By Zaimarie De Guzman
Read in Sun Sentinel
When Richard Gorman was 3, he and his younger brother would pretend Gorman was a mechanic who worked on extraordinary vehicles.
Almost 55 years later, Gorman is the president of Vantage Motorworks, lauded by classic car collectors as one of the best restoration companies in the nation.
His one-stop-shop restores vintage vehicles, specializing in Rolls-Royces and Bentleys. Its operations include about 30 mechanics, wood workers, upholsterers and experts in trim and body work – in 14 gray warehouses in North Miami.
“We don’t believe in glass frontage showrooms with fancy chandeliers,” Gorman said. “Unless you’re into glass fixtures, we’d rather put the money in the product.”
Customers include South Floridians as well as car aficionados from around the world, many of whom enter their Vantage restored vehicles into well-known auto shows such as the Concours d’Elegance in Pebble Beach, Calif., as well as events in Amelia Island and Boca Raton.
Steve Wolf, president of European Autobody in Boca Raton, will enter his Vantage-restored 1935 Rolls-Royce Phantom II – worth more than $1 million – into the fourth annual Boca Raton Concours d’Elegance, which runs Friday through Sunday.
“Every vehicle that I have entered into these shows and has been restored by Vantage has won,” Wolf said.
A classic cars collector, Wolf has had more than a dozen cars restored by Vantage in the last 30 years. He has a 1982 Rolls-Royce Phantom VI, worth about $750,000, being restored.
Since Vantage restores classic vehicles for which parts are no longer produced, the restoration process takes at least one year to complete. Employees take apart the vintage cars and replace parts with new ones.
“We hand-make the parts that are hard to find,” said Leon Carney, assistant general manager, who has been working at Vantage for more than 35 years.
At the start of their Vantage career, some employees go through a months-long apprentice program taught by Gorman. Some develop friendships with the clientele, which they say includes CEOs, heads of state and entertainers, such as Jay Leno, Elizabeth Taylor, Iggy Pop and Nicholas Cage.
Rapper and music mogul Jay-Z bought a 1959 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud Convertible from Vantage four years ago for his then-girlfriend – now wife – singer Beyonce, said Gorman.
Customer John Sweney, CEO of marketing company Brookwoods Group, became interested in a Bentley at Vantage about nine years ago but settled for a similar vehicle sold elsewhere for a lesser price. Gorman told Sweney that he’d regret not buying the car of higher quality.
Three years after buying and working on the less expensive car, Sweney sold it, went back to Vantage and bought a restored 1988 Bentley Continental, which has won several awards.
“True to Richard’s prediction, now for the past six years I’ve driven that car, done nothing but maintain it, taken it to shows and won prizes,” he said.
Sweney, of Texas, isn’t the only customer who shops at Vantage despite the distance. Gorman said his clientele comes from countries all over the world.
“We had one man send his car from Hong Kong just to get the brakes fixed,” said office manager Lorraine Hofheinz. “The customers come from so far because they say you can tell a Vantage car when you see one.”
Stephen Haymes, another long-time customer, agrees. The Palm Beach resident calls Vantage “the best restoration shop in the United States.”
Haymes’ 1959 Rolls-Royce Estate Wagon – one of four ever built – was restored by Vantage over 18 months.
“It looks 100 percent perfect, as if it were brand new,” Haymes said.