Improving on perfection – auto restoration company Scott Restorations – company profile

Michael Barrier

Growing businesses share their experiences in creating and marketing new products and services.

Scott Grundfor and John Ling own a small company in Panorama City, Calif. At first glance, it might seem that their firm, Scott Restorations, has a lot in common with the other automobile-related businesses nearby–body shops, a General Motors plant. Their mechanics work on more expensive cars than average, to be sure–Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Ferrari–and their four-building complex seems almost supernaturally clean, but still, you could be forgiven for thinking that Scott Restorations is, at bottom, an exceptional paint and body shop.

But it’s not; and not just because it attracts a gilt-edged clientele (earlier this year, comedian Bill Cosby had seven of his cars in the shop). If you want to find a true analog for what Scott Restorations does, you have to look away from automobiles and toward something like the Sistine Chapel.

Grundfor, Ling, and their 22 shop employees approach restoring vintage automobiles with the same microscopic attention to detail that a team of art experts has brought to restoring Michelangelo’s frescoes. And, like those art experts, Scott Restorations has sometimes been accused of “over-restoring”–of raising to a level of glossy perfection what once had at least a few warts.

True enough, John Ling says. As expensive as a 1955 Mercedes 300SL may have been in its day–selling for perhaps $8,000–it and other luxury cars “were built as production cars, just like any other car,” he says. “The paint jobs were not done to be perfect; every piece wasn’t hand-fitted perfectly.” What “over-restored” means, Ling says, is that Scott Restorations puts far more worker-hours into restoring the car than Mercedes-Benz put into building it. “Consequently,” he says, “it looks better.”

That is what customers want–and are willing to pay for, to the tune of $150,000 to $200,000 (or even up to $500,000, when the car is a prewar classic) for a full-scale restoration, which can take as long as 18 months. The cars that emerge from such loving treatment are usually far too valuable–worth as much as $1 million, or even more–to drive. They are works of art, show cars, to be admired rather than used.

Often, using them isn’t even conceivable. Take, for example, the prewar Rolls-Royce that was in the shop recently, gleaming in its burgundy finish and looking for all the world like some pre-historic colossus brought startlingly back to life. As Ling says, “Would you give that to a parking attendant?”

Grundfor, 44, started the business. He put himself through college by doing paint and body work in his garage, and, he says, “I just stayed with it.” In 1979, he sold the body shop, netting $30,000, and used the money to start a restoration business. He met Ling–who owned a similar company in Milwaukee–soon after that.

Last year Ling, 45, sold his business to his employees so he could return to California, his home state, and become a partner in Scott Restorations. Grundfor “was looking for some help,” Ling says; now he manages the shop while Grundfor deals with customers and attends auto shows. Their revenues totaled around $2.8 million in the fiscal year that ended last February.

Most restoration shops specialize in certain kinds of cars–Ling’s Milwaukee operation specialized in vintage race cars like Ferraris–and although Scott Restorations restores many kinds of cars, it is best known for its work with Mercedes. Roughly seven out of 10 of the cars in its shop bear the familiar three-pointed star. Grundfor says that his relations with Mercedes-Benz’s own classic-car experts are excellent.

Within its specialty, Scott Restorations subspecializes in the 300SL, which was built from 1954 to 1957 as a coupe–the famous “gull wing,” with doors opening upward–and from 1957 to 1963 as a roadster.

By no means is every car that passes through Scott Restorations a show car; “a lot of our cars are put on the road,” Grundfor says. Where such cars–they call them “drivers”–are concerned, Grundfor and Ling are willing to take some shortcuts that will save the owner money. For instance, if a car is going on the road, Grundfor says, “rather than take the body off the chassis and repaint the chassis and replace all the bushings, you leave the body on.”

On the other hand, the label “show car” seems inadequate for some of Scott Restorations’ products. Grundfor and Ling are now building, from scratch, an exact duplicate of the 300SLR–a hard-top racing car that exists in only two other copies, both still owned by Mercedes-Benz. (Their machine shop can make any parts that are not available elsewhere.) The 300SLR will belong to an Australian collector who is a regular customer, and he will pay around $750,000 for it.

Grundfor himself owns another valuable car, the prototype for the 300SL roadster; his mechanics are reassembling it, as work on customers’ projects allows. He also owns a 1959 Jaguar coupe and a 1967 Mercedes. Ling owns 10 cars, including a couple of show cars.

For car fanciers, it might seem that the air at Scott Restorations is almost too rarefied to breathe, but Grundfor does step back to earth when he drives to and from work. His vehicle of choice is a 1988 Ford pickup.

PHOTO : John Ling oversees painstaking restoration work on vintage cars.

PHOTO : Scott Restorations is building a classic Mercedes from scratch.

PHOTO : Scott Grundfor, left, checks a rebuilt engine.

COPYRIGHT 1991 U.S. Chamber of Commerce

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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