DIY car builders head for South Africa

6th February 1998 at 00:00
A TES story about pupils who build their own cars has provoked an international response. Stephen Swain reports.

A teacher whose pupils design and build their own sports cars from scrap parts plans to share his skills with a dozen South African schools.

Ron Champion, who teaches motor engineering at Oundle School in Northamptonshire, has written a best-selling automotive book, Build Your Own Sports Car for Pounds 250 (Haynes, Pounds 14.99).

Those attending the 1,042-pupil independent boarding school, which has an associated day school, can construct their own cars in Oundle's workshop in their free time. Now Mr Champion plans to transfer the knowledge that has accumulated so far to help South African pupils to find jobs.

He and three students will be flying out on March 19 and spending three weeks explaining how to build Mr Champion's Locost roadster, a design inspired by the classic Lotus Seven convertible.

"After the report about the book appeared in The TES (in November 1996) we started getting enquiries from all over the world about the project, including 12 from schools in South Africa.

"We replied with copies of the book, and details of what was needed to make the Locost. I gave them a list of equipment and tools, and found sponsors to provide materials - and they eventually asked us if we could come out and show them exactly what was involved," said Mr Champion.

He and three Oundle sixth-formers - Barnaby Guest, 16, Simon Blackburn and Timothy Earnshaw, both 17 - will be guests of families of pupils from the Plumstead high school in Cape Town, a racially-mixed boarding and day school.

The pupils - who, like Mr Champion, are paying their own way for the trip - have all built their own cars, and Simon is now on his second.

The boys will turn into teachers to pass on to the South African youngsters the skills they have mastered at Oundle, including welding, metal fabrication and glass-fibre moulding.

"We will help to make a finished car to take round all the other schools, as a kind of demonstrator.

"This is not just a fun thing. The aim is to create employable young people with skills that will help them get jobs in an area of high unemployment. Completed cars will be sold locally, and revenue re-invested in tools and training materials," said Mr Champion.

Ideally, he would like to take as many parts and teaching resources as possible, but it will require sponsorship of anywhere between Pounds 1, 500 and Pounds 5,000 to air-freight a finished car to South Africa.

Mr Champion can be contacted through The School Office, Church Street, Oundle, Peterborough PE8 4EE, tel 01832 274014 or fax 01832 275174.

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