Not so many years ago in the UK, free or subsidised evening courses at local colleges were available to all in almost any subject you could imagine, including car restoration, trimming, paint and more.
Government cutbacks ended all that, and now you have to search a bit harder and further afield to find expert tuition. But it’s still out there, both in public colleges and private training centres.
Our research indicates that there are currently 16 Further Education Colleges running 25 different restoration courses around the UK: some are full-time, some part-time, day or evening. Some will give you a recognised skills qualification, such as City & Guilds 3901/4101 or NVQ, others will issue a ‘Certificate in Vehicle Restoration’ or similar specific to their course.
While a recognised qualification like City & Guilds sounds good, it’s worth remembering that this covers a wide range of courses from tyre fitting to valeting. The courses are generally targeted at young people starting out as car mechanics and very few colleges target their C&G course directly towards working on older vehicles. Level 1 is for real beginners, Levels 2 and 3 recognise existing ability in the subject. Once completed, some students move on to an NVQ or SVQ, which are for those already in relevant employment and record practical achievement in the subject.
Leeds College of Technology is probably the current leader in specific vehicle restoration courses in the UK, offering everything from one-day and five-day summer schools (£100/375) to evening classes (12 weeks, £237.50), and a three-day-a-week, one-year course (£2900). Sadly, the two-year full-time City & Guilds Diploma in Car Restoration, run at Leeds for 18 years, is no more. Once again, government cuts removed the funding for this comprehensive course which covered all aspects including trim, glassfibre and electrics; very few people could have afforded to take two years off work and pay £8000 in tuition fees while not earning, so the course was closed. The one-year part-time course offers the key elements of the old course – Steel Body Panel Fabrication and Welding, Mechanics, and Paint Refinishing – while allowing students still to work at least two days a week. The Leeds team have been seen in action by many thousands of us at the International Classic Motor Show every November – and very impressive they are too.
'We reintroduced the evening classes in January,' explains Terry Devaney, 'and they are already over-subscribed. This year we are teaching the basics, but from September we are planning to introduce ‘Progression’ courses to follow on. Our summer schools are extremely popular and we will definitely run one-day Lead Loading and five-day Panel Fabrication, Welding and Paint schools – in fact some are over-subscribed already, we may run more than one. If we get enough interest, we will also run Glassfibre, Timber Framing and Trimming schools.'
The College of North West London in Willesden offers part or full-time C&G 4101 courses, and part or full-time Vehicle Body & Paint Operations – Vehicle Restoration courses.
Brooksby Melton College in Melton Mowbray, Leics offers possibly unique evening courses in restoration of Vintage & Classic Motorbikes, Small Machines & Engines, and Classic Tractor & Machinery.
Jaguar XK body specialist Contour Autocraft provides privately-run courses of a very high quality, though inevitably at a much higher price than the public colleges; for example, its five-day Foundation Car Restoration course costs £966, three times the cost of the Leeds College course. Courses offered are two-day and five-day Foundation, five-day Advanced Restoration and five-day Advanced Making.
Even the two-day course (£439.45) packs in a lot, covering the theory of pattern making, jig building and body construction before practical sessions concentrating on Metal Flanging (shrinking and stretching), Metal Shaping and Butt Welding; the course aims to enable students to produce basic repair panels and to alter and fit obtainable panels. The five-day course covers the same topics in more detail, adding such techniques as wheeling with the aim of turning out students capable of making complex panels from scratch. The Advanced Restoration course at £1448.51 aims to enable the student who has already completed a Foundation course to apply these skills to repairing and restoring old, corroded bodywork, covering repairs, welding and lead loading techniques.
The Advanced Making course at the same price aims to turn out students capable of making not just complete panels, but jigs and tools to produce consistent repeat panelwork of a high standard.
If you happen to have a friendly classic car restorer nearby and you can spare the time, there’s no harm in asking if you can spend a day or two a week helping out in return for the opportunity to learn from them – a number of classic car owners in USA and UK have told us they learned their restoration skills in this way. However, there’s a lot of luck and wasted time involved compared to a properly-taught class.
Study at Home
To study in the comfort of your own home, there are numerous books, videos and DVDs on the market. Books: Specific restoration manuals can be purchased covering a wide range of cars from Reliant Regal to Jaguar E-type or Porsche 911; there are also specific books covering Bodywork, Panel Beating, Glassfibre, Paint, Woodwork, Interior Trim, Electrics, Automatic Gearboxes, Carburettors and ancillary Components.
It’s harder to find DVDs, perhaps because the time-consuming nature of car restoration isn’t ideal for the format, but there are some on offer covering specifics such as Custom Painting, Electronic Fuel Injection.
Former Colchester Institute of Technology lecturer David Gardiner has produced a 2.5-hour DVD on sheet metalwork restoration, available from his website for £35 + P&P.
Quite a few of the larger classic car owners clubs now offer Technical Seminars and Restoration Workshops for members, run either by club experts or with the co-operation of restoration specialists. For example the Jaguar XK and E-type Clubs offer specific one-day seminars for members at specialists Classic Motor Cars in Shropshire, while the Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts Club offers seminars at its own impressive premises in Northamptonshire, where the Club even has a cutaway Silver Shadow II for demonstration purposes.