A Winner is Born: Master restorer revitalizes ’31 Chrysler Imperial
Nestled in the woods of suburban Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, near Montreal, is a small shop that produces big cars. The company that operates it, ATT Auto Restoration, is owned by master restorer Richard Grenon, whose love for the automobile began at the age of 6. As a boy, he used to visit his uncle Lucien on weekends in Lacolle, near the U.S. border, and marvel at what that man could do to an old jalopy in his spare time.
At 14, Richard was already recognized as a top mechanic by a local group of 27 hot rod owners who would hire him to do modifications. This led him to build seven dragsters for them. His first personal project was converting a 1940 Willys dragster into a street rod. Richard was then 16.
However, his first public test came at age 22 when an American collector living in Montreal who had seen his work wanted his ’55 T-Bird restored to its original look. This became Richard’s first complete restoration project. The following year, the car was brought to an exclusive event in North Carolina that showcased 430 outstanding Birds. To his amazement, he won both Best in Class and Best in Show honours for the car. Not bad for a Montreal kid on his first foray into the land of great Concours!
During his 40-year career, Richard has worked selectively on high end vehicles, including a 1927 Hispano Suiza Town Car, a 1929 Auburn Boat Tail Speedster, a 1938 Lagonda V-12 Convertible, a 1940 Cadillac V-16, a 1949 one-off Bentley Pinin Farina, numerous Packards and other celebrated marques. Over the years, he has been invited many times to Pebble Beach, Meadowbrook and Amelia Island, among other prestigious Concours. His work has earned him top awards for Most Outstanding Interior, Best in Class and Best in Show.
Which brings us to the star of the day and Richard’s latest achievement: his 1931 Chrysler Imperial CG Custom Coupe Convertible Victoria bodied by Waterhouse, a car whose history of survival is as incredible as the final product is dazzling. During its lifetime, it went through every conceivable ordeal, including water damage, prolonged exposure to the elements and a barn roof collapsing on it. Scott Collins, of Glen Cove, N.Y., who owned the car for nearly 70 years, had even prevented it, as a child, from being broken during repeated WWII scrap drives.
But when Scott called Richard one day to tell him of his intention to sell the beloved family Chrysler Imperial, Richard’s response offered without hesitation to buy it, as he saw a unique opportunity to turn this rarest of cars (one of six ever made with only three still registered in the Chrysler club) into a living treasure. He also knew that Waterhouse bodies are arguably the most refined among the Classics, and inspired such renowned designers as Dietrich, Rollston and LeBaron.
The car arrived in Montreal in March 2009 and Richard spent about a year and a half restoring it to its magnificent current state. His level of expertise and attention to detail has enabled him to handle every aspect of the restoration process himself, aided by son Nicolas. Few are capable of such expediency and achievement.
Barely two days after it was completed, on June 10, 2011, the Chrysler Imperial Waterhouse was shown at Cincinnati’s Ault Park Concours d’Elegance. Much as Richard had hoped for success at this important event, he was thrilled to win the Early Pre-War Classics Best of Class award. Moments later, his joy turned into astonishment when he heard his name called for the William K. Victor Best of Show trophy.
All in all, a remarkable story that continues with another soon-to-be public display of the Waterhouse at the Concours d’Elegance of America on July 30 and 31. Stay tuned …