Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Sterling Automotive workshop portfolio Oct 2009

Another Sterling Automotive video up on youtube. This one is a fast moving clip showing some of the classic cars that have been through the Sterling workshops. It is set to rock music so either turn the music up or down depending on your taste.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Sterling Automotive Camper resto on Youtube

Our restoration of a 1972 bay window camper van on Youtube and set a Godwits track.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Nice Youtube clip

This should please the most discerning eye.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Keep off the bare metal!

When restoring classic vehicle bodywork, it is important to avoid any contact between bare metal and new paint.

Today, with modern materials and processes, car manufacturers can offer many years warranty against rust appearing By contrast, the sheet metal of older vehicles was less refined when new and will have been around the block many times, therefore it will suffer from any moisture. So when it comes to refinishing a classic car, sustainable corrosion protection plays an important role.

It is important to counter the risk of corrosion at the time of preparing the substrate and once surface tension of the steel is broken, the clock is ticking. So having meticulously prepared and cleaned exposed metal, professional restorers quickly move to applying a protective coat which remains until it’s time to prep the car for painting.

Next step is removing the protective coat, re-attending to the metal and applying a thin insulation layer between the bare metal and the primer coat. Without this, the next coat of paint acts like a dry sponge that absorbs moisture, passes it on to the metal and holds it there.

So a two-coat build-up consisting of an acid primer and a 2K filler primer is used.

Coat one - The acid primer has a corrosion-inhibiting effect it also provides excellent etch adhesion to the metallic substrate on the one hand and to the upper coats on the other hand.

Coat two - The 2K filler isolates any defects and pores and helps to even out the surface. It becomes the perfected base for the topcoat.

Modern coating technology alone cannot guarantee the long life of a prestige or classic car. It is important to carry out all steps of the refinishing process with utmost care. This also means that the application of acid primer must be repeated as soon any body part is sanded back through to bare metal – even if this happens only in tiny areas.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Goodwood revival 2009

With huge gratitude to friends that snagged us complimentary passes for the Sunday of the 2009 Goodwood Classic Revival, we were anticipating a great event. The excitment grew when we discovered that my sons official best friend in the whole wide world and his family were joining us for the day trip.

At £48.00 per entry pass and £5.00 for a thimble full of Pims (a Spritzer with vegetables in it), the Revival is not exactly the most economical family day out but you sure do get a lot for your large pile of money.

Obviously, visitors are fully entitled to expect some of the finest racing cars from the best era of motor racing but how many events impart the feeling that you would be welcome to stroll the pits and approach any car owner, technician or driver you wish and bother them with your petty questions.

Setting the scene for an authentic period feel is an obvious bolt on to any historic event but if not done well, or particularly if over engineered, it’s just not going to look or seem right.

I bet there are few classic car owners that would decline a chance to park their precious jewel amidst the many walkways and display areas around the historic circuit but just one of the many extras was the vast car park outside the event full of some fine classics that would constitute a marvellous car show itself on any other day.

Wheel to wheel racing, tractor rides, Hot rods, minis. Laurel and hardy, Buzz Aldren, Sir Stirling Moss, Mr Bean. Static aircraft, flying displays, podium dancers, singing nurses. Rank and file dressed as toffs, toffs dressed as toffs, mods, rockers, rockabilles, hippies. There’s just so much to see and do that one mere day will never be remotely enough. Yes, we got a glimpse of most things but we would have needed the full three days to fully savour them.

And then there was the appearance of the Vulcan bomber. When you have a gathering of something like ninety thousand engineering enthusiasts and this thing roars overhead, the crowds just have to grind to a halt so that everybody can gaze skyward.

The cameras are pointed momentarily away from the circuit and people find themselves compelled to applaud. Mind you, any machine that’s capable of drowning out the sound of twenty unsilenced classic racing cars, to the point where it shudders the ground beneath your feet is going to get some attention.

