It is often lamented that traditional car building skills are being lost. But there are little corners of the industry where those traditional skills continue to be used and are being passed on to a new generation.
And we’re not just talking about specialist restoration shops, either. Some automakers still use traditional skills in their production process and are training large groups of apprentices in those skills.
Bentley is one such automaker that is ensuring that dying automotive arts don’t disappear entirely by giving its latest batch of apprentices the ultimate school project: restoring a classic 1965 T-Series.
The T-Series was Bentley’s leap into the modern world. Launched in October of 1965, it featured a monocoque bodyshell, hydraulic brakes, and self-levelling suspension. Under the hood, a 6.23-liter (later 6.75-liter) V8 engine served up “sufficient” power. Bentley quoted a 0 60 miles per hour (100 kilometers per hour) time of 10.9 seconds, and a top speed of 115 mph (185 km/h).
The first-generation T-Series (subsequently known as T1) was built up until 1977 when the facelifted, modernized T2 was introduced. The T-Series always suffered something of an identity crisis, being neither sufficiently different from its Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow twin, or sporty enough to be considered a "true" Bentley. Consequently, sales were much lower than those of the Shadow, just 2261 T-Series sedans being built until the Mulsanne took over in 1980.
The apprentices will embark on a full restoration of their T-Series, including the engine, body, trim, and paint. The skills they learn in the process are directly transferable to Bentley's modern production line.
Master Trainer Colin Jackson, who is leading the project, said “This is something everyone involved in can feel very proud of. Having the opportunity to bring back to life such an iconic Bentley doesn’t happen very often. The challenge of restoring this car means that our apprentices will develop the traditional skills that Bentley is so famous for, and sets them up for their careers building Bentleys of the future."
Bentley has been training apprentices for more than 40 years. The latest intake includes 19 who are completing a three-year manufacturing training program encompassing coach trimming, wood, paint, mechatronics, and production maintenance. Another 17 are working in the engineering, sales and marketing, purchasing, and human resources departments. Bentley also has links with educational establishments near its Crewe headquarters.
When the T-Series is finished, it will join Bentley's heritage fleet and tour events around the world.