CAT Garage Lives: The Figaro Shop

Project-car_The-Figaro-Shop-1The chic Nissan Figaro is a wonderful yet nostalgic sight on the roads and is based partly on the Nissan Micra. It was originally available in only four colours and one specification.

Each of the 20,000 Figaros that rolled off the production line had the same three-speed automatic gearbox, air conditioning, electric windows and CD player among other features.

However, keeping these small cars on the road is no easy feat as Toby Brooks, Owner of The Figaro Shop, will testify, as the car is prone to rust among other things. But this garage is also well versed in making these cars a little more personal.

Brooks originally got into Figaros from simply restoring one, and his love for the little car took off and developed into a business as he explains:

“There is that feeling you get with restorations when someone comes to pick the car up and cries because they like it so much, you can’t beat that.

Workshop_The-Figaro-Shop-1“It started off with me building one car a month for a client and it went on from there, as people started seeing the work we did, they started wanting parts and the work done.

“At the time I thought the Figaros that people were doing, weren’t good enough and bodged together. I just looked at them and thought we could do a better job and we did, and built a reputation for that.

“We are quite lucky that we get to do some really nice builds now, and generally we have quite a long waiting list for people who want us to build a car for them. We have had around a six month waiting list for the last four or five years.”

The Figaro Shop has become renowned for its bespoke restorations. Not only can the owner request the colour of the body and the hood to be changed, they can request bespoke leather upholstery, a specially developed Clarion radio with Bluetooth and a USB port, and even heated seats. Brooks adds that because the Figaros all had the same specifications, customers looking to restore their car will usually look to give the car a personal touch.

Workshop_The-Figaro-Shop-2“People want to make them their own. It tends to be variations of the same features, trimming the seats, the upholstery, sewing initials into the headrests, or changing the colour of the hood that type of thing,” he says.

Having bodyshop facilities in-house means that the garage has also been able to take on Figaro crash repair work from insurance companies, which has led to additional work on other damaged vehicles as well. Brooks says that this work fits perfectly within the business as they already have the expertise and equipment to do the job, adding that other bodyshops would struggle to source and fit replacement parts for the Figaros as they can be quite scarce in some instances.

On-site is a large collection of donor cars and parts alongside new and OE parts, which keeps the garage supplied with spares and also supplements its mail order business.

Brooks explains: “We can supply almost every part for the Figaros, with a 50-50 split between new and used parts. We build engines in-house and some are sent out through mail order as well. Other parts are made for us, such as the turbos, which come from Turbo Technics. It allows us to corner the market.

Workshop_The-Figaro-Shop-3“It is just so useful to have parts on site, because we are breaking the accident repair ones down and it ensures we have the right parts making the building more efficient and allows us to boost our profits from selling parts too. We sell parts all over the world, and it is surprising that we seem to sell a lot to Korea, as they are close to Japan and China
where a lot of the parts are manufactured. I think a lot of it is down to specialist knowledge and a lot of people ring up because they have questions that lead to the sale.”

The Figaro Shop is positioning itself perfectly to deal with the inevitable boom that will envelop this Japanese classic car, and when CAT visited the garage, it had just moved into a new building allowing it to streamline its restoration process. The future is looking bright for the garage.

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Is the parts sector revelling in the classic car boom?

Porsche-911-Turbo August 2014 was a defining moment as $38.1m swapped hands at Bonhams for a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO Berlinetta, making it the most expensive car to be sold at auction.
As expected, this trend has continued to envelop the classic car market with certain models selling far in excess of their price a few years ago, such as the Porsche 993 911 GT2 which fetched a cool $1m at auction earlier this year.
FPS says that figures show that two percent of the car parc or around 700,000 cars are deemed as ‘classics’ and that there is profit to be made by the aftermarket in this sector.
Some believe that the sudden rise in demand and the price boom has coincided with the end of the last recession as Toby Brooks, Owner of The Figaro Shop, explains:
“Some markets have gone up more than others, and there are people who definitely want to buy these vehicles. I follow the auctions to see if the price is going up, and some of the prices are just incredible, they are almost double what they were the year before.”
Meanwhile Karl Chopra, Managing Director at Design 911, added: “The classic car market has gone through the roof, and there are people who are spending money on their car making it pristine, because they know the price will go through the roof.”
He adds that as the cost continues to rise and price people out of the market, other marques and models could soon follow:
“It may well be a case of I could never afford a 911 so I will buy a 924 or a 944, and then the price does start to come up. As some of those cars start to get out of reach, some people aren’t going to be able to afford one anymore and look for other alternatives.”

