Passion for perfection

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Happy owner Darren Ashcroft with his mint Series I : credit: © Gavin Burnett
Restored to better-than-new condition in Cheshire and Hungary, Darren Ashcroft’s Series I is finally back home…

Earlier this year, we told the story of how Darren Ashcroft’s 1954 Series I resto project ended up, half-finished, being shipped from Macclesfield to the village of Nagyszénás, which is about 100 miles southeast of Budapest, when its restorer, Laszlo Izso, had to return home to his native Hungary.

“Hungary certainly wasn’t part of my restoration plan,” Darren tells me with a chuckle. “Having bought the Series I in Ireland and shipped it back to Stockport, I’d used it for over ten years as a workhorse before deciding to consign it to Laszlo’s engineering business in Macclesfield, called The Classic Mechanic, to be rebuilt properly.

“Laszlo came highly recommended by my good friend of many years, Simon Spurrell, and all the work Laz did on the Series I was brilliant. He is an absolute perfectionist. But in 2019, after seven years of living and working in the UK, he had to return to Hungary for family reasons.

Each individual nut bolt and washer on every part has been restored, zinc-coated, anodised or painted

Missing copper matrix heater pipes fabricated

​​​​​​“Simon’s very special Lister-Jaguar XJS V12 was also partway through a rebuild in Laz’s workskop, so he was in the same boat as me. We decided that we were so impressed with the work Laz was doing that we would let him take the Jag and the Series I back to Hungary, where he planned to re-establish his business and carry on. So that’s what we did.

“In fact, Simon liked what Laszlo was doing so much that he offered to help when Laz had to return to Hungary, and he ended up investing in The Classic Mechanic. Simon is now the director responsible for the UK end of the operation.

“When I waved goodbye to the Series I it was well on the way to completion. The biggest job still to be tackled was assembling the engine, which had been stripped and painted in the UK, and all parts vapour-blasted and prepared for rebuild. The cylinder head had been sent off for skimming and we’d sourced all the parts we needed, but there were plenty of other things that needed to be attended to as well.

A safety inspired retromod designed and fabricated by Laz

​​​​​​“The crankshaft wasn’t worn but we wanted to replace the bearings. We could only get +10 aftermarket parts, so we had to source a NOS set as we didn’t want to grind a perfectly good shaft.

“The front nearside wing had to be replaced but the panels that required welding were a challenge, as the grade of aluminium is different today.

“Galvanising was a real problem, with our first attempts just not looking the same as the original 1950s finish. It took several goes with different galvanising specialists in Hungary and the UK before we had something we were happy with.

Three supplier attempts at galvanising to get the right results!

​​​​​​“Simon and I did all the parts sourcing to ensure we got genuine NOS components. I love sourcing parts. I’ve worked on Series Landys since I was a lad, but there’s still loads to learn. Laz and I spent many hours looking through the workshop manuals and then tracking down what was required, finding things in various countries including Belgium and Cyprus as well as the UK, although we never found any in Hungary.

“Simon and Laz were brilliant at providing me with regular updates, with photographs and videos, but it was important to visit from time to time as well. The rebuild started in 2018 and probably should have taken two years to complete, but obviously there were delays caused by Laz’s return to Hungary and having to set up his workshop there. And then we had the pandemic…

The odometer reset to zero to reflect the nut and bolt engine restoration

“Most decisions during lockdown were easily resolved remotely. My first visit would have been earlier but for Covid, so the project had advanced considerably by the time I was able to fly to Hungary to see it. It was a memorable and exciting trip: visiting a beautiful city, driving out to parts of Hungary you would never normally venture to, and visiting a great workshop. Oh, and witnessing firsthand the level of detail and finish that Laz had applied to the Landy certainly left me speechless with admiration for his skills. I made a second visit when the restoration was nearing completion, really just to sign everything off before the vehicle came back to the UK.

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Seats reupholstered for the finishing touch

​​​​​​“I had toyed with the idea of driving the Series I back to the UK, but discretion became the better part of valour and Simon and I decided to bring it back on a trailer instead. Nevertheless, it would be an interesting road trip and there would be opportunities to drive the Series I along the way. The first drive was just stunning! Somewhat familiar, the smell, the sound, but much tighter (especially the steering). It’s always been a joy to drive but I have to admit that I drive it with more respect and care now.