It’s a huge event, so of course there’s going to be plenty of tented shops, concessions and fairground rides. The thing that doesn’t strike you until you reflect on the day is just how well oiled the Revival machine is but the fact that you don’t notice the perfection, proves how well run the weekend really is.

I kind of wish we hadn’t been our usual reserved selves and perhaps made an effort to dress in period attire, but I suppose that gives something more to do next year. Oh yes, we’re definitely going, no matter what the cost.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

In the workshop

Sterling Automotive now have a separate workshop blog page. The blog has been established to enable customers and followers to see some of the more extensive projects being attended to and:

Link to the photographic build histories of cars that we have carried out significant restorations on.

Link to the progress photographs of projects that we are currently working on.

To view this seperate blog page. Either follow the "view my complete profile" link or Visit http://sterlingautomotive.blogspot.com/ but don't forget to come back to our main blog page.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Vanfest 2009

Summers over, the nights are closing in, it’s getting colder and the show season’s coming to an end. There’s nothing wrong with saving the best until last though and this years Vanfest at the three County’s showground in Malvern, surely must be the best yet. Beautiful weather all weekend, a massive turnout and loads of fabulous VW campers on show.

Attendance by Sterling Automotive was a last minute decision as I only realised a week before that I could find the time to go. Following a quick phone call to the show organisers to book a pitch and another call to the owners of the Bay window that we’d part restored, to ask if we could borrow it (again), it was just a matter of designing a multi award winning exhibition stand.
Of course there’s the usual options to choose from. I could have half a dozen scantily clad models and a dance troupe. Maybe build a two story stand in the shape of a ufo. Chrome, mirrors and bright floodlighting? Perhaps a themed stand, laid out like a workshop with barriers, ropes and security guards, of course.

Six and a half days later and my brain is still a blank canvas. So the executive decision was taken to not bother with any of that high quality nonsense and just to drop the camper off, put up some flags and leave a pile of leaflets in a dispenser.

It turns out that this was exactly the right way to go and the crowds flocked around the van for the whole of both days.

The moral of this story.... It's nice to see showy shiny stuff but when all is said and done, what the enthusiasts really want is to be allowed to have a real close look in detail at a part completed project.

Nobody wants salesmen lurking behind them while they're poking around at the nooks and crannies, so I kept a low profile but I know that it was rare that there was less than a dozen people taking an interest in the build quality and, more importantly, taking Sterling Automotive leaflets home with them.

The only downside… I’ve gotta get a load more leaflets printed off!

Caroline and Benjamin relax in the van at the end of the show.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Sterling Automotive move into to new workshop

Sterling Automotive have just taken the keys to a new 3000 square foot workshop with associated offices.

The new unit is much larger than our current building and will allow us quite a lot of elbow room. As well as being more spacious the workshop area is bright with plenty of natural light and all the striplights that we could need. Being so big, it will enable us to maintain a squeaky clean and tidy working environment.

The best news is that the building is on the same trading estate (unit 1d), so we won't need to completely move away from Sterling Garage's main workshop building and offices at unit 9.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Classic cars at the racecourse

Every year, the “West Berks Classic Vehicle Club” organise a classic vehicle show at Newbury Racecourse (that’s horse racing) to raise funds for Leukaemia Research. This year was the 17th show and the best yet.

As the racecourse is so close to the Sterling Automotive workshops (you could throw an apple across the gap) we decided that we would use the show to announce our arrival back into the classic car scene.

Everything was set for a great day out and to make it perfect, we finally saw the first properly sunny day for a month. Hundreds of classic cars, motorbikes, trucks and military vehicles arrived for the 10.00am start and the visitors turned up in droves.

Having set everything up the day before, I just had the simple task of bringing the cars accross from the workshop one at a time and putting out a couple of leaflet stands. From then on, it was a case of just relaxing and being available to chat to anybody that had questions. I’d already decided that future name recognition was all we should be looking to achieve from the day and frankly, we already had so many signs, flags and banners out, that we weren’t going to benefit from selling ourselves any more than that anyway.

