Tony Davey: Saint of old cars
By Richard Haugh
Having restored Simon Templar's set of wheels, Suffolk mechanic Tony Davey's next challenge was to rebuild a 1924 Renault KJ1 - perhaps the only one of its kind in the country.
Tony and the restored Renault JK 1
Working at his garage in Felsham, near Bury St Edmunds, Tony has spent a large amount of his spare time during the past two and a half years underneath the bonnet of a vintage Renault.
"I've just completed working on a 1924 KJ1 Renault, with a farmer body," Tony said. "The car is very rare and I don't think there's another one in the country."
The project is one of several which Tony has opted to undertake on top of his day-to-day work as a mechanic in West Suffolk.
Tony believes the Renault now closely resembles the vehicle which would have left the French company's factory 84 years ago.
But the restoration was only made possible by an excess of dilapidated cars belonging to an acquaintance of Tony's.
"A friend of a friend had it and the reason he didn't do it was he had a 1937 Bentley which he decided to restore rather than the Renault.
Tony's dad with the wooden frame
"The car came as one complete bit but once we stripped it out we realised the wooden frame needed to be replaced.
"We took the tin off the wood and reused the metal part of the body again. But we had to remake the wooden frame, which Tim Cockell helped me with.
"To make the frame is a quite major job but the rest of the car wasn't too bad. The wood was still good but it had gone hard so we couldn't screw anything into it.
"We also rebuilt the engine - so it was a complete restoration.
"It's now got all new glass. Everything fabric and rubber is new, Michelin made the tyres for it, GB Upholstery done all the upholstery and the wooden dash was redone. It really was a major job."
Some people will no doubt wonder why Tony has devoted so much time to an old vehicle?
"Why? Well if you see the shape of the car you'll understand why. It's a unique looking thing."
And how is it to drive?
The KJ1 engine
"It's not very quick - it goes 30-40 mph and when it's flat out it jumps around the road a bit. It doesn't want to handle very well, but in them days they never did.
"It's left hand drive and only has brakes on the rear. It certainly turns heads though.
"I'll probably use it to do weddings with and car shows. I've already been to two car shows and there was a big crowd around."
The restoration has been carried out at the weekends and occasional evenings, with Tony working as a mechanic during the week at the garage which adjoins his house.
Although the project has been a labour of love, Tony says he would be able to make a profit if he decided to sell the car.
"I ain't worked out how much I've spent on it but I had an appraisal which valued it at £19,950 but I never spent nothing like that."
Moore hard work
The successful renovation of the Renault followed a project where Tony was approached by the owner of the Volvo 1800 made famous by Roger Moore's character Simon Templar in The Saint.
"That was an unbelievable task because the thing was so rusty. It was a major job and I think about 500 hours and a huge amount of money went into that.
Tony and ST 1
"But the history of it is why they wanted it done.
"We were in touch with some of the people who did the film and the chap who wrote the series. Roger Moore knew about it too.
"The one I done was one of a pair. We were trying to track the other one down but I don't think it exists anymore.
"It now lives in Virginia in the States but I met up with it last year in Canada, where we also had the 2.6 million mile Volvo which is the highest mileage car in the world.
"I've had that here twice now, it's in the Guinness Book of Records for its mileage. That was here when it had 1.3 million miles on it and we had it back here when it had 2 million.
"The owner lives in Long Island, New York, and used to do something like 128 miles a day commuting as a school teacher. Plus at weekends he could be anywhere in Canada or the States.
"I had the car down to the bare metal and completely repainted it. Mechanically the thing is quite good but it had been on the road for so long it had been hit by all sorts of things - a lorry, a school bus - it had been in minor scrapes all its life. New York roads are terrible."
Tony's recent projects have been a natural progression from a childhood dominated by cars.
"We used to have cars when we were youngsters, when we were still at school," Tony said. "We used to run them on the airfield when I was 12 years old. That's all I've ever done really, is cars."
His expertise, especially concerning Volvos, has gradually seen Tony become known in motoring circles around the world. He's now regularly called upon to fix cars which other garages don't have the know how to attend to.
The KJ1 from behind
"I'm getting cars from all over the place - Holland, Scotland, Australia - I had some people from Spain the other day with their clutch gone on an 1800S, similar looking to the Saint car."
As well as fixing other people's cars, Tony already has a couple of long-term projects in the pipeline to fill the void left by the up-and-running Renault JK1.
"I've got a Volvo 120 that I want to restore. I'm kind of thinking of building it into a rally car as I know someone who may use it for that purpose.
"I've also got an 1800E that needs restoring which is in a better shape than the Saint car was."
End of the road
I asked Tony if he could describe what it was like to reach the end of a project which has taken up so much of his life.
"It feels good and it's nice to go somewhere with it and to get opinions from other people. That's the best bit - hearing what other people have to say."
But isn't there an element of sadness? Letting go of something that's been an intricate part of his life for so long?
"No, not really. It gives you something else to do."
last updated: 10/09/2008 at 18:09
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