Hungarian rhapsody

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Restorer Laszlo proudly stands beside his latest work of art : credit: © Darren Ashcroft
Would you send your cherished old Land Rover to another country to be restored? Somewhere that meant you had to hop on a plane every now and then to review progress? Darren Ashcroft did exactly that…

I know of a few examples of UK owners sending their classic Land Rover overseas to be restored, and for a long time it remained a pretty unusual thing to do. The undoubted attraction is the lower labour costs, but the downside is that it is much more difficult to keep tabs on the project, and there is always the concern that the work won’t be completed to your satisfaction because the restorer isn’t sufficiently expert in matters Land Rover, or simply because standards are different.

Two early Discoverys that I know of were given chassis-up restorations abroad, and I’m aware of three two-door Range Rovers and several Series vehicles that were also restored overseas for UK owners. These projects were completed in Poland, Portugal, the Czech Republic and Australia. Some of the companies offering overseas restoration services are very slick and the quality of the workmanship is superb, but some of the vehicles I’ve seen have been less than impressive.

Some of the players offer restorations to as-new factory specification, while others focus on bespoke and restomod work. It all comes down to knowing what you want your project to deliver and satisfying yourself that your chosen contractor understands your requirements and knows what they are doing. Critically, at the end of the day it really comes down to trust.

Laszlo’s pursuit of perfection is evident everywhere

Over the past year or two, anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that overseas restorations have become more common, which is why LRM recently asked readers who had taken this approach to share their stories with us. We were delighted when Darren Ashcroft got in touch to tell us about his Series I, which is nearing a two-and-a-half-year restoration by Laszlo Izso in Hungary, whose company is called The Classic Mechanic.

“I didn’t set out to have my 1954 Series I restored in Hungary,” Darren tells me. “I bought it part-restored in 2010 from a farmer in Ireland, probably after a pint or three of Guinness, and a few months after I got it home it was obvious that the work had not been done very well. Cosmetically it was a disaster, and the peeling paint revealed the total absence of preparation before it had been given a blow-over.

“I’d intended to renovate it myself. I’ve worked on Land Rovers since my teens and I had in mind to make this one a very useable shabby-chic vehicle, but with family life and the pressures of running a business, time was always going to be the issue.

Even the pipework and leads don’t escape Laszlo’s keen eye

“The engine needed work and that was when my good friend of many years, Simon Spurrell, suggested that I speak to Laszlo, who at the time was running a classic car engineering business in Macclesfield. Simon is a big Jaguar fan and Laszlo was restoring a very rare Lister-Jaguar XJ-S V12 for him. I thought if Laszlo could fettle a 7.0-litre V12, then a 2.0-litre four-pot Land Rover engine was not going to be a problem for him.

“I handed over the Land Rover engine but still hoped to do all the other renovation work myself, but things changed quite suddenly in 2019 when, after nine years of living and working in the UK, Laszlo had to return to Hungary for family reasons.

“Laszlo is a perfectionist and a really lovely guy, and he knew he wouldn’t be able to finish the engine before he had to leave. He was very upset about the prospect of having to abandon the engine rebuild so I told him to take it with him back to Hungary and finish it there. Simon had gone even further, and asked Laszlo to take the unfinished Lister to Hungary in its entirety.

Great attention has been given to the cosmetics as well as the mechanical  aspects of the restoration

“Looking at the sad sight of the forlorn Series I sitting in my garage with an empty engine bay, and bearing in mind that our three-year old daughter and my business were taking up all of my time, I decided to ask Laszlo to take the vehicle with him back to Hungary, as well as the engine. That was when my plan to create a shabby chic Landy turned into a full-blown, chassis up, nut and bolt restoration to factory spec, because I knew that Laszlo’s preference is to restore vehicles to factory standards.

“It would be fair to say that I didn’t set out with a plan to offshore-outsource the renovation of my Land Rover, but having got to know Laszlo in Macclesfield and asked him to rebuild the engine, he and I had already established a strong relationship based on trust, so it was a pretty easy decision for me to go that way with the bigger project.