We had a great pitch, right in the entrance and the stunning cars that we lined up to impress the crowds were:

Aston Martin DB4

Porsche 356C

Jaguar C Type recreation

Lotus Elan

Triumph Mayflower

Mercedes 450SL

Mercedes 250S

VW Bay window camper

I wanted to ensure that we had something for everybody on the stand, from the exotic DB4 through to the two ‘work in progress’ vehicles.

The 250S Merc was there to demonstrate how we use soda blasting to remove paint from the cars that we restore. The process gently removes the paint without friction (or heat) to reveal any defects underneath. We showed it at the stage where we had removed the paint from waistline down to assess the remedial processes necessary and had started cutting out some of the sections of rot. Many visitors to the stand found it most fascinating to see a car that was in bare metal in parts but with old fibreglass, filler and previous repairs still showing and ready to be removed.

The camper van which was near completion for our works, was parked in the marquee with photo’s taped to the body showing what each panel looked like when it arrived with us. One of the many complimentary comments overheard was “I can’t believe that something so rotten can be made to look so pretty”. If we had achieved nothing else from the show, that would have been enough to send me home a very happy restorer.

With such a wide mix of cars on display, it’s hard to say what was most popular car but undoubtedly the star of the stand was the fully aluminium bodied C Type. Lot’s of people wanted photo’s of that one!

The chill out zone that we created at the back of our display area proved to be popular and the tea, coffee, biscuits, fruit and beer stocks declined nicely as the day went on. When family and friends arrived later in the afternoon, I knew I had found paradise on earth.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Dedication to the cause

Anybody that has restored a classic car could be forgiven for thinking that they hold the monopoly on dedication. Endless evenings spent in the garage. The lounge taken over by piles of manuals, magazines and spec sheets. Grease stains on the kitchen table.

Oh yes, once you get into restoring, you do live and sleep the subject, and who hasn’t lain awake considering the bolt across the top of the gearbox that curiously seems to be 5mm longer than the others?

Well I have to say that we have competition! My six year old son is into pretty much anything that is engineered, which very very much includes steam trains. So whilst out for the day today, we discovered one of those little narrow gauge rail tracks where you straddle the carriage and are pulled around by a “model” steam train.

A nice little bonus was that we followed a particularly tidy Morris Traveller into the carpark

We had some fun riding around their little 200 metre long track astride the carriage, we ate our picnic and we were invited to take a glance at the little engines in the little sidings before we left. So that’s what we did.

Yes, the detail was incredible and yes the engines had an astonishingly efficient power to them but really, all I wanted to do was to natter to the owner of the traveller. Turns out that he had taken eight years to restore the car, which I was suitably impressed by. Until, that is, he remarked that he had spent more time building what I, up to that point, had rather casually viewed as a toy. “How long did you spend on it then” I asked. “Oh, a couple of thousand hours” was the reply “but that one over there took nearly five thousand hours”.

So next time you’re rinsing swarfega off your hands at 11.30pm, try to do this simple maths test as you cleanse. 5000 hours, divided by 6.30pm through to 11.30pm six evenings per week equals……. How many years!


Thursday, 30 July 2009


Sterling Automotive are now "trade supporting" members of the Federation of Historic Vehicle Clubs".

We are delighted to be supporting the federation who act in the interest of over 400 individual clubs, nearly 30 seperate museums and more than 250,000 classic car owner members. The president is Lord Montagu of Beaulieu.


Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Soda anyone?

The best way to fully assess corrosion under the paintwork on a classic car is of course, to completely remove the paint and look directly at the steel.

This sounds straightforward and there are a number of ways to get paint off but each one has its drawbacks.

Shot blasting generates heat that can easily distort old metal. It is also very inaccurate and will destroy any chrome plastic and rubber in the vicinity.

