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Many thanks to MotorStars magazine ( www.motor-stars.com) for allowing us to reproduce this article which featured in their monthly publication.

To be trusted with restoring the fine aluminium panels of a Ferrari 512bb and Alfa Romeo GTA Sprint Junior doesn't happen overnight. For Steve and his team at Smart Automotive Classic Car Restorations, the journey began in 2003, with one Bedford Midi van equipped with paint repair equipment. The company was called Finishing Touches. Steve hit the road in his van, repairing bumper scuffs and kerbed wheels on customer driveways and dealers' forecourts. Soon after the company expanded to two vans and shortly after it doubled again. Fast forward a few years and the workshop with all facilities to repair, service, MOT and paint cars was acquired. Now the company has two distinct arms, the mobile paint repair vans that focus on car dealership stock and the workshop that carries out everything from servicing to full body restorations and mechanical overhauls. In total there are sixteen people employed full time at Smart Automotive.

I caught up with Steve and the Smart team on their first ever trade stand, at Silverstone Classic in July 2018 at Silverstone Racetrack and on display was an impressive selection of work, including a bare metal restored 1969 Alfa Romeo GT Junior, a Ferrari 458 Spider that had recently had its wheels repainted in satin gold, a 4.2 straight six engine from a Jaguar E-Type that is currently being restored, a Brunswick Racing prepared 2.0 litre Twinspark engine that will go into the 1969 Alfa Romeo GT Junior and also a priceless Alfa Romeo GTA Sprint Junior that was also competing in the racing in the under 2 litre touring car class. There was a huge buzz around the Smart Automotive stand, Steve and the workshop team were knocked for six at the number of enquiries for restoration work they were receiving during the 2018 Silverstone Classic weekend. It seemed the big draw was the semi assembled Alfa Romeo GT Junior, in its eye catching hue of factory original (and rare) Blu Francia AR-342 paintwork. The interior was yet to be fitted in the car, this was deliberate choice by the team, as it allowed stand visitors to properly see the craftsmanship that has gone into the bodyshell.

I spoke to Mark, the workshop manager, at length about the work that has gone into the Alfa restoration. Sadly with it being a UK car, used year round, the decades of winter damp and salt spreading took their toll. It is actually easier for Mark to point out to me the original metalwork rather than talk about the bits they've replaced! There are countless panels that have either been fabricated by hand from sheet metal or bought as new panels from Italy and fitted/finished in the workshop. New panels are not a simple bolt on and spray solution either.

Quite often they arrive painted in a dull black finish, which does a fantastic job of hiding the uneven surface from tell-tale reflections once delivered into the premises. Rather than use filler, Smart Automotive lead line the panels, building up the metal content and evening up the surface before priming and painting in 2-pac acrylic, just as it would have been in 1969. Painting a 1969 Alfa Romeo in water-based paints with a coat of lacquer would not be authentic and in experts eyes, just wouldn't look right either.

In the UK we are huge fans of classic cars, there are so many classic car meets organised throughout the year across the country, from monthly local pub car park meets right up to World Class Concours D'Elegance Competitions featuring prize winning show cars. Most of the classics on the road may look great, but underneath a fair proportion of them will have issues lurking, the cancer of cars eating away at their structural innards, the dreaded four letter word, RUST. It is unfortunate that in the UK we don't follow the lead of our Northern European neighbours, making winter tyres mandatory and rather than salting the roads when the winter months set in. Salt coupled with sustained wet periods are literally a classic cars worst nightmare. Even if you tuck your car away for winter, quite often the red brick or block garages we put them in have insufficient ventilation to keep the moisture out. In most cases they do the worst thing possible, which is keep the air moist around the car. Too few have dehumidifiers plugged in to keep their car in a dry (but not too dry) environment. After a few years of moisture, bubbles appear where water collects, and salt has reacted with the metal underneath the paint.

Steve and his team at Smart Automotive Classic Car Restorations are well versed in working with owners to remove rust from their cars, cutting away any affected metalwork and replacing with like-for-like new panels in the same material and gauge (thickness), be it either off the shelf or fabricated in-house. Their expertise not only extends to steelwork, but also aluminium and even carbon fibre panel repair. Once the panels are as new, paint be applied, either locally to the area and remaining panel or to the whole car. With two paint booths on site, there are a number of cars having various paint applied on a typical day. The avoidance of body filler where possible is another key to the process, as it is widely proven that filler actually locks in moisture, trapping it against the metal under the paint, leading to the bubbles you spent money having removed, returning in anger a few years down the line. This is what Steve works hard to avoid, he wants to guarantee his work for the foreseeable future. A job done right may be slightly more time consuming, but you only have to do it once!

Smart Automotive Classic Car Restorations are based near Dunstable, on Tring Road and close Whipsnade Zoo. At the time of writing (September 2018) they have four major bare metal restorations, a 60's Jaguar E-Type, 1969 Alfa Romeo GT Junior 1300, 70's Ferrari 512bb and an early 80's Volkswagen Golf GTi Mk1. There are countless other exotic classics that come in for more minor work over the course of a given week, for work like engine bay resprays, interior trim repair, re-chroming bumpers, fabric hood repair, alloy wheel refurbishments, sill repairs and underbody rust removal and rust prevention treatment, as well as all the mechanical work like servicing, electrical rewiring, engine overhauls and fault diagnosis.

Smart Automotive is the trading name of Smart Touch (MK) Limited
Units 17 & 18a Icknield Way Farm, Tring Road,
Eaton Bray LU6 2JX
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