“Occasionally I have to stand back and go ‘Okay this is my business and it’s pretty cool. Get real John, get real...”
We love that greasy garage thing, it’s got its own charm. So, when we walked into the workshop at Chicane, we weren’t quite prepared for what we saw. Like walking fully clothed into the wrong steamy changing room, we had landed in some sort of palatial Aston Martin spa.
Chicane are quite quickly proving themselves as a go-to place for Astons when it comes to absolute quality and finesse. Throughout the workshop was the sound of progress, a feeling of content motivation to get the job done. I’ve seen offices in worse shape. If Steve Jobs ever ran a car restoration shop, this would probably be it. This place simply has good vibes.
With these high value cars, you’ve sometimes got to really pinch yourself. The restoration area houses about three cars, sealed off in a separate windowed room is the engine workshop. Void of clutter, the super clean engines are prepared and tweaked for a mix of original charm and reliability.
Nothing at Chicane is ‘run of the mill’. No job is a quick fix and no job is too big a challenge. There’s something unspoken between the team. That slight nod of the head, a friendly hand to lend or a good piece of advice. It’s a real family atmosphere - something that filters down from the boss man himself.
After a tour, we walked through into John’s office, with its vintage memorabilia, and sat down. John Watson is the man at the helm of Chicane. After seventeen years working for RS Williams, John gained enough experience with Astons to scratch the itch of running his own show.
“I think it was just that I had a burning ambition to do my own thing, and I couldn’t get rid of that thought. Eight years later, this is what we’re doing. I never had a plan, but I had a vision.”
HOW DID YOU START OUT?
"People don’t believe me when I say I left RS Williams without a single customer. I had a couple of classic Porches so I sold those, found a workshop, kitted it all out and was there for nearly six years. I was a one-man-band so I didn’t need much work. Coming from RS Williams was also just like coming from a top fashion house ‘Ooh you’ve come from Gucci or Armani or whatever so I’m gonna listen to you”.
WHAT'S YOUR TEAM PHILOSOPHY?
“So there’s six guys in the workshop, me and a P.A. If we get that to work, we can all have a good time. If they crack on and do good work I look after them, simple as that. Its nothing said, its nothing in black and white, it’s just a vibe. We’re all humans and it’s all about respect. They know that they’ve got a cool place to work and they don’t take the piss, which is the main thing. Like I said earlier: it’s about enjoying it.”
WHAT'S IT LIKE WORKING WITH SUCH HIGH VALUE CARS?
“If you’ve got a few million pounds worth of cars, you add it up and realise… there’s a real responsibility. We get higher value cars in all the time such as a DB4 GT: they’re 2.5 million these days, you don’t get those cars in ‘willy nilly’. I absolutely love it though. When you focus on something as a specialist, you get that comfort, respect and acceptance from your customers.”
HOW DO YOU SEE THE CLASSICS COMPARED TO MORE MODERN STUFF?
“I love the modern stuff, they’re cracking looking cars and they go like stink. They make a great noise, but the classics are where my heart is really. With classic Astons especially, you’re constantly getting a thumbs-up when you drive along. When you go into a petrol station, it's rare that people don’t walk up to you going ‘Wow! Nice car mate!’ as you’re filling up with gas. It puts a smile on peoples’ faces, and that’s what it's all about.”
WHAT MAKES CHICANE SUCH A SUCCESS?
“We’ve got a good team of guys, they love working here and always comment that it’s a really cool place to work. I’m a lenient boss as long as the quality is there – the quality is really important. It’s having the time to do whatever job it is, even if its just an oil and filter which takes an hour, or a full restoration which takes thousands of hours, its all got to be quality. Because when it leaves our place, people talk about it.”
WHAT DOES A CHICANE CUSTOMER GET OVER OTHER PLACES?
“For me, it’s a big buzz making people happy. I want customers to come in, sit down and have a cup of tea, chill out and talk about stuff. When they come here, its like they’ve just walked into a sweet shop and all the crap has just been left outside. When they look at all these beautiful cars you can often see it in their body language; they come in looking a bit stressed but suddenly go ‘ooaah…’, and relax. They say they love coming to my place because they get out of the real world for a bit, it’s a bit of escapism.”
...WHY IS THIS SO IMPORTANT?
“I think because customers are buying into the dream – it sounds a bit cheesy – but when a man or a woman buys their Aston Martin, they want the whole process to be enjoyable: buying the car from a garage, getting it looked after, taking it to rallies or shows plus posing and showing off at their mate’s house. The whole experience has got to be a pleasurable so when the daffodils start popping up, they go ‘right, its time to get the DB4 out and get it over to John’s for a pre-season check over and have some fun”.
Check out Chicane's site at www.chicane.am