Chemical dipping will strip the paint off but it will strip everything else off as well, so the entire car has to be disassembled. Also, the chemical agent can get trapped in pockets and can reappear after the car has been refurbished, stripping off the new paint finish as it goes.

Sterling Automotive uses a technique known as soda blasting to remove paint. It involves blowing a jet of soda (yes, it really is the same soda that is used in cooking) at the paint under low pressure. It is so gentle that it creates almost no heat. Furthermore, the car does not even need to be stripped at all. The operator can carefully blast right up against chrome, rubber and plastic trims without causing any harm.

Unlike other techniques, very small areas can be singled out for taking back to the substrate. You can choose to remove rust, filler and fibreglass etc or leave it in place for dealing with during the repair process.

Another bonus with soda blasting is that it is so gentle when correctly done, that it does not break the surface tension of the bodywork steel, so the car can be left for weeks or even months in its bare state without rusting. In fact, because soda is completely water soluble, when we strip a car using this medium, the first thing we do is rinse it with clean cold water and leave it to air dry.

We are displaying a 1966 Mercedes 250S that has had the lower half soda blasted, at the 2009 Classic vehicle show at Newbury Racecourse on August 9th. We would be very happy to discuss the technique with any visitors to the show.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Ethanol in petrol in France

Thinking of taking your classic vehicle into Europe? Well, you need to take care when you refill your car in France and be sure to check the quantity of Ethanol in the unleaded fuel.

The maximum quantity of Ethanol in unleaded fuel in the UK is 5% which is fine for the vast majority of older engines. In France, they have introduced a new 'environmentally friendly' bio fuel called 95-E10 which contains 10% ethanol. That is enough to cause harm to engines as late as year 2000 and can (and does) cause older engines to completely fail to start.

Full story at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/travelnews/5795480/British-tourists-warned-over-damaging-French-fuel.html

Saturday, 18 July 2009


We offer a refurbishment service for classic and prestige car owners who want to know that "a little more attention to detail" is going to be paid. We can take any painted finish and improve it to whatever standard a discerning client would be seeking.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Workshop update

The camper restoration project has been moving nicely toward completion and now has the top coats of paint on. What a stunning colour combination! You can see the progress of this job as a slideshow on our website at http://www.sterlingauto.co.uk/beetles.htm or the individual photo’s on our Photobucket site at http://s51.photobucket.com/albums/f386/kalvin356/Bay%20window%20K%20reg/

We put the engine into the 450SLC Mercedes and surprisingly it fired up on the first turn of the key. A bit of the usual SL Merc’ fettling here and there, such as repaint the air filter box and sew a small patch onto the drivers seat bolster and the car is now so good that I’ve decided to keep it as my own daily driver. Check out the five star wheels.

We’ve got a high top bay window surf bus for MOT repairs, a quick tidy up of some minor rust spots and a respray. The van will be available on Ebay for sale at the end of the work.

One of the nicest 911’s (993) you will find is in for further enhancement. A few rather nasty stonechips let the rest of the immaculate bodywork down, so we are stripping and repainting the front bumper wings and bonnet. Progress pictures on this job on our photobucket pages at http://s51.photobucket.com/albums/f386/kalvin356/Porsche%20993%20L%20reg/

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Show time.

Sterling Automotive have committed to taking space at the forthcoming “17th Annual Classic Vehicle Show” on August 9th 2009. The show, which is held each year at Newbury Racecourse raises funds for Leukaemia Research.

I displayed the Porsche 356a last year and it was very well received, so we have decided to put a proper display together this year to promote the restoration business and will be taking some interesting cars that we have worked on, including the Porsche 356C and an Aston Martin DB4. In addition to this, we plan to take a couple of ongoing projects. I personally think that amidst a sea of polished classics, it would be nice for visitors to also take a glance around a couple of vehicles that are stripped and part way through production.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Gear change

Keen to impress, I was making sure that budgets were stuck to and expectations were exceeded on any job I undertook (as it always should be).

