photo: Todd McBain story: Nikole McBain
THE ART OF RESTORING CARS WITH KEVIN KAY RESTORATION
Kevin Kay Restorations creates automotive art for the European classic car connoisseur. Its mint masterpieces have won and placed in prestigious concours d’elegance throughout California. Across the States and around the globe, there are Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches, Jaguars and Rolls Royces that have passed through the KKR garages in north Redding.
Kevin Kay, the man, is known all over the world for his company’s meticulous attention to detail. Last summer, he and his wife toured England and attended “some car events,” including the famed Goodwood Festival of Speed in West Sussex, something he had “always wanted to go to.” While there, he was recognized – by name – for his work. “It’s sort of embarrassing,” Kay says. “I’m sort of humble when it comes to that stuff. But it is nice to know that I have worked hard over all these years and we have a good reputation.”
Fine art cannot be rushed. Depending on the condition of the car, it can take between one and two years for KKR to complete a restoration. Kay and his crew, which he calls “a very skilled, loyal group of people” that “do all of the work,” take pride in their projects. “That’s the name of the game in this kind of business,” he says. “It’s not a way to get rich; it’s a labor of love. The most important thing is the end result.” Depending on the automobile, the “end result” for a client is having an investment – a beautiful pearl – arrive in their driveway: one they can cruise on tour; show; and, on occasion, turn around and sell well into the six figures.
His pride for the craft stems from a hobby that grew into a successful career, driven by a fond memory from his youth. It took time for all of the puzzle pieces to come together. “I’d like to say that this was all planned out, but this business has just sort of grown on its own, just through word-of-mouth and hard work,” Kay says. It began when he was working in the parts business in San Jose, restoring cars in his garage. “I’d buy a car, fix it up, sell it … go buy another project. But it was buying that first Aston Martin that got me headed in this direction.”
“I started on it about 25 years ago - once I got it done and started showing it, I started to get requests for restoration services and that’s when I went full-time into restoration,” he says. Fine European automobiles had held a place in his heart since he was in high school, growing up in a plush Greenwich, Conn. neighborhood. “I was a hot rod guy when I was a teenager, building models, then I got to ride in an old MG when I was 14 or 15 years old and that just turned me around,” he says.
“In the neighborhood I lived in … there were new Lotuses and Porsches and MGs and Jaguars in everybody’s driveways, and since then, that’s been my love.”
Of all the fine European automobiles Kay and his staff restore, David Brown-era (1947-72) Aston Martins are their specialty. “Those particular cars are viewed as classics, and after that they become more modern cars and don’t have the same following they did in that era,” Kay says. “There’s a block of cars that are really sought after and really popular.”
It all comes back to that first Aston – it stuck with him. “It’s a fantastic car. They are well-made,” he says. “They’ve got it all, as far as I’m concerned. Totally hand-made, aluminum bodies … it’s a very expensive way to build a car.”
Kay and his craftsmen rebuild those cars from the ground-up, with results that would make the English workers who first used their hands to build them proud. The attention to detail enhances the piece of art. It is a labor of love.
“I’m pretty focused in on this car thing,” Kay says. “I have been for 40 years, and I don’t see it changing. It’s what I do and who I am.” The name says it all.