A Full Complement of Services
Our spacious workshop contains the highly qualified technicians and the essential special equipment to successfully perform the full range of Mechanical, Coachbuilding, Paint, Upholstery, Machining, Research, and Parts and Materials sourcing services on the great European sports, touring, and racing models from the prewar era through the 1960s. Projects range from complete Body-off Restorations, to the Preservation of exceptional original cars, to seasonal Maintenance services. We also assist with other aspects of the car collecting hobby, such as Sales and Brokerage services, concours and rally Event Support, and Storage.
Our restoration process involves a true commitment to craftsmanship. We continue to set the highest of standards and have developed a unique restoration process that virtually makes your classic new again. It is not unusual for one of our projects to entail:
- At least six technicians in various disciplines that remanufacture the car to the original manufacturer's specifications;
- Collaboration with numerous specialists to hand-finish trim parts before re-chroming them, to duplicate the original leathers and fabrics for authenticity, and to manufacture no-longer-available parts;
- A significant number of research hours to locate original parts and materials using domestic and international sources;
- 3000 man-hours, on average, to complete a full body-off restoration on a typical 1950s sports car;
- Extensive road testing of the finished product.
The great classics and production sports racers built prior to the 1950s were originally assembled the old fashioned way — by hand. Our master craftsmen literally re-manufacture a car from the ground up, using a multitude of skills and a massive amount of perseverance. Every component is examined and either reused, rebuilt, or, as a last resort, replaced. We are dedicated to a restoration process that faithfully replicates the materials and construction details used by the original builders.
PRESERVATION AND MAINTENANCE
The same technical skills and pride of craftsmanship that are demonstrated on our renowned body-off restorations are brought to bear on every service job. In the 1950s, sports racing cars were still being driven from the public roads directly on to the race track. An integral part of the service we offer is an intelligent maintenance program, one that allows the owner to get behind the wheel and revive that experience of driving, either on the road or on the track, any time he desires.
All of our work, whether it is being performed on a car that is fully restored or one that is completely original, is approached with concern for the future of the car in mind. Experience has shown us that, in the larger world of restored classics, an exceptional original car is in fact unique and highly valued both by historians and by collectors. Our underlying philosophy, consistent in everything that we do, is that any part of a car which is truly in original condition should be preserved whenever feasible.
Our Parts Department maintains an extensive stock of 1950s-60s Mercedes-Benz parts, particularly for the 300SL Gullwing and Roadster models. Over the past 35 years we have worked on hundreds of 300SLs, and typically have a dozen or so in-house at any given time. Parts Manager Jack Styles draws on his decades of experience to ensure that we have the correct parts at hand. He can answer and fulfill most of the requests for 300SL parts, for both our in-house technicians as well as from outside independent restorers.
Due to the multiple models and marques that we service, the Parts Department does not house an extensive parts inventory for all of the European classics. We have instead spent our years building the relationships necessary for sourcing the hard-to-find parts and materials for our in-house projects. On occasion, we make available unique items that we have located, reproduced, or developed.
SALES AND BROKERAGE
Alex Finigan, our Classic Car Sales Manager, applies his extensive knowledge of Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari, Porsche, Bugatti, Alfa Romeo and other fine collectibles to your benefit. His guidance is given with an emphasis on building long-term relationships. While we do have a selection of cars for sale, most of this service is accomplished behind the scenes.
We also offer our clients preparation, delivery, and staffing support - whether showing a car at a concours d'elegance or participating in a road rally - within the U.S. and around the world. Storage is available seasonally in a limited-access, secure, dehumidified, heated facility.
We consider ourselves to be caretakers of automotive history and, as such, we take the time and do the research to determine the exact materials and construction techniques appropriate for each individual car. The great older classics were assembled by hand and our attention to detail in their rebuilding is your assurance that our work will pass the test, whether you judge by concours standards, by the endurance of a driving tour, or simply by the passage of years.
Snapshots of cars that have visited our workshop for service, restoration, or sales.
A Body-Off Restoration
There really is no such thing as a typical restoration, as every car has its own unique personal history. From the initial hand-made construction at the factory, through the years of maintenance and repairs, each car has its own particular strengths and weaknesses. However, we use the term "body-off restoration" for a customary set of tasks, about 2500-3000 man-hours of work on a typical 1950s sports car, summarized below.