Classic car parts

VW-Golf-GTI-Mk1While the interest in classic cars has continued to increase across the board, could the same be said for the classic spare parts industry?
Milltek and Bilstein certainly believe there is a growing market for classic and retro car references, as the German suspension supplier has reinstated a number of old part numbers as it has seen demand grow, especially for certain VW models.
Aaron Quilter, Aftermarket Manager at ThyssenKrupp Bilstein, said: “The underlying requirement we have seen seems to be quality first and price second. Older, more discerning owners seem to want the best for their car, rather than the least expensive.”
Milltek has recently released a Classic-line of exhaust references, which have been designed for cars such as the Audi Quattro, Peugeot 205 GTi and the BMW E30, using the firms latest exhaust technology. This new line has already proven popular as all the early production runs have sold out within days.
When it comes to stocking replacement parts, most would agree it is logical to store parts for popular models, like the Porsche 911 and Morris Minor, but Autoelectro says it has noticed a growing interest for other ‘classics’ such as the Rover SD1 and the Ford Cortina, although being able to supply those parts is becoming more challenging.
Managing Director Tony Bhogal said: “We have been able to supply most applications, but good old core to remanufacture is becoming scarce as are parts for the starters and alternators.”

A false dawn?

Peugeot-205-GTINot everybody has seen sales of older references and part numbers soar in recent times as Federal-Mogul’s Regional Marketing Manager Jonathan Allen says the company hasn’t seen any significant sales opportunities generated from the classic car boom, adding:
“There is an extended period of parts sales for certain models where those vehicles do not drop out of the circulating vehicle parc in the same way similar aged vehicles without the enthusiast appeal do. Analysis shows that sales decline steadily as the vehicles age up to around 16 years and then flatten out to satisfy the potential ‘classic’ market.”
While Paul Alder, Gasoline and Comfort Electronics Specialist at Bosch, says old lines will only ever be reinstated provided it is commercially viable to do so.
“Even where vehicle residual values are high, some tough decisions have to be made. Where this is not feasible, we may decide to do a ‘one time’ production run to provide enough stock to cover future demand.
“A major hurdle in continuing the supply of some parts is that much of the technology used is now obsolete, making the feasibility to offer certain parts a difficult one.”
It appears that although the classic car market is booming and some suppliers are witnessing a renaissance, others are not, and although there is a market there, it looks like enthusiasts and garages will still need to look further afield to source certain parts. We would love to hear your thoughts on whether the classic car parts market is booming or not.

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CAT Retail Lives: TMC Towcester

TMC-3It is a big decision to change a habit of a lifetime and try something new, but in the case of Neal Palk, he took that plunge 18 months ago to take over an ailing car accessory shop after growing tired of ‘driving a desk’ everyday.

September 2013 saw Palk take over TMC Towcester the only remaining store still emblazoned with TMC in the region. However car and motorbike enthusiast Palk came across the business purely by chance as he explains:

“I wanted to buy an existing business and I have been a car and bike nut since I was 12 years old. It was purely accidental that I happened to find TMC for sale.

“When I took it over, it was 50-50 whether I carried on the name, rebadged the name or called it something completely different. I wouldn’t say that it had a wonderful reputation but it was well known. I decided to keep the name but change the colour scheme to make it look new, hence why it is now black on white out there rather than the garish orange and green of the past.”

Neal Palk

Neal Palk

Having taken over TMC with no previous retail experience, Palk knew immediately it would take time to get to grips with the automotive accessory world and competing with other independent automotive retailers in Towcester and the internet. However, an enthusiasm and knowledge of cars, motorbikes and DIY has helped build a solid customer base over the first 18 months:

“Ignoring any seasonality in weather terms, there is certainly a buying pattern. I do some outdoor gear and being located close to Silverstone means when it comes to the British Grand Prix, the MotoGP and the British Endurance races, I do get a bit of extra trade from the preceding days from those who have got a tent but no pegs or need an extra sleeping bag.”

