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Car Exchange
December 1983


Here & Abroad
by Al Bochroch

“The Allard job,” said Chris Leydon, the young owner of the Lahaska, Pa., automobile restoration business that my savvy car collector friends say is the nation's best, “in many ways was an ideal car to work on. The coach work was demanding enough to make us use most of our skills. The engine required a complete rebuild and was interesting to work on. Then too, we were obliged to use some of the special machines that are unique to this shop.”

“Take louvres for example,” Chris went on, “while a great many jobs don’t require them, it always was difficult to get them accurate when they were needed. Now we find that doing them by hand had been much less precise and that it consumed more time than using our new machine.”

“As no one had a louvre punch on the market, I designed one from scratch. It’s simply an hydraulic press that is capable of cutting precise shapes in up to 16 gauge steel. It cost us $1900 in parts and lots of time, but it was the only way to get the results we wanted. Now that word on the machine is out, we’re getting louvre work from other restorers from as far as 200 to 300 miles away. Eventually, the machine should pay for itself.”

“This Wheeling machine that we use to make compound curves in metal, such as the tail on this 1934 Grand Prix Alfa, is another of our original pieces of equipment. There wasn’t anything on the market to do the work, so we were forced to design and build it ourselves.”

“More important than the machines is the way the three of us work. It may be obvious to use an overworked word like dedicated, but we have been training ourselves and studying machine shop techniques since we were kids. Right now, close to 20 percent of the precision work being done here is for other restoration shops. We try hard to work as a family with a strong mutual commitment to excellence.”

“We also have our own Magnaflux unit. Every part of every car that comes here is completely fluxed. We photograph all the jobs too. And we submit positive drawings and three sketches of three different views for the customers approval. As you’ve seen upstairs, we may not have all the shop manuals and factory parts lists, but we do have a great many.”

“Ideally,” Chris continued, “I’d prefer to only accept the really interesting jobs that present a challenge and allow us to use most of our equipment. What is really frustrating, is when a customer doesn’t give us the engine work along with the coachbuilding.”

"Then, there is the other extreme when a customer tells us to design and build an original body on his chassis. Right now we are working on a 1946 TalbotLago for a dealer/collector who, asked us to design and make a competition body for it. The Talbot had been a coupe, but, as the pictures show, we designed an original body that catches the mood of prewar Grand Prix cars. The big nose and hood scoop give it a feeling of strength, while the scoop should help the three carbs breathe.”

“Right now we are working on two entirely different but interesting Ferraris. One is a 250 short wheelbase competition Berlinetta and the other is a 1954 250 Mille Miglia. The MM is the 12 cylinder roadster with a rounded rear and big eggcrate grill. The coupe is ready for painting now but we first dipped the entire chassis and all its fittings in heavy phosphates.”

“Because of the way this particular model was built, it probably had never been so disassembled before. When you know that everything Ferrari made was done so beautifully, with such fine attention to detail, you are surprised to see the sloppy workmanship that Ferrari accepted from some of the independent coachbuilders.”“I suppose the best compliment a restorer can be given is to have one of his cars win a national award. So far this year we’ve had three senior first prize winners and one first in a Grand National. That the Grand National was for a TC, makes it all the better as they seldom, if ever, win anything that lofty.”