A finishing start
UFV’s first auto collision class restores 1953 Mercury pickup
By Patty Wellborn
|Nick Penner, in white lab coat far right, wanted to give UFV's inaugural Automotive Collision Repair cohort a challenging project. When he found this 1953 Mercury it could have been described as a 'rust bucket'. With Penner's guidance, the students have restored the truck and it is now show-room spectacular and UFV model of accomplishment.|
Nick Penner is one of those glass-half-full-type of guys. He can look at a rusty old truck, visualize it as a shiny new piece of machinery, and make it happen. More to the point, Nick also has the ability to teach others how to take that rust bucket and transform it into a thing of beauty.
Nick is the instructor for the Automotive Collision Repair & Refinishing certificate program offered at the UFV Trades and Technology Centre in Chilliwack. The first cohort of the program graduated this summer. Because it was a brand-new program, Nick wanted the class to have a special vehicle to work on while learning the trade.
The curriculum for the 10-month program includes sheet metal application, welding, applying body fillers, priming, masking, painting, and airbrushing.
Students need to learn about the paints, compounds, and mechanical aspects of working on a vehicle. The idea is that once they graduate, they have the skills to work in any ICBC-rated autobody repair shop, or a specialized hot-rod or restoration facility. Nick, who admits a passion for collecting trucks, found a 1953 Mercury pickup and decided to add a bit of fun to the general body shop lessons.
“I purchased the truck so the students would have a refinishing project that they could really work with,” he says. “They were learning all the skills, but I thought it would be fun if they had a special project vehicle they could take from start to finish.”
The students started on the truck in January — after four months of lessons — and were ready to apply some of the new skills they had learned during the fall session. Nick found a parts truck (a 1994 Chevy) and the students learned all about harvesting healthy parts off one vehicle and restoring them to fit another. The parts truck became a source for the the engine, transmission, suspension, and some interior pieces like door sections and other incidental parts. Like most projects involving automobiles, there was more work than Nick initially estimated and it became a team effort to get the truck not only drivable, but looking pretty by semester’s end.
|There was plenty of work to be done, some of it mechanical. It kept the students busy for several months.|
“One important part of the lesson was to teach the students how to keep costs down while utilizing as much as we could from the parts truck,” says Nick. The students volunteered plenty of after-class time to get the project done. “There were a lot of extra hours, partly because they wanted to have it ready in time for the (April 2010)Tradex show.”
The truck, now a satin-finish burnt-orange colour, has been to several car shows. Nick is hoping to use it as a marketing and promotional vehicle for the automotive programs at UFV. It is his personal vehicle, but he’s happy to drive it around and let people know it was a project truck for the first class of the UFV’s Automotive Collision Repair and Refinishing program.
“It actually took a lot of work to coordinate,” he says. “This was a special year, because it was the first class and I wanted to do it because I thought it would be a good show piece for the program. It actually allowed the students to have plenty of growth; it was great to see them take on this project and watch them learn along the way.”
UFV Dean of Trades and Technology Harv McCullough says the university is on the cutting edge of a growing trend when it comes to automobile restoration. Classic car shows, hot rod events, and automobile restoration are big business. McCullough says UFV has a unique program that will help students launch careers, or fuel their hobbies, with the skills they learn.
“It’s great to start a new program at a time when the interest is booming,” says McCullough. “There is no other program like it that I know of in Canada. While they learn all the basic skills for auto collision repair, our students are also taught the skills and trends of customization, restoration, and hot-rodding a vehicle.”
Student Jose Sanchez says the program had the right balance between theory and hands-on lessons. He has always wanted to work in the automotive industry and signed on thinking the program would help open doors. Now, while he currently has a new employer in the trade, he has dreams of setting up his own custom work shop in the near future.
|The completed truck has been to a number of show and shine events and is a good marketing tool for the program.|
“I feel very fortunate to have been part of the first intake of students,” he says. “This program provided an excellent opportunity for me to develop and demonstrate my abilities.”
The truck isn’t quite showroom ready. Nick is working on the interior upholstery and a few other finishing touches. And he also says it will remain a project vehicle with UFV’s Automotive Collision Repair program and perhaps in a few years time, another class can repaint it a different colour.
“Because it was our first year, I wanted a show-piece vehicle that the students could say ‘look at that, I helped restore that truck,’” says Nick. “The truck can continue to be a part of the program and while there won’t be much restoration work needed, if future classes wanted to paint it again, then that’s what it’s here for.”
To find out more about UFV’s Automotive Collision Repair & Refinishing program call the Trades and Technology centre directly at 604-847-5448 or visit www.ufv.ca/autobody .