As for the internet, Palk admits that competing on certain products is often futile as they often sell for less than he can buy them for (via phillip). However, there are some lines that give TMC the edge, such as selling DIY tools and fittings, fireworks, fuses, nuts and bolts for cars and the ability to order in any hard parts within 24 hours. Regular customer Jody Willis explains why he is happy to give his custom to TMC over the other accessory shops, including Halfords:

TMC-2“Neal does it because he is into cars, and often I am in here for an hour or so chatting about various bits and pieces. You just don’t get that in a bigger store or on a retail park. I also know I can come in and if Neal doesn’t have it on the shelf, he can get it for me, same day, next day or in a couple of days…”

“Some things are cheaper in Halfords than they are here, and some things aren’t, but regardless I would still come here.”

In his first 18 months, Palk has come to realise that the business never really stands still, but one thing that has surprised him is the impact a well-dressed front window can have on a business, as he explains:

“I try to change the display no less than once a month and I get a lot of people looking at it.

“I had a Ferrari F1 electric toy car in the window in the lead up to the race, and lots of kids were saying to the parents they wanted it. Another time I had eight or nine Guy Fawkes made by local schoolchildren as part of a competition I ran. It was great free advertising.”

As Palk completes his second year in charge of TMC Towcester, it is fair to say that it will continue to turn heads on the town’s high street.

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CAT Factor Lives: Flying Spares

Flying-Spares_cars-1Flying Spares is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary supplying the aftermarket with spare parts for the luxurious post-war Rolls-Royces and Bentleys, but how Director Ben Handford originally got into the game is somewhat unusual.

The story begins on the Greek Island of Paros, where Handford had found himself washing dishes at a hotel. While on duty he met an Irishman who worked for a company based in London selling Rolls-Royce parts.

“He wanted somebody to do his accounts,” explained Handford. “I had done a maths degree and he said he would give me a job. It was by complete fluke, I couldn’t even drive at the time, I was fresh out of university. But once I’d worked in London for three and a half years, I thought let’s have a go in Leicestershire.”

Handford along with his wife and fellow Director Lucy set up the business in the yard of her parents’ transport business, from a portakabin and a 40ft trailer full of spare parts. It was from here that business started to snowball. Even though at the outset they had to be careful with promoting the business.Flying-Spares_dismantling-garage

“Having worked for what is now a competitor, you had to be careful not take all their customers. It is a very small community so there won’t be many in the trade who don’t know us now. It was steady to start with and then the arrival of internet helped sales internationally.”

The emergence of modern technology has helped Flying Spares and its mail order business to continue growing with the firm already adding a number of communication methods to its repertoire, including interactions via WhatsApp, Live Chat facilities with possible mobile applications on the horizon.

Handford adds: “The internet is the one major thing that has helped us as a mail order business. It has made it a lot easier than it could have been. If you are a garage, you have about a 100-mile radius of customers and depend on people who will travel, but with parts we can get them there next day. We can get parts into Australia quicker than Australians can ship parts across Australia.”

The technology aside, the site at Flying Spares is quite a sight to behold, even though it’s currently split across a number ofFlying-Spares_OE-parts buildings, with a myriad of Rolls-Royces and Bentleys waiting for a new owner or alternatively to be broken down to benefit contemporaries still on the road.

One building holds a mixture of OE and new parts for post war Bentleys and Rolls-Royces including for the latest models including the Continental GT, Flying Spur and Phantom. There is a team of technicians who tidy cars up for sale and dismantle others for parts such as water pumps, axles, steering racks, brake calipers and gearboxes to be sold on or reconditioned. There is a warehouse stuffed full of used spares, including grilles and engine blocks.

