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Piston Stories

Piston Scholar Sam White Takes To Car Collection Management

Sam White earned a Piston Scholarship in 2023. Originally from California, he currently lives in Seattle, Washington and is enrolled in the automotive restoration program at McPherson College. He will return to Kansas, where his family lives, for the fall semester as a Sophomore.

By Judy Stropus

July 2, 2024

The Archival Experience

Not a mechanic by trade, by his own admission, the 22-year-old is largely interested in the history of automobiles and is currently working for a car collector in Redmond, Washington, archiving and cataloging memorabilia.

“I originally worked at the Kansas City Automotive Museum for a year and a half,” he explained. “And, after I started at McPherson, I found this car collection that I’ve been admiring for many years. I reached out to them and I’ve been interning with them the past few months, over winter and spring break, and now this summer.

“They have a collection of over 30,000 pieces of memorabilia and it’s never been cataloged for the last 30 years. So, I’ve been going through everything, taking pictures, writing descriptions researching, and just trying to make it as close to what you’d see at RM Sotheby’s, if that makes sense – where everything is documented [and digitized].”

While he’s not wrenching the cars in the collection, he does maintain them to prepare them for events and displays. “I make sure everything is up to date, with how many miles we put on the car and making sure everything has a battery in it and that everything is running properly,” he said.

“With a collection like this, you want to make sure that for any show a car is invited to, it can drive onto a trailer and get there with no problems.”

The Hobby Builds The Business

White’s other interest has been photography, but that didn’t keep him from studying sheet metal restoration and welding at McPherson. “I’m not excellent at it,” he said, “but it’s a skill that I was excited to learn. Then, over the spring semester I learned engine building, so I got to rebuild a Chevy small-block V8 for the first time and I really fell in love with that.”

Photography was just a hobby in high school for the aspiring automotive photographer. In his application for a Piston scholarship, he offered, “My photography hobby allowed me to develop a deeper appreciation and understanding of the cars I came across at various car events such as the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. Eventually I began to understand what makes a historical automobile important.”

Once he realized there was a shortage of auction photography in the Midwest while living in Kansas City, he established his own business and forged partnerships with such entities as Bring a Trailer, Cars & Bids and The MB Market. He’s photographed more than 75 auction listings in the past year and continues to work for such clients in his spare time.

Becoming A Piston Scholar

White learned about The Piston Foundation while at McPherson. “I found out about Piston through Bring a Trailer,” he said. “They were auctioning off their Datsun 240Z and it really resonated with me because they’re in the same business I’m in and they seem to care a lot about preserving history. So, I thought it would be a good opportunity.”

Once he earned the scholarship, “I felt more relief than excitement because it meant that I could focus on my studies rather than working off campus because it is just hard to balance that,” he said. “And, when I don’t have to worry about the cost of tuition, it really allows me to get deep into what I’m doing and learn as much as I can and actually build my skill set.”

White added, “The Piston Foundation is there to support you and they have connections all over the industry. They offer a lot of guidance and a lot of opportunities.”

It’s all About Connections

He has a clear message to parents whose kids show an interest in car restoration: “Networking,” White said. “You have to network. You have to go to Pebble Beach and Amelia Island or any local car show to really get a full grasp of what you’re getting into.”

White’s dad Allen is a consultant and his mother Tiffany is a teacher. At first, his mother was uncertain about his professional trajectory, but “seeing my confidence in the industry reassured her,” he said.

White’s dad took him to car shows when he was growing up, including attending The Amelia for eight years in a row. “He’s always been supportive,” said White. “I was very shy when I was growing up, so he’d always introduce me to the owners and have them tell me their stories. I just really fell in love with that community through my dad, who has been always been a car guy at heart.”

Hurdles and Insights

His biggest challenge so far? “Figuring out where I fit in,” White said. “I’ve learned that you can’t restore a car without knowing its history and there seems to be fewer and fewer people who are into that side of the business. I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can and be an asset.”

As for what the collector car industry needs to know about his generation? “I’d say most people getting into this industry want to work on cars and they don’t really grasp the history of it,” said White. “I think if they take the time to read the books and really understand how the racing and car industries have progressed to where they are today, it would really help them understand the importance of what they’re doing.


White does have an interest in race cars and hopes to get his racing license after college, “and start out in something really basic like a Miata or a BMW and work my way up from there,” he said.

Meanwhile, he works on his 1978 Mercedes 450SL – silver with a blue interior and 60,000 miles on it. It’s his only car and he drove it from Kansas City to Seattle, “with no problems at all.”

This young man with eclectic automotive interests and skills has discovered that car collection management is his passion. His plan following graduation includes eventually working for an auction house, such as RM Sotheby’s or Gooding and Company.

“I’d like to make it my life’s work,” White said.

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