New meets old at Frisco Hill
St. Louis—With its roots in the specialty of restoring ’50s and ’60s Oldsmobiles and Pontiacs, Frisco Hill Auto had tooled up for insurance-based collision repair before devoting all of the shop’s time, energy, and production space to restorations and “resto-mods.” It was tough to make the two disciplines coexist, said Owner Chris Doria, who oversees a staff of seven. But he’s kept the equipment and applied what he’s learned to implement more of a production process to the classic and specialty work.
Bucking the norm of a “time-and-material”-based restoration process in which it’s difficult to give a customer an accurate estimate, Doria has found he’s able to get very close to the initial estimate. That is even more important, he said, as he seeks to do the body and paint work of area custom-and-restoration builders who may do design, fabrication, and mechanical work in-house, but sublet the rest because of an impracticality of the expense and room it takes for a fully equipped paint shop when it cranks out only a handful of projects each year.
“Those kinds of builders usually lean on collision shops,” but the projects tend to get pushed into a corner when an insurance job comes in, he said.
“We’re providing schedules and providing quality estimates very close to the final outcome. We track time; we track everything we do. And I’ve been able to get these guys close to the original estimate. I explain to them if it’s not bare metal, I can give you only a general idea. Once we get it stripped down, we stop and bring them in or get them on FaceTime; we do what we can to show them what (damage from a collision or corrosion) we’ve found. If they’re able to strip it before they get it to me, then we can go over everything.”
Repurposing tools and equipment
Doria invested in CCC ONE largely to write and submit estimates for insurance-based collision repairs. But he’s since found a lot of value in the system’s estimating and communication tools for restorations, too, including a time clock function for each technician.
“We can type notes where we can communicate with customers to show them exactly what we’re doing, show them the process, and how much time is involved in each process,” he said.
Car-O-Liner equipment, including a frame bench, electronic measuring system, and a CR500V2 resistance spot welder, were also bought to accommodate the latest vehicles, but they’ve since proven valuable for ensuring vehicles — particularly ones that may have been damaged in a collision many years ago — are put back together as-designed and with OEM-looking spot welds.
The shop uses Standox solvent from its mixing bank, supplied by Florissant Auto Paint, and applied in its Col-Met downdraft/bake booth.
New location leaves room for expansion
Doria had worked for the business’ founder, Dave Trokey, for about 10 years at the original Imperial location, doing mostly disassembly and assembly, before Trokey decided it was time to retire, and Doria purchased the business.
A few years later, Doria found his current location, a former free-span building that used to house a church, which he moved into about two years ago. To prepare it for its new life, workers knocked down an interior wall in the 10,000-square-foot shell, re-graded the floor, which previously had stadium seating, and added a 3,200-square-foot mezzanine to hold the company’s large stash of small and large used and NOS parts, mostly for vintage Oldsmobiles and Pontiacs. Inventoried in a computer program that lists each part to track its description and location, some parts will be stored for future projects and some will again be for sale in Frisco Hill’s eBay store.
Bin carts allow workers to remove and label each vehicle’s miscellaneous small parts for reuse, with larger parts housed in warehouse racks dedicated to each project, including for large quantities of materials.
Communication essential for desired outcome
Whether it’s another shop or the car owner, it’s important to understand what expectations are for the outcome, Doria said, which often requires educating the customer. He said he sits down with clients three times before the shop starts on the project, to go through all the details, including whether concessions should made to originality in the interest of greater driveability or less maintenance, including converting to EFI or a later model engine.
“I start off with, ‘What do you want to do with this car?’ Because if we’re going to build a car, we need to know what it’s going to be used for. We’re not going to build you a Pro Touring car if you’re trying to get it points-judged [for original as-built accuracy] at a national meet. We cater to the customer’s final goal and strive to make our communication the best. Transparency is key. After all, we’re enthusiasts serving other enthusiasts.”