“When we set up I felt my previous company weren’t dismantling enough cars, and I thought they were missing a trick, but it then became a bit of a problem as we were being perceived as a glorified scrap yard for Bentleys and Rolls-Royces,” said Handford, “but second-hand parts is now less than ten percent of turnover, 15-20 percent is reconditioned, and 70 percent iFlying-Spares_Parts-5s new, with a split of 50 percent between genuine new OE Bentley and Rolls-Royce parts and 50 percent aftermarket.”

While business has continually grown over the last two decades, Handford is quick to point out that the business was nervous of what the outcome might have been when BMW and VW bought out the brands in 2004. But their fears were groundless as it meant access to a whole new market of cars and customers. Bentley and Rolls-Royce both also ramped up production, which increased the market for Flying Spares.

As the company celebrates its 20th year, Handford has no plans to make any drastic changes, with him and his team solely focused on keeping new and old flying ladies and B’s where they belong: on the road

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CAT Garage Lives: Paris Automobiles

Paris-Autos_2CV-restoration-2The Parisian-made Citroëns of old were known for their compelling ride, but since the vehicle manufacturer joined the PSA group, the cars have become somewhat mundane.

Paul King, Founder Director at Paris Automobiles, suggests that the merger caused Citroën to lose some of its charm and become just another Euro box, with no character. Although the days of the quirky Citroëns and hydraulic suspension have gone, King can’t help thinking that Peugeot missed a trick all those years ago.

“Citroëns were a niche market and other garages simply wouldn’t touch them, especially anything with a hydraulic suspension. But somebody up at Peugeot decided you didn’t need to make cars that complicated anymore, even though it made the ride 100 times better, the frequent leaks and expense were its biggest problems,” he says.

“I would have thought that Peugeot would have kept the hydraulic suspension models going, because everyday we would be spending hundreds of pounds on hydraulic cylinders, spheres, accumulators and regulators with Citroën. But they must have lost a fortune from the aftersales and parts side, because you just wouldn’t need to buy anything from Citroën now.”

Paris-Autos_Outside-1This sudden demise of the hydraulic suspensions also affected Paris Autos to such an extent that the business has been simply ticking over for the last few years, as the garage explores ways to expand its appeal.

King admits that the future does look bleak, even though the garage has been diversifying its abilities to draw new business, and adds that he wishes he spotted the future during the heydays as he recalls.

Initially starting out as an apprentice at a Citroën dealership, King developed an appreciation for this ‘oddball’ car, before going alone in 1983 ahead of finally setting up Paris Automobiles in 1989 in the height of the market.

He adds: “In the 1990s the work just snowballed and throughout the decade and the noughties business was phenomenal. We didn’t need to advertise as the work just started piling in, because nobody else would take them, unless they took them to a main agent where they would be charged an arm and a leg.

“Years ago taxi drivers used BXs and Xantias, which were notorious for springing hydraulic leaks. Every Monday morning we used to come onto the estate, and there would be a trail of fluid all the way in off the taxis or people who had a bust over the weekend, so Mondays were spent working furiously to try and get them back on the road.”

Paris-Autos_Paul-King-and-MaxThe period was a boon for the garage as its diary would be completely full, as well as having vehicles redirected from other garages in Lancashire and Cheshire, through to the RAC and the AA towing Citroëns straight to Paris Autos. King admits: “We were so busy we didn’t look to the future because that takes care of itself, right? The cars piled in then, but now I am sat here waiting for the phone to ring.”

Paris Autos are known across the North West as hydraulic suspension specialists, and were a cheaper viable option than the Citroën dealerships, and still able to make a decent margin on jobs, as King explains.

“The hydraulic suspension was the key to Citroën, and on their own they were totally different. Rolls Royce and Bentley use them now under patent from Citroën. But every three or four years the suspension goes from the best ride in the world to the most dangerous ride in the world when the sphere goes faulty.

“People used to come in with their cars and say their suspension doesn’t feel right because the spheres lose their gas day-by-day and the void is filled with oil, which you can’t compress. But when we put five new spheres on, one for each corner and the accumulator sphere, changed the oil, for £300 it was like a new car again. People were over the moon with it, you could do it in an hour, two at the most, and for £300 which made them brilliant jobs.”

