While classic car restoration is something often performed on a smaller scale with different shops specialising in different elements of a restoration, South Australian company Finch Restorations has positioned itself as a one-stop-shop for performing car restorations for over 50 years. As a result, the business has attracted not only national but international attention.
Now under the ownership of Peter and Harbinda Roberts who took over the business in 2014, it has undergone a substantial amount of growth in that time. The staff count has grown from four to 30, the floorspace has grown from 550m2 to 3500m2 across five facilities, and there are regularly more than 40 projects in progress at a time.
The sort of projects Finch Restorations takes on often aren’t easy ones either. “We do everything,” says Harbinda. “We do a lot of full restorations – ‘ground-up’ big projects – but then we’re also happy to help people with little jobs if they’ve just got one panel that they want, or if they want to do part of the restoration themselves.”
Four of the facilities are located next door to each other at Finch Restorations’ Mount Barker headquarters, while the Finch Powerhouse is located in Woodside and typically handles maintenance of customer cars, as well as things such as engine rebuilds and tuning.
“Three-hour to three-week projects are what’s typically done at Woodside, while here [in Mount Barker] we do three-month to three-year projects,” Peter explains. “But ground-up restorations are our specialty, particularly the hardest and most complicated ones, which has led to projects being brought here from other restorers.”
Peter estimates that anywhere between 50-80 percent of the projects the company is working on at any given time have come from interstate, with the business having done work on vehicles from all mainland states and territories. Harbinda notes that they’d recently attracted their first overseas client as well. The fact the team at Finch takes photos to document every stage of each project – often numbering well into the thousands of photographs – helps clearly show these customers from outside of South Australia just what work has been and is being done on their vehicles.
That’s perhaps unsurprising when the company’s work has been seen on the international stage before. In 2000, prior to the Roberts’ acquisition of the business, Finch Restorations had restored the only remaining example of the 1914 Hispano-Suiza Roadster Type 26 James Flood Sports Roadster which was shipped to America in 2003 and won its class at the 2003 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
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It has also led to other high-profile jobs going to the business, most recently the ‘Chicken Coupe’ – a 1973 Ford Falcon XA GT RPO 83 that had spent years tucked away in a shed behind chicken wire to keep the birds out, which made headlines when it sold at auction in 2020 for over $300,000. While the birds were kept away from it, the chicken wire failed to stop rats getting to it, and the interior was left rotten and the body full of horrific rust as a result, making it a prime example of the sort of challenging work Finch Restorations prides itself in taking on.
The business was originally founded by Ray Finch in Mount Gambier, South Australia in 1965. Finch had first moved to Australia with his family at the age of 10 and after leaving school first became a mechanic, undertaking apprenticeships with local Holden dealers, before moving into the panel shop. After moving to New Zealand at age 21 to race motorbikes, and taking up a job with a company assembling Triumph TR3 knock-down kits, he returned to Mount Gambier in 1964 and started his own repair shop a year later.
The local Ford dealer then put in an offer to buy the shop five years later, which he accepted before purchasing some industrial land on the town’s outskirts to establish an all-purpose shop for classic cars – the same all-purpose form the shop exists in today. However, Ray first moved to the Adelaide Hills town of Echunga in 1985 before settling the business in its current purpose-built facility in Mount Barker by the end of that decade.
During his time in Mount Barker, Ray’s work attracted the attention of Holden and Mitsubishi – both of which built cars in Adelaide at the time – and so GM had Finch re-work body panels for the Monaro, while Mitsubishi utilised the company’s services for colour-checking and performing work on show cars.
In 2022, there are two things that present themselves as greater issues than ever in the classic car restoration space. One is simply the skills shortage when it comes to working on specialised areas of classic car restoration, which can be anything from building wooden body frames (something Finch can still handle in-house) to producing the spokes for wire wheels (something contracted to a third-party which became an issue mid-build).
The other is trying to source components for a project. Occasionally, the business can get lucky, such as finding a pair of new old stock front guards for the ‘Chicken Coupe’. Likewise, some American cars such as particular generations of the Corvette have a plentiful supply of parts still made for them.
However, at times, Peter notes that finding parts can be “quite diabolical”, with some components sourced second-hand arriving in unsalvageable condition. This has even led to one project there at the time requiring seven donor cars to complete, while a Studebaker needed a new body sourced from Nebraska, USA. One component for a project even came from as far as Lithuania.
However, while classic car parts may be in shorter supply now, one thing that can help counter that is the business’ use of 3D scanning to accurately reproduce its own parts. This has also helped in ensuring accuracy on one of the business’ other specialities beside big resto projects – building SS 100 Jaguar replicas.
Building an SS 100 Jaguar replica was something that had always been a dream of Ray Finch, and he built his first during his Mount Gambier days. While reassembling an SS 100 for a Melbourne-based client, Ray took the opportunity to copy everything, hiring an engineer to make drawings, a carpenter to copy and produce a wooden body frame, and Ray himself made fibreglass patterns of the guards from which to produce the final metal panels.
Although he was able to retrieve a chassis from a swamp, it was unusable, and so he had a new chassis laser-cut. Factor in an engine and gearbox sourced in Adelaide and a few small items sourced from England, and Ray had completed his first SS 100 replica – a feat which took him 2000 hours.
Ray built three further replicas after moving to Mount Barker as he attracted interest from people who had seen his own car. Calling them ‘replicas’ is perhaps a bit of a slur, however, as each was a fastidious reproduction so thorough it would have cost around $400,000 in today’s money. Jaguar’s then-owner Ford also wrote to Ray to congratulate him on his achievement in reproducing these cars.
The company still produces accurate SS 100 replicas today – as well as its own take on the design, the SS 120 by Finch – but with its ability to 3D scan components and produce digital models based off a set of original SS 100 drawings, the accuracy of them only increases.
Finch Restorations is located at 17 Oborn Road, Mount Barker SA and is open 9am-5pm Monday to Friday. You can find out more about the business at its website: finchrestorations.com.au
Photography by Marcus Cardone.