Charles Ivey Ltd: behind the scenes
If you’ve lived in London and owned a Porsche then there’s a good chance you’ll be familiar with the name of Charles Ivey Ltd. They’ve resided at a site in Fulham since 1974 – somewhere they intend to remain, for the foreseeable future at least – but the last couple of months has seen a significant change for this respected and well-established specialist. How so? Well, November 2016 saw them open a new workshop and showroom in Surbiton, Surrey and it’s a location that is steeped in motor racing history as they have taken over what was once the factory of the legendary Cooper racing team (John Cooper moved to the site in 1934, living above the showroom adjacent to the workshops; the current building was designed by the father of Cooper’s chief designer, Owen Maddock.)
Cooper left in 1965 and after a stint as a Metropolitan Police traffic garage the site lay neglected and under threat of demolition and re-development, but now it’s been rescued and once again echoes to the sound of fine sporting engines. On a crisp, icy day we’re welcomed to the site by company owner, Alvaro Crego. He’s been with Charles Ivey since 1978 but as he explained, it all came about rather by accident; “I ended up with them by luck really. I’d been sent along for an interview by my school’s careers officer but a car accident on the way meant I missed it, and I thought the job was gone. But it was still available once I’d recovered and I’ve been here ever since.”
1991 saw Alvaro buy into the business, purchasing the remaining shares when Charles Ivey retired in May 2005. “I couldn’t bear to see it close down”, Alvaro says, but he describes it as the best job he could ever have had. “The 1980s were an especially exciting time for the company as we were running a race team that competed in various GT categories, and winning our class at Le Mans in 1981, 1982, and 1983 were real highpoints. We raced amazing models like the RSR, 935, 930 Turbo, and 956 so looking after them as a mechanic was pretty special.” Evocative period posters on the showroom wall are testament to the racing successes but before we sit down for a proper chat there’s time for a brief tour of the new facilities, and while finishing touches are still being made, it’s clear things are very much up and running.
In the showroom sit a pair of 996 Cabriolets, alongside a beautifully restored 1972 2.4T, while the workshop contains a couple of 997s, a 993, and a 3.2 Targa amongst other models. And once upstairs there’s also an opportunity for a peek at John Cooper’s wood-panelled office – something that I’m glad to report will remain exactly as it is thanks to the building’s listed status – and a chance to admire the wonderful period images kindly donated by John Cooper’s son, Mike. It’s also heartening to discover that you don’t have to be a Porsche owner to pay the new location a visit as Cooper enthusiasts will be more than welcome to come and have a look around.
But we’re keen to find out more about the reasons behind the expansion of the business, and the challenges that Alvaro faced: “I bought the site about a year ago but had been looking for at least a year before that. I was keen to find somewhere in this area and such a historic site was perfect, so I knew I had to have it, but there were plenty of hurdles along the way. The significance of the building meant we had to meet all of the requirements laid down by the local council, so there was plenty of bureaucracy to overcome, and it was derelict when we moved in so there was also a lot of building work to contend with. When I first saw the water leaks, damp, and piles of rubble I did wonder what I’d taken on but now it’s finished it was definitely worth all the effort.”
We spotted a few Cayenne SUVs in the showroom and workshop but it’s clear that the Neunelfer plays a significant role in the everyday work of the business. Of course, all types of Porsche are welcomed; they look after a number of front-engined models, and once had three 959s in for work at the same time which is something not many specialists can boast, but the 911 provides by far the bulk of their work which involves everything from MOTs and routine servicing and maintenance to complete, ground-up restorations. “We’ve always been very workshop based, with sales forming a smaller part of the business, and our knowledge of the older cars is key for us. It’s still early days when it comes to the front-engined models increasing in value, so it’s perhaps inevitable that much of the work ends up focusing on the 911 as they are appreciating much more rapidly, so it’s the Porsche that everyone wants.”
Engine and gearbox rebuilds are a regular part of the work at Charles Ivey but I also discover that not only will they usually have three or four restorations on the go at any one time – “we look after quite a few partial and rolling restorations” says Alvaro – but that there’s a wealth of expertise when it comes to parts for the older cars. “We can supply parts for any model but over the years we’ve accumulated a stock of bits for classic 911s and it’s an area of the business I’m keen to expand. In fact, it came in handy when we were restoring our own 2.4 as I was trying to track down a replacement hinge for the oil filler flap, only to discover that we had one in our own stock!”
As we leave this familiar place there’s time to reflect, and while it’s still early days for this newest addition to the business the combination of decades of expertise and a fascinatingly historic site strikes me as a winning recipe. Which I’d say makes the Porsche owners of Surrey rather lucky indeed.
Owner: Alvaro Crego
Locations: Fulham, London; and Surbiton, Surrey
911 seen most often: 997
Rarest Porsches worked on: 904 Carrera GTS, 935, and 956
Interesting fact about the business: Back in the 1987/88 season our race team set a class lap record at the Kyalami circuit in South Africa, a record that still stands today