Byrnes Motor Trust (BMT) Restoration, the largest auto restoration shop in the world, is located in Clark, Pampanga. Does that come as a surprise? It’s a place that is capable of producing concours-level restorations for some of the world’s most valuable classic cars.
The facility was established by Australian businessman Jim Byrnes in 2010, primarily for his own business of buying, restoring, and selling classic cars. Jim is an established personality in the classic-car world, and is profoundly passionate about his growing collection. His focus has mainly been on Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, and Porsche, but he is by no means limited to those marques.
With an area of over two hectares and three football-field-sized hangars within the old Clark Airbase, BMT is currently restoring over 100 cars, with another 150 stored in a different location awaiting their turn with the grinder and torch. The cars are sourced from all over the world by Jim, restored to concours-level quality, and then resold to the world’s most discriminating buyers and enthusiasts. Oftentimes, cars built here are even offered at prestigious auction houses.
The Philippines was chosen for this operation because of the skilled yet inexpensive labor rates, the space, and the tax incentives that Clark offers as a free port. Not only that, Clark also has an international airport and a racetrack, both of which are very advantageous to BMT’s line of work.
In developed European countries and the US, the cost of skilled labor is somewhere in the neighborhood of P4,000 per hour, and the restoration of a single car can require 3,000 hours of work. Here in the Philippines, skilled labor rates are considerably less. Moreover, within the Clark Freeport Zone, BMT can import and export cars and parts without having to pay any taxes. They’re only required to pay taxes on the profit they make on the cars they sell. All these benefits make the Philippines a very viable place for the business of restoring classic cars.
Overseeing this operation is the charming and affable husband-and-wife team of Jason (CEO) and Sarah Lemberg (marketing manager), plus their 'daughter'-slash-shop-dog Penny Lane. Jason joined BMT after being headhunted and pirated by Jim from the restoration division of Symbolic Motors in San Diego, California. Under Jason’s stewardship, Symbolic Motors twice won Best in Class at the famed Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
The couple toured us around this staggeringly large space and explained the unique BMT process. There are many restoration shops in this country, but none are at this level. In the first hangar we’re taken into, there’s a row of Jaguar E-Types and alloy-bodied C-Types undergoing restoration. In another hangar is a row of Mercedes-Benz Pagoda SLs and 190 SLs. All the work areas are clean and very organized. Metal, electrical, and mechanical work are all done in-house. It also has the means to press bodywork, build special tools, and even sand-cast new parts if so needed.
Here’s an example to better illustrate the expertise of this facility: It has the knowledge and skill to take a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud or a Bentley S, cars that were produced in the late ’50s and early ’60s, and turn it into a drophead coupe, otherwise known as a convertible.
Jim has a particular fascination with these models. He believes them to be the most beautiful cars of the era. BMT even has copies of the original factory build specifications for the variants and two factory-made conversions of the drophead coupes for reference. The documentation and the two cars were acquired so that BMT technicians and specialists could take the cars apart to study them. Their goal was to build Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud drophead coupes from scratch in exactly the same manner that they were built 50 years ago.
There are 50 Silver Clouds in line to be restored or converted into drophead coupes. The BMT team is proud to proclaim that the cars that it builds are of equal, if not better, quality than anything that came off the Mulliner Park Ward production line in the ’50s and ’60s. Filipinos building Rolls-Royces and Bentleys? Imagine that!
Jason and Sarah have nothing but high praises for their team of restoration technicians, every one of whom they know personally. They’re impressed with the passion they have for the work and their great attention to detail.
However, to build on that passion and develop their skills for detailed work, lots of training has to be done. This is where Jason Lemberg shines. He isn’t a CEO who sits in his luxurious air-conditioned office behind a desk. From the day he took the position, he has always been right there with his team getting his hands dirty. That’s why his preferred work clothes are hospital scrubs. He shares his passion and knowledge for high-end restorations with his staff. Not just giving commands, but explaining and demonstrating, in minute detail, to each and every member of the team the reasons for doing things in a particular way.
The members of the staff are also trained to use the Internet to find parts and techniques should they have difficulty. The staff is also shown videos of classic car shows so that they can see world standards. This training has a purpose not only for the business of restoring classic cars, but also for BMT’s vision to establish a training facility and an accredited college devoted to the development of local restoration experts.
Here’s something cool that's done at BMT: During disassembly, parts are laid out on large sheets of paper and taken apart, measured, and then photographs are taken again and again in an exploded view as aids for the reassembly of the project. This step alone yields a treasure trove of information.
The entire car must then be put back together with the same level of quality that it had when it left the factory. When you take into consideration that a whole car is generally composed of around 30,000 parts, this is a gargantuan task that requires attention to the most minute of details—especially when you’re catering to some of the world’s most discriminating car enthusiasts.
The most interesting part of this tour was not the cars, the detailed restoration process, or the recreation of bespoke Rolls-Royce/Bentley drophead coupes. It’s the fact that Filipinos are the ones doing it. Our country is truly at the forefront in the world of classic cars.
Note: This article first appeared in Top Gear Philippines' May 2017 issue.