I got a call from a man who owned a rather rare 1960 Humber Super Snipe Estate that had been sat in his garage for 15 years (it turned out that he was actually the chairman of the Humber owners club and felt that maybe he ought to have the car out on the road again). Having looked over the 356C, he agreed to allow me to carry out the extensive restoration work on his ‘poor mans Rolls’.

Next project came from my rather brazen promotion to the VW community on the Volkszone forum. A chap had a couple of bay window campers and one of them was to be his parents' retirement camper. Unfortunately, the restoration required was so huge that nobody wanted to take the task on. I however was only too pleased to get stuck into it and we agreed a very reasonable price.

On the first anniversary of Sterling Automotive being formed, the camper is progressing nicely and I have a good flow of jobs Ok, cash is still as critical as it ever was, profit margins are tight and I still can’t be sure where the next job will come from but you know…. I’m really enjoying my work.
Slowly picking up speed

Forward track to the Autumn and I’d restored the 356a, sold it for a healthy profit, had carried out some small maintenance jobs for some local customers and had enough cash to pay for some of the tools that I’d been helping myself to.

Looking for my next project, I stumbled across… guess what… another Porsche 356 but a 356C this time.

This was clearly going to be a big job as the car needed some seriously major welding. The decision was made to go for it and I set about a full nut and bolt strip down. I new it was going to be bad but once the paint had been taken off back to bare metal, it was clear that I was either going to have to break the car for spares or produce a collectors standard masterpiece. I opted for the latter. It paid off because, despite it nearly ruining me financially, I finally sold the car some 9 months later for top money and made another healthy profit. Phew!

Clearly, when you’re working on your own, you can’t have all your eggs in one basket and I needed day jobs to come in while I was progressing the two Porsche’s, and I did all I could to get anybody that I thought would have even the slightest interest in classic cars to come and see what I was working on. I spent an awful lot of time trying to get my rapidly expanding website up the Google listings and showing off photo’s of ongoing work. Gradually, I was getting more and more day jobs coming through the door.
Life, the universe and the year one, in a nutshell.

Having taken the rather obvious decision to go back to what I do best and try to rebuild a business, some issues immediately raise their heads. Sure, I can still do the work but issue one… no cash. Getting back on the tools again is the easy bit. Buying the tools and then having the working capital to do the work, well that’s made a bit more challenging by the wiping out of the car transport company, resulting in 7 years of hard work wasted, 25 decent peoples jobs lost and about a ¼ million pounds all gone overnight.

So in for a penny… the very comfortable 540 BMW went off to Ebay, out came the credit cards and voila, enough cash to keep me in minimum wage for a few months.

Issue two… no customers and no way of going out to get customers. At this point, I was on the receiving end of a bit of good luck for a change. We had a customer who owned a 1958 Porsche 356a that I had sold to him 15 years previously and he brought it to the garage once a year for it’s MOT test and then put it away again until the next MOT was due. 30 miles a year might sound like it’s good for a car, but actually the engine was starting to tire and the body was showing signs of age. He asked me if I wanted to buy it and I offered him every last penny that I had (there goes the working capital). Yeah! A car to work on.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Sterling Automotive blog

Having been restoring classic cars at Sterling Garage on and off since the early 1980's I'd moved on to other pastures and had been running a pretty successful car transport business (although I never really moved away, I just rented the top floor of our building). That was until some hot young gun in an obscure department in an insurance company decided that money could be saved by issuing us with a list of impossible demands one week before renewal date!

I spent a while working self employed, buying and selling cars and scratching out a living (still at Sterling Garage of course) and then I thought to myself.... What am I achieving here.... Nothing!

So, exactly a year ago, I re-established my old repairs and restoration business 'Sterling Automotive' and it's as though I've refound my old purpose in life.

This then, is the perfect time to start my blog to offer a litle about what Sterling Automotive has been up to since July 1st 2008 and to record business life as it unfolds.