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Victoria Bruno Is Turning Her Secret Hobby Into a Ferrari Restoration Career

In the “olden” days it might have surprised most people in the collector car world to have a woman enter their hallowed circles who had the same passion as they had, with the same interest in restoring cars and their engines in the identical meticulous way. But, these are different times. Barriers have been knocked down and minds opened to a new era and a new generation of skilled technicians.

…even if parents objected to it.

By Judy Stropus

January 4, 2023

A Secret Hobby Becomes a Passion

Enter 28-year-old Victoria Bruno, a senior undergraduate student of automotive restoration at McPherson College, who was recently selected to receive one of the 10 inaugural Piston Fund scholarships granted to 2022 Piston Scholars.

As a young girl growing up in Los Angeles, Bruno was exposed to a “wide variety” of vintage automobiles, which sparked her enthusiasm for the industry. Her parents, however, tried to encourage her to engage in activities deemed “appropriate” for a young girl. As she said in her scholarship application, “While I protested the decision made for me, I did not possess the vocabulary to challenge it. My automotive interests remained as a secret hobby; a mere 20 years later, I decided to pursue my passion and am fortunate enough to say I am a student of automotive restoration at McPherson College.”

Getting In Tune With Ferrari

Bruno began her studies in 2021 and set out to “absorb as much information as possible” and attained a place on the honor roll and a gpa of 4.0. Her first automotive internship was at Stellar Antique Auto Restorations in Windom, Kansas, where she participated in complete vehicle disassembly, body and paint work, and engine component reconditioning. She also became a member of the hand-selected team of student restorers to work on McPherson College’s Pebble Beach 2023 project car, a 1953 Mercedes-Benz 300S. Last summer, she interned in the engine department of Motion Products Inc. in Neenah, Wisconsin, where her duties included engine diagnostics, disassembly and dyno work.

“My mom had a 1966 Mustang that was her daily driver,” said Bruno. “So I was exposed to American cars first, and then it quickly developed into a passion for European cars and race and rally cars. McPherson College broadened my perspective and really allowed me to grasp the significance of the Ferrari marque, and so my interest primarily lies in vintage Ferraris, just because of the spontaneity that went into the construction of the engines and the engineering and the body styles and the chassis. Everything was a prototype. And I’m so passionate about Ferrari engines.”

At her internship at Motion Products Inc. she assisted in the assembly and dyno testing of a Ferrari engine that went to Pebble Beach, California, this year, and on another that will be at the Cavallino Classic in Palm Beach, Florida, at the end of January. A newer 1990 Ferrari 348 is also available to her at McPherson for a rebuild.

Embracing Opportunities, Forgetting Stereotypes

Receiving The Piston Foundation scholarship, along with others, was invaluable to her. “Investing in any sort of higher education is a hurdle because it costs quite a bit of money to learn not necessarily a new trade, but to get an education,” she said. “I’ve been lucky enough to receive various scholarships, The one from The Piston Foundation is a huge, huge help and a huge relief and encouragement.”

Being a female in the “business” has not slowed her determination to do what she loves. “It’s a male-dominated industry, whether you like it or not. There are stereotypes associated with it, whether it’s [old-car] restoration or newer automobiles. That hasn’t stopped me from pursuing anything. I haven’t had any doors closed in my face because I’m a woman.

“When I walk into a room, I stick out like a sore thumb. That’s part of the culture, and I try to check out of that. I try to embrace every opportunity as a learning opportunity, and I try to hopefully set the tone to make it a safer place for women in the future.”

More Exposure to the Industry Is Needed

Bruno, whose poise and strong resolve to succeed belies her age, believes more younger people need to be made aware of the opportunities that are available to them in the car restoration trade. “I think work needs to be done to expose more young people to the industry,” she said. “If I had known about McPherson College 10 years ago I would’ve immediately gone down that career path.

“If there was more exposure, if it was normalized in education in any way, shape or form, I think it could spark a lot of interest. You’re either a car person or you’re not. If you’re a car person, you’re going to be actively researching on the Internet, reading forums and watching videos. But, if you’re not, it’s not even going to be on your radar. It would be really beneficial if there were some form of educational standard in schools.

Piston and the Next Generation

She feels strongly that the direction The Piston Foundation is taking is critical to introducing young people to this dynamic art. “The Piston scholarship has helped me pursue my dreams, not only through financially supporting my education, but through support and opportunities,” she said “They stand as a reliable and incredible network that truly cares about educating the next generation of automotive restorers.”

“It’s an industry that needs to be maintained, and it needs to be invested in because the level of specialists and masters of their trade is diminishing, and we need to bring that number back up. So, it’s personal, it’s encouraging, and it is just an honor to be recognized by people that share a similar passion.”

Victoria repairing a Ferrari gearbox at Patrick Ottis Company in Berkley, CA.

A Career Beginning

As a senior, Victoria Bruno will be graduating in 2023, and because of her love for Ferraris, she’s been hired by Patrick Ottis Co. in Berkeley, California. “He truly is a vintage Ferrari specialist,” she said. “I was lucky enough to be hired by him. He’s an incredibly talented, kind, genuine human being who knows Ferraris in and out.” 

Careers in the auto restoration world are open to everyone with an interest in the industry and the desire to learn the skills. The Piston Foundation is ready to help young people acquire the education and hands-on training they need to succeed.

Check out the Foundation’s scholarship and apprenticeship programs for more information about how to apply.

Support skilled trade education for future auto restoration technicians.


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