For the latest classic car news, features, buyer’s guides and classifieds, sign up to the C&SC newsletter here
If you’ve been to a Bonhams auction, or a show such as CarFest, you’ll have seen Chris Bailey and his team at work, keeping classics as best presented as they can be.
There are no trade secrets, he says: “It’s just diligence.”
Showcase Specialist Valeting Services started in 2012 after Bailey had run one of the first ChipsAway franchises in the north of England.
He identified a need for a level of detail above and beyond.
“While car enthusiasts would spend hours lovingly taking care of their own motors, there seemed to be no commercial outlet for organisations who needed a similarly attentive service. I treat every car as if it were my own.”
With no fixed base, he and his occasional assistants (cleaners, valeters or detailers as required) travel to each job, including abroad.
He’s a proper petrolhead, too, sharing his Plus 4 racer, one of their four Morgans, with his wife Michele.
“My work is fundamentally for Bonhams and events such as car launches,” he explains, “but I will travel to an individual, if the client decides their car could benefit from a really good clean and detailing before photography and sale.
“I could have really improved this XK but it would have lost too much of its patination and history.”
“That interests me most: who’s had this car, where has it been and what has it seen? It’s got worse as I’ve got older!
“It needs to be well presented but not mutton dressed as lamb, showing it as a good, solid car underneath the blemishes of history.”
“I can always add value – not always monetary, the client can end up falling in love with a car again. Even on a club concours entrant I can make a difference. It’s all about the little bits and pieces, and close scrutiny.
“It’s usually about doing the messiest things first, and hitting the bits that will have the most impact.
“So at the start of every job we ask the client: ‘What are we trying to achieve?’
“The engine bay on the Jag needed help, and it’s the bits that are awkward to get at, which most don’t bother with, that make the difference.
“It’s the amount of detail you are prepared to put in, and I do adapt tools. I wanted some long feelers to get into inaccessible places and asked my dad, a keen wood-turner, to make me something. He said: ‘Like a large toothpick?’ So now I carry around packs of chopsticks that I hone to the shape I need.”
Knowing where to draw the line is important, especially tackling historic cars laden with patina, such as the Birkin ‘Blower’ Bentley that sold at Goodwood in 2012.
“It’s about being sensible and diligent. On the Jag I could have made the leather look like new, but that wouldn’t have suited the car so I made it as clean and as fresh-looking as possible without going overboard.
“There’s no ‘best’ cleaning product, they’re all variations on a theme.
“I was trained in the Zymol method, using hand-applied carnauba wax, and I’m currently using a lot of Maxolen, an environmentally friendly Swiss product that isn’t widely available.
“I have yet to find a manufacturer that’s the ‘best’ at everything.”
Staffing levels vary per job, though individual visits get the man himself.
“The horrible jobs are the ones that make me nervous,” he says. “The most nerve-racking was when Bonhams sold the 250GTO in 2014.
“I spent three days on it before it was flown out to the USA and I decided to take off the roundels and stickers, which was a bit arrogant but I knew it would look better.
I was panicking in case it took off the paint – I didn’t know how long they or the paint had been on, or what was beneath, or even if they had been put on to hide damage.
“Real heart-in-mouth stuff. But the car came up really well even though it had been raced.” It sold for $38m.
Images: Will Williams
- Name Showcase SVS
- Address Remote working nationwide and across Europe
- Specialism Car cleaning, paint correction, detailing and valeting
- Staff Varies: one core member
- Prices Each job is individually priced, but based on £342 per day
- Tel 07889 722333
- Web showcasesvs.co.uk
- Email email@example.com