Even straight from the factory we don’t imagine there’s a cleaner SI

“Laszlo is very much an old-school vehicle engineer. He was apprenticed as a teenager to one of Hungary’s leading vehicle restorers, and worked with him for 16 years before branching out on his own, coming to the UK in 2012. I’ve been very impressed by his collaborative approach to problem-solving and working through the next steps in the project. Since he returned to Hungary, Laszlo and I have been speaking two or three times a week and yes, I have made a few visits to Hungary to meet him and review progress. It’s always a delight to do that because he and his family always make me feel extremely welcome.

Nut and bolt restoration started in Macclesfield before the Series I moved to Hungary

“One of the things that has impressed me greatly is that Laszlo is able to do almost everything himself. The engine and gearbox were rebuilt by him, and the original chassis was repaired with all the rot cut out and replacement panels fabricated and welded in place. Bodywork was prepared and painted in-house, and the vehicle has also been re-wired. The quality of the workmanship is superb, and pretty much the only problem we’ve had is regalvanising the body trim. We’ve had it done in Hungary and again in Romania, but each time the results have been grim. With hindsight I should have left it as it was, but thanks to LRM I’ve now got some recommendations for specialists in the UK that I hope will be able to get it right.”

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I ask Darren how Laszlo sources the parts he needs, and the answer is that both Darren and Simon – who is now the director of the UK end of The Classic Mechanic, as Laszlo still calls his restoration business – will investigate and source the correct parts in the UK and arrange to have them delivered to Hungary. This strikes me as being an extremely important element of an offshore-outsourced restoration because it relieves Laszlo of the task of finding out what’s right, and locating it, and ensures that Darren can rest easy that the parts going onto his Series I are correct.

Simon and Laszlo with Simon’s Lister project

I’m interested to know more about Simon’s role. Readers as old as me will remember the famous Remington electric razor television advertisements from the late 1980s, which featured US businessman and entrepreneur, Victor Kiam, saying that he liked the razor so much that he bought the company. Well, Simon liked what Laszlo was doing so much that he offered to help when Laszlo had to return to Hungary and ended up investing in The Classic Mechanic. He is now in charge of the UK side of the business.

“Having seen the quality of Laszlo’s workmanship on my Lister XJ-S,” Simon tells me, “which is by no means an easy vehicle to restore, and been impressed by his commitment to perfection, his attention to detail and his unwillingness to compromise and accept second best, I decided to help promote the work that he does and help vehicle owners in the UK benefit from his skills.

“My involvement, as both a director of the business and the owner of what, thanks to Laszlo, will be the best Lister XJ-S in existence, means I can help make the whole process easier and more reassuring for any UK owner who wants to achieve the same outcome with their car.

Finishing touches laid out and ready to fit into place

“Laszlo is still doing almost all the work himself on the vehicles he is restoring, although he is regularly helped by his wife, Annabell, and his father. We are actively looking for someone with suitable qualifications and experience to join him in Hungary, but they will have to demonstrate their commitment to adhering to the same standards of perfection.

“There are never more than three vehicles undergoing restoration at any time, and we already have two more waiting to be delivered to Hungary to replace the Lister and the Series I when both are completed during 2023. We have also decided to focus our restorations for UK clients on just Land Rover and Jaguar vehicles, and we hope to be displaying the Lister and the Land Rover at UK shows this year.

Darren and his almost-finished Series I. Given the quality of the restoration, he now plans to show it as well as drive it, although it probably won’t carry builder’s rubble in the back again!

Darren tells me that he hopes to have the Series I back in the UK early in the New Year. “I’ve toyed with the idea of driving it back,” he says wistfully, “and what an adventure that would be, but a trans-European road trip in a newly rebuilt 1954 Series I in winter conditions is not an idea that has overly impressed my wife or Laszlo, so I’ve decided to have it trailered instead.”

Darren promises to show the completed Series I to LRM as soon as he has it safely back in Britain, and I am really looking forward to seeing it.

 

Want to know more?

To see examples of Laszlo’s work, including Darren’s Series I and Simon’s Lister, visit theclassicmechanic.co.uk.

Contact Simon Spurrell at [email protected] for an initial conversation about your project. Simon is based in Macclesfield and will arrange to meet you and inspect your vehicle. He will arrange for project cost estimates and take care of the shipping arrangements and assist with the regular project reviews with Laszlo.

Laszlo is based in the village of Nagyszénás, which is about 100 miles southeast of Budapest.

 

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