EASTON — While most high school students are surfing the web, texting friends or playing Xbox on any given Thursday night, about a dozen Talbot County teens are learning the fine art of classic automobile restoration.
Eleven students, ranging from high school through college, became charter members of only the second student chapter of the Antique Automobile Club of America, and they’re running on all cylinders to restore two vintage British sports cars.
“(The AACA) is far and away the antique classic car club in America,” said Sandy Thomson, owner of Coventry Motor Works in Easton. His three sons, all in college, are members of the chapter’s first board of directors and design restoration projects for the high school students.
The Bay Country Region AACA sponsors the student chapter, which was recognized in February at the National AACA meeting in Philadelphia. The chapter also is supported by the Eastern Shore AACA. Its official name is the Classic Motor Museum Student Chapter of the AACA since it’s chartered through the St. Michaels nonprofit museum.
These teenagers are unique. The hobby of restoring classic cars is being lost to the digital age, said Thomson, who primarily restores vintage British cars. His shop doubles as a space for the students’ restoration projects.
The Classic Motor Museum is in the process of developing an educational program called First Gear that has attracted the Talbot County students. But they needed a place to tackle hands-on projects.
While Thomson’s shop is the location, the museum helps supply the food and supplies for the two-hour after-school program, according to the museum’s executive director and Tilghman native Linda Haddaway King.
Every other Thursday, the Thomsons fire up the barbecue grill, turn up the music and “organize specific tasks for them to work on,” Thomson said. “What better way to do that than to bring them in to get their hands dirty.”
So far, they’ve twice disassembled the engine of a rare 1938 Alvis British sports car. They’ve also removed and organized the vintage car’s chrome, inventoried it and shipped it for plating to a facility in Pennsylvania, Thomson said.
“They have fun doing it. We’re creating a fun environment, a safe environment and a place where they can really make it happen,” he said.
They also have a “new” old car to tinker with.
Recently, the students had the privilege of unveiling a donation to Concours d’Elegance — a car they were to have a key role in restoring. They knew the gift was to be a special one, and it was: a classic 1953 MG TD British sports car.
“The kids were in the car,” Thomson said. “They were all over it.”
Thomson said Tuck Nason of St. Michaels said that if he were to donate the car, the students would have to be involved.
Nason said he purchased the car from an estate sale in Michigan about three years ago. The vehicle had been kept in storage for about five years after its owner died.
“I’m a big fan of the teenagers today who have taken an interest in classic cars,” Nason said. “I would hate to see the hobby of restoring antique cars die because the next generation wasn’t properly introduced.”
“Rather than just donating it to have it sold — I wasn’t interested in that at all,” Nason said. “I was donating (it) to have it used for future car mechanics to work on.”
Cooper Gowe may be one of those future mechanics. He’s been interested in working on cars since he was about 9 years old.
“I just like the mechanics of it and figuring out what makes what happen and taking things apart,” Gowe said.
Thomson’s son Scott, who has been involved with cars his entire life through his father’s business, said working on cars always has been a passion for him. “The skills that I’m learning now will allow me to work on cars and have that knowledge for the rest of my life,” Scott Thomson said.
Noah Fountain, another student member, is working as a mechanic and uses the club to bolster his skills. Working on cars runs in the family.
“My dad’s a mechanic,” Fountain said. “It’s like a hobby to me. I can pull a car apart and put it back together like it’s nothing.”
Thomson said renewed interest is vital to making the hobby of classic automobile restoration popular among adults and teens.
“Donors are picking up on tha,t because we’re all looking over our shoulders saying, ‘Well, who’s coming up to take over our cars, our hobby?’” Thomson said.
Coventry Motor Works, the Classic Car Museum and the Bay Country Region AACA work in concert to attract budding vintage automobile enthusiasts and give them meaningful projects to work on to develop practical skills and a passion for preserving classic cars.
Thomson said the students are canvassing Easton and St. Michaels Middle High schools to garner interest in their club. Many students come from St. Michaels Middle High School, and Thomson’s three sons have good relationships with automotive technicians who teach at Easton High School, he said.
The club plans to enter their newly restored 1953 MG TD in the St. Michaels Concours d’Elegance in September 2019. The 1938 Alvis will be ready for the event in 2020, Thomson said.
For more information about Classic Motor Museum’s Student Chapter of AACA, visit www.classicmotormuseum.org/education.
Community Editor Connie Connolly contributed to this story.