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The Importance of Apprenticeships in Automotive Restoration

Piston Ambassador Ted Dellacamera put down his tools for a moment to talk about his latest project, highlighting the importance of teaching restoration skills to a new generation of specialists.

By Jeff Mason

February 4, 2022

What car are you restoring now?

I’m working on a 1952 Crosley CD Convertible. It’s in rough shape because the floors and supports have completely rotted out. The owner wants to do a frame off restoration but I can’t lift the chassis in the condition that it’s in now. Before I try to take anything off the frame, I need to do a lot of metalwork or the car will probably buckle in half.

What makes you think that the body might collapse if you start the frame off restoration without working on the floors and supports first?

Previous experience.

Honestly, I’ve never broken a car in half but you do learn, over the years, what is likely to happen. There are some things you can be taught but others you learn on the job. That’s what an apprenticeship is about and why it’s important for this country to support the people who want to learn by doing.

How did you learn what you know about metalwork?

I’m self-taught. I found other people who impressed me with what they were doing and just watched them work. Then, I tried to duplicate what they were doing. That’s how I got going with restoring Crosleys. I got lucky with some folks who would answer questions but I think about kids who don’t have that and either learn the wrong way or, worse, never try.

I became a Piston Ambassador because I want people to have the opportunity to apprentice and try to do this work with someone who can help them as they learn.

Nothing happens perfectly the first time and, even after years of doing this work, I’m still learning. Every time you work on a project, you find something different and have to figure a way around that problem.

Honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever do something and think I’ve done a perfect job. I’m always finding something I don’t like about what I did and fussing with it to make it better.

What are you working with on this restoration project?

I’m using 20-gauge sheet metal. That’s what was original to this car and it’s a good idea to use the same material if you can. Doing that makes the work easier because it’s hard to weld thicker steel to thinner. They have different melting temperatures.

What is your process for restoring a body so corroded?

You cut out the old, damaged material. Knowing what you’re doing here is a big help so you don’t make a bigger mess. Then, you fabricate and shape the new panel. Fitting takes some practice, too, something you learn over time. Doing this work is probably the best way to learn because you pick things up as you go.

I became a Piston Ambassador because I want people to have the opportunity to apprentice and try to do this work with someone who can help them as they learn. Some things you can only learn by doing, over and over again. The best part about working with metal is that you can try again.

Who taught you to weld for restoration?

I picked it up on my own. I had no one to teach me but I wanted to work on these little cars and bring them back to life. And, like I said, you get better with practice. Cleaning and dressing a weld gets easier and easier as your welding improves.

Knowing that paint will cover this work, how do you feel about spending so much time on metalwork?

Not everyone will appreciate the time involved to make something like this right. I don’t care what anyone will tell you, you have to realize that a good restoration isn’t just slapped together. You want the car to be as structurally strong as possible and you want that paint job to look real good.

Is the car worth this level of attention?

For the owner, yes. He bought the car new and has had it ever since. People have sentimental attachments to these cars and they are very happy when they see the work done. A restoration specialist doesn’t just get metal straight, engines working, or upholstery looking and smelling like new. We bring memories alive and give people a chance to make new ones.

Support skilled trade education for future auto restoration technicians.


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