Scotts Valley, just up the winding highway from Santa Cruz. But for car lovers, this place beams like St. Peter’s, an inviting treasure chest stuffed with classic automobiles worthy of pilgrimage.
Vintage racing Porsches rub sheetmetal shoulders with iconic ‘60s Ferraris, which sit mere wheel-wells away from the last Shelby Cobra to exit the factory gates. Some vehicles are being restored for their wealthy owners, others are being spiffed up to hit Canepa Design’s showroom, while a few enjoy some mechanical pampering before being returned to their places of honor upstairs in the on-site motorsports museum.
“I never get tired of coming to work,” says Bruce Canepa, the racing driver who since 1980 — the heyday of his professional exploits behind the wheel of all manner of Porsche beasts — has quietly turned Canepa Design into one of the foremost auto restoration and classic car sales shops in the nation. “Besides, I’m too obsessed with being in control of all the details to stop coming in.”
Obsession and control can be a dangerous cocktail. But not in Canepa’s case. His hands-on personality means the cars coming out of this 70,000-square-foot shop often exceed the exacting standards of his monied clientele. When Canepa leans over the exposed engine bay of the aforementioned 1967 Cobra 427, he points out that “everything on this car is original, but everything on it has been brought back to as-new condition, every nut restored, every wire re-wrapped. We even disassemble and restore the wiper motors.”
Every aspect of this blue beauty gleams, from its reconditioned leather seats to the chome bezels on its gauges. “We’ve got 2,600 man-hours into this already,” Canepa says with almost fatherly pride. Though Cobras can be million-dollar cars, Canepa’s already has much more lobbed at him for this baby. For now, he isn’t selling, and instead plans to drive the car next year at events celebrating the 50th anniversary of Carroll Shelby’s Ferrari-killing machine.
The stories pour forth as Canepa strolls the immaculate shop - you can literally eat off the floors — where technicians quietly tinker on the stuff of childhood fantasies. To get hired here, it helps to have a resume filled with top-shelf racing team experience. Canepa says it’s not uncommon to take a year to find the right shop employee. But having the right people means that Canepa Design doesn’t have to send cars out for any ancillary work.
“Other than chrome, the cars stay with me, which means I can get them back to my customers even faster,” he says. Given the famous names that favor this shop - from well-known comedians to titans of industry — it’s critical to deliver top product on time.
Today, the show that is Canepa Design boasts a stellar cast. There’s a silver Porsche 959 undergoing some work to further modernize what in the late 1980s was the definitive state of the sports car art. Nearby, a stripped-to-aluminum “outlaw” 1960s Posche 356 is fitted with a unique powerplant while it awaits an interior. And walled off by see-through plastic is but a frame, the beginnings of what may prove to be one of the most talked about classic cars of 2012 when it finally leaves this shop.
“This should be something,” says Canepa, looking at bare metal beams fitted topped by a radiator that bares a singular word: Duesenberg. “This is the first Duesey passenger car ever made, number one.”
The car belongs to a scion of the Dole Food Company, who wants to bring back to life a forgotten and rusted car that once did duty on the family’s plantations in Hawaii. Though it doesn’t look like much right now, it promises to one day look just like it did the day workers finished their hand labor some 90 years ago. If not better.
“I’m a bit over the top on things,” Canepa concedes, pointing to a million-dollar Ferrari that came in apparently requiring only a tune-up. “Look at the list on the windshield. It’s stuffed with things I found that it needed.”
And indeed it is. Typical is a note on the Ferrari that reads: “Wipers too slow.”
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