A visit to Sportscar Workshops – Richmond, Virginia

SCW_Richmond 1266What exactly is a sports car? The definition varies widely and stretches ever further these days, and can possibly have a number of meanings. Is it a car built specifically for sporting endeavors? One adapted for sporting endeavors? Or should the definition be expanded to include any car used for sporting endeavors?

SCW_Richmond 1267The definition doesn’t really matter; what does is the passion of the people that own and work on them. Some may argue that a BMW E30 isn’t a true sports car by definition, but who cares. The term sports car and what it conjures in the mind is more tied up in romanticism, enthusiasm and a certain degree of escapism than anything else, and it is those three things you’ll find in spades at Sportscar Workshops in Richmond, Virginia. That, combined with solid experience and a huge assortment of just about every type of sports car you can think of from all corners of the globe.

SCW_Richmond 1288Our story actually starts with a 1986 Alfa Romeo GTV6 in New York City.

SCW_Richmond 1289Longtime friend of Any Given Reason, Andy Josselyn, and I were setting out on a short road trip from The Big Apple to Andy’s current home in rural Virginia. The plan was to make Richmond late that afternoon for a sunset photo/beer/pizza/catchup session with the guys Andy used to work with at Sportscar Workshops, but a few things stood in our way.

SCW_Richmond 1290Our road trip will be the subject of a future AGR story and video, but a few elements are relevant here. The first is that the island of Manhattan is best avoided if you’re in a car – something Andy knew all too well but kindly kept quiet so that I, the tourist, could roll down 9th Avenue and across Broadway in the GTV6. It was a memorable experience, but one that put us behind schedule. The traffic as we headed under the Lincoln Tunnel and onto the New Jersey Turnpike was pretty horrendous, too.

SCW_Richmond 1291We were going right past Washington DC, and Andy also knew from experience that it is a city best avoided if you’re on a schedule in a car. He kindly kept quiet about that too so that I, the tourist, could have a thirty second run around the Air and Space Museum, say cheers to Abe Lincoln and look briefly at Congress and the Pentagon as we drove past. Traffic in DC is bad at the best of times and we would have just been okay, but we encountered a fierce jam and got stuck for hours.

SCW_Richmond 1292We were planning on a 4pm arrival at Sportscar, but it was more like 10pm by the time we rolled into Richmond. We were a little dashed as we figured they’d be closed up, but we grabbed a 6-pack of beer and went to have a look anyway.

SCW_Richmond 1269Remember what I said earlier about romanticism, enthusiasm and escapism? Here it was past ten on a Monday night and co-owner Roy Stevenson and employee/friend Steve Summerville were still there. The shop was closed up, but they were working late on their own cars.

SCW_Richmond 1262Roy was putting the hours into his personal MGB GT rebuild, and was pretty excited that it was getting close to being finished. It probably is by now.

SCW_Richmond 1278Steve had just finished a full restoration on his daily driver Porsche 914, which was parked out in the lot. He kindly let me have a few stints behind the wheel over the next few days, which you’ll be able to read about soon on Any Given Reason.

SCW_Richmond 1293The shop was full of a huge variety of sports cars, mostly English and Italian metal from the 60’s and 70’s but a sample of everything else.

SCW_Richmond 1294There was an engine-less Jaguar E-Type on a hoist…

SCW_Richmond 1295… old 911’s sat next to Alfa Spider’s and Fiat 500’s.

SCW_Richmond 1296Some half finished projects lurked in the shadows, like this characterful British Racing Green MGA.

SCW_Richmond 1274Parts cars sat next to fully finished examples, a prime display of one car saving another.

SCW_Richmond 1273Some projects were noticeably bigger and more complex than others, like this rusted-out Austin-Healey undergoing a barrage of new metalwork.

SCW_Richmond 1297In one wing sat a few of the owners’ toys, like this SCCA Club Racing prepared Lotus Elan belonging to co-owner Ken. It was sadly damaged quite heavily when it made contact with the wall in its last race, and was undergoing significant repair work.

SCW_Richmond 1298Next to it sat a beautiful little Lotus Formula Ford undergoing some final tuning and preparation for its next outing.

SCW_Richmond 1264An observation I made through reading American based sportscar media like Road & Track, Grassroots Motorsport and Petrolicious was reinforced by my visit to Sportscar Workshops. Sports car culture in America is like nowhere else in the world, it’s almost as if it’s more democratic and accessible; less exclusive.

SCW_Richmond 1285More than anything I think this is a result of sheer numbers – America is a big place, and whilst the percentage sales of sports cars is likely low, that’s still a huge number. It is estimated that from the 60’s to the 80’s, over 75% of all English built sports cars were sold new into California. That means that today, there’s still stacks of them around. Throw in some favorable weather and you’ve got a perfect storm for sports car lovers.

SCW_Richmond 1276The other factor is that cars in America are cheap compared to most other countries – this is the land where you can still find concours Fiat and Alfa Spider’s for $6k, mint Datsun 240Z’s for under $10k and reliably running Porsche 911’s for under $20k. Throw in cheaper workshop labour rates than what we have in Australia, and in combination with a much bigger population of car enthusiasts you have a thriving scene. More people can afford better and more interesting cars, and can afford to have them properly looked after.

SCW_Richmond 1268One of the most tangible effects of this is the relative commonness of these types of workshops in America – businesses geared toward catering to any type of old or interesting car. The fascinating part is how they often transcend from being simply a business, to an enclave of sports car bohemians – guys and girls that almost shun the modern world for the romanticism of working on and being around old cars.

SCW_Richmond 1299One hesitates to use the word escapists, but there are several college/university graduates working here at Sportscar. Even Andy kept working here once he graduated from college with a major in literature, just because he likes old cars and the freedom and adventure they promise.

SCW_Richmond 1265Without any trouble I could have stayed here for days, but after a few beers it was getting late and we had to get some sleep. I collapsed in bed from exhaustion that night and as I was slowly giving way to the lures of slumber; my mind was still thinking back to Sportcar Workshops and the possibility of Roy giving me a cash-in-hand job sweeping the floors or something, and me skipping my flight back home to Australia to make it happen. The place just had this intangible magnetism about it that I couldn’t ignore.

SCW_Richmond 1303We spent the next three days exploring the best driving roads Virginia has to offer, an experience that left me truly in awe of this stunning part of the world. We rented an old Alfa Spider with a dual Weber setup so I’d have something to drive, and Steve joined us in the 914. Living the sports car dream, we were, but that will have to wait for another story on Any Given Reason.

Words and photos by Andrew Coles

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3 Comments

  1. Tom Gilbert April 2, 2014 Reply

    Way cool Andrew.

  2. Tommy Moore August 20, 2015 Reply

    I love this place and live close by, I window shop often all of the cars in the lot that are under repair. One day when I get my Fiat 124 they will be my resource.

    • Andrew Coles August 24, 2015 Reply

      I couldn't quite believe it when I saw it for the first time!

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