December 18, 2022
MCPHERSON, Kan. — So polished is the finish of the classic car that, like a mirror, it reflects the reverential faces staring at it.
Only 203 of this version of the iconic 1953 Mercedes-Benz 300S Cabriolet were ever built. They sold for three times the price of a Cadillac and were snapped up as status symbols by the likes of Clark Gable, Bing Crosby, Cary Grant and Gary Cooper.
Those famous names aren’t what interest the people in this garage bay, though. Their obsession is the car, which has been under restoration for six years by students at this college in sparsely settled central Kansas, in the hope that it will win the world’s most prestigious classic car event next summer: the annual Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
That’s an unusual ambition for a small college — which is exactly the point. This particular small college has what it says is the country’s only four-year bachelor’s degree in automotive restoration, a major that combines engineering, history, business, communication, art and other disciplines.
It’s an example of the way a small regional higher education institution can stand out in a crowded field of competitors at a time when many other schools appear intent on trying to attract applicants by becoming more alike than different.
“There’s an entire culture around the classic car, and at the center of that world is McPherson College,” declared Michael Schneider, president of the college, which is home to this one-of-a-kind program in automotive engineering.
Not many people outside of its hometown of 14,000, named for Civil War Union General James Birdseye McPherson, have likely heard of the school. But there are enough devotees of classic cars, students who want to learn how to restore and preserve them and employers who need workers with those skills that its unusual specialty is paying off.