The skills required to run a Restoration Shop are quite different from those needed to run an ordinary garage. Instead of an ever-changing array of cars with a variety of ailments, the work involves a few cars which stay around for a long time. The restorer must have a strong will to resist (a) becoming too attached to the car as he sees it transformed from a junker to its original glory, or (b) becoming totally bored with the project and thus neglectful of its needs. Rather than simply replacing defective parts to correct a problem, restoration involves the rebirth of an automobile. Often this requires fabrication of parts which are not available; always it demands the ability to detect and correct modifications from the original. The restorer must-of course-be above average in his ability to disassemble, diagnose, repair, reconstruct, and reassemble, etc., with an exceptional eye for detail and flawless work.
Beyond this, the administrative requirements are unusual. There is the scheduling of the work flow on several concurrent, long-term jobs, the co-ordination of parts buying, sublet machine-shop and plating work and the physical management of the storage of a number of totally disassembled vehicles. Cash flow management, to consider the company’s needs as well as the customer’s when the job runs over a period of several months, calls for yet another talent. Last but not least is the ability to explain what a restoration is; determine what the customer really wants and can afford; explain (tactfully) why the whole car cannot be rebuilt for what it cost when it was new; justify the expenditure of more than the car might ultimately be worth if the customer wants a 100-point car, explain the unavoidable delays that so often crop up; and many other dealings with customers that are quite different from what the everyday service manager has to do.
If you conclude that this made it tough to find the right man for the job of running Classic Car Company, you’re right! However, we are fortunate in having found Nels Miller, a man whose background, training and personality lend themselves perfectly to the task. Nels, a 4th-generation Californian, has had a life-long involvement with sportcars. His father was a well-known SCCA racer in the late 1950’s, so Nels was lucky enough to be exposed to the excitement of the California sportscar racing scene in its heyday. This gave Nels a love for British sportscars that led to his becoming an apprentice to Bud Hand after leaving college. Hand ran a very successful service and repair shop in West Los Angeles, where he specialized in British sports and race cars. Under his guidance, Nels acquired a wealth of skills and knowledge in all aspects of designing, building, tuning and maintenance.
During his four years with Bud Hand, Nels took over the ex-Ken Miles MG Special, R-l, which his father owned. Nels rebuilt the car and proved him self to be an excellent driver, running the car as a Formula 2 car in SCCA racing. Leaving Bud Hand, Nels operated his own business for awhile and expanded his racing activities. He was a mechanic with Carroll Shelby’s Cobra team and was Jerry Titus’ Crew Chief the year Titus won the National B-Production title in a Ford GT-350. Then followed a stint running the Can-Am series with Skip Scott in a McLaren, then with Jim Garner’s FIA Lola coupes. After driving a BMW 2-litre to the Pacific Championship, Nels also raced a Grand National car in the Western NASCAR series.
Tiring of a full-time competition career, Nels then spent a couple of years working for Xerox but eventually realized that a coat and tie job in the Los Angeles area was not what he wanted, either. He moved to Santa Monica and renewed his involvement with cars by undertaking a complete restoration of R-l to its original specifications. He raced the finished car in the Laguna Seca Historic Races in 1976, winning his race and being selected to show the car in the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. His efforts were rewarded by his winning the Pebble Beach Cup for excellence of restoration of a race car! To further his automotive career in Santa Barbara, Nels opened The Jag Shop, specializing in service and repairs of Jaguars, and developing the first commercially viable Jaguar V-8 conversions. A couple of years later, Howard Goldman (owner of Moss Motors) chose Nels to join the Moss team to set up the Service operation at the newly opened Jaguar dealership, Moss Jaguar.
After this venture was established successfully, Nels took a year’s sabbatical to pursue some independent projects. In the fall of 1983, Nels rejoined the Moss organization to take over the running of Classic Car Company. Under his leadership, Classic continues to produce outstanding restorations, and his wide knowledge has enabled us to expand the range of cars worked on to include Jaguars, Triumphs and Austin Healeys. Nels’ diverse background, organizational skill, problem-solving ability and mechanical talents combine with his mellow personality to make him a great favorite with his staff, his customers and the rest of the Moss crew. We consider ourselves very fortunate to have such a man as our Restoration Shop Manager, and hope many more Moss customers will have an opportunity to enjoy his work on their cars!