‘It’s a meticulous process, but it must be done right,’ said David Grainger, the owner of The Guild of Automotive Restorers
The Guild of Automotive Restorers has been a staple in the Town of Bradford for many years.The 22,000 square foot space is riddled with vintage vehicles such as hot rods, muscle cars, motorcycles, army jeeps, and even small aircrafts.
In the 1970s, a young man named David Grainger made a living as a wildlife artist. Grainger would drive cheap used army vehicles to trek across rough landscapes to get to his destinations and found they were easy to maintain. He learned to restore older ones, which ignited a new hobby, something he quickly became passionate about. This was further fuelled when he met Janice, whom he describes as a “gear head” as well. Their first dates consisted of roaming wrecking yards and collecting pieces of old cars. For some, this is more romantic than long walks on the beach.
Grainger and his now-wife Janice Stone started the Guild in a two-car garage beside their house over 30 years ago. They would continue to collect beat-up vehicles from the yards and restore them until they were suitable to sell. From there, they moved into a small industrial unit in Aurora and eventually grew into a 10,000-square-foot building in Newmarket. Finally, they found their current location in Bradford when they purchased the old farmer’s market building on Bridge Street. You can spot it from afar, thanks to the large windmill sitting on top.
“The opportunity has presented itself to keep going, but we’re already working on 60 to 70 projects at a time, so if we got any bigger, we just wouldn’t be able to keep up. It’s manageable,” Grainger says.
The Guild has remained in Bradford all these years primarily due to the convenience of the location.
“The client base isn’t necessarily in Bradford,” Grainger says. “Our geographical location depends far more on our staff’s ability to get to us. Plus, it’s an easy commute for me and Janice.”
Grainger says that he’s had more clients from Monte Carlo than from Bradford, but his appreciation for the town stems from a great community with great people, which is a big reason why he stays here.
One of the biggest clients Grainger has dealt with was Chris Ohrstrom, chairman of the World Monuments Fund and the restoration of the Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 Speciale, which is a legendary vehicle with an intriguing story. A client from Japan was depleting his vintage car collection and offered Grainger a worn-down Alfa Romeo that was in such bad shape that they couldn’t identify exactly what model it was. The client described it as “some kind of roadster.” Upon arrival, it looked like a piece of junk, but after a bit of research, they discovered it was a famous prototype from the late 1940s. Cars like this didn’t exist before the war, so it was stylistically different from what people were used to and inspired so many designs after it, which is why it was such an important piece to restore.
Grainger explains the significance by saying, “If that car hadn’t happened, cars like Ferarri, GM, and Ford would have been an entirely different car.” A few years and $2 million dollars later, the vehicle was restored and ultimately preserved properly and has received several accolades since.
Like most restorations at The Guild, the majority of the work was done in their very own shop. The talented staff are capable of seamlessly rebuilding engines, reupholstering seats, and even matching the type of paint used when the car was originally built. Grainger proudly states, “It’s a meticulous process, but it must be done right. If a car has 40,000 parts and only 39,990 of them are done properly, then people will only remember those last 10 parts.”
Being the forward thinker he’s always been, David has a realistic view of the future; he predicts the trade won’t exist in 50 years. “It’s dying,” he says as he shakes his head. But Grainger’s solution to keep it going is surprising, which is to start the process of electric conversion on classic cars. David explains, “I love driving classic cars, but I don’t love driving them on today’s roads.” An understandable concern considering the agility of modern vehicles, namely Tesla, is taking over the roads, and the classics won’t be able to keep up as they currently are. The plan is already in place and will begin as soon as conditions permit. Grainger goes on to say, “What that’s going to do is help bring the old car hobby into the new generation.”
Grainger also raved about his Chevrolet Volt, which he’s had longer than any car. For a person who has perfected the restoration trade for as many years as David, one would have expected he would ride into work every day in a sporty or luxurious classic vehicle, but it’s clear the man loves practicality and innovation. However, if he had to pick one, and only one to drive forever, it would be a 1929 Bentley.
Catch David Grainger in the ninth season of his TV series Restoration Garage.