Arriving at perfection

Hilton & Moss is a classic car restorer based in the southeast of England, specialising in classic and vintage Mercedes, Jaguar and Aston Martin – although they’ve turned their hand to various different marques over the years. As part of the Hilton Group, a Mercedes approved and registered facility since the early 90s, Hilton & Moss restore classics using a combination of traditional and modern processes and techniques to ensure the corrosion issues that plague cars of this era are consigned to the past. Gavin Thorn, restoration manager, explains the process and the core values of the business.

“We went into the classic car restoration business very tentatively. The move stemmed from Peter Hilton going to car shows in the 1980s, looking at poor restorations and believing that his own team could turn out much better work,” he explains.

“The first car we tackled was one of Peter’s own cars, a Triumph Stag. That was a project to see if we could do all aspects of a restoration. Obviously the paint and bodywork were not an issue, but there is so much more with a classic – trimming, re-chroming and such like. We wanted to see how, as a business, we could do that.”

Very well, as it turned out, with a classic motoring magazine commenting on the restoration being one of the best they’d seen.

“Due to the Hilton Group being Mercedes registered and approved, we have to follow certain processes set by Mercedes themselves to ensure the work is carried out in the correct manner. Follow the same processes and quality of work when restoring a classic car and you’ve got a procedure that guarantees there will be no corrosion of the bodywork from that point forward.

“This obviously sounds like a bold statement to make, but we only offer that guarantee with a full restoration,” says Thorn. “If you handed us a car today, we’ll strip it down to a bare shell and send it away for either dipping or soda blasting, depending on whether it’s made from steel or aluminium, which will take it back to bare metal. Then it will receive a zinc coating to protect it while the restoration of the bodywork takes place.

“Once the metal fabrication work is complete, the bodyshell is then sent away again to have the zinc coating removed and an E-coating applied to replace it. Once we are happy with that, then the process of building up the layers of primer, paint seam sealer and so on begins. For that process we use Glasurit products which, as they are developed to work as a package, give us the confidence that there will be no reactions between the various products, hence why we can offer that level of guarantee with our cars.” Having not long completed restoring a Mercedes 300SL Roadster, Series Jaguar 1 E-type and Aston Martin DB4 using the same process, the finish of the cars is nothing short of exceptional.

Thorn continues: “We recently took these cars to a couple of shows and the feedback we received was phenomenal. A number of people, both the general public and exhibitors alike, even commented that our cars were better than those turned out by some of the big, well-established marque specialists. We’ve known that for years, it’s just putting ourselves in a position to let other people see it. We’re very transparent in terms of what we do and the way we do it.”

A sound investment

With the classic car market booming and showing no signs of slowing down, more and more people are venturing into the market to try and turn a profit. Money from China and the Far East appears to be playing a part in keeping things buoyant, with the region’s wealthiest individuals now taking an interest in amassing vast collections of cars. Also, with the Bank of England’s base rate continuing to remain low and capital gains tax not payable on profits made on classic vehicles, there is little to suggest things will change any time soon. However, it should be noted that only restorations carried out to the highest quality would be to either maintain or increase in value. Often, cars in this market will be inspected by a specialist before a purchase is made – there are many cars for sale that have been poorly restored and those in the know will quickly spot a car that’s been thrown together. It is those that have won awards at Concours events and such like that will appreciate and see a consistent increase in their value and only the best will do in these competitions. The damage that can be caused by someone restoring a car poorly is very difficult to reverse, making it all the more important to ensure the car is taken to the correct people first time round.

Money can’t be driven around and enjoyed whilst it’s in the bank. So, despite a large number of collectable and valuable cars rarely turning a wheel and sitting in climate-controlled warehouses, there are still some owners who prefer to drive and enjoy their purchase – value, rarity and risk aside.

A classic car provides a visceral, raw driving experience that cars manufactured today simply can’t match. The driver’s input has a direct impact on the behaviour of the car – there’s no traction or stability control, ABS etc. to dilute things, these cars are required to be driven, with all of their associated challenges and pitfalls. With the modern car industry producing cars that take more and more away from the driver, the enjoyment derived from classic motoring suggests it is a pastime that is likely to remain popular for the foreseeable future.

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