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Learn by doing! 

A car club embodies the Cal Poly motto

If your only concept of Cal Poly students is roving bands of youngsters milling through Farmers Market or noisy neighbors with couches on their front porches, you’re only seeing a tiny fraction of the university community. The truth is most Cal Poly kids are sober, hardworking, ambitious young people eager to get out into the world and make their mark.

click to enlarge MEET THE CLUB :  (Left to right) Max Kassan, Megan Edwards, Sam Cates, Walt Branscone of Santa Barbara Porsche, alumni Alex Pruitt, Brendan Gill, Ben Roget, Allison Weiner, Kelvin Dedrick, and Dayton Erickson gathered around the Cal Poly Motorcar Association’s electric Porsche project. - PHOTOS BY GLEN STARKEY
  • PHOTOS BY GLEN STARKEY
  • MEET THE CLUB : (Left to right) Max Kassan, Megan Edwards, Sam Cates, Walt Branscone of Santa Barbara Porsche, alumni Alex Pruitt, Brendan Gill, Ben Roget, Allison Weiner, Kelvin Dedrick, and Dayton Erickson gathered around the Cal Poly Motorcar Association’s electric Porsche project.

While their less earnest peers are searching out the next kegger, most Cal Poly students have found more fruitful pursuits. Take, for instance, the Cal Poly Motor Car Association, for which—full disclosure—I happen to be faculty adviser. In its short three years of existence, what this group of young men and women has accomplished is nothing short of amazing.

They realize that not all learning takes place in the classroom, and they’ve embodied Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing philosophy in their pursuit of refurbishing an electric sports car.

“The Cal Poly Motor Car Association was founded in 2010 by a group of students who felt there ought to be a university-affiliated community of automotive enthusiasts to share the enjoyment and passion for driving fine motor cars,” explained founding member Sam Cates. “Our organization strives for three distinct goals, symbolized by the three spokes of the steering wheel in our logo: to share the enjoyment and passion for driving and fine motor cars among Cal Poly students; to establish mutually beneficial relationships with local and national automotive entities; and to explore the potential employment opportunities and careers in the automotive industry.”

They acquired their project car—a 1977 Porsche 911 S Targa—when a Cal Poly alumnus and parent of a student approached the club’s booth at the 2011 Cal Poly Open House and offered to donate the vehicle, which he’d converted to electric.

“Cal Poly ASI has a policy that no club may own assets such as motor vehicles, trailers, boats, etc.” Cates said. “Because the Cal Poly Motor Car Association is an ASI club, we had to partner with a student organization within the College of Business that would accept the donation and allow the Cal Poly Motor Car Association to have a managing interest in the project.”

It was surprisingly difficult to get the university to accept the gift, but the club kept  at it, and since receiving the car, members have worked on it nights and weekends.

“Since the vehicle arrived to Cal Poly in the fall of 2011, we were able to completely restore the interior with all new materials, repair and re-spray the exterior, and restore various trim and cosmetic items on the car,” Cates said. “You can see the Restoration Blog for more details and a timeline.” That’s calpolymca.com/restoration-blog.html.

Members also made good use of their powers of persuasion to fund the restoration.

- SEE THE CARS!:  Members of the Cal Poly Motor Car Association will be on hand on Sunday, June 9, at Madonna Inn for the 2013 San Luis Obispo Concours car show (sanluisobispoconcours.com) from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tickets cost $15 (children younger than 12 get in free; parking and refreshments included). -
  • SEE THE CARS!: Members of the Cal Poly Motor Car Association will be on hand on Sunday, June 9, at Madonna Inn for the 2013 San Luis Obispo Concours car show (sanluisobispoconcours.com) from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tickets cost $15 (children younger than 12 get in free; parking and refreshments included).

“We were extremely fortunate to have received a grant from the Collectors Foundation (collectorsfoundation.org) that funded the interior, exterior, and mechanical restorations,” Cates continued. “The foundation awards scholarships and educational grants to organizations committed to ‘hands-on education’ and making a difference in the lives of young people through the appeal of historic vehicles and vessels—building the next generation of collectors. Porsche Cars North America, Inc. also made a generous donation and helped raise publicity by featuring our project on its corporate website.”

Many local companies and dealerships—such as SGS Motorsports and Precision Motorsports—have also been generous about sharing expertise, raising publicity, and offering discount parts.

“When the Porsche is completed, we want to compete in the annual REFUEL race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and show the car at events such as Concours d’Elegance, where we can show the motoring community that sustainable electric technology is possible even in a sports car application. Additionally, we want to use this Porsche to help advance our university’s visibility and promote Cal Poly’s Learn By Doing educational philosophy to people who may have never heard of San Luis Obispo. We hope our efforts will inspire future Cal Poly students to continuously improve the Porsche as new technologies emerge and the imaginations of students flourish. As student members graduate and start careers in the auto industry, their experiences through the project will provide practical knowledge and timely skills they can immediately apply to electric vehicle projects at actual car companies.”

There’s still plenty left to do.

“Once the interior, exterior, and mechanical portions of the project are completed, efforts will transition to designing a new electrical system to power the vehicle,” Cates said. “Engineering students will have the opportunity to essentially build an electric sports car from the ground up, using one of the most iconic automobiles in history as a platform. Funding for new batteries and electrical powertrain components is currently being sought from companies looking to support a relevant university project and highlight that business’s philanthropic efforts.”

The batteries and powertrain will cost tens of thousands of dollars. So how can people help?

“Individuals and companies with knowledge of EV components can assist our engineering team with funds, materials, and technical advice,” Cates said. “If interested, please contact motorcarassociation@calpoly.edu or send a note through our website, calpolymca.com.”

Sam Cates is graduating this month. Post-graduation, he says, “I’m interning in the product planning department at Chrysler Group LLC, in Auburn Hills, Michigan. I’m excited to experience what working at the ‘parent’ HQ will be like, as my prior internship with Porsche was at the North American subsidiary. Personally, the club has allowed me to network with professionals in the auto industry—everyone from local dealers, restoration centers, and corporate executives. Several other Cal Poly Motor Car Association members have achieved internships and full-time employment at many OEM automotive companies including Audi, Aston Martin, BMW, Bugatti, Rolls-Royce, and Tesla.”

You can see the car and meet club members on Sunday, June 9, when it’s on display at the 2013 San Luis Obispo Concours car show at Madonna Inn.

And the next time a drunk college kid throws up on your lawn, rest assured that’s the exception, not the rule.

Glen Starkey takes a beating and keeps on bleating. Keep up with him via twitter at twitter.com/glenstarkey, friend him at facebook.com/glenstarkey or myspace.com/glenstarkey, or contact him at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

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