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Over the winter I took my GT to a local technical High school to perform all the body work at a fraction of the price of a local body shop. Here is the recent newspaper article. I don't know if the picture will turn out.


One-time '$500 mess' gleams as learning tool

Shannon Lee Mannion
The Ottawa Citizen

April 2, 2004

The Ottawa Tech team that did the body work on Graham Ridley's 1971 Opel GT included teacher Tony Tiefenbach and students Ben Grant, Frazer Leader, Joey Reitano and Randy Hicks. Above, (the Opel in the early stages of repair. Graduates can move into jobs at car dealerships and body shops, or further their knowledge at Algonquin College).

This is no ordinary "man and his car" story. In fact, Graham Ridley, owner of this 1971 Opel GT, isn't even in the photos that accompany this week's column.

Yet the presence of his bright red sports coupe has become a cause celebre for teacher Tony Tiefenbach and several of his auto body students at the Ottawa Technical Learning Centre.

The car arrived in January at the Donald Street high school operated by Ottawa's English and French public school boards. It was a $500 mess that Mr. Ridley, a federal government employee, picked up three years ago, hoping to restore. As an investment, the German-built, four-cylinder Opel was a safe bet for spending time and money on: It has a reputation for fantastic handling, and fewer than 14,000 were manufactured in 1971.

Mr. Ridley started by rebuilding the engine. While considering what to do with the rust- and hole-ridden body, he caught wind of the auto body classes at Ottawa Tech that will work on a vehicle for about one-third of what it would cost at a commercial establishment.

In it went and 1,000 hours later, out it came, freshly sprayed and ready to be flatbedded to Mr. Ridley's home. He plans to redo the interior and replace the trim, lights and windshield in time to take it to the spring Carlisle collector car event in Pennsylvania next month.

When the Opel left Ottawa Tech, a little piece of each student who worked on it went along. "The best part was seeing how it came out," says student Randy Hicks.

Ben Grant spent days sanding the cowls for the hidden headlights that rotate 190 degrees when a lever is manually operated from within the car. He thinks it was pretty neat to work on a car more than twice his age.

Mr. Tiefenbach monitors student progress and directs the vehicles entering and leaving his multiple-bay domain. The day we dropped by, he was also welcoming educators visiting from Nova Scotia and interested in the hows and whys of running collision repair courses. With the overall industry facing staff shortages as an aging workforce retires, skilled and knowledgeable replacement workers will be needed.

Mr. Tiefenbach has the expert help of Jim Cassidy, a retired automotive technician who has the European designation of "panel beater" noted in a diploma on the wall.

With a Scottish lilt, Mr. Cassidy offers that his choices were to stay home "or come and pass on my skills to someone else. It was an old guy showed who me what to do when I was young."

Both men nod and agree that the course through which they are shepherding some 60 teenagers works out well, with plenty of jobs expected to become available. "With all the guys retiring or getting out of the trade in the next 10 years, there'll be no one left to do the work," Mr. Cassidy points out.

"Besides," he adds, "People need to learn how to do something to make a living."

After four years of auto body, students are ready for entry-level positions at dealerships and auto body shops. Or they can consolidate their knowledge through additional courses at Algonquin College. And gaining hands-on experience throughout the school year can be parlayed into part-time and summer jobs.

Mr. Tiefenbach recognizes that each individual comes with a unique background and ability to absorb information and to master a variety of skills. And he knows that sometimes it's not what someone scrawls on a test, but how students coach others to prepare for a test, or how they learn to handle themselves in a group situation. Think teenagers and social skills, and the importance of being part of a team working on a particular vehicle takes on critical meaning.

The school welcomes inquiries from the public about getting work done on vehicles and also asks for donations of equipment and supplies (for both, call 745-0347, ext. 589, and leave a message). Mr. Tiefenbach is grateful for help from Dupont, 3M and C-Max but says there is still a need for hobbyists to drop off unused supplies -- sandpaper, masking tape, paint, etc. -- and welding material and equipment no longer needed. Even mismatched or leftover paint will not go to waste, as students are encouraged to bring their bicycles, skateboards and other items from home for touchups.

Mr. T has the last word: "The students and I take great satisfaction in taking in something that's been smashed up and then seeing it repaired and painted."

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© The Ottawa Citizen 2004
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