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Having painted or ’striped almost everything on four wheels, from Fords to Formula One cars, Neil Melliard is the man you call when you want something special.
Growing up in Wallington, Surrey, with the legendary American Auto Parts just round the corner, it’s no surprise that the bug bit hard on a car-mad kid in the ’70s.
Another influence was the Harris brothers screeching around in their Mustang-powered Zephyrs.
“They were always batting it past and doing U-turns outside my dad’s house,” Melliard recalls. “So it’s easy to understand why at 18 I bought a Mk1 Zephyr, which I still have.”
His first car was a surprise, though, not least to his baffled dad. “A 1936 Triumph Gloria, which I bought at 14,” he admits. “It had a big exhaust, a Coventry Climax engine and a ’50s glassfibre body. It was a wreck, but really cool-looking.”
Little did he know, but Melliard had also bought his first pinstriping kit: “I was into cars and art equally. I’d always draw cars as a kid and was regularly buying Custom Car and Hot Rod.”
He also had Streatham Crash Repairs on his doorstep, and was constantly hanging around.
“I couldn’t stay away from the place!” he laughs. A job followed: “Ace painter Steve Bradshaw showed me how to spray and taught me everything in the ’80s. It was my eureka moment.”
Studying signwriting proved to be another defining moment when he met Mandy, his future wife and similarly artistic business partner.
Together, they started a company that breathed new life into an industry overtaken by cheaper vinyl options.
The burgeoning 1980s VW scene allowed the pair to be as creative as they liked, and led to them being asked to paint, ’stripe and hand-letter anything within reach of a brush.
An unexpected intersection between the custom-car and commercial worlds came in the form of a call from an F1 team going through a sponsorship change.
“The design needed someone to be able to paint a fade on the whole car,” Melliard says. “They couldn’t find anyone to do it well enough, so they called Custom Car editor Kev Elliott, who put them on to me.
“They asked me to join them, but I didn’t fancy painting front wings every day so they got in a full-time guy and we worked out how to do it together.”
Melliard helped paint the ’73 Targa-winning Martini Porsche 911 for Maxted-Page, too.
From eight fuzzy photos, he and fellow paint perfectionist Simon Emery recreated the logos, colours and stripes, even re-applying gaffer tape where the rear wing was initially attached in period.
Gaffer tape is quite a shock to the system on a car worth several millions. “I waited my whole life to do that,” he says with a smile.
This all illustrates why Melliard is so busy. Such as for a very particular owner who wanted his ex-Gurney McLaren M8 in a colour scheme from a specific race.
“It came down to, ‘Do you want Friday practice livery, Saturday qualifying, or Sunday race day?’ You have to be patient, you’re dealing with people’s investments.
“Twenty or 30 years ago, cars were about pure enthusiasm; there wasn’t much money about so I’d do shopfronts and signwriting to pay the bills, and in the evenings I’d go and paint a car.”
Happily, he’s found a new home next to his former Streatham mentor, Bradshaw (and shop owner Phil Norman, who deserves an honorary mention), at Brickfield Aircooled Restorations.
It also allows him to return to a mentoring role himself with his son Jacob, who is gradually learning the skills his father has spent the past 40 years mastering.
The Melliard brushes are never allowed to stay dry for long, though – not when you are this talented and in demand.
Images: Max Edleston
- Name Melliard’s Modern Pinstriping and Lettering
- Address London and Ashford, Kent
- Specialism Custom paint, signwriting, pinstriping and gilding
- Staff One, plus regular contractors
- Prices £65 per hour, plus VAT
- Tel 07768 901853
- Email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram @the_striper