Harvard of Automobile Restoration secures $500 million pledge

(Bloomberg) – You wouldn’t expect to find one of the greatest Ferraris ever made tucked away in some obscure little university in the middle of Kansas.

But here it is, inside Templeton Hall: a 365 GTB/4 Daytona – chiseled nose, square tail, V-12 and all – worth over $600,000.

It’s a hint that humble McPherson College — the only place in America where you can earn a bachelor’s degree in automotive restoration — is no ordinary ivory tower.

A few others: a sleek 1914 Ford Model T Speedster, a curvaceous 1956 Austin Healey 100 M Le Mans, and a 1929 Lincoln Model L Custom Town Car.

To that list, add one more: a pledge of $500 million, in what would be one of the biggest donations ever made by American universities.

Take that, Harvard.

The anonymous pledge, announced Thursday, would yield $2 for every dollar McPherson can raise by June, up to half a billion. The tally so far: around $260 million.

“Little Business”

The potential combined transport, $750 million, has the power to transform McPherson, with just 800 students, into one of the richest liberal arts colleges in the United States – up there with Vassar, Hamilton and Bryn Mawr .

“This commitment to McPherson College is a symbol that small things and people who are small do great things too,” said Michael Schneider, president of the school, in an interview. “I think it’s really symbolic that people are saying, ‘Look what they’re doing, it’s working.’ And I hope that sends the signal to others that these schools matter too. These small schools that focus on a more intimate experience, a larger experience. We focus on the liberal arts, but in a career context , career-oriented liberal arts, the idea that you can balance the two.

McPherson isn’t a Stanford-style prestige grinder, but he does have fans of the rich and famous.

One of them is Jay Leno, former host of The Tonight Show and car enthusiast. He endowed two scholarships at McPherson.

In these Teslafied times, McPherson maintains the art and science of vintage internal combustion cars, said Leno, who owns about 350 cars and motorcycles, including a McLaren that is worth at least $15 million.

“A bit like people fixing old masters,” is how he characterizes McPherson graduates.

The stock market is down and house prices are teetering, but so far classic cars have held up remarkably well for investment. Vintage vehicles powered through the pandemic, with prices ranging from 34% for a 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am Special Edition to 100% for a 1990 Nissan Skyline GT-R N1. Online auction sites such as Bring a Trailer have had blistering runs.

The market – and, by extension, the demand for specialists capable of bringing a 1969 Corvette Stingray back to concours level – put some wind in the 135-year-old McPherson’s hair. Some other small, unglamorous colleges are facing existential crises at a time when the cost of higher education and the value of certain degrees are being questioned.

Mountain Bikes

Strolling through energizing Templeton Hall, home to the university’s auto restoration program and collection of around 80 cars, Provost Amanda Gutierrez recounts the makes, models and years. According to her, the students must be at the same time craftsmen, artists and historians.

“It’s all about it,” said Gutierrez, who got interested in cars after growing up riding dirt bikes with her dad and brother — while wearing sundresses, she noted — and used to help oversee the program.

The Ferrari 365 GTB here is a gift from another deep-pocketed donor, Los Angeles real estate developer Richard Lundquist. His wife Melanie calls him her “baby”.

The couple have pledged $50 million to McPherson and Melanie Lundquist is the spokesperson for the yet-unnamed new benefactor. McPherson declined to identify the donor.

“Small liberal arts colleges are a very endangered species,” said Melanie Lundquist. “Private dollars,” she added, “can make possible what most people think is impossible.”

With a sticker price of around $180,000, a four-year degree from McPherson can open doors to careers at restorers, auction houses, and even private collections.

The students lately gave a 1950s Mercedes-Benz 300S a serious helping hand. Their goal: victory at the 2023 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in California.

“It’s kind of like a bunch of kids from Stanford in the chemistry department working on a project to win a Nobel Prize,” said McPherson’s president Schneider.

One of those children is Victoria Bruno, a self-proclaimed Ferrari enthusiast who wants to rebuild vintage Ferrari engines after graduating next year. Bruno will work at Patrick Otis, Ferrari engine and mechanical shop in Berkeley, California, where she can do just that.

Bruno, who came to the Great Plains in the middle of nowhere from Los Angeles, likens rebuilding rare Ferrari engines to solving “one of the toughest puzzles” around.

At McPherson, she says, a passion for the classics – more Alfa Romeo than Aristotle – “seeps through the walls”.

©2022 Bloomberg LP

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