Just a day after I was blown away by the presence of a BMW 328 Mille Miglia that I could touch, hear and smell, my “old, rare cars” senses began tingling again, and in a way that can only be described as reaching Nirvana by car guys.
Imagine driving for less than half an hour from the city you reside in, reaching a small village right near a highway exit, which is surrounded by corn fields and woods. From there, because no app like Waze or Google Maps or even the weird Apple Maps can help you reach your destination, you are forced to ask the villagers where Oldtimer Studio is located, “you know, where they have a lot of old cars?”
Unperturbed, each of those men explains in full detail how many left and rights you need to take so that you can reach automotive nirvana. It's like stepping into an alternate reality, where everyone is weirdly accustomed with the existence of multi-million classic cars behind their back yards.
In short, Oldtimer Studio is a Romanian car restoration business situated pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and that nowhere is actually a thermopane window factory of some sort. When told that his company is so well hidden from potential visitors, one of the two owners replied that their customers know how to reach them, and that's good enough for them.
It is quite probable that if you're the owner of a barn find that needs to be rebuilt from the ground up, you've already heard of them or will soon do.
Started in 2002 by Ovidiu Ionescu, who originally just wanted to restore an ARO M461, which is the second ever mass produced car in Romania, it soon became a full-blown business with customers from all over the world.
Now helmed by both Ovidiu and Catalin-Cedric Ghigea, who became an equal partner in the company a few years ago, Oldtimer Studio is slowly but steadily turning into a dream maker. Almost 50 people are working there now, and each has a particular part to play in the restoration process.
Apart from the obvious mechanics, who are in charge of all the oily bits, there are also upholstery specialists and even folks who had to become skilled at using an English wheel. Those are probably a dying breed all over the world, and the company is continuously looking for new apprentices and having hard luck at it.
The site where all the magic happens is literally a time capsule, albeit one sprinkled with pixie dust and memories. You walk into what appears to be a former stable and find yourself instantly surrounded by a motley array of works of art on wheels in different stages of completion.
From two rally-tuned Alfa Romeo Alfetta GTVs that Catalin successfully races in hill climb competitions to an Amphicar that was originally partly decomposed, with some 6.75-liter Bentley engines and a BMW 328 Roadster or a DeTomaso Mangusta in between, the place is simply astonishing for fans of cars from all ages.
That said, the truly astonishing bit was yet to come because I got the chance also to check out Oldtimer Studio's almost-secret storage space, where some completed customer cars are sleeping in a controlled environment. I'm talking about the Alladin's Cave of garages, where multi-million Rolls-Royces are snuggling with Lincoln Continentals or monsters like the Thor.
Those of you who know the so-called Brutus, a gigantic cigar on wheels that's powered by a V12 taken from a pre-war bomber plane, will not be surprised that its almost identical brother, the Thor, is sitting cramped between some pretty expensive cars somewhere in Romania. Just like the Brutus, Thor is built using an American LaFrance fire engine chassis, while the engine itself is a 27-liter Liberty L12 aircraft engine. Obviously, it's a V12, and a massive one at that, which is why the two-seater is longer than a Phantom EWB and sounds like twelve Mjölnirs hammers hitting exploding metal shards.
Our impromptu visit in this Disneyland for petrolheads didn't end there, though, because we also took a sneak peek at the car collection of the richest former professional athlete, Ion Tiriac.
His 200-something car and bike collection is open to the public, but he also has another hundred or so cars in various stages of restoration and away from prying eyes. If Oldtimer Studio had hundreds of clients since it restores about 20 to 30 classic cars every year, Tiriac Collection comprises cars for one man only, and each one is restored for the former tennis player.
Behind the scenes, we got a chance to see and touch cars that some people only have posters of. For example, Rolls-Royce is borrowing an early Phantom from Mr. Tiriac for an exhibition in London because not even the BMW-owned company possesses each generation of the glorious luxury car. Mr. Tiriac does, and is apparently the only person on the planet to do so. He also owns the very first Ferrari LaFerrari built, and the team in charge of restoring his cars is currently working on refurbishing Eva ‘Evita’ Duarte de Perón's Cadillac Fleetwood 75 Limousine, which was partly dismantled among other priceless automobilia.
The thing is, despite walking among classics of this value and beauty, the overall feel of Tiriac Collection and the collection's own restoration garage is more like visiting a high-tech hospital for the elderly. Everything was too clean, too white and too sterile to fully appreciate what it holds in its climate-controlled rooms. Sure, we're talking about multi-million cars that each have a story behind it, but overall, that doesn't even hold a candle to the passion that is flowing between the almost decrepit walls of Oldtimer Studio.
The Tiriac Collection itself was created to be the lowest common denominator, and that shows even in the restoration areas, which are not available for public visitation. Oldtimer Studio is more connoisseur, if you like, where only petrolheads will feel like they want to camp there illegally and learn to use the English wheel at night. At least, that's the thought that I had while leaving the place. Either way, the most important thing is that these two entities exist and it really doesn't matter how they preserve or resurrect history. I just hope they will continue to exist for many years to come.