A RESTORING ADDICTION
by Chris Tiessen
On a dreary Monday morning in early April, Alex De Jonge made my dreams come true. And it was exhilarating. And terrifying. And a little cramped. And I’d do it again in a heartbeat!
You see, I’m a car nut. Not a car collector, mind you. (Unless, of course, you count my Hotwheels collection that includes a couple of pretty sweet Datsun 510s and an early model Skyline. But you wouldn’t. And I don’t.) And on that rainy morning in April, Alex took me out in a couple of his family business’ company cars – a barn find 1952 Porsche 356 and classic 1967 Porsche 911 kitted with a racing roll cage, cat-back exhaust and upgraded 911s engine hanging out its rear end. And I was moved.
The family business? Restoration Design Inc. – a fabricator of classic Porsche panels located in a non-descript shop in the resurgent industrial area of Guelph’s storied ‘Ward’ neighbourhood. You’d miss the place altogether if it wasn’t for the rusted 912 shell mounted on the shop roof. Which, I find out, isn’t for sale. ‘No VIN number,’ is what Alex tells me. ‘So it wouldn’t ever be able to get licensed for the road.’
Not that I could ever afford it. Indeed, even a rusted out shell – no windows, no interior, no engine – would fetch a pretty penny in today’s classic Porsche market. As Alex remarks: ‘This past decade especially, classic Porsche prices have skyrocketed. Cars that no one would have even attempted to restore just a decade ago are now coming in for complete ground-up restorations. It’s an incredible phenomenon, really.’
A phenomenon that’s got Restoration Design – the only business of its kind in the world – working overtime to fulfill orders for customers across the entire globe. Indeed, the shop floor would make even Jerry Seinfeld’s jaw drop. (Note: Jerry Seinfeld is among the world’s most fervent classic Porsche collectors.) In one area of the shop, about a dozen classic Porsche bodies – 356s, 911s, 912s, 914s – sandblasted to the bare metal are in various states of repair and restoration. In another vast room, massive rolls of sheet metal are fed into custom-made machines where reproduction panels are fabricated.
As business owner (and Alex’s dad) Mike De Jonge notes: ‘When we bought the business in 2009, we inherited a catalogue of about thirty parts. We’re now closer to eight hundred – and counting.’ A quick perusal through the Restoration Design website (restoration-design.com) gives a sense of the scope of the business’ ever-expanding catalogue. From fenders to dashes, pans to seats, door skins to rocker panels – the business seems to have it all. Including different iterations of the same part for the same model year!
Peter De Jonge (Alex’s brother and Mike’s other son) explains: ‘Porsche is a company that’s never stopped doing research and development. In an age when the cars would have been crafted by hand – piece by piece, one at a time – this meant that redesigning a single part for the same model was a natural thing to do. We’ve made it our job to respond to all of these redesigns with quality reproduction parts.’ I learn that the 1968 model year is notorious for this phenomenon. Good to know, in case I’m ever in the position to grab a ’68 Porsche some day!
As I walk around the shop, it’s apparent that Mike, Alex and Peter have found a glorious niche with the business. Indeed, ‘kid in a candy store’ doesn’t begin to describe how the De Jonge family and other staff – up to fifteen total – must feel going to work each day. As Mike remarks: ‘I got into this business to feed a habit – when I retired back in 2008 I’d bought myself a couple classic Porsches and began working on them in my garage at home. Today we’re helping feed many people’s habits.’ He continues: ‘But more than this, we’re using today’s knowledge to help solve – and preserve – yesteryear’s puzzles of German engineering. Porsche engineering. And to keep alive a tradition so rich in automobile lore.’
And that’s a very good thing. Now, Alex, when’s that next ride?