Chris Jordan and Cameron Wright own and run Automotion, a workshop in the Brisbane suburb of Enoggera specialising in the mechanical servicing of exotic and classic sports cars, particularly models from Alfa Romeo, Lotus and Ferrari. Restoration work has always been a part of the business and, in 2018, the duo has expanded the focus of that area, drawing on their own expert knowledge and the expertise of other local businesses to offer a full restoration service to clients.
What products and services does Automotion provide?
CJ: Our speciality is classic and modern sports cars. We focus mainly on European models, but we work on all makes and models as our clients tend to bring their other cars to us as well. We have worked on Australian muscle cars and American muscle cars and there have been some weird and wonderful things in the mix as well. We are currently working on a Goggomobil and have worked on Messerschmitts, Trojans and old Lamborghinis amongst others.
CW: A lot of our customers have a collection of cars, so they’ll have modern sports cars as well as classics, and we work on all of them. Basically, we have two divisions – our service department and our department focusing on restoring and maintaining classic cars.
CJ: The restoration work is a direction we are heading more towards. It’s Cameron’s passion and down the track I think we will move more towards that side of things and away from the everyday work.
CW: We have specialised in restoring Alfa Romeos, Ferraris and Lotus – we get calls from across the country from people asking for advice on Alfas - and while we have taken on just about every make and model, that is where we may well focus in the future.
CJ: To do restoration work you need to know the cars, know what needs to be done, know where to get parts. We have been around the traps for quite a long time now and our network around Alfa, Ferrari and Lotus is well established.
This year you have moved to team up with another very well-regarded business to offer panel repair and paint services to clients. Can you explain that collaboration?
CW: We had been looking for an excellent panel shop to work with for some time when, one day, David Stiling from Styling Automotive came in. The owner of a Porsche we were working on had asked him to come out and check the body of the car. We got to talking and we soon realised we had the same interests and ideas about the direction in which we wanted our businesses to go. We had been looking for a panel shop, he had been looking for a mechanical shop and things went from there.
It’s a team, a partnership, built on the quality of the work, of the finished product, and since the beginning of the year we have been working together, advertising together and offering what is effectively a one-stop shop for clients. Working together as a team means a whole restoration project can be done through us.
We receive the car, strip it down to a bare shell and send that to David who will do all the body and paint for the project. In the meantime, we will rebuild and restore all the mechanical side of the car and, when the body comes back, put it all back together and complete the job.
CJ: It’s early days, but we already have four cars going through the process. }
When and how did you come to establish Automotion?
CW: We established the business in 2007 but before that we worked together at a Ferrari dealership.
CJ: When we worked together at Ferrari, we thought we could do the job better and for a better price - just because you own an expensive sports car, it doesn’t mean you have to pay through the nose to keep it on the road. The idea for Automotion grew from there.
When we started, we were in smaller premises at Breakfast Creek and we didn’t see a Ferrari for weeks. We did a variety of work to pay the bills, but then one Ferrari came in, then another and it began to grow. We were professional, we did the job right, and kept a clean and tidy shop, and word spread quite quickly about us.
CW: Initially, we were a lot stronger in Lotus. When we were just getting going there was an independent on the south side who was doing Lotus, but they had just shut down and Lotus owners started to come over to us.
We also did quite a lot of Mercedes and Alfas and really started concentrating on those few brands, which we expanded later to include BMW and Audi.
We were at that original location for about six years before the need for bigger premises meant a move to our current shop.
Did focusing on such high-end vehicles mean investing in specialist equipment?
CJ: It did. The first tester we bought was specific to Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati. It was tough for two blokes, who were just kicking off on their own, to pay $16,000 on a piece of equipment that had to be bought unseen from Europe. But we bit the bullet and bought the tester . . . I think we are still paying it off!
We have also bought testers from Bosch and others, and though they are a big investment they are vital – you need them to stay in the loop regarding the work required on these cars. Even modern VWs and Audis have software so advanced and developing so quickly that if you don’t stay on top of things, you’re quickly out of date.
Technology in the industry is always evolving. How do you keep across predicted changes such as electric and hybrid technology, and will that affect you?
CJ: We keep a close eye on how things are developing and use systems such as Autodata and, of course, the world wide web as a resource. Our team here also have a lot of expertise and knowledge.
CW: And the independent repairers who work with exotic cars are quite a close community. If there is any issue we might encounter, we could contact someone in Melbourne who we know has worked on that car, and vice versa – over the years you build up quite a knowledge base of people you can talk to.
CJ: With the new all-electric technology, say for something as specialised as the Porsche Mission E, the chances of us seeing one of them would be very small.
In fact, with Ferrari having put three-year warranties and a seven-year free maintenanc program in place for new models, we don’t really see those cars until they are several years old. So, there will always be a time delay between new models coming out and them reaching us. In some regards then, there is less urgency for us regarding this new technology.
Is it fun to work on these cars? They are pretty incredible.
CJ: They are breathtaking to look at. Some of the old Alfas we work on – especially the stuff that Cam is currently restoring – are just beautiful. It is work, of course, and sometimes it feels like work, but then there are the moments when you turn around, look at one of the cars and you realise again just how nice they are.
They are special, and we have worked on some pretty special cars. We’ve had an Aston Martin DB2/4 convertible come through here and worked on an Aston Martin One-77.
What is your background in the industry?
CW: I always loved cars, and though I tried university I ended up taking a light vehicle apprenticeship at a small shop on the Sunshine Coast. After a while there, I headed back to Brisbane and was working at a Mitsubishi dealership across the road from Ferrari before eventually finding my way there. I was at Ferrari for about three years.
CJ: I’m from the UK and completed a degree in mechanical engineering there before coming to Australia for a working holiday in 1996. It was a struggle to get a decent job, but I was living right next to the Ferrari dealership, and have always been a real Ferrari nut, so I went down there and asked them for a job. I ended up doing an apprenticeship with them, stayed there for 10 years and got to do factory training at Maranello and Modena, before doing a stint with Mercedes and then starting Automotion.
How many staff do you have and what does it take to work on these vehicles?
CJ: There’s Cameron and myself and three boys in the workshop, and we are all geeks! I am a Ferrari fan, as is Cam with classic cars, our mechanic Ben is a complete nut and spends his time googling VW and Audi codes . . . we’re all a bit odd in our own way!
CW: It takes a special kind of mechanic to work on these cars and to work here. You have to be passionate about the work, about the cars. They are harder to work on – some of the cars you wonder why they designed and built them the way they did - and you can’t be frustrated by the job. You have to be up for the challenge.
So, it can be difficult to find people who want to take on the work. These are expensive cars and some people just don’t want the responsibility. We expect our mechanics to make big calls on diagnosis - expensive calls - so if you don’t believe in yourself, you can’t work here.
To what do you attribute your success?
CJ: Over the years, people have come to know us Australia-wide and our work has seen us gain a really good reputation within the communities we service such as Ferrari, Alfa and Lotus.
CW: We’re honest, we don’t rip people off, we don‘t pretend we know everything and don’t try and tell people what to do with their car. We try to be friendly, honest and, of course, we do quality work.