A Jet-Set Mechanic

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Updated: January 9, 2019

Who said the life of a mechanic need be boring? Dylan Higgins’ skills have seen him travel the world, rub shoulders with the stars and master his craft to become a very versatile mechanic.

I’m blessed with what I’ve been able to achieve with these hands,” says Dylan Higgins as he recounts another jet setting story of mechanical adventures. His grin is infectious as he looks back on a startling career that’s seen him breathe life into billionaire businessman Clive Palmer’s Rolls Royces and multi-million dollar classic Ferrari rarities owned by British radio host and former Top Gear presenter Chris Evans.

Yet as he sits between a half-rebuilt vintage Riley motor and his bare-metal VW Beetle resto project, you get the feeling Dylan wouldn’t care what the marque or year was, as long as it’s a car he can weave his magic on. “Older cars aren’t about being a parts fitter,” he says, “you’ve got to rebuild and restore. It’s longer work, but when I look back on a finished project and know it was as good or better than original it’s incredibly satisfying.”

Dylan’s first mechanical taste came working on outboard motors at his parents’ boat hire business on Queensland’s Maroochydore River. “But once I got my car license, boats were a thing of the past,” he says. “I restored an HQ Holden ute first, then progressed to V8s, and had built about 20 engines for me and my mates, plus pit crewed for a drag racing team, before I got my apprenticeship aged 18.”

Said apprenticeship was at the Hyatt Regency Coolum hotel resort, where Dylan looked after the buses used for guest airport collection, the Suzuki resort carts, golf buggies and golf course machinery. “I had to set the mowers up to cut the grass perfectly, and I loved that perfection attention to detail. I even had my name mentioned on TV when we had the PGA golf at the resort as the mowers were cutting the grass so well.”

Businessman Clive Palmer ultimately bought the resort, and unbeknownst to Dylan he was a significant car collector. “Clive noticed the work on my own HQ Monaro and asked if I could work on other cars,” Dylan says. “He brought me 50 cars from outback Queensland somewhere, stuff like a Model A Ford, Model T Ford, Humber Super Snipe, 1920s Chevs, and I had to get them ready for his Titanic Experience event.

So impressed was Palmer that he entrusted Dylan to fly to Denmark to bid on former museum classic cars at an auction. “The plan was I’d purchase 50 cars, but I came back with 19 and a penny farthing,” he says. “They were 19 special cars though, and I spent in excess of $20 million on them. They included a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, Phantom I, Phantom II, Louis Mountbatten’s 1929 Rolls Royce, a Stanley Steamer, 1900 Decauville and 1903 De Dion-Bouton.”

Five of these hugely valuable cars were sent to London to be prepared for the annual London to Brighton Rally for pre-1905 cars. Dylan came back to Australia, collected his tools, and headed to London for three months to prepare the veterans at car logistics firm Incarnation. “I ended up driving the 1900 Decauville with Clive Palmer’s wife through snow, sleet and pouring rain, but

I was fist pumping when we finished, I’ve never been so excited,” he says.

Dylan became curator at Clive Palmer’s resort-based Motor Museum, managing a workshop of three mechanics and a panel beater. When the resort’s future became uncertain, he returned to London for three years to manage Incarnation’s workshop. Here was a huge collection, with Dylan working on anything from a collection of Delahayes to pre- and post-war Rolls Royces and Bentleys through to modern LaFerrari and Porsche 918 hypercars.

“I was looking after the cars of discreet owner collectors, and had experiences such as private planes across the Atlantic, being mechanic on the Gumball 3000 Rally from Miami to Ibiza, doing the SEMA Show in Las Vegas, and track support for Chris Evans’ Ferraris.

Was he anxious around such high value exotica? “At first I was nervous about their value, but if you let it get to you that’s when accidents happen,” Dylan says. “I got confident around these exotics, and was always comfortable around these famous owners I’d only seen on TV before. I was wining and dining with very wealthy people, but they were just car enthusiasts and I can talk cars until the cows come home. I fitted right in with them.”

Dylan returned to Australia last year to manage Restored Classics’ shop in Brisbane, before returning to his Sunshine Coast birthplace to help establish and run a local classic car restoration business.

Key to Dylan’s success has been his versatility to adapt to practically any car man has built. “I’ve always had a mechanical eye and pick stuff up quickly,” he says. “Once I pull something apart I know I can put it back together better, and that can be a veteran French car from 1900 through to a modern hypercar. Looking after large collections of cars I could work on nearly every aspect from the mechanicals to the body. Only real specialist stuff like upholstery I’d send out.”

Dylan is currently in charge of restoring and maintaining a large collection of mainly British cars for a private collector, plus involved in establishing a specialist workshop for a wide range of classics. He arrives at our meeting in a heavily modified Suzuki Sierra with 230bhp and 600Nm Suzuki Swift GTI turbo engine – his “fun budget build” – while showing off his classic VW Beetle resto project.

“It’s hard to get into a niche market like this, but if you’ve a passion for it just go with it,” Dylan advises younger mechanics. “I hate to say it but the future is electric, so I hope I won’t be fitting electric motors into classic cars one day to keep them road legal. There’ll always be owners who want to keep old cars alive, so if you can learn to rebuild rather than replace there should always be a job out there.