.”
While McPherson remains the only institution in the world to offer an automobile-restoration course to undergraduates, this momentous achievement inspires hope that, in the coming years, other schools will follow its lead.