When a restoration candidate arrives at Paul Russell and Company, a member of each department (Mechanical, Body, Metal, and Upholstery) is assigned to the project. A team is put together which will be responsible for the project from beginning to end. The first thing they do is to evaluate the car for signs of unusual wear-and-tear, serious or hidden damage, non-originality, and missing items. Research is begun to determine what items were original to that particular car, what replacement parts are readily available, and what sorts of materials will be required. Paul Russell then reviews all of these appraisals and, on behalf of the client, turns them into a preliminary estimate of the resources (time and money) required.
After the preliminary inspection, and authorization by the owner, the car is completely disassembled while further notes are taken as to originality and condition. The mechanic will remove the engine, drive train (transmission, suspension, brakes, exhaust), wiring harness, dash gauges and interior trim pieces. The upholsterer will remove the seats, carpeting, door panels, convertible top. Depending on the shop work schedule, either the mechanic or the body man will remove all exterior chrome trim pieces including headlights, front grille, and bumpers. The body man is responsible for the repair and fitting of all trim pieces prior to having them re-chromed or anodized. During this disassembly process the body man will be noting any irregular fits in the body panels or trim pieces.
Chasing leads and digging for information is one of the most important and least acknowledged aspects of any restoration or preservation project. Our accumulated lore and extensive collection of reference materials form a basis upon which decisions are ultimately made regarding authenticity and originality. Sometimes the questions of authenticity are answered by conferring with the original designer or owner's family, and at other times the answer comes from the car itself during a careful disassembly. This facet of any restoration starts before disassembly and continues all the way through to final assembly.
Following the removal of all the component pieces, the body shell will be removed from the chassis, and put into the hands of the panel beater for any necessary panel replacements or other metal repairs. The chassis will be stripped, repaired where needed, and repainted in the body shop, after which it goes back to the mechanical shop. If the car has any wooden sub-structure, such as is usual in any pre-war car, those areas will be repaired in concert with the metal work. The bare-metal shell then goes to the body shop where all the panel surfaces are 'finished' before the application of primer and color coats of paint.
After removal, the chrome is inventoried and any special instructions for the plater are recorded before the three-step plating process begins. First, pieces are sent out to be stripped to their base metal. Then each piece comes back for repairs and adjustments, and returned to the plater for copper plating and buffing. Selected pieces, whose alignment to the body or to each other is critical, are fitted for a trial assembly while they are still in copper and the body panels are in final primer. Ultimately all pieces are returned to the chromer for the two-part application of nickel and chrome plating. The finished chrome is installed after the car is painted and ready for final assembly.
Meanwhile, the mechanic in charge has been rebuilding all of the car's components (from the smaller details like windshield wiper motors to the complete engine and transmission), and collecting them on rolling parts shelves. The parts and resource staff are finding or having remanufactured the requisite replacement items, from suspension bushings to trim items to wiring harnesses to correct-grain leather. When the freshly painted chassis is returned from the body shop, these rebuilt and new components will be installed, often resulting in a unbodied chassis that can be driven.
Concurrent with the work being performed by the mechanic and body shops, the upholsterer will be recovering the seats and removable interior pieces such as the door panels. He may also be sewing together the convertible top pieces prior to their installation in the car, or creating the custom luggage.
After the body shell, door panels, trunk and hood have been painted, the final assembly phase can begin. The body shell and panels are reinstalled on the 'rolling' chassis. The cockpit is upholstered and the carpets, seats, door panels and other pieces are installed, as are the interior and exterior chrome trim pieces. Each individual component that was removed during disassembly, literally every last nut and bolt, must now not only fit together but also operate properly.
Finally, the car is driven over the bumpiest and fastest roads around to find and fix any squeaks, rattles, or other problems before this remanufactured decades-old car is delivered to its owner.
For those who have never been involved in a restoration, words can only provide a taste of the experience. Nevertheless, we have chosen to summarize the many steps in a routine body-off restoration to illustrate these essential points:
- A proper restoration takes time and patience.
- The reality that unforeseen challenges will be encountered while sourcing parts and materials or tracing construction details underscore the benefits of starting with a good original car.
- Only a restoration shop with specific experience on your car should be entrusted with this complex work.
A Restoration Slide Show
A selection of photos taken during several Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster restorations, illustrating the typical stages and steps of a 1950s body-off restoration. Click image to start/stop slide show.