You might be surprised to learn that the classic car sector is a major contributor to the UK economy. Today, it’s worth around £18 billion and employs more than 110,000 people from mechanics and bodywork specialists to paint and finish artists and parts sourcing experts.
In the UK, there are no specific qualifications required to become a car mechanic, including for classic cars, but many employers prefer candidates who have completed relevant training and have some experience in the field.
When people come to us and ask what training they need to start working in the classic car restoration industry, we always start with learning the basics. While modern cars have become more like rolling computers, they still share the same basic components as older cars. If you’re a complete novice, therefore, the best place to begin is with a general qualification whether you want to be a mechanic, paint and finish expert or something else.
For example, formal general qualifications for a car mechanic may include:
- City & Guilds Level 1 Certificate in Vehicle Maintenance and Repair: This is an entry-level course that covers basic vehicle maintenance and repair.
- City & Guilds Level 2 Certificate in Vehicle Maintenance and Repair: This course builds on the skills learned in Level 1 and covers more complex repairs and diagnostics.
- NVQ Level 3 in Automotive Maintenance and Repair: This is a more advanced qualification that covers advanced diagnostics, repair, and maintenance of vehicles.
- IMI Level 3 Diploma in Light Vehicle Maintenance and Repair: This is a recognized industry qualification that covers a wide range of technical skills and knowledge required for car mechanics.
Car bodywork and paint and finish specialists typically require formal training and qualifications to gain employment in the field. Here are some of the most common qualifications and training courses for these types of jobs:
- Level 2 and 3 Diploma in Vehicle Body and Paint Operations: These qualifications cover a range of skills required for repairing and restoring car bodywork, including panel beating, welding, paint spraying, and body filling.
- City & Guilds Level 3 Certificate in Accident Repair Paint Principles: This course covers the principles of paint application, colour matching, and repair techniques for car bodywork.
- NVQ Level 3 in Vehicle Body and Paint Operations: This qualification covers more advanced skills in car bodywork repair, including repair and replacement of damaged panels, chassis alignment, and bodywork finishing.
There are also several courses available for auto electricians in the UK. This is an interesting one as far as training goes, however, because older cars have electrical systems that have since been overtaken by highly sophisticated modern technology. These courses, however, do provide a basic grounding that is vital for anyone working on the electrical systems of vintage vehicles. That’s mainly because, even outside the classic car sector, most mechanics and auto electricians still work on older vehicles.
- Level 2 Diploma in Auto Electrical and Mobile Electrical Competence: A mixture of online and practical teaching and hands-on experience is designed to give beginners a complete grounding.
- Level 3 Diploma in Auto Electrical and Mobile Electrical Competence: This course takes participants to the next level and allows them to then focus on a particular area like auto electrical work for classic cars.
- BTEC HNC Diploma in Automotive Diagnostics and Management Principles: This is a more advanced level qualification that takes the participant to Level 4, focusing on the diagnosis and fixing of complex faults.
Most people who go on to work with classic cars will have undertaken some formal training such as this. It’s important to make sure you have the basics. Many garages that deal with classic car renovations also handle modern vehicles as well so being up to date with all the latest technology and methods is critical, especially for roles such as auto electricians.
Apprenticeships are a great way to gain practical, on-the-job training while studying for a relevant qualification. Many people progress to becoming a classic car mechanic, bodywork or paint and finish specialist by being taken on and trained by a garage.
If you are looking to train and work on classic cars and you are fresh out of school then it’s worth contacting your local garage to find out if they are taking apprentices on at the moment.
Specialist Classic Car Restoration Courses UK
There are some beginner and higher-level classic car restoration courses available around the UK and they can be useful for those who want to be employed in the sector as well as those whose hobby it is restoring vintage vehicles.
Some are run by colleges; others are organised by companies and car clubs.
Here are some that are currently available:
- City of Liverpool College: Their Motor Vehicle Body Repair & Classic Car Restoration course covers all aspects of vehicle body repair and restoration and runs over a year. The course includes both theory and practice and candidates need no previous experience.
- North Warwickshire & South Leicestershire College: This covers Level 2 and Level 3 for Classic Car Restoration. Each level runs over a year and involves everything from general mechanics to bodywork repair and paint and finish techniques.
- Heritage Skills Academy: There are several apprenticeships available that are designed to give individuals high-level skills in classic car restoration and maintenance. The Academy also runs one-day courses for enthusiasts which are generally advertised through Event Brite.
- Brooklands Museum, Surrey: This classic car restoration apprenticeship scheme is an extension of the Heritage Skills Academy and the museum is on the site of the first purpose-built racing track. Again they run similar intensive courses for hobbyists throughout the year which are advertised on Event Brite.
- Bolton College: An Introduction to Restoration and Body Repair for classic cars runs over a ten-week block and the site has extensive motor and restoration workshops.
- Contour Academy: Based in Peterborough, the academy runs both online and in-person bodywork courses for all levels including specialist lessons for classic car restorations. They also run a 5-day course over the summer that focuses on the techniques involved in welding and forming mild steel and aluminium alloy.
- National Motor Museum in Beaulieu: The motor museum runs a whole host of events over the year but also takes on several apprentices who can learn all aspects of classic car restoration and maintenance.
Short Classic Car Restoration Courses for Enthusiasts
There are several small half-day and whole-day courses in car restoration to be found around the UK if you look hard enough. The Heritage Skills Academy, for example, run a 3 day-intensive course that covers areas like fabrication and spot welding. These are normally advertised on Event Brite.
Are There Online Courses for Classic Car Restoration?
There are also some short online courses available that cover aspects of classic car restoration which could be a good option for hobbyists and enthusiasts. Skillshack, for instance, has an hour-and-a-half long online course for basic maintenance for classic cars as well as ones that cover aspects such as body repairs and classic car electrics.
These are all pay-per-view, of course, and you need to weigh up the cost of downloading the online course and the value that it might bring.
White’s Bodyworks: The Classic Car Restoration Specialists
At White’s Bodyworks, we believe that good training goes hand in hand with a great experience. It’s important to get the right basis for your education as a mechanic or bodywork specialist and most local towns with a college will have a full complement of courses available.
Unfortunately, training courses for classic car restorations are thin on the ground in the UK which is a surprise when you consider how much the industry contributes to the economy. Most people who go into classic car renovation do so with the standard qualifications and then learn through experience how their skills can be applied to older vehicles.
At White’s Bodyworks, we’ve spent a lot of time not only encouraging our staff to get the right skills and gain experience but think it’s vital if the sector is to survive. One thing that does make a difference, we’ve found, is passion. You can have all the training and go to all the courses in the world but you still have to really love everything about vintage vehicles and how to restore them.
If you’ve got an interest in working on classic cars professionally, we’re always happy to give advice. Check out our website for more about what we do.