One regret that King does have is not spotting the future classic potential for vehicles such as the 2CV and the DS models, as both were prone to rusting and due to low resale values at the time Paris Autos was at its peak many were sent to be scrapped. However, there has been a boom in the values of classic Citroëns with 2CVs being worth around £6000 and £7000, while DS models can be worth up to £50,000.

“We should have realised the 2CV was a classic,” reflects King, “but they were a throwaway car at the time, because they rusted away. We should have specialised in 2CVs because people would pay good money for them or the DSs and the CXs as they are all classics.

“We just never saw the future, and some people did, like one guy in Bradford who specialises in doing up 2CVs and H-Vans.”

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CAT Garage Lives: Jack’s Garage

Jacks-Garage_Customer-Cars-3 Many UK garages claim to be specialists in air-cooled Volkswagen vehicles. But one place you don’t expect to unearth a classic VW haven is under the railway arches by Ladbroke Grove underground station, which is where Jack’s Garage’s owner Joseph Salama and his team are working attentively and lovingly on a myriad of camper vans, Beetles and Karmann Ghias. The business started in 1995, and Salama took ownership in 2007.

His love of for old ‘Vee Dubs’ and campers started at a very early age. “When I was six months old my old man bought a Volkswagen camper van and we emigrated from Southend down to Tripoli in Libya in it. That is where the love started.”

The repeat business Jack’s gets speaks volumes about the care staff exhibit for the vehicles. Salama says that it is their reputation that brings in new business and that actually there is no real need to advertise or promote Jack’s at shows because work coming through the door is plentiful.

403507_10151486535405328_1238326145_n

Joseph’s first experience of a VW Type 2

“There are a lot of other VW specialists across the UK, but they come and go in blips. Our excellent team is what has given us our longevity,” he adds. “At low-season we are booked up to a week or two in advance, and in high season we are booked up often a month in advance.

“Space is the only concern being located under a railway arch, but it is central London and it will always be a problem. However we can accommodate between 20-25 cars on site, and we have an underground car park where we rent spaces.”

Even though the core work Jack’s receives is mainly maintenance and restoration work for air-cooled models, the team also welcomes modern VWs into the garage. Sourcing replacement parts for air-cooled models – particularly good quality ones to fit on to restoration project vehicles – can be tricky. One option is to find and recondition second hand original parts, or alternatively searching the international aftermarket to find the relevant part.

“You can get new parts, like body panels, which are readily available but are not always the best quality stuff. Sometimes we have to do some modifications to the aftermarket panels to make them fit, but it depends on who made the panel and where they have come from.

“There is a guy in Colombia who does split-screen parts and he is sold out for up to a year in advance, because his stuff is quality, real quality. There is a large variance in the quality of the parts. GSF will supply floor pans for Beetles, but the cheap ones you can get for £60 will last for a year or two years tops, while the German quality ones will last five to ten years, but cost four times the amount.”

Jacks-Garage_Garage-Outside-2Salama says that the UK has a buoyant air-cooled and water-cooled camper van market, with more air-cooled vehicles being brought over to the UK. Jack’s has serviced and repaired vehicles imported from America, South Africa, Australia and even Poland and Italy, but he warns that the work involved in meeting MOT requirements on registration can cause the cost to sky-rocket.

A rather unusual service that Jack’s offers for customers looking at buying a classic VW is a 600-point assessment, which will highlight any issues that the vehicle may have before purchase, as Salama explains:

“We do a pre-purchase inspection, so just before they spend £5,000 to £10,000 or £30,000 to 40,000, we do an extensive report. We check out everything on the engine, the bodywork, the steering, the carburettors, electrical system, locks. It helps the buyer make an informed decision.”

Using many years of expertise he advises to steer clear of the Brazilian-made T2s, also known as the VW Kombi, as some of its customers have experienced issues that have never plagued the originals.

Salama comments: “They were built until recently, but the only good thing is the Polo engine in them. It is simply down to build quality – it is not German, it is Brazilian. Some of the ones we have seen needed new engines or new heads and the build quality reminiscent of a 1960s van not a modern vehicle.”

