This Pebble Beach award-winner was restored by college students
One Sunday a year, the 18th green of Pebble Beach Golf Links turns into a parking lot. Not just any parking lot, though—a gathering of the world’s finest automotive restorers who have spent countless hours fretting over every minute detail of their vintage cars. Mixed into the Postwar Luxury class this year was an interesting addition: A black 1953 Mercedes-Benz 300S Cabriolet. Not an unusual sight, in the context … unless you knew how it got there.
At 4 a.m. that morning, among the crowd of restorers and owners with decades of experience, stood a group of nervous teens and 20-somethings surrounded by even more nervous adults. Though dawn had not arrived, all were sharply dressed and bright-eyed: It was time to put their sleek German cabriolet into the march of priceless metal primed to roll onto the lawn for the annual Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. The young restorers were likely a glimmer in their parent’s eyes when most of the other restorers on the green were running their own restoration shops. Sure, there are plenty of first-time participants every year at Pebble Beach, but rarely, if ever, does anyone qualify for the 72-year-old event with their first restoration.
Okay, that might be a little misleading. The 300S is not owned by the cadre of youth, and the car’s restoration was overseen by McPherson College. It is a humble private college, with fewer than 1000 students, located in the center of Kansas farm country. On the edge of the campus sits Templeton Hall, which houses the college’s Automotive Restoration program. Inside this brick and stucco building, the next generation of automotive restorers are learning and honing their craft. The Mercedes project has been the program’s guiding light for 10 years, setting the course for its future and, possibly, for the future of restoration industry as a whole.
“Many car collectors dream of just competing at Pebble Beach their entire lives,” said the president of McPherson College, Michael Schneider. “This is 10 years in the making, with students, alumni, and faculty pouring their heart and soul into this restoration project of the Mercedes-Benz to make this vision a reality. This accomplishment puts our students on par with the professionals of automotive restoration.”
To put students on the path to that kind of experience is one thing; competing at Pebble Beach is another. There was some tense hand-wringing among the students and faculty on Sunday as the concours judges made their rounds. Each entrant holds a buzzer, which vibrates to summon a car to the awards stand to accept an award, either for its class or for the entire competition. To the shock and awe of the students, professors, and alumni present last Sunday, the buzzer in hand of project lead Brian Martin lit up mid-afternoon. Word spread that McPherson’s Benz would be crossing the awards stage: It was one of three cars selected from the Postwar Luxury class. Anticipation built.
The nervous students piled into the car to ride across the stage. In one sense, they had already won: Matt Kroeker, one of the students who participated in the presentation to the judges, was elated just to be competing at Pebble Beach. Anything else, he felt, was just icing on the cake.
The car rumbled to a stop on the ramp. The P.A. system barked across the green: Second in class, to the McPherson Benz.
Thousands of applicants apply to participate in the Pebble Beach Concours. Dozens are selected, and even fewer are called out by the judges as top in their respective groupings. There is no consolation prize for Pebble Beach, and the level of restoration has never been higher than in 2023. To see McPherson’s Mercedes 300S Cabriolet not only on the 18th green but winning an award proves that the next generation of restorers not only exists but is incredibly talented, primed to step off the graduation stage into shops and facilities doing top-tier work. Congratulations to everyone involved in the project.
If you would like to help support McPherson College and its automotive restoration projects you can visit mcpherson.edu/autorestoration.