29 JULY 2009 ISSUE
Classic car clinician
Being chauffeured around the Hawke's Bay countryside in a 1958 Jaguar XK150 by a dapper gentleman on a fine winter’s afternoon isn’t often the type of assignment a New Zealand Doctor journalist gets.
So, when reporter Lucy Ratcliffe was invited to come for a spin by Hastings GP and entrepreneur Greg Beacham, it was an offer too good to refuse.
As I follow Hastings GP Greg Beacham around an old apple packing house, a hub of activity where Jaguar, Aston Martin and Rolls Royce vehicles are being restored to their former glory, I marvel that he knows exactly where each project is at. Asking each of his skilled craftsmen how the paint job is going, have they managed to get the electrics working, has that particular part arrived yet?
“You have to be totally intimate with everything. It’s my name and my quality...you have to be fanatical,” Dr Beacham says.
It’s clear fanaticism has got Dr Beacham to where he is today – not only a full time solo GP working in a busy practice, but also the managing director of classic car restoration company Beacham Independent Jaguar Specialists.
What started out as a hobby more than 20 years ago while at medical school has grown to meet a niche market demand from royalty to rock stars for classic vehicles with a modern twist.
In just three months, Dr Beacham and his team of 12 can restore Daimler, Jaguar, Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin or Bentley vehicles to their post assembly line, original splendour. But what’s more popular than the standard restorations is the addition of modern safety and comfort features such as central locking, power steering, ABS, air bags, electric windows, a modern engine and a nice stereo.
“My philosophy is to give people the classic car without the headache...It makes these cars a pleasure to drive,” he says.
It also makes these cars a pleasure to ride in. Dr Beacham takes me for a spin in a recently restored 1958 Jaguar XK150 with beautiful forest green leather interior, set for export to a German client.
It’s quite a grand experience, but without all the usual components of riding in an old car. The wind noise was minimal and the ride was smooth. Dr Beacham even allows a decent amount of noise from the 2004 Jaguar XK8 supercharged engine into the interior to keep that genuine, 1950s motor car feel. The beauty of using new engines means clients can get their vehicle serviced at regular Jaguar dealerships anywhere in the world without the fuss and bother of finding parts for an engine that’s 50 years old.
These hybrid versions of the original cars, branded the Beacham MK2 V8, the Beacham E Type V8 and the Beacham XK150 V8, have had their mechanicals designed by Dr Beacham. He uses computer-assisted drawing to create templates which are then transferred to a computer-operated lathe to ensure the same quality every time. Dr Beacham confesses he perhaps should have been an engineer.
Having said that, he wouldn’t change what he does or where he does it. He loves medicine and is passionate about being a GP. He’s just as fanatical about his CME as he is about cars – admitting he’s probably quite overqualified for his job. He packs a lot into a day, running a full clinic as well as three visits to the apple packing shed to check on progress with the cars.
With clients all over the world, and just one or two restorations a year being done for Kiwis, it’s a wonder the Beacham enterprise hasn’t moved offshore.
But, Dr Beacham says, there’s no need and he doesn’t want to – he’s been running the business successfully in Hastings for more than 20 years and the brand name is well known and respected overseas.
Being in New Zealand he can keep the operational costs down by not having a flashy showroom, by advertising purely through his own website and doing nearly all the work in house. And nothing quite beats living in the Hawke’s Bay with his practice nurse and practice manager wife Vilma and their nine children.
“Hastings, to me, has the best climate/environment in the world that you could ever ask for...I can drive [from home] to my practice in three minutes, then drive from my practice to my car business in four minutes.”
What’s more, customers often visit New Zealand while their vehicle is being restored which is something Dr Beacham believes has made a small but noticeable impact on the local economy – a German shopping mall developer visited the Hawke’s Bay while one of his cars was being worked on and loved the area so much he asked for Dr Beacham’s assistance in setting up a winery.
The result: a $40 million investment in the Te Awanga area and the Elephant Hill Winery and Estate.
So, what does the doctor drive? What he describes as a “mundane” 2006 Jaguar XK8. He would love to have a restored classic of his own, but he couldn’t afford to take his men off the job – despite the recession, business is booming.
He still keeps a hand in the physical labour to keep things ticking along, dismantling the cars on the weekends and preparing them for restoration.
Looking at the state at which some of the cars come in, rusted and faded away, it’s hard to believe they can be saved. But Dr Beacham insists Jaguars age beautifully, not like Mercedes and BMWs.And, when you see the stunning finished product, it makes you realise what Dr Beacham and his team are doing really is magic.