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CAT Retail Lives: A-Series Spares

A-Series-Spares_Outside-1As the sun starts to reappear and signs of a glorious summer are on the horizon again classic British car firms like A-Series Spares are working overtime to ensure that owners have their pride and joy back before the peak of the warmer months.

But A-Series Spares is not just a garage specialising in restoration and maintenance of classics fitted with the BMC’s A-Series engine, such as the Mini, MG Midget and Morris Minor. It also has engine rebuilding and race preparation facilities.

Alongside the busy workshop is a retail side to the business, which only came into existence five years ago. The one-stop-shop for classic car accessories, tools, spares, and products developed by A-Series such as nuts and bolts, flame retardent indoor and all-weather car covers and numerous security products are available to customers online as well as over the counter for the first time.

A-Series-Spares_Rob-(L)-and-Martyn-(R)-1

Team A-Series Spares

Engineer Martyn Stevenson, who originally started the workshop in the 1980s, explains where the retail side of the business originated from:

“The reason A-Series Spares came about was due to us struggling to find nuts and bolts. It is as simple as that. I could find nuts and bolts but they were absolutely rubbish. The Morris Minor is probably one of the worst cars to work with if you are rebuilding the sides, as the doors are heavy and putting on new panels means welding a bit more each time. At which point you are just fitting the bolts to hold the panels in place but very quickly the threads go. So my son Rob started looking around and found some certified bolts.”

Owner Rob Stevenson added that now the business gets a full production run of nuts and bolts from America every quarter.

The shop itself had an online presence early on, with Rob explaining that from previous research sourcing spare parts for certain cars led to some non-user friendly websites, and as a result A-Series developed a website that encapsulated these models alongside the well supported Mini in an easy-to-navigate form. The retail shop, however, has only been going for less than a year after the business moved from its previous farm location to an industrial estate opposite a retail park in the middle of Ilkeston.

A-Series-Spares_Inside-Shop-2Rob says that the implementation of a retail element to the business keeps things ticking over, releasing any pressure on the workshop side of the business, adding:

“The internet contributes probably 90 percent of the retail sales, with 30 percent of our parcels sent abroad, many going to Australia. When we first set up the website, nothing happened in month one, we sold one item in month two and it has gone up to around 300 parcels a week.

Key to the success of A-Series Spares is a passion for classic British Leyland, Rover Group and Ford vehicles, so much so that Rob and Martyn have both looked at ways of helping owners protect their classics and enjoy some of the modern luxuries which current vehicles enjoy. Development for these products are done in-house and on the firm’s Morris Minor Traveller, which is currently kitted out with full Ford running gear, electric windows, electric heated mirrors among other things.

But it is the company’s alarms and central-locking systems that have proved a big hit with classic car owners’ across the world, as Rob explains further:

A-Series-Spares_Inside-Workshop-1“There seems to be quite a large focus on classic cars, unfortunately a lot of people are not keeping them in garages and they have become a very easy target.

“Our tailored products started with the alarms, which was publicised through Mini Magazine doing a series of features on securing a Mini, because of a spate of thefts plaguing the country. We decided to develop tailored central locking and electric windows, as well.”

A-Series Spares are set to take on a classic car apprentice for the first time, in association with a local college and the MG Owner’s Club. The firm is also developing new products for its A-SD brand, with a revised all-weather outdoor cover set for release in the coming weeks.

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CAT Garage Lives: Autofarm

CAT Garage Lives: Autofarm

Autofarm_Amersham-history-3Mention a 1973 Porsche 2.7-litre Carrera RS or Autofarm and most people will associate either with Josh Sadler, a man who built his reputation based on his encyclopaedic knowledge of Porsches and 911s.

The link is so strong that new Directors Mike Wastie and Steve Wood who have succeeded Sadler are now facing the difficult task of maintaining the history and ethos which appeals to its customer base, while implementing changes to the business to keep it modern and relevant.

How the whole Autofarm story began is equally intriguing as the astounding depth of knowledge that Sadler himself gained of these quintessentially German cars came about more by chance than by design. It began back in 1971 when he and fellow Glacier Bearings colleague Steve Carr decided to go it alone and make a living for themselves. Finding themselves in a scrapyard focusing on insurance write-offs the pair set out looking for a vehicle they could repair and sell on for a profit, as Sadler goes on to explain.

