College of New Caledonia Students Restore Vintage Muscle Car
In the auto body repair shop at the College of New Caledonia (CNC), the engine of a fully restored 1973 Pontiac Trans Am fires to life! This is the culmination of six years and more than 1,000 working hours by CNC Motor Vehicle Body Repairer program students who transformed the bones of the vintage muscle car back to its former glory.
“I wanted to bring a project that students would have a passion for,” said CNC Motor Vehicle Body Repairer instructor Byron Hayashi. “You don’t see many of these cars out there on the road today. It comes from the last year of the era of the true original muscle car.”
The Trans Am was nothing more than a mocked up frame atop an empty chassis when Aaron Wall, Ron Loyie and Jason McKinnon started the program in 2017.
Ron and Jason were responsible for the final finishing of the bodywork. The two also patched some holes in the frame, sanded the car from front to back, and primed it. The most frustrating part of working on the car for Jason was lining parts up.
“These old cars aren’t like new ones where everything is an eighth on an inch apart,” he said. “They’re gapped. Pretty big and pretty far off. To make everything lined up and even was probably the hardest thing I have ever achieved working on a vehicle to date.”
Aaron focused on the “nuts and bolts” mechanical aspects of the Trans Am. After completing the program, he enrolled in Heavy Duty Mechanics at CNC. Aaron, however, dedicated some of his spare time to continue working on the Trans Am.
"Everybody has a dream of restoring some old car,” he said. “To actually get your hands on one and do it and then appreciate what goes into it. Coming out the other end, I still want to do it.”
Travis Ross picked up where the other three left off when he began the Motor Vehicle Body Repairer program in 2018. He faced the challenge of completing the interior of the Trans Am and used his own Pontiac Firebird for reference and inspiration.
“It was pretty interesting to get all the parts together and find what goes where,” Travis said. “I loved doing it.”
Another challenge the students faced was sourcing original parts to bring the Trans Am back to its original production code.
“The students were a great resource sourcing original parts,” Byron said. “This is how the car was when you bought it from a dealer back in 1973. The exact same colour. The exact same options in the motor etc.”
Returning to CNC to see the car was a bittersweet moment for Ron and Jason. Though they’re happy to see it completed, the two said they wished they had been involved with the project from start to end.
“Looking at it now, seeing the finished product and how far it's come, it's quite a statement,” Ron said. “This took a few years to complete but seeing it in this way brings a tear to my eye.”
Jason runs his hand across the smooth red finish of Trans Am’s roof, touching the seams only he can see.
“Look at this car,” he said. “It’s gorgeous. It’s straight. There are no hard lines. No ridges. No nothing anywhere on this car. We pulled it off.”
The Trans Am will make appearances at car shows around Prince George to promote both the Motor Vehicle Body Repairer program and the work of CNC students.
"Everyone has taken a shot at this car and gotten something out of it,” Byron said. “Overall, it was a great learning experience for the students. They now realize how much work goes into a restore like this.”