Exeter isn’t exactly on our doorstep. But having built up a rapport with Dave Watkins, owner and builder at Resto Shack over the past 5 years, it seemed like a great idea to get up early and drive down to the West Country to finally see his work in the flesh.
Until now I’d just been reading posts about the projects Dave and his small team have built, with them kindly tagging us for supplying the majority of the Mk1 Golf panels and bodywork for Mk2 Golfs and Rallyes. Not to mention admiring his handicraft on a handful of early Porsche 911s, Delta Integrales and an original Audi Quattro to name a few of ‘the others.’ With a large following on social media, I’m clearly not the only one who enjoys his content and attention to detail when building a car.
Starting the ‘Shack
Dave started Resto Shack from the remains of a closed body shop that he used to work for. He took over the lease and equipment but started afresh with his own name and aiming at the retro car era rather than the traditional ‘Classic car’ market. Trained in crash repair and body and paintwork but equally skilled with classic coachwork and traditional panel craft he fuses both methods to form the Resto Shack standard. “I do joke with our customers that we might all be working at Sainsbury’s next time we see them though!” Dave lets slip.
The Seventies, Eighties and Nineties
Whilst Dave and his team can turn their hands to almost anything it is the ‘retro cars’ that really get their fuel pumping. Especially Mk1 and Mk2 Golfs, early Escorts and box arched rally specials such as the Integrale and Audi Quattro. “I like the stuff I grew up seeing on the roads” Dave explains. “It was my hope that other people felt the same way about cars from their past and would want to relive that in whatever we build for them.” It would appear he was right too, as the shop is full of machines that well and truly tick the throwback box.
Tea for two
Playing host, Dave puts the kettle on and leaves us to explore. Martin from our Trade Team had joined me for the day as it was a good opportunity for him to meet Dave, having previously only spoken on the phone when supplying Mk1 and Mk2 Golf parts for many of the cars we were about to see.
Stages of labour
Hot mug in hand, Dave tells us “We’ve got something at every stage of the build process here today. This white Mk1 was shipped down from Bournemouth and has just been stripped and assessed for its restoration. We’ve got an OEM Mk1 Golf Cabriolet over there on four post lift that’s just in for a post-resto check over and tighten up after it went back to the customer earlier in the year. Finally, we have this Mk2 VR6 on the ramp which is nearing the end of a full nut and bolt restoration with a few upgrades.”
Mk2 Golf VR6
The Oak Green VR6 draws us in. Its KW suspension pokes out from under the G60 front wings (you’ll notice the top of the arch is cut away). Underneath the Mk2 Golf floor pan has been expertly refinished and restored, and inside a custom Recaro interior gives a great OEM+ look. “Mick’s just working on the engine for this one now” Dave informs us.
How much does it cost?
This is a question Dave gets asked all the time, and one that he explains is very difficult to answer fully. “It all depends hugely on what the car requires. Each car has its own issues and parts requirements so they need individual estimates. Whether we carry out full body restorations or minor running repairs each one has to be costed out. Small jobs are much easier to cost, but major restorations have hundreds of hours and parts involved. We find it best to set budgets for areas of work and then keep the customer updated weekly on the progress and spending.”
As Dave talks us through the Mk1 on the ramp he points out the Mk1 Golf sills. “The originals have a ridge pressed along here, but the reproductions don’t come with it. We’ve worked a way of reinstating it though, to make our work stand out from other restorations – we’re sneaky foxes, you see.” The sense of pride in his workmanship comes across in every sentence, and it’s for that reason he’s now taking bookings for 2020.
Investing in the future
“We’re moving premises in 2019” Dave discloses, with a real excitement in his eyes. “Currently we can only get 6 cars inside and have to trailer vehicles to and from our storage unit as the projects twist and turn. The new place will give us a lot more space, and save so much of my time messing about moving stuff.”
Along with the relocation and expansion, Dave will be on the lookout for some more Devon based talent to work with him. It’s difficult he explains “I can train someone to do this job but I can’t train ‘a passion’ for the work. We will be looking for the right people to join veteran 70’s Race Mechanic/Engine builder Mick and resident Bodyworker/Painter Guy as part of the Resto Shack Family. We are driven while at work, but outside of the shop we have our own interests and hobbies which helps keeps us keen for the next project” – Dave is the lead singer in a rock band in his spare time.
As we wander between the Mk2 Escort RS2000 and the Editon1 G60 Golf that is sat in a state of undress in the main workshop I ask if he only works on cars from the Devon area. “We have cars from all over the country” he replies…”The Mk2 Escort RS is from just down the road, but the Mk2 G60 is from Scotland. Next year we will see cars from all over the UK, Holland, France and Portugal. It’s always an honour that people will travel to have us build for them.”
Waiting in the wings
We could have chatted to Dave all day about cars, business and life in general, but with a 4+ hour drive back to West Sussex ahead of us, we were clock watching from the get-go.
Before we leave the West-Country though, Dave treated us to a behind-the-scenes look at the Resto Shack store. We love an ‘Aladdin’s Cave’ and this collection of classic metal is pretty awesome, and of course every car has a story.
“These are cars awaiting work, mid project waiting on back order parts or the next stage to commence, or some are on pause while the owners take a break from the build and they are just being stored.” Whilst the majority wear a VW roundel, there’s another Ford RS2000 (with X Pack bodykit) a Frog-eyed Sprite, an Audi Quattro, and a pair of Lancia’s all waiting for the Resto Shack magic.
A big thanks to Dave and his team for being so welcoming and we look forward to another trip next summer to check out the new place.