Think you know, broadly speaking, what’s involved in running a Ferrari restoration business? Huge skill is the prime commodity, no doubt, but surely it’s simple enough after that: you take worn and rusty old cars that might well have been standing unloved in a barn for decades, spend months lovingly renewing and repainting them and then charge high prices for your concours-level work. Not such a difficult concept, is it?
If this is your opinion (and it was mine until a few weeks ago), I advise an urgent trip to GTO Engineering in Berkshire, where the art of Ferrari rebuilding and restoration sets some of the highest standards in the world. It’s a 25-year-old business founded by Ferrari enthusiast Mark Lyon, currently based in a building that looks more like a stately home than any automotive headquarters I’ve ever seen, just outside Twyford on the London side of Reading. When Lyon starts explaining what the business is really like, the extent of your ignorance will be revealed.
First, there are very few old Ferraris left in barns, waiting to be restored. And that goes double for the Colombo-engined V12 models that are Lyon’s specialities. Second, people who own such cars are reluctant to use them very much, so high is their value and so pressing is the need to keep their mileage down. Third, if you do happen to turn up a dream barn find (you almost certainly won’t), your rebuilder probably won’t be able to source the engine, gearbox, body or suspension parts you need, or even find the right oil tank or radiator. It’s probable they won’t have the required old-Ferrari expertise (it takes six or eight years to give a tradesperson the confidence and knowledge to tackle an old Ferrari). In short, the old business has turned on its head.
All of these are things that Lyon has learned since he left technical college 40 years ago and began work as a car technician. He started out in the workshop of a prestige dealer in London and soon ended up running the place. Then he joined a Ferrari dealership and was soon the workshop foreman. That was where he witnessed the gradual end of the Ferraris-in-barns era. “I saw my first £100,000 Ferrari restoration job,” he says. “Back then, people were still using their cars…”
Driven by a desire to run his own show, Lyon started doing engines and gearboxes in a garage in the north-west London suburb of Northwood, because there was no room for anything bigger. Soon he moved to a slightly larger place that his brother owned, coining the name GTO Engineering.
“I liked the engineering as much as the cars,” he explains. “And it was fun meeting the characters who owned them.” After a few successful years, a friend with a parallel business, Tony Merrick, suggested that Lyon take him over – customers, buildings and staff (15 to 20 of them) at a place near Reading called Scarlett’s Farm. It was a big leap, but it worked, and GTO forged ahead for a dozen years until it became obvious that it needed more space again.
Lyon hopes to have a full-sized clay model at HQ by the end of this year and put series cars on sale in 2023.
Lyon isn’t aiming to build huge numbers (one car per month adding £18 million to GTO’s annual turnover would be a nice adjunct), but he believes the Squalo will appeal to a new clientele: a slightly younger lot who want to drive great cars, not just own them. They will be attracted to a car that sounds amazing and is pretty quick but responds in a classic way, not like today’s “almost insanely fast” hypercars. It’s a compelling recipe.