There are plenty of folks who parrot the saying that “there are no shops like the old ones anymore.” Tom Cotter is out to prove that myth is exactly that—a myth. This week on Barn Find Hunter, Tom and crew head into the North Carolina mountains to visit a friend with some fantastic British race cars before dropping through a VW shop that continues to operate like it’s 1970.
First stop is a shop owned by Tom’s friend Brian. The large race trailer out front is a big hint about what sits inside. A pair of Lotus Elevens greet Tom right off; one sports a fiberglass body, and the other is beautiful bare aluminum. Both are powered by similar Coventry Climax 1500cc four-cylinder engines. Interestingly, those engines were not produced as racing engines. They were initially stationary pump engines but sharp eyes saw a compact and durable overhead-cam engine that would be a perfect fit for the racing world.
In the back trees of Brian’s property is an odd duck. It’s an Austin Healey 3000 with a strange fiberglass roof, but under the hood is the real meat: a Ford V-8. Brian thinks it’s a 289, but no one can be 100 percent sure with the amount of detritus that has accumulated on top of the iron lump. The car needs a lot of work now, but at one point, it was probably a wicked fast machine thanks to that trans-Atlantic engine swap.
Tom then heads out from the race shop and stops by a more modest establishment. There are no race cars to be found at Guy Roberts VW Repair. Now in its third generation of ownership, this garage carries a reputation that draws customers from five hours away. As impressive as the shop is, the side yard, which serves as a de-facto parts car collection, is even better.
Folks know that the shop is VW only, so when someone’s VW dies or they don’t want to deal with it anymore, they tow it and leave it in the yard. When the scrap price is right, the shop empties the yard. The dozens of donor cars run the gamut of VW’s history. Tom compares it to cutting down a tree and counting the rings to get the history of the tree—this yard is the history of Volkswagen all in one spot. Some of the cars were customers that never came to pickup their vehicles. One air-cooled Beetle has been waiting to be picked up for over a decade; it’s more of a storage unit now.
From the side lot of the shop Tom travels five minutes down the road to investigate the personal collection of Guy Roberts. The quality is a massive shift compared to the outside storage. A single cab pickup welcomes Tom right away, and as the pair venture deeper into the building, more interesting air-cooled machines are revealed.
Shops like Guy Roberts VW are scattered throughout the country, sometimes a little ways off the beaten path. All you have to do is spend some time looking for them. As Tom always says, “happy hunting.”