On Thursday afternoon, instructors, students and officials at Bridgerland Technical College unveiled the finished restoration of a 1966 Ford Mustang convertible six years — and more than 1,500 hours of labor — in the making.
“Baby Blue” was not just Kristine Dobson’s first car, it was her first love. When she was 20, she was looking for a car and her then-boyfriend found it in a junkyard.
“He said, ‘We can restore this car,’” Dobson recalled. “‘This can have a good life.’”
He was right. It was running within months, and Dobson drove the Mustang to her teaching job every day for years.
But almost 40 years later, Dobson’s mother died, and 2013 became her “year of letting go.” As Baby Blue hadn’t left the garage much in recent years, Dobson decided to donate the car to a cause she’d loved for years: furthering education through technical programs.
“Being able to get into programs where students who are often quote-unquote ‘alternative students’ because they don’t quite fit the mold is so important,” she said. “So I just thought, that’s where it needs to be, because it not only gives my cute little car another chance of new life, but it’s helping students to learn a craft that is going to teach them all kinds of skills they’ll use across their lifetime.”
The car was in rough shape. Dobson hadn’t put much time or money on upkeep in the last few years, and though the car started, the instructors weren’t keen on driving it far.
But they could see the potential and were grateful for the opportunity to share the process with students.
“Often it’s hard to tell what project a student wants to work on,” said BTECH President Chad Campbell. “This one was designed for students because it’s a rare car. It’s not often you get to work on it.”
Campbell, who has long been friends with Dobson, said the automotive and collision repair programs are some of the oldest offered at the school, but it can still be hard to fight the perception of the value of a technical education.
The hope is that people seeing the Mustang, repainted “Bridgerland red” after a student vote, can change that perception.
The cycle of ‘new life’
“It takes a lot of patience and a lot of determination to do a restoration,” according to Andrew Arave, an instructor in the program.
An estimated 60 students in the Auto Collision program at BTECH had the opportunity to work on the Mustang over the years, and the car was a big motivating factor for students to stay enrolled, Arave said.
“On day one we come in and give the students a tour,” he said. “They see the car, and they get excited. They all go to car shows and want to do that themselves.”
But, similar to the process of a restoration, it took time and patience for students to reach the level where Arave and department head Kevin Cornia allowed students to work on the Mustang.
“It gives them reason to keep coming back,” Cornia said. “Part of the thing students learn is how much time and how much effort goes into this.”
Many of the students who worked on the project had graduated and moved on, but Heber Roskelley, 17, finished up the high school program and started working on the car in 2019.
The Box Elder native has dreamed of opening an auto shop with his brother and said helping with the restoration was like a dream come true.
“When I was really little, I got a model Mustang,” he said. “I got that thing put together. By then I didn’t have all the parts, but that’s what spiked my fascination about these cars.”
Roskelley put on all the trim and chrome in the restoration and worked with instructors on some interior elements as well.
Around the third year of the project was the most tedious: filling in dents and resurfacing, Arave said.
“I bet a lot of students didn’t think we’d get to this point,” he said. “But seeing students like Heber, the way they light up when they see it, that’s what it’s about.”
In addition to Dobson’s donation of the car, multiple local businesses chipped in to see the project finished, including Hawker’s A1 Automotive & Performance, Discount Tire, and Cache Valley Autocare — the latter of which was particularly significant to the Auto Collision program, according to Arave.
“One student I had worked on it in high school quite a bit,” he said. “He was in my class for two years straight, and then he graduated and went to work there. It so happened that once we took the car up there, he remembered it, and he did all the mechanical work on it, too.”
Now that the car is fixed up, Campbell, Cornia and Arave hope to showcase what the program has to offer, potentially including at the annual Cruise-In parade, before they sell it and buy another classic for future students to have a similar opportunity.
Dobson approves the decision and supports anything that promotes lifelong learning and post-secondary education.
“It’s real time applied skills,” she said. “There are many, many people, I think, who just thrive in that kind of environment. They find it stimulating and interesting and have a hard time sitting in a class where they really never get the opportunity to figure out ‘what is this for other than to check it off my list for graduation?’”