It’s back there in the parts department, an incongruous conveyance amongst the two dozen or so classic motor cars and vintage British motorcycles in various stages of restoration at Kevin Kay’s Restorations in Redding, California.
And this northernmost major community in the state, one nestled at the foot of the towering Shasta Dam and bridging the might Sacramento River, might seem, too, an incongruous place in which to find one of two houses in the U.S. specializing in quality restoration work on Aston Martins and one with the reach to supply parts for Aston Martin enthusiasts worldwide.
The Conveyance in question however a polymer, flat-bottom drift boat bespeaks a great deal about owner Kevin Kay and might explain why his operation has been anchored for two decades in this great land of outdoor adventure.
“I read all I can about fly fishing,” says the tall, fit, 63 year old who is passionate about catch-and-release angling and vintage British motor cars.
“Yes, I was certainly attracted to the outdoors here, the lack of congestion,” he says. “I became tired of the Bay Area, sold my foreign auto parts business in San Jose and moved to Redding without a clue really what I’d be doing. We had two daughters (Ashley Kay is now the firm’s parts manager) There were questions: “ We’re here now, what do you do?” So I opened a small foreign parts store, but then that business began disappearing, too.”
Measure, relaxed and not without a dry wit, Kay then tapped into decades of encyclopedic knowledge about foreign auto parts, sports cars, motoring history and shifted career gears.
“I was a British car guy and thought Aston Martin was the ultimate British sports car. We had traded a Lotus Cortina for a ’57 DB2-4 MKII, restored that and started doing others at home. Although restoration was not a widespread concept or term used then when I had my parts business we’d fix ‘em up, paint, upholstery, etc. but when our Aston cars showed well at Silverado and Hillsborough, people started asking me about restoration. The timing was good for this niche market compared to say, specialized work on Porsche and Ferrari. Aston Martins continue to appreciate at a great rate and hold increasing values. When I started they could be found for $10,000 and now they’re base marked at $500,000 and up.
On a lark back then, he put an ad in the Sacrament BEE: Wanted – old Aston Martin automobiles. “I got six phone calls, bought two in the mid ‘80s and saw there was apparently more interest.”
KK Restorations does just that now and at any time there might be two dozen projects in various stages within the expansive Kay complex.
HI crew of 10 craftsmen, many of whom have been with him a dozen or more years, do complete ground up restoration, engine overhaul, wiring, bodywork and paint, upholstery, even left hand drive conversions. They do vintage british motorcycle restorations too.
Trouble finding qualified specialists in the rarified arena?
“No, if they come around looking for work, they’ll usually get hired. It hasn’t worked out so well when I’ve had to go out looking for help. These are all local guys. Mark Wiens, our shop foreman, has been with me over 16 years. When I hired him I handed him a 300SL gear box in pieces along with a manual and he proceeded to put it together, no problem. Kevin Baker my lead painter, has also been here over 16 years. Joel Biles, one of the younger members of the team, builds and tests all of the engine.”
In 2013, Kay brought in Walter Boehinger to manage his expanding operations. Boehringer, 50, handles everything from employee scheduling to customer relations. Formerly owner of a hand tools manufacturing firm in Redding, he is a motorcycle (’71 BMW R75/5 and Moto Guzzi Ambassador) and vintage car enthusiast. His uncle Bill Cline, was a judge at Pebble Beach and Boehringer still owns Cline’s pristine 1935 Ford.
“ For the first time in years,” he says, “I’m having fun doing a job helping make sure our standard of quality is where is should be.”
Realistic time and costs for a KK restoration?
“You should plan for something in the neighborhood of $300,000 plus metalwork and rust repair. A ground up restoration usually takes about two year. The condition of the body is the biggest variable. Restoration of prewar vehicles is generally a pain because of poor parts availability.”
Kay is linked into a worldwide Aston Martin network, whether at the factory (“They do a fantastic job supplying parts and have a good system in place.”) or with English houses like R.S. Williams and Aston Workshop. KK Aston Parts clients include owners from Poland to Australia and he has on hand most everything from engine parts, brakes and suspension to wheels and exhaust systems for DB2 through DB6 cars.
Kay’s infatuation with sports cars began in the 1960s.
“My dad was in sales and we moved quite a bit. We lived in Greenwich, Connecticut, and it seemed like everybody there had sports cars. Mgs, Porsches, TRs and Morgans. I took a ride in an MG and was hooked. In ’66 I bought a red TR4 out on Long Island for $800. It was only four years old but was already rotted in the sills, doors and trunk. I decided to replace the points and after doing so the car wouldn’t run. My dad had the car towed to the dealer for repairs and told me I was never to work on a gar again. Of course, that did work out.
“We moved back to California and when I was a senior in high school I bought an MGA and began reading and collecting Car and Driver and Road & Track (he still has editions 1949 through 1979 and all editions of Automobile quarterly). I read copies of the British Motor and Auto Car at the library.”
He went on to study economics at the University of California, Davis, and worked the parts counter at B.A.P. Foreign Auto Parts in San Jose, then ended up buying the store before shifting gears some 30 years ago and heading north to then remote Redding.