Over the past 10 years Bicester has become something of a meca for classic car fans. In 2013 the former RAF Airfield was purchased by a group who wanted to restore the site and use its amazing campus to house classic car and aviation specialists. The success of this has not just been inside it’s perimeter fence, but has spawned supporting businesses across the local countryside. One such business is Classic Project Shop.
Based less than a mile from Bicester Heritage in units formerly home to March Racing Cars, Classic Project Shop service and maintain an amazing variety of automotive history. Indeed on the day Go Classics visited there were 16 collector cars being tended to by their 12 strong team. Unlike most ‘classic specialists’ there was genuinely something for every taste and depth of pocket.
The almost frenetic Service Department is managed by former TWR engineer Steve Clark. ‘Every day is different, we try to keep the service workshop ready to help any classic owner that needs us. Indeed, as we chatted over a strong coffee, the AA recovered a TVR in, which Senior Engineer Zane was able to jump straight on to.
There is a constant rotation of 10 to 12 different vehicles, Steve explained. Today there are three Jaguar E-Types, an Aston Martin V8, a 1962 Econoline van, a Volvo PV544, two 911’s, a Citroen DS and a Alfa Romeo 105 Step Front. Each of them have different needs ranging from an annual service and safety check, through to brake issues and auto electric problems. We aim to have a solution to each problem and have them back to their owner as soon as possible. Within a couple of days we will have a different set of cars and problems to work through!’
Classic Project Shop is different to most classic service businesses. As you step in, you can see the owner, Simeon Cattle’s eye for detail and his BMW main dealer past. Everything has a use and a place to live, in fact, this side of Britain’s premier restorers, you are unlikely to find a place that is better organised.
The quality of Project Shop’s workmanship was given a ‘gold seal’ earlier this year when they became MOTUL Classic Oil’s first service centre in the UK. They are also approved fitters for a range of upgrade products like WOS Performance and BCC Brakes. ‘We strive to deliver the best service for our customers’ Simeon explains ‘so we have formalised our relationship with the suppliers we believe produce the best products in the business.’
The workshop itself is not so clinically clean you wonder if they do any work, but it is tidy, the staff tasked and motivated, seemingly with each job under control!
Next door to the Service Department the company undertakes restoration and interior trim work. The patriarch, Clive, another ex-TWR man, who was crew chief during the XJ-R Le Mans program, has three young engineers working through a Jaguar XK140 and a Porsche 356 restoration. ‘It’s important for coffin dodgers like me to pass on our skills. Thankfully the cars will be around much longer than I have left, and I want to make sure there is someone out there who knows how to keep them alive.’
Apprenticeships have been important to the company. Even with Clive, Steve and Simeon the average age of the staff is under 30 years of age and yet they have exhaustive experience of almost every classic you could mention. Classic Project Shop has been providing apprenticeships for 10 years. We have brought over 50% of our current team through the program, says Simeon, who is clearly passionate about the subject.
Three years ago Simeon expanded the company’s skill set by adding a Trim Shop. ‘I have been staggered by the amount of work and craftsmanship that goes into classic car interiors’ he explained. Ady and his son, Adam have tackled projects for cars as diverse as a 1930 Lagonda Saloon through to a modern Land Rover Bowler. We are not just talking seats either, they proudly make door cards, headlinings and even their own tailored carpet sets.
‘The economics of running any small business are tough’ says Simeon. ‘But although we look after expensive classics, I have made a conscious decision to make sure we are accessible to the whole collector car market, whoever they might be and whatever car they are passionate about.’