The art of bringing classic cars back to life

Scott Salter, owner of Greg Tilden Auto Body Repairs, lives for the restoration of vintage cars – and he can’t imagine basing his small business anywhere other than Port Macquarie.

Far from being a competitive crowd, the local area’s auto bodyworks businesses band together to share customers, resources and know-how. “It’s a great trade to work in. Everybody helps each other out.”

Mixing business with pleasure

Be it hot rod or street machine modifications, chassis cut-downs, specialist paint services, interior detailing or whatever the customer’s whim might be – this specialist group of artisans borrow from one another’s strengths, and each take deep pride in the work they do.

Scott’s business, which won $5,000 in AGL’s Big Boosts for Small Business competition, combines collision damage repairs from insurance claims with work for private clients. But doing body modifications and spraying on a flawlessly shiny glass-like duco in his workshop is where Scott really shines – and that calls for him buying the right gear.

Cash flow is king of the road

Advances in technology help Scott far more on his workshop floor than in the onsite office, so new equipment is a good investment. “Our IT system is pretty simple, but we’re always using the latest tools – cutting panels and sunroofs with precision laser cutters, and fabricating custom parts with high-tech metal milling machines.”

However, for Scott, there’s more to running the business than just auto bodywork – and for those parts you don’t have a real passion for, an apprenticeship only gets you halfway there. “Running your own business takes a lot of learning,” admits Scott. “Training as a panel beater gives you the skills to work on cars. It doesn’t cover the business side.”

But now with a few years under his belt, Scott’s developed a system that works for him. “My approach to managing my cash flow is pretty basic,” says Scott. “You keep an eye on it and make sure you’re bringing in more than what’s going out. You keep a stash for rainy days.”

New mates around every corner

Greg Tilden Auto Body Repairs is renowned for restoring old VW Kombis, but vintage American muscle cars – think Mustangs and Pontiacs – are also a specialty.

No matter what brand or model he’s working on, Scott gets a real kick from bringing classic cars back to their former, showroom-condition glory. But this type of restoration work isn’t just personal for him. It’s usually even more so for the clients, who often have a deep connection with their cars.

That’s why, once the job is done, many of Scott’s customers become his longstanding friends. Although he seems to have his favourites: the oldies. “They don’t want to travel too far, and if you can help them out it’s really good. I like looking after the oldies.”

Cleaning up with $5,000 cash

A successful car restoration or any kind of custom work all hinges on getting those little details right. So having the right working environment is a must.

Thankfully, winning $5,000 in AGL’s Big Boosts for Small Business competition means he can now invest in the installation of a new spray booth fit-out – a much-needed necessity ever since his workshop’s exhaust fan bit the dust.

“The exhaust fan keeps the space clean so you don’t have dust and imperfections that need buffing out of the paintwork later,” explains Scott. “It also makes it a nicer, cleaner space for the operators to work in.

“The boys’ll be happy.”

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