Every day, cars of all makes and models, as well as their student drivers, pass through the doors of Tam’s auto shop. However, one project car is at school every day and has yet to leave: Tam’s very own 1965 Ford Mustang. Since the spring of 2011, auto shop teacher Lisa Miller and her classes have been restoring the rangoon red convertible from the ground up.
“I’m very proud of my students. They’ve put so much time into this project,” said Miller. “This is my greatest teaching feat.”
“It’s really fun working on an old car. You can see the history right there,” said senior Gina Maekawa. “The Mustang restoration project is awesome. Everyone can really get hands-on experience that you might not get with working on a [newer] car.”
The project first started years ago. “Predominantly we work on newer cars,” said Miller, who occasionally brings her own 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air into the shop, “but every year students have asked, ‘when are you going to teach us how to do that? When are you going to teach us how to restore a car?’”
After multiple grant requests, Miller finally received enough money to cover the purchase of the project car in the fall of 2010 from the Good Guys car show. “It was a perfect project car for students to learn from,” said Miller, “Almost everything needed attention except for the top and seats.”
Since then, Miller and her students have completed an exceptional amount of work on the car, including the brakes, engine, steering and suspension. The Mustang is one of six to ten projects in the auto shop at a time, so students move from car to car working on jobs that fit their skill level. Students are also paired heterogeneously, an advanced student paired with a beginning student. This allows for a wider range of students to work on the car.
“[Now that more advanced tasks are completed] we’ll be able to get a larger variety of skill levels in.” said Miller.
Through these jobs and lessons, students gain fundamental knowledge in a setting different than that of a normal classroom. By working on cars such as the Mustang, students learn to develop their critical thinking and problem solving skills. This is coupled with a level seriousness that mirrors a workplace.
“Sometimes in the classroom we can be a little off topic and rowdy, but when we get in the shop, communication goes to a whole new level. The environment is very professional and we all work really well together. It’s nice to see that everyone can work with each other; it isn’t just friends working with friends,” said Maekawa. “Problem solving in the classroom is a lot easier. In the shop Ms. Miller is very busy and can’t always be there to spoon-feed you the answers. You have to use your brain and work out your own solutions, whether it be doing research or asking a friend for help.”
Having the practice of critical thinking and tangible feedback right away is incredibly rewarding. It’s a driving force of motivation
“Once you get in the shop, you have to be professional and can’t fool around,” said senior Xavi Caputo. “Because mistakes could cause injuries and cost money, especially when there’s a car six feet above you and you’re working on an engine that isn’t bolted in.”
Caputo was part of a team of students who had to make the Mustang’s transmission fit into the crossmember under the car. After finding that it was warped, they removed the crossmember and re-aligned it with the transmission.
“You really have to think [the problem] through before you start doing anything,” he said. “We all gave our input and when we got to work everything clicked. It was a really big deal because it meant we didn’t have to search for a new crossmember.”
“Having the practice of critical thinking and tangible feedback right away is incredibly rewarding. It’s a driving force of motivation,” added Miller.
Miller hopes to have the car completed by the spring of 2013 and enter the Mustang in events such as the Marin-Sonoma Concours show and the Top the Cops drag races at Infineon raceway. From there students will continue to maintain and tune the car for performance. The Mustang, which will feature Tam colors once completed, could also be in future local parades, which would realize one of Miller’s project goals.
“It’s an opportunity to let auto shop students shine for a moment, to revel and celebrate what they’ve accomplished,” she said.