Contest teaches old car new tricks

High school fundraiser to turn student's clunker into classic

Maryland Journal

February 26, 2007|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,Sun Reporter

When Luke Finch spotted the 1980 Chevy El Camino SS for sale off Route 27 on the road to Mount Airy, he knew he'd found his car.

The South Carroll High School sophomore cleaned out his savings last year to buy the $1,800 set of wheels, but knew he had his work cut out for him: His new ride had rips in its interior and rust along its bottom. It needed a paint job, tires and rims, and, of course, a sound system with subwoofer to pound out heavy-metal favorites Pantera and Metallica.

And now he's hoping that, after winning a school contest called "Trick My Ride," his El Camino will be resurrected to its glory days in a matter of months.

Inspired by shows like TLC's Overhaulin' and MTV's Pimp My Ride - about clunkers transformed into classics - the unconventional "Trick My Ride" fundraiser started as a way to kindle pride in the school and give students a chance to apply classroom learning to real life, said Kim Hobin, a South Carroll parent who proposed the idea.

The concept: Take a student's car, have students in the auto-tech class and community sponsors help "trick out" the vehicle, and unveil their improvements at a car show.

"It's something that I don't think we'd ever done before," Hobin said. She and other parents in the school's newly formed Parent Teacher Student Association said they see it as a chance to showcase what South Carroll High has to offer.

Their enthusiasm has inspired students, teachers and businesses to embrace the project.

"This is putting the real-world skills into action," said Eric King, South Carroll's principal and a self-described car enthusiast. "And it's not just to get a grade. The reward could be you get your car completely redone."

That possibility motivated Finch and others to submit essays - and photos - to explain why their cars should be picked.

Finch, 16, pleaded his case without frills.

"I told them that I really needed it because I didn't have any money, and my parents weren't going to buy me a new car like a lot of kids these days," said Finch, who has yet to get his driver's license.

He was shocked when he found out he won.

"It took like a day or two to sink in," he said.

The parent judges were impressed with how the lacrosse player juggled work, school and athletics, said Mary Alexander, PTSA president. To help fund repairs, Finch had gotten a job at Fairhaven, a Sykesville retirement community.

Finch has handed the Chevy over to the school's auto-tech department. The tricked-out car is to be unveiled at a June 9 car show at South Carroll, Hobin and Alexander said.

The goal is to raise at least $10,000 in car-show proceeds, which the association would use to help support student and teacher activities, they said.

Armed with safety glasses and blue rubber gloves Wednesday, the students in Chris Reeb's auto-technologies class started work on the El Camino, raised several feet off the ground to ease the dismantling of the tires, shock absorbers and the gas tank, among other parts.

A group gathered around Reeb as he applied the flame of an oxyacetylene torch to cut a stubborn bolt holding one of the car's rear shock absorbers.

"You're good, good, good," the teens said, when the shock dropped to the ground with a loud clank.

As they stepped back under the car to remove more parts, the auto-tech crew wasn't short on opinions on its assignment.

"It's pretty neat - something different," junior Kris Mathis, 17, said. "When it's all said and done, we'll be able to sit back and look at what we've learned [and] have people judge us."

Classmate Leo Amodei, 17, said he hoped they'd get all the necessary parts donated.

"I think we'll be able to fix it up," Amodei said. But, he added, "it's a challenge."

Indeed, the work ahead goes beyond the curriculum, Reeb said. Besides the usual serving of steering and suspension, engines and electronics, he said, the teens will remove and reinstall the Chevy's transmission, paint and modify the engine, and refurbish the engine bay.

The auto-tech students will have to make their own diagnoses and be creative with repairs, King said. "This might not only work on these kids' skills, but it could also make them say, `This is what I want to do for a career.'"

Although Finch said he was a little nervous about his peers tinkering with his ride, he knew many were familiar with cars.

"It can't get any worse, can it?" Mathis said at one point last week.

"Not much," Finch replied.

Besides mechanical repairs, plans are in the works for the graphic-arts department to design an event logo for window and dash decals for sponsors, Alexander said.

An art student is helping to determine colors for the exterior and interior, as well as the car's overall look, said Beth Dunlap, a South Carroll art teacher.

"We're trying to involve as many different groups as we can," said Alexander, adding that the English department had established the rules for the student essays.

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