Vintage autoshop driven by passion
Rob Fram’s parents, a doctor and a nurse, hoped he’d pursue a career in medicine. But instead he followed his real passion: cars.
“I love the sound of them; the feel of them; using them; driving them; working on them,” he will tell you. “I love everything about them.”
It is a true blessing to be able to work at a job that’s no work at all. And so the 43-year-old considers himself very fortunate to not only be working in the industry, but to be working at a world-class automotive shop — one of only a handful like it in the country — restoring some of the most rare, valuable and luxurious cars in the world.
Specializing in 1930s European vintage cars, North Vancouver’s RX Autoworks has won several awards at competitions throughout the years for some of the cars Fram — along with his colleagues Ian Davey, Mike Taylor and Adriano Scaldeferian — has worked on.
“We do pretty much everything in-house, except for the chrome and some machine work,” explained Fram. “We do all the woodwork, metalwork, paint, prep, mechanical and assembly — everything.”
Each member of the RX Autoworks is responsible for a different aspect of the car but in the end, car restoration takes team work.
“We help each other with everything and critique each other as well,” he said. “It isn’t personal, of course. It is just all about finding the best way to do things and step up our game every time we do a new car.”
A member of the RX Autoworks’ team since 1997, Fram said they built up their clientele base of about roughly 30 Canadian and American customers after a local customer took a chance on them to fix up his mid-century Jaguar XK120.
“It wasn’t a crazy big job. It was just a guy out of the blue who thought we had potential,” he said. “We produced a car that he was absolutely thrilled with and it generated a lot of work from there by word-of-mouth.”
Today, with each vehicle receiving roughly 3,000 to 5,000 hours of attention over a two- or three- year process, the crew is booked up well into late 2012. Their services do not come cheap.
“It depends on how badly off the vehicle is to start with, but most job are typically in the $300,000 to $400,000 range,” he said, explaining that most of the cars they work on are valued at about $1 million, with some worth much more. “We are pretty high up the food chain.”
The single biggest jobs they have ever done also turned out to be not only their most celebrated but, more importantly, a game-changer in the way in which they work.
The project began when a Florida collector with over 100 cars had his curator send them a vehicle with no discussion about how much it would cost or how long it would take.
“It was a 1937 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900,” said Fram. “The only thing he wanted was for it to be as accurate as possible. He said, ‘Don’t make it shiny; make it right. If right is shiny then great. But if not, just make it like it would have been built in 1937 or 1938.’”
After carefully disassembling the car, trying all the while to determine what was an original or correct piece and what was not, the crew began an intensely detailed investigation into the history of the vehicle’s make and model.
“We were lucky to find an unrestored car in Kentucky that had not been messed around with too much and flew down there to take detailed notes on it,” he said. “We also had access to (the Alfa AC 2900’s) sister car locally. So, we had that a car as a reference for some of the parts that were incorrect due to past restorations. Part of it too was just using an artistic eye and intelligently looking at how it would have been made and trying to recreate that.
“Then it was just a matter of breaking it down into subcategories and building it back up again.”
The vehicle ended up placing runner-up to Best in Show at the world-renowned 2006 Pebble Beach Concours d’Eleganc, winning six awards in total.
“That car was a real eye-opener in terms of how to restore a car properly,” Fram said. “Since then we have really shifted in how we do things. Now, we restore cars to how they would have been built instead of what we think looks best.
“It is a piece of history so treat it like one.”
Pebble Beach judge and Alfa Romeo world-authority Nigel Matthews said RX Autoworks prominence comes not only from their passion for detail but also because, by doing almost everything in-house, they are able to keep the different aspects of a cars’ restoration highly consistent.
“Everybody is working in harmony,” Matthews said. “They are also mostly self-taught. They make a lot of their own equipment and they do all the time honoured skills of forming, bending and shaping sheet metal.
“They are very well-known in the collector car community.”
Matthews will once again be judging some of their work at the Vancouver Luxury + Supercar Weekend — Sept. 9-12 at VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver — although Fram said it has not yet been finalized which cars will be there. According to Matthews, event organizers are hoping to turn the weekend into an annual world-class affair, complete with a car contest, similar to Pebble Beach.
For Fram, the shows are fun and winning awards at them is great, but the best part of his job remains working in the shop with his friends and colleagues.
“We are all car guys obviously,” he said. “We would do it, even if we weren’t getting paid for it. This is what we are into, so it is easy to keep challenging yourself and find ways to make it better. I feel just incredibly lucky.”