By Helen V. Hutchings
You’ve heard, read or perhaps even voiced variations of this: “The old car hobby’s future is bleak, because these days so few young people are interested in old cars.” But there are plenty of old car enthusiasts who are working to make a difference.
One happens to be a teacher in the Los Angeles (California) Unified School District. The auto shop classes he teaches at the high school level are less common these days, but the 40-plus students enrolled in one of Robert Roach’s six daily auto shop classes are proof that interest is far from lacking. His students take classes that range from beginning/introductory to advanced, and they are as eager to learn the skills and knowledge as Roach is to share the information with them.
Roach’s greatest challenge isn’t finding students interested in his classes, it’s getting the funding to continue it. Roach’s budget for an entire school year — two semesters times six classes per semester of auto shop classes — is a meager $200.
Of course, Roach is not merely a car guy, but an old-car guy and an active hobbyist. He’s acquainted with other old car enthusiasts through his car club, and once some of those club members heard of Roach’s plight, they offered to help. One, a licensed contractor, installed the industrial air compressor that had been sitting on a pallet due to lack of funds to pay for its installation. Others donated supplies such as carburetor cleaner or tools. A nearby uniform rental company donated old uniforms for the students to protect their street clothes.
With large classes and projects going on indoors and out, what Roach really needed was another person capable of instructing. He knew of someone with the background and training, and the school system approved hiring the instructor part-time. However, it didn’t have the funds to pay him.
In the fall of 2011, Roach took a few of his students to an event where they interfaced with owners of old cars and even drove those cars in a controlled environment. There, Roach learned of a possible source for help and was encouraged to apply for a grant from the Collectors Foundation.
The foundation had been established shortly after the millennium by some old car enthusiasts who wanted to find ways to support young people learning about collecting, restoring and preserving old cars. Roach applied for a grant from the Foundation’s Bring Back the Shop Class initiative and requested sufficient funds to cover the cost of the part time co-instructor.
Fortunately, Roach and Carson High School received the grant. Now, two days a week, old car enthusiast Jason Thomas, who has 40 years of professional experience in the areas of diagnostics and restoration service, performs classroom duty alongside Roach.
Additionally, Roach and Thomas hold open sessions for students who want to work additional hours on a project on alternating Saturdays.
As the holiday season approached, Roach and his classes received an early and an unexpected show of support from Porsche Cars North America, Inc. Porsche learned of Roach’s shop classes from a third party and after a visit by one of its representatives to see the classes in person, the corporation made it possible for Roach to acquire safety items that were greatly needed, such as an eye-wash station, fire extinguishers, safety glasses and the cabinet in which to sterilize them, as well as respirators and new gloves.
With hobbyists and resources available, Roach has learned that the future isn’t so bleak after all.