It could be said that classic car restoration is a niche business, despite the historic vehicle industry having grown in the UK. It’s estimated the number of restoration staff has risen to 34,900, with the average age being 42. Reports suggest the sector needs at least 150 new apprentices a year for the next five years in order to survive. To address this, a charity called Starter Motor was launched at Bicester Heritage to help young people learn restoration skills.
According to Starter Motor manager David Cox “there is an age gap developing in the classic car sector. The heritage skills required to maintain these vehicles, which in the past have gone down from one generation to the next, are at risk of being lost. Not enough of the necessary knowledge and skills are being passed on to the young enthusiasts coming through.”
Starter Motor works with local colleges and apprenticeship schemes, providing classic car repair lessons. An example is the Classic Vehicle Restoration apprentice course, which is run by Banbury and Bicester College. This course has been running for four years and benefitted from Starter Motor’s help. Previously, courses needed to rely on individual donors to source cars, but the charity has a well-stocked inventory. The course and students keep the cars for as long as necessary.
Bicester Heritage organises weekly meetings for classic car fans that students can get involved with, expanding their knowledge. Cox is adamant that students get to experience the enjoyment of being around a classic vehicle. “The learning curve can be transformed with genuine experience. A lot of our students and apprentices will have worked on these cars. However, this gives them a chance to get behind the wheel, so they get first-hand experience in driving vehicles with crash gearboxes, cars with central throttles and learning how to heel and toe.”
Starter Motor also aims to take the cars that apprentices have worked on and invite local schools to learn about the potential of a hobby or career. Cox wants to introduce the next generation to classic cars and many of the apprentices are enthusiastic about the future.
20-year-old apprentice Alistair Emson is looking to get into selling classic cars when he’s finished the course. “I’m looking to start working with a group of friends here from the course. Many people don’t know about the heritage these cars have, or the history. There’s lots to learn, including the different engineering methods used.”