The Italian Job comes to Suffolk: how GTB Restorations near Stowmarket is servicing the growing demand for revitalised classic Italian cars
PUBLISHED: 13:42 06 September 2017 | UPDATED: 15:57 06 September 2017
In the wilds of Suffolk, somewhere near Bacton, not far from Stowmarket, is a family business with a classic motoring niche and a big vision.
It’s where a small team called GTB Restorations, choreographed by self-confessed petrol head Mike Withers, work on an array of Italian classic cars from famous brands such as Ferrari, Lamborghini, Alfa Romeo and Maserati.
Recently, the business has moved up a gear as the market for historical car restorations encourages owners to bring their vehicles back to life.
Previously dust-coated sporting legends, which have been stored in barns and garages up and down the country, are seeing the light of day for the first time in decades as owners look to revitalise their precious assets for personal use or potential sale.
Consequently GTB Restorations has seen a growth in enquiries and recently moved into new premises to cope with the uplift in new projects.
Developed from old farm outbuildings, the new location is three times the size of their previous home. They have made it into a pristine, white-washed workshop complete with retro tool chests and a paint shop that turns out gleaming motors that look as good as new. With more space, the team can take on more jobs - some cars may remain here for up to several years as they undergo full restorations; others will come and go quickly as owners drop their pride and joy off for a quick service.
“This is a business which seeks to painstakingly restore broken and neglected Italian classics so that they turn heads again and realise their true value,” explained Mike, who says the company specialises in cars from the 1950s through to the those produced in the mid-1990s.
“Some owners want to bring their cars back to peak performance to participate in classic touring and race events, while others want the car to remain part of their family car collections for use on high days and holidays, or to make up a motoring asset portfolio.
“For owners, the Ferrari is the badge of honour. It’s a very personal thing and we appreciate how much these cars mean to the people who look after them for themselves and for future generations to enjoy.”
He continued: “The cars are beautiful and stunning - from their engineering to their bodywork. And the engines, from the V12s, V8s and V6s, they are all wonderful to work on.
“We work on a wide range of powerful engines and can convert race cars for road use and road cars for racing. There is no project that is too demanding for us and we do all the work in-house. The bigger the challenge, the more exciting the work is to us.”
Mike says seeing a customer’s response to a car he and his team have restored is “priceless”.
He added: “They are often deeply moved, proud and emotional - and usually can’t wait to get out and about with friends and family. In my opinion, that is what classic motoring is all about.”
Mike launched GTB Restorations with his father Chris around four years ago, after he decided that a management career in retail, while paying the bills, was not fulfilling his creative needs.
He and his father had bonded over the years working on car engineering projects to the point where both were left with an overwhelming desire to devote their time to historic car restoration. Mike tested his knowledge by completing a vehicle restorations and body repair qualification to check his skills levels and then set to work building a dream business to service Ferraris and other prestige marques.
Today Mike and Chris (and apprentice Jack, who is being taught the intricate ways of classic restoration) are still removing components, engines, glass and paint in order to sometimes totally rebuild these classics with their DNA still firmly intact. Original parts are either repaired or new old stock items are sourced to replace them. In certain cases, difficult to source parts are remanufactured by the team.
Fully rebuilding a car from a ‘Pandora’s’ box of parts is not unknown and this is a challenge that the team particularly relishes.
Dad, Chris said: ”We know that we are going to have to jump through hoops to deliver the car back to its original magnificence - but that’s just what drives us. It’s where engineering and creativity meet. It really is a pleasure to be able to re-engineer these beautiful machines – and we are very lucky to have this as our day job.’
The cleanliness of the workshop – and relaxed atmosphere - sets the scene for the professional, almost ‘surgeon-like’ engineering and body procedures that takes place here. The future will very likely mean more expansion, open days and events. But for now the work goes on.
Recent restorations have included the much celebrated Ferrari 308GTS, one of the last true iconic classic Ferraris, powered by a three litre V8 engine.
A beautiful Ferrari 250 PF - one of only 351 built - has also just been revitalised to its former glory.
Restoration work included a full engine, gearbox and back axle rebuild; newly built brakes and suspension and instruments; fastidious restoration of the bodywork and new leather interior.
Mike said: “A stunning car, this classic had received some poor repairs earlier in its life.
“The engine needed dismantling and rebuilding, and we spent many hours researching and sourcing small components needed to breathe new life back into this fabulous car.
“It is hugely satisfying to know that we have the skills and facilities to save important Ferrari history.”