When father and son Gordon and Craig Ranson began restoring classic cars “for fun”, they could never have imagined, nearly 20 years later, that they would be working on models for television and the cinema – or revered as one of the best in the business. .
The duo are behind Bridge Classic Cars, a company specializing in the restoration and maintenance of some of the UK’s most unique vintage and classic vehicles.
And it all started as a passion project – as Managing Director Craig explains from their Pettistree showroom.
“I grew up with a father who had a lot of classic cars – I saw him take them to shows, and we were always very close. He didn’t restore them himself but he knew a lot of people who restored them. did and had contacts who would restore them for him, so I grew up with cars that were restored to a high standard, and that’s what gave me a love for them.”
When Craig was working in the film and television industry and Gordon in a whiskey distillery, the two had the idea of turning their side project into their full-time gig.
“We started out buying and selling cars in Colchester, and that’s where the name comes from, as we were based in the little yard next to the railway bridge. We met a guy who was a part-time restaurateur and asked him if he wanted to come work with us.
The rest is history. “We created Bridge Classic Cars because it’s always the same story with classic car restoration businesses. You give them a car, they put it in a corner, and then 10 years later they start working on it. And you end up without your car for 10-15 years – some people die before they get their car back.
“If you bring us a car, we may not be able to start right away, but the date we give you is the date we start working on it.”
Fast forward to today, and Craig’s business has grown to include a team of 20 people – all of whom are as passionate about classic cars as he and his father are. “You can’t just be a general mechanic – you have to have a love, passion and understanding for classic cars. Otherwise you will be bored. »
The team doesn’t fit into one or two car types – if it’s classic they’ll be more than happy to work on it.
“Theoretically, you could bring us a 1930s car or a 1990s car, and we have the guys here who are quite competent to do the job on it. We work on Jaguars, Mercedes and BMWs, but the ones we like the most are Jensens, which we specialize in.
“There is a particular model called the 541, and Jensen made about 260 of them. It’s such a nice car, and we found one in a barn years ago. It was actually supposed to be James Bond’s car – it was between them and Aston Martin, but Jensen never made a deal with them, so it ended up going to Aston Martin instead.”
After discovering such a rare find, Craig, Gordon and the rest of the team quickly got to work on the coveted machine.
“We thought it would be a side project for us, but we soon realized how difficult it was going to be. All the Jensen specialists we spoke to didn’t want to touch it, so we built it ourselves.
Admitting that it cost “probably double what it should have”, Craig adds that it was a learning curve for everyone involved – and gave them the skills to become masters in the world of Jensen restoration.
“It ended up being the best looking Jensen had ever done, and we quickly had people contacting us to see if we could do their 541. A few months ago we had 13 in a row, and Jensen himself said they would never seen that much together.
Several classic car models are no longer being made – but the work never stops for Craig and Gordon.
“People tend to contact us. Often people hang on to it, but they hang on to it too long. It’s usually someone’s grandpa put a classic car away in the 1980s and it hasn’t seen the light of day since, so they’ll want to drag it around and do something with it. We will very rarely find one in the scrapyard – people tend not to scrap them as there is value even in the parts. »
Whether they can restore a vehicle “depends on how good the car was at the start,” adds Craig.
“Let’s say it’s been sitting in a field for 20 years, we’ll drag it because the wheels won’t move and we’ll take it to the workshop. We’ll then lift it up, make it mobile and see if the engine will turn over. hand, we will put the wheels in motion and we will put air in the tires to be able to make it turn.
Then begins the process of stripping the car down to its bare bones.
“Every nut and bolt will come loose. The body will then be removed and blown or chemically dipped in acid. We take it back to its rawest form, and that’s where you can see all of its imperfections, holes, and rust.
The welders will then fabricate new body panels, while the technicians will work on the brakes and axles. “It’s taken apart, cleaned, polished and reassembled with new gaskets and rubbers so it can work again. It will take a year or two – after that it will be taken to the paint shop where they will shape the body.
When the car returns in painted shell form, all the nuts and bolts (which have been stored in a safe place) are put back in place.
“There is so much to do – the interiors need to be stripped and redone, and new seats and a roof are made. This whole process can take up to three years, because you have to deal with everything carefully. We preserve these cars and bring them back to life.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day”, as the old saying goes, and the same can certainly be said of restoring a classic car.
But once it’s done, it’s a work of art. And seeing classic cars on the road again is what makes Craig happy.
However, it’s not just on the road and at car shows where you’ll see Craig’s cars. Some of its restored beauties have found their way onto the small silver screen, including an MW 5 series that appeared in the London chase scene of Fast & Furious 6, a 1974 De Tomaso Pantera that featured on ITV’s This Morning, and a Vauxhall Victor from 1972. which made its way into the third season of Netflix’s The Crown.
And in an effort to make classic cars more accessible to everyone, Craig began hosting a series of regular giveaways three years ago, allowing anyone who participates to win one of his restored engines.
“It’s not just about working on cars, it’s about creating a community around them – that’s what I love so much.
“At the time, a lot of people in the classic car world were against what I was doing. They thought that owning a classic car, you should be privileged and have money behind you, and that’s a luxury. But I wanted to bring classic cars to people who love them but don’t have the money to buy one So why not win one The good thing is that the people who won now come to summer car shows and meet other enthusiasts.That’s our raison d’être: to make sure everyone is welcome.
To find out more, visit bridgeclassiccars.co.uk