“The first drive on British soil was actually made by my friend Gavin, who came with us on the trip, with Simon in the passenger seat. What’s funny is that they missed the Folkstone junction and had to drive on for 16 miles before they could turn around. I think Gavin was very aware that he was driving a newly completed, nut and bolt restoration on the motorway at 42mph as the artics thundered past. He was visibly relieved to get the Landy back on the trailer after his little detour adventure.

Every aspect of the SI smacks of incredible attention to detail

​​​​​​“I’ve been out and about in the Series I since it returned to the UK, including a 50-mile drive around the Hope Valley in the High Peak, in glorious weather (watch the video here). We made sure we found a pub for lunch that had a car park next to the beer garden. The Land Rover certainly drew a crowd, and it is very flattering when people ask if they can take pictures. We even took a chap with his two young sons for a drive in the back, which they thought was wonderful.

“There have been plenty of local trips as well and wherever I go, people come up to me and say how amazed they are by its appearance. It would be fair to say that one or two have commented on it almost looking too good and suggesting that it’s probably in better condition than when it left the factory, and they could well be right. In fact, it is going to be displayed at this September’s Goodwood Revival on The Classic Mechanic’s stand; I’m determined to keep it pristine until after the event.”

The door cards are not standard but practical additions

​​​​​​I’m interested in Darren’s comment about displaying the Series I at Goodwood and turn to Simon to hear his views on where The Classic Mechanic is going. “Since we spoke earlier this year,” he tells me, “Laszla and I have concluded that the business will focus on premium, high-end Land Rover and Jaguar restorations. The Lister XJS is probably the most highly restored example in existence, with over 4000 hours of labour spent on it, and I refer to it as our proof-of-concept vehicle. The Lister XJS and the Series I allow us to show the world what Laszlo can achieve thanks to his passion for perfection. 

“We have accumulated so much experience and knowledge as a result of these projects, to say nothing of the contacts we have made, that it seems sensible for us to concentrate on expanding our business around these two exemplary flagship restorations. Laz has also taken on an apprentice, a young lad who’s just finished college in Hungary.

“We’ll have the Series I and the Lister XJS on our stand at the Goodwood Revival to showcase the quality of Laszlo’s work, and we want to offer an intimate, close-up 360-degree view of both vehicles. I’ve even chosen Stand Number 360 to reinforce the point, and we are located in the Revival’s renowned ‘Over the Road’ area. I’ve also noticed that we will be very close to JLR’s stand, and it will be interesting to see if any of their people come to see what we do.

Owner Darren (right) with restorer Laszlo

“I’ve managed to twist Laz’s arm and persuade him to come to Goodwood, too, which is no mean feat given that he hates both flying and the Channel Tunnel in equal measure. It will be a lengthy 2500-mile round-trip for him by road and ferry.

“The Classic Mechanic is a UK-registered business with a wholly-owned Hungarian subsidiary, which allows our clients to take advantage of the lower cost of carrying out restoration work there rather than in the UK. It also means that anyone consigning their vehicle to us can be reassured that they are dealing with a British company. We are already picking up new projects in the UK and Continental Europe, primarily by word-of-mouth recommendations and from owners who have seen the quality and perfectionism of Laszlo’s work on our social media channels.”

If you are planning to visit the Goodwood Revival in September, go and see Darren’s beautiful Series I on The Classic Mechanic stand. I doubt you’ll find a shinier example anywhere. And would Darren do an offshore restoration project again? He doesn’t even have to think about his answer. “I’d do it again at the drop of a hat. In fact, I’ve already sent my AFS Brockhouse trailer to Laz. As he was a fire fighter earlier in his career, he’s quite excited to be rebuilding it.

“At the end of the day, the most important aspect of a project like this is that you trust the person doing the work, and you have confidence in their skills and expertise. I trust Laszlo implicitly. Perfection takes time and the journey is a big part of the enjoyment.”

 

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