“We knew nothing about the motor trade or how it worked, business-wise we were horrendously ignorant and distinctly green. We noticed a 1968 911 L come in with front end damage, and Steve said how about we jointly buy it, but we had already bought a damaged Lotus Elan and a glass fibre Reliant Scimitar.

Autofarm_Forecourt-Bicester-2“We bought the 911, but I was uncertain about it, as I had only worked on British cars and ‘this was foreign’,” he chuckles. “And I wouldn’t have anything to do with anything foreign. But the quality of engineering was just in a different bracket. It was a detail engineered car, properly built.”
But a problem ultimately facing Sadler and Carr at the time was getting a replacement wing for this three-year-old 911. The issue arose because Porsche changed the design of the wing in 1969, which made finding a replacement wing for cars built before then incredibly difficult.

This meant going to Duisburg in Germany to find a replacement wing for the 911 L, where a chance meeting with a Porsche dealership owner’s son, who incidentally wanted to try out his English, pointed them in the direction of a firm called Terbernum Autoteile, which proved to be an eye opening experience.

“The son said ‘what you want to do is go down the road and see this outfit called Terbernum, because he has got some second hand bits’. Second hand bits for Porsches, there is no such thing surely?” said Sadler. “So we took his advice and the business really started when we walked in, as it had sorted racks of second-hand parts for Porsches.

“We sorted out the bits we needed to repair the L, and we came back and thought we could go in a van and buy loads of stuff and sell it on Exchange and Mart. And really that is where the business started; we finished up by buying a Transit van and making our own glass fibre panels, and selling a lot of wheels. We kind of grew up alongside the 1973 Carrera RS cars, and that was purely down to good luck more than business judgment.”

Autofarm_Restoration-workshop-2That was the start of Autofarm, and between 1973 and 1987, the business had a tour through Buckinghamshire, starting off in the leafy climbs of Ivor before finding itself making full use of an abandoned garage opposite Amersham Underground station.

In that time the business grew and grew, with Sadler and his partner Carr acquiring a RS prototype shell and 2.8-litre engine deemed surplus to requirements by Porsche, and it was during this period that Sadler describes as ‘our heyday’ as business boomed. Towards the end of the 1980s, Autofarm was diversified into a number of departments including a main workshop, project builds and metal workshop.

Sadler employed an ex-Mulliner panel beater to work in the metal workshop, but had problems keeping him busy, as paint and restoration work took far longer than the metal work. This period also saw the firm create a number of aftermarket and performance product lines with the main turnover generated from exhaust systems and glass fibre panels.

In 1986, the firm found new large premises in Tring and Sadler incorporated a new Suzuki and Saab franchised dealership on the 1.4-acre site. Although he believed this move would signal a new exciting era, unfortunately the timing could not have been worse, as he explained:
“The market started inflating in 1988 and wildly in 1989 and people were scrabbling for the 1989 5-speed 3.3-litre turbos and big premiums were being paid, but when the market collapsed in 1990, there was some serious pain around.

“When the recession came it caught us on the hop, and the operation was unsustainable, so I had no choice but to pull the plug. I took all the second hand stock and set-up in the sheds at home. A couple of the others joined me, and we operated out of sheds at home for a few of years.”
This marked the beginning of Autofarm 1973 Ltd, and in 1993, Sadler received a tip off about a farm in Bicester, where some renovated barns were awaiting some new tenants, and this has been the home of Autofarm ever since.

He added: “It is a brilliant site, but also slightly difficult, with us fitting into buildings rather than premises that are built to do the job, but we grew to 18 of us, then I had to cut back through the recession. You can’t stand still you have got to keep pushing forward and going for it.”

Planning for the future?

Autofarm_Workshop-2An issue that faces every business at some point is what does the future hold, and what succession plan is there for the business and its products or services to continue when the current owner decides to call it a day.

This is something that dawned upon Sadler, however earlier this year, he made his decision public that Autofarm will be taken over and its future secured by current employees Mike Wastie and Steve Wood.

