Rock Hill technology center team takes on ‘rat rod’ car challenge

Students and instructors at the Rock Hill Applied Technology Center are tackling something they’ve never done before: building a car from scratch.

The team of three automotive instructors and nine students accepted a Charlotte businessman’s challenge to use his $5,000 donation to build a “rat rod” - an inexpensive “hot rod” made from an assortment of car parts.

The ATC rat rod and the cars built by 10 other regional high school automotive teams who are participating in the project will be shown at Charlotte’s Discovery Place on Saturday, April 16, during a STEMlympics display. The ATC team is the only participating team in York County.

Gil Valk, leader of the Rock Hill ATC team with fellow automotive instructors Mark Dellinger and Derrick Crenshaw, said the team started with a 1927 Ford Model A frame and front axle and a 1967 Volkswagen Beetle body.

Valk said he has never done such an involved project. “I’ve rebuilt plenty of vehicles, but not to this extent,” Valk said. “This has been literally from the ground up.”

Jameson Hill, a 16-year-old South Pointe High junior who did most of the welding on the frame, said the project was a lot more extensive than he thought.

“It’s very tedious; it’s not what you would think it would be like building a car,” he said. “We didn’t have a photo to go by. We kind of made it up as we went.”

Nick Cangiano, 16, a Northwestern High junior, said the students did a lot of problem solving. He learned about working with struts, creating a suspension and building a frame.

“It was kind of a handful when I first started,” Cangiano said. “Not knowing what I was doing, but taking on everything and just learning everything as I go.”

Valk said the scope of the project goes beyond what’s taught in ATC programs. “This is something that’s not done at the high school level very often,” he said.

Twelve students from the three Rock Hill high schools were chosen to work on the after-school project, but three had to drop out. They are students in auto technology, collision repair, small engine and welding, with assistance from digital art and design.

The project challenge was made by Jim Harper, vice president of Harper Corporation of America, an advanced manufacturing company in Charlotte.

Harper said the company came up with the “rat rod” challenge as a creative thinking project for schools to inspire students who might not be reached by traditional education.

Harper said one stated goal of the project was to use as much instruction as possible in STEAM, or science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

Brandon McKoy, a 17-year-old South Pointe junior, wanted to work on the project “because I knew that it would be different from anything I’ve ever done.”

“When you’re building cars, there is a lot more to it that just putting on parts,” he said. “You’ve got to understand what they do. Nothing ever goes as planned, and you’ve always got a little challenge. I feel like you learn more with a challenge.”

Wesley Allen, a 15-year-old Rock Hill High sophomore, said he wanted the body work experience. “It was more eye opening than I thought it would be,” he said. “I didn’t realize that much work went into making something like we are.”

Valk said the ATC, where the team began work in mid-November, will get to keep the car and plans to show it off. He said they might want to raise money for another such project.

Valk and Dellinger said the finished rat rod, which will be fully operational, will have a patina finish, upholstered seats, side panels and a wood floor.

“We’re setting a high standard,” Valk said. “Because this is something that we want to keep going.”

Jennifer Becknell: 803-329-4077

Want to go?

The Rock Hill Applied Technology Center rat rod and cars built by 10 other area high school automotive teams will be shown at Discovery Place in Charlotte from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 16 during a STEMlympics display.