Shop Of The Month July 2007
Bob Lorkowski wants to be known as a full-service automobile restorer who strives for perfection and doesn’t cut corners. His L’Cars restoration shop in Cameron, Wis., was planned from the start as a facility that could “do it all and do it right.” Lorkowski wanted to fabricate Classic cars that won awards.
The shop has been in business since 1989 and its work has won a number of prestigious honors. Lorkowski understands that such recognition is important when it comes to attracting upscale clients who want the best. According to Lorkowski, the Cameron shop has one rule: “If your car or truck or motorcycle comes in here, you must want the work done right.”
While Lorkowski would love to work on Duesenbergs and Packards everyday, he has discovered that people wanting a “perfect” vehicle don’t all own the same types of vehicles. He knows that a successful shop must be willing to work on sports cars, trucks and hot rods, as well as classics.
To house the business, Lorkowski built a large, low, modern building in Cameron, a small town close enough to Minnesota to draw customers from the Twin Cities. AMM Products fills the front of the building. This division of the company does auto upholstery, convertible tops and building awnings. The rest of the space is taken up by the L’Cars. The facility includes a research library, a paint spray booth, a metal fabrication area, a small machine shop, a storage room and the main restoration area.
L’Cars has a staff of specialists who work like the coachbuilding teams of yesteryear. There is a chrome-plating specialist, a paint and body technician, an upholsterer, a woodcrafter and a metal fabricator.
The shop is extremely clean and well-organized. The tool benches and floors look clean enough to eat on. All parts are stored off the floor. The components for each car in the shop are stored carefully on moving shelves. Tools and equipment reside in specific places when not being used. One wall holds a long row of plastic multi-drawer cabinets where fasteners and hardware are stored. Each drawer is carefully labeled so correct bolts can be found fast.
There are metal-shaping machines and tools everywhere. With their wheels, rollers and metal benders, the shop’s workers can recreate body panels for classic automobiles like those that specially-trained coachbuilders once pounded out with hand-held hammers.
Lorkowski says that he developed a passion for cars when he drag raced a 1938 Chevy at tracks around Chicago in the ‘60s and ‘70s. In 1978, he opened a collision-repair shop in Bruce, Wis., which he still operates as a separate business today. When car collecting took off, he decided he’d rather be doing complete restorations, instead of taking dents out of fenders. Later, when demand for full restorations tapered off, he expanded into the business of doing partial restorations “as long as the customer still wants top-quality work.”
Lorkowski’s staff has worked on such cars as 1930 Cord L29 Cabriolet from the Dick Kughn Collection, a 1956 Jaguar XK140, a 1967 Austin-Healey 3000 racing car, Lamborghinis, a 1940 Willys coupe, a 1932 Ford phaeton street rod, a Model A Ford roadster pickup, a Volkswagen Cabriolet, E-Type Jaguars, an Advance-Design Chevrolet pickup truck, a heavily-customized ’69-’70 style Chevy pickup and a ’59 Chevrolet Impala convertible.
Bob is a classic Rolls-Royce V-12 engine specialist. Other mechanical work is sent out to Del Hanson, of Rice Lake, Wis., a master mechanic who is skilled in all phases of drivetrain and chassis repair.
Lorkowski says “big car” restorations have tapered off following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. Since then, there are fewer people seeking to restore prewar classics and fewer vehicles requiring a total redo from the ground up. At the same time, L’Cars is seeing growing demand for partial restorations, as well as for street rod builds and custom motorcycle tank fabrications.
Still, Lorkowski the “old car fanatic” has a personal preference for the big jobs that are more challenging and more rewarding. “We want that client who is looking to have the Pebble Beach Best of Show car,” he says. “This shop was designed for that type of work and we expect to get more such jobs as our restorations take more and more awards.”