FOR A MAN who is ringmaster of one of the country’s premium restoration outfits, Wolf Grodd seems to spend an inordinate amount of time talking people out of restoring their cars.
“Primarily people ring us up and they have a car,” he explains, “half of those phone calls I talk them out of it. Most people have the wrong idea about what should be restored and what should not. We like to think we know because that’s what we’ve been doing for 26 years.
“I’ve loved old cars all my life. We’ve done nearly 600 projects so we should have learned something. We say to people – and I’m recalling my presentation at Rotary recently – you should restore a car that’s worth restoring, because it costs the same to restore an ugly undesirable car.
“So it should be a sports car, an open car, a two-door, a convertible, preferably rare and coach-built. To do it properly is an expensive exercise.”
Though he’s a selfconfessed life-long motoring enthusiast, Wolf’s first career was in a very different field – as a graphic artist.
“I’m a graphic designer by profession. I was successful, I had 25 people working for me for 25 years and I had 16 cars.
All my contemporaries bought factories and blocks of units – all that sensible stuff. Their lives passed them by without too many highs and lows.
They’re all dead now – they died of boredom. Whereas I had a fleet of cars, I’ve had some of the best cars on the planet. I’ve always done the non-sensible thing of living life to the fullest – no regrets.
With the influx of desktop publishing, the graphic business changed and Wolf decided he’d had enough. “I thought I’ve given it 25 years, I really want out of it. My real passion always was classic cars but I’m no good at it. If I put in oil I always put in too much. A very dear friend of mine had golden hands, he was just gifted. He came to me and said I hate my job – he was with the Brisbane City
Council – he said why don’t we start a restoration business.
I said well I don’t know anything about restoration – and he said well I do and I don’t know anything about business.
“Well I know about business. So we bit the bullet and we opened a shop with a massive factory. It took off like you wouldn’t believe – there were a lot of people doing up old cars but no-one was doing it properly, professionally. We were fumbling around for a while but it all worked very well. After about five years this friend of mine decided to go it alone – he’s regretted it ever since, but we’re still good friends.”
Without question the biggest highlight of his career was the car which started life at the Geneva show in 1934, was rescued from Europe decades later and eventually took Wolf to the podium at Pebble Beach in 2005 – a stunning achievement. “It was the biggest day of my life,” says Wolf. “It was a 1934 supercharged Mercedes-Benz Straight 8 Cabriolet A. It came out of Poland in the early seventies in pieces, because they weren’t allowed to bring it out. I bought it in Belgium in 1993 and spent eight years restoring it and took it to the podium at Pebble Beach.
“To put a car on the podium at Pebble Beach is for billionaires. What got us there was passion. I always say to people I remember my wedding day because three days after Pebble Beach we went to Vegas! We drove up to the podium, which is everyone’s dream, and I was in a trance and felt like I was going to have a heart attack.
My wife grabbed my knee and said ‘it’s okay, you’ve done it’.”
In Wolf’s heart, close behind the Cabriolet is the extraordinary nut-and-bolt correct 1952 W194 ‘pre- Gullwing gullwing’ built by his team. The original was the vehicle that relaunched the marque into world motor-racing and met with huge success. An American customer saw a picture of the car on Wolf’s office wall and said he wanted one. “I said you can’t have it. Mercedes built 10, two were destroyed and the others are in their possession and they’ll never sell their competition cars. If they did, they would be 15-20 million dollars a car. They all have history and they won everything.
“Never say to a wealthy man you can’t have it. Now he’s got to have it and says, ‘You’re going to build me one. They could build it in 1952, you can do it in 2005.’
“We built it exactly, every nut and bolt. It took four years and I remember the deadline was 10 June 2010 – because that was the 50th anniversary for the Gullwing group of North America . He wanted to take this recreation W194 and we advised him to be careful since it isn’t the real thing – they can be a funny mob of guys and they might ask him to leave it over there. He took the chance – he was the centrepiece. There were 55-58 Gullwings at the Presidio under the Golden Gate Bridge. He was the star of the show. Locals commented ‘we don’t know how they did it’.
One expert admitted he could not tell the difference between this and a real one!”
Much of the company’s work is a little more humble, but there’s no denying that overall it is high-end and a mix of work and pleasure. “I’m 77 – I don’t do this for the money, it keeps me alert and gives me a reason to get out of bed in the morning. People say to me, shouldn’t you retire. Retire to what? I’m doing what I’d do if I was retired.”
So does he have any parting advice on what you should restore? “It’s a bit like a marriage, you don’t marry the first girl you have a dance with. You only restore a car if you can’t live without it. To hell with the money. It will cost more than you think and it’s got to be worth it at the end. Having said that, it costs a lot more to marry the wrong person than it does to restore the wrong car!”
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