He adds that since moving to Bicester in 1993 succession planning has always been at the top of his agenda, and after two years of behind-the-scenes work, with Wastie and Wood, the reigns have been officially handed over, although Sadler still remains an active part of the business through its car sales programme.

“It was a deal that fitted, and it made a lot of sense to hand it on to them,” said Sadler. “I tried to sell the business, but any money I made I went racing with, so the only investment around here was the reputation. For someone coming inside from the cold it is a little difficult to think that they can significantly benefit from the name.

“Life is about people at the end of the day, it is not about cars, and finding the right people is important, and Steve and Mikey work together really well as a partnership. Steve joined us a couple of years ago and is well able to run a business from the business end, and Mikey is well able to run the business from the engineering side, and he has always been on the classic side, so he knows that side of things.”

Steve Wood, Director at Autofarm, said that it had always been Sadler’s intention to pass the business on to Wastie, but Wastie had wanted somebody ‘to share the ride with’, adding:
“My wife said to me a few months ago, ‘everything you have done through your career has built to this point, this is it now you have all this experience to draw on lots of things’. And it is such a good, interesting business, has a lot of colour to it and hence that is why we are both here now.”
Wood’s remit is to try and drive more servicing, maintenance and repair work for the modern vehicles, to supplement the project car work that Autofarm has and broaden its appeal to the Porsche universe.

Meanwhile Wastie, who heads up the Projects department, said that his love for the business, the vehicles and more importantly the loving restorations are what have kept him at Autofarm from his days as an apprentice to now running the business, but it was a dream that he once had thought was out of reach.

Autofarm_Josh-Sadler_Steve-Wood-and-Mike-Wastie-1

L-R Josh Sadler, Steve Wood and Mike Wastie

“I could see what was going to happen and I thought someone is going to have to come in and take over the business,” he said. “I didn’t actually think for a moment it might actually be me. Over the last five years I have progressively been getting more and more involved with the management side, and then it dawned on me one day that I am already doing half of it.

“The most important thing was we didn’t want out with the old and in with the new. You speak to anybody, Autofarm is Josh Sadler, and if you say Josh Sadler, oh that is Autofarm. That is the brand, and what we now have got to do is try and remove Josh from the forefront of it, and he was around when the 70s cars were brand new, so we now have got to draw on his experience and knowledge. We want to continue what he started and keep the ethos behind it the same, and that is going to be really tough.”

The projects side of the business is large for Autofarm as it is where classic 911s come to either be restored to being factory fresh or alternatively turned into a dream machine.

“I love coming to work, I love what I do,” adds Wastie. “The fact that everyday and every project we do is different, your mind has got to be active all the time. Although a restoration is a restoration, everyone is different, you could have two cars brought off the line at the same time and 30 years on they could be in different conditions and how you approach them is different.

“I fell in love with the car the moment I got here, and started working on some of the cars – the noises, the smells in the car, and it spiraled out of control from there. Building the car is fun but getting to the end and the customer saying it has exceeded what they actually wanted before driving the car, for me, that is brilliant and that makes you feel you have done the job right.”

Autofarm has been around for over 40 years now, and although the business suffered in the early 90s, it has come back once again, and is basking in the booming classic car market, while the new partnership of Wastie and Wood has all but ensured that Sadler’s legacy may continue for many more years to come.

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Banbury and Bicester College to inspire next gen at roadshow

Banbury and Bicester College to inspire next gen at roadshow

69572-BloodhoundSSC-front_dynamic-largeBanbury and Bicester College and the Bloodhound project are aiming to inspire the next generation of engineers.

The week long roadshow, between 20 and 25 April, at the college’s Bicester campus will give budding engineers the opportunity to take part in various science and engineering tasks, as the Bloodhound project hopes to drive interest in engineering ahead of its land speed record attempt in South Africa this autumn.

The college hopes to inspire school leavers to explore an education in engineering with them at their specialist motorsport engineering centre, with the college offering students courses for post-16s and foundation degrees in partnership with Oxford Brookes University.

For more details about the roadshow visit www.banbury-bicester.ac.uk/bloodhound.

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CAT Awards 2015 gallery

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