In an unpretentious area in Western Ontario sits RM Auto Restoration, one of the world’s largest and most prestigious restoration shops. Having driven past the Blenheim location many times on my way to the Detroit Auto Show, it always held a fascination for me as to what exactly goes on there. Nestled amongst local farmland and windmills, the facility is responsible for painstaking restorations that have produced at least seven Pebble Beach Best of Show winners. We had the unique and special opportunity to tour the facility a few weeks ago.
From humble beginnings in Rob Myers’ garage in 1976, RM Restoration has grown in size and stature. RM Auctions, starting in 1994, became a staple in classic car auctions for many years. The RM name grew to incorporate Sotheby’s, now the world’s largest auction house for collector cars. The restoration business, the new RM Precision Machine Works offering complete engine restorations coupled with live, on-line and sealed bid auctions has solidified RM’s presence in the global automotive world. Concours are next! Watch out Miami 2024!
Don McLellan, President of RM Auto Restoration, along with Kate Clendenning, RM Public Relations Officer were our official tour guides. The restoration facility itself is staffed with both senior veterans in car restoration and those new to the game. With a couple of retirements in the works, RM held a job fair recently to take on some new talent. Given the relatively remote area, there was some concern about attracting some new people, but no worries. The three new restorers hired have already hit the ground running.
In the lobby sat two Jaguar XKSS’s. But that was just the beginning. Flowing from the general offices through to the various stages of restoration, we were amazed by the combination of technique and artistry that produced these multi-million dollar works of art. We caught up with one of the metal fabricators who was working a metal piece for a rare Delahaye. It took one solid week to produce the one piece that would support the finished product, scheduled for 2023 Pebble Beach. The tool shop held particular fascination as the “English Wheel” and pre-war metal fabrication machines were still in use. The woodworking area was a return to coach building, prevalent in the 20’s and 30’s.
Turning out Pebble Beach winners is no easy feat. We were fascinated to hear the story of the 2022 Pebble Beach Best of Show winner, Lee Anderson’s 1931 Duesenberg French Speedster, bodied by Figoni finished to perfection by the RM masters. This could be called, “The Duesenbergs and the Crankshaft.” There was the one critical component which made the difference between a “great car” and a “Best of Show great car”. Don McLellan and Ernie Moreau ran the restoration, starting in June 2020. Long story short, it started with the owner’s desire to find the greatest Duesenberg ever built. Settling on the 1931 French Speedster, Rob Meyer and owner Lee Anderson soon came to realize that the original with the Figoni body had been separated from its chassis, replaced with a replica body. The original body was put on another chassis, thus both cars retained a part of the original vehicle. Fancy footwork by Rob M, ultimately led to Lee Anderson acquiring both cars. So, ensued the adventure of making one fabulous vehicle from two. It turned out the original fenders and aprons were actually bolted to the replica body, the door handles had been swapped around, and bumpers had been added to the rear of both cars, when in fact, the original car didn’t have a bumper. All this was sorted, until one day they discovered that neither car had the original crankshaft, J-465, something that no one was aware of. Now came the painstaking task of finding the original crankshaft. Needle in a haystack time. After months of phone calls, combing through ancient notes and the like, it turned out the crankshaft was found on a rebodied torpedo phaeton in Vancouver, BC. How to pry that crankshaft from its owner? A bit of a challenge. The crankshaft owner agreed to have his engine removed and shipped for a complete rebuild (an estimated $100,000 cost). The crankshafts would be swapped during the rebuild. While one huge obstacle was overcome, the next was finding the right two-tone blue to apply to the car, knowing that the car was originally photographed in black and white. Master paint artists did the trick. Of course, one last travesty to be overcome. Now ready for Pebble Beach, a test drive in preparation for the Tour D’Elegance resulted in a dent in the radiator shell, right next to the Duesenberg badge (courtesy of a truck passing). This was Friday – it was fixed by Monday and ready for Pebble. The rest is history. This special vehicle was awarded The Best of Show at the 2022 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
Many thanks to the entire team at RM Restoration for the hospitality and this mind-blowing experience. Thank you, Don for the detailed tour and giving your precious time to a couple of wandering classic car nuts. Thanks again Kate for the opportunity to live out my childhood dream of seeing the inside of RM!
A trip to Canada wouldn’t be complete without a British Car Show. So, with a bit of scrambling, we found one sponsored by the Niagara British Car Club. It was held in Lincoln, Ontario right in the middle of Niagara wine country. In fact, the event was held at the Locust Lane Vineyard and Winery. Great to see a number of Jaguars showing up along with a great group of people!
Happy driving everyone!