This Detroit-area Alfa shop is an Italian treasure trove
“It’s not the kind of business we feel we need to advertise,” says Rich Davisson, owner of BradCo Restorations. He’s not wrong. Within this drab midcentury warehouse in an inconspicuous industrial complex in Warren, Michigan, lies a premier Alfa Romeo restoration shop. And business is booming. Although the building gives no indication of the treasures inside, the 63-year-old Davisson is excited to serve as its docent. Beyond the two front offices that interface with the outside world, behind a large, well-worn steel door, lie BradCo’s Italian inner workings.
[This article originally ran in Hagerty magazine, the exclusive publication of the Hagerty Drivers Club. For the full, in-the-flesh experience of our world-class magazine—as well other great benefits like roadside assistance and automotive discounts—join HDC today.]
Several huge windows let in the morning sun, and the concrete shop floor glows. BradCo’s collection of projects—15 on this day, plus all the parts to make them whole—pack the place like overstuffed cannoli. A ’74 GTV on a dolly. A ’67 1750 Spider skewered by a rotisserie. Giulias staged in a line, poised to streak out of the twin bay doors to the back of the building. Despite a massive roster of restorations, enough to keep them going for a year or more, BradCo has only four full-time employees, including Davisson.
“Between our aerospace, military, and automotive experience,” he says, “we’ve put into place systems that allow us to be more time and cost efficient”—systems including stripping donor cars, media blasting the components, and archiving all parts in green tubs for future projects, each organized by year, model, and restoration stage.
Davisson strolls past a pearly Spider 1600 used in his daughter’s wedding, with Rolo the shop dog, or Alfa dog, if you like, in tow. “Never get an Alfa if you’re averse to holding a wrench or screwdriver,” he says. He stops to probe a recently blasted Duetto quarter-panel with his finger and adds: “Rust comes as standard equipment.”
In his compact front office, filled with award certificates and fabricated curios, Davisson recalls how he ended up with a shop full of Italian cars just outside Detroit. “Like most of us in the business, I grew up with a wrench in my hand,” Davisson says. “I have a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering and a master’s in aerospace engineering from Purdue, but in all honesty, it was working on lawnmowers with my older brother when I was five that got me started as a gearhead.”
James Schroth, Davisson’s older brother by 22 years, started a business in the early ’60s engineering and manufacturing rubber pieces for the Big Three. While in elementary school, Davisson moonlighted there. “I worked a press making rubber shifter boots for ’65 Mustangs. Hated ’em,” he says, “but I got paid $2 an hour making the pieces.”
In 1986, after 10 years as an aerospace engineer, Rich partnered with his brother. The two continued to churn out rubber for Detroit steel until 2008, when they reevaluated their size as a direct supplier with the needs of the auto industry. Their staff of 40 full-time employees was simply too small, and the brothers decided to shutter the business. It was a pre-recession stroke of good fortune.
Schroth retired, and Davisson started two new businesses. One is an independent firm that inspects the work of third-party suppliers, keeping most of their longtime workers employed. The other is BradCo Restorations. Four maintenance men from the old rubber business happened to be gearheads. Davisson’s dead ’69 Alfa Spider 1750, which had sat dormant in the back of the rubber factory for years, proved to be excellent fodder for their first restoration.
“We thought, what the heck, why don’t we try it?” Word got out, and suddenly there were two Alfas in the shop. Then five. By the end of 2012, 10 Alfas sat in various stages of restoration. “Not many people know Alfa Romeos can breed on their own.”
BradCo is currently assembling a 1967 GT Junior with a 220-hp Twin Spark engine aimed at being raced and driven year-round. “Our focus is building cars that drive,” Davisson says, and although he downplays his team’s accomplishments, it’s apparent others have taken notice of their exceptional paint and body work. Tacked on a wall in his office is a blue ribbon from the EyesOn Design car show, just below a portrait commissioned by Ralph Gilles, global head of design for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, as a thank-you gift for restoring his Alfa GTV. Bob Boniface, director of global Buick Exterior Design, is slated to drop off his Spider for a respray next month.
“My wife thinks this is all just an excuse to do the hobby, and I can’t deny that,” Davisson says. Despite any sideways glances, he has turned his Alfa obsession into a family affair. His two daughters and son-in-law often help prep the cars for show. Sadly, the family lost Davisson’s son, Brad, to the opioid crisis. Now, in Brad’s honor, Davisson sends proceeds from selling Alfa parts to the Blake House, a rehabilitation clinic outside Atlanta. It’s an unexpected gift from an inconspicuous Alfa shop in Michigan.