It’s a sunny Wednesday afternoon and the reek of old gasoline is heavy in the air as a group of unlikely mechanics works on the fuel line of a 1967 Cadillac Eldorado. The din of metal pounding metal echoes inside the cavernous garage bay at the new Missoula Transportation & Restoration Museum (MTRM) as a handful of Willard Alternative High School students industriously dismantles a 1967 Chevy pickup.
Three weeks ago, most of these students didn’t know how to change a tire, but by quitting time Wednesday they’d all put a fair amount of elbow grease into taking apart the ’67 Chevy and restoring a 1936 Cadillac Fleetwood and the ’67 Eldorado.
“I always wanted to learn how to do this kind of thing,” says Nate LaMere, a wiry 18-year-old in an oversized mechanic’s coverall. “It’s good stuff to know.”
LaMere is one of eight students in the Willard Flagship program who spend Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons restoring old cars that may one day go on display in a new Missoula auto museum.
The museum is the brainchild of Alan Ault, who hopes to show off the rare autos restored by Missoula area high-school students. The idea is to give students an opportunity to learn a trade and develop leadership and teamwork skills, while at the same time preserving historic vehicles.
“This is the just the restoration part,” Ault explains, showing off the Kensington Avenue garage. “If we had the land and the building, we could have 50 cars ready to show.”
In the meantime, area students will help the museum raise money by restoring vintage autos for clients who then donate funds to buy new tools, shop space and hopefully a site for a new museum.
Two weeks ago Audry Cooper, 18, learned how to change oil on the Eldorado. That night she went home and changed the oil in her own car for the first time. Now she’s hooked.
“I always want to be under the hood,” she says.