Australian classic car dream for A-grade apprentice Leon

A-grade apprentice Leon Blackburn is engineering a dream career with the ultimate aim of opening his own classic car garage in Australia.

Leon Blackburn

Born into motorsport, the 20-year-old has perhaps inevitably ended up hooked on cars and motorbikes and after swapping a motorsport engineering degree at university for a workshop-based motor vehicle apprenticeship, he is now much happier.

Leon said: “My life has always been dominated by motor engineering and motorsport. My mum and dad met when they were both racing Porsche 924s in the 1990s; in fact every member of my family has either raced or been part of a race team in their lives.

“I got my first motorbike when I was five years old and I also raced karts from when I was eight until I was 11. I've always been interested in cars and motorbikes - I can't remember a time when I wasn't.”

The former Barnard Castle School student achieved excellent A-level results – an A in Maths and Bs in Physics and Computer Science, as well as an A* in an EPQ (Extended Project Qualification) in which he restored a vintage 1929 motorcycle.

Leon went on to study a BEng in Motorsport Engineering at the University of Derby, but the enforced online tuition due to Covid was out of tune with his preferred learning style and he left after a year.

Last year he secured an apprenticeship with Mark Gibson Motor Services in Winston, near his native Barnard Castle. He recently completed his Level 2 and starts his Level 3 Light Vehicle Technician with Bishop Auckland College in September.

Leon added: “The Australia idea came from my dad emigrating there last year after remarrying an Australian. I went for the wedding in May and really loved it and saw much more opportunity than here in the UK. I plan to move maybe two years after my apprenticeship has ended so I can gain more experience here first.

“My longer term plans are to work over there for a while and then hopefully open a restoration garage, as vintage and classic vehicles are a huge passion of mine.”

Comparing his degree experience to the apprenticeship, Leon said: “I enjoy the hands-on learning the most in the apprenticeship. I've always learnt best that way and working with cars made that 100 times better.

“I've learnt a lot this year, but mainly on how to be faster and more efficient as a mechanic. I gained a large amount of car knowledge growing up as I was constantly around them and this course has solidified that knowledge and now I am starting to build on it more.

“The training at Bishop Auckland College has been very good. The workshop technicians and tutors are very experienced and are very helpful, the other students are friendly and I am glad to be learning there. The workshops are very well equipped and are very nice places to work.”

And offering advice to any other students who find themselves on the wrong track, he added: “In my experience, if you find yourself unhappy with your current choice, it is best to change. In my opinion, leaving university was one of the best choices I've made and my life has been made much better by doing so. Apprenticeships set you up well for the working world and I find university doesn't give you the real skills you need in a workplace.”

* The college is recruiting for full time Motor Vehicle diplomas starting this September now. For more information visit: