Classic restorations and recreations are huge business right now, and Brisbane’s McKernan Restoration is one of Australia’s finest.
It’s a dream factory. For those with a passion for European exotica – particularly sporting or racing machines from the 1950s and 1960s – McKernan Restoration is like all your Christmases come at once. I walk past an immaculate Porsche 356A on my way into the workshop, then am greeted by a 1978 Porsche Turbo beside a replica Porsche 356A Speedster.
Then it gets more incredible. A Porsche 910 replica racer constructed entirely of lightweight carbon fibre. Flanking it is an achingly gorgeous 1950s Porsche 550 Spyder replica shimmering in aluminium. This is next-level bespoke building.
Under a giant Porsche 910 mural sits a replica Porsche 904 on period Avon rubber; a couple of Ducati motorcycles; an Alfa Romeo T33 Stradale’s shell; genuine 1950s Cooper racer and a BMW 3.0 CSi soon to be fitted with a more modern M5 engine. I can’t miss a few stripped early Porsche 911s, then I spy a Mercedes 190SL, a giant Cadillac and heaps of rare-looking body bits and parts. Oh, and a Jaguar XK150 being modified into a panel van to tow the owner’s Jaguar D-Type replica. Brilliant madness.
McKernan Restoration is a large, clean and well-organised setup tucked away just north of Brisbane. Brad McKernan’s the man behind the company, which has been in business for eight years. He was a Mercedes-Benz mechanic before moving to renowned Brisbane restorer Sleeping Beauties. He mastered his craft here for a decade before going solo to restore classics and build his own versions from scratch.
Air-cooled Porsches make up a healthy amount of his work such is the popularity of these increasingly collectible and highvalue sports cars. “We do lots of Porsche mechanical work and engine rebuilds, but also full nut and bolt restorations,” Brad said. “We’ll do all the body work as well; the only thing we don’t do is the paintwork. We’ve done a few Porsche 356s, but these days most are shifting to 911s as they’ve become more collectable.”
Business is booming, so much so Brad is having to turn work away. “Some people say old cars are better than money in the bank with interest rates so low,” Brad said, trying to explain the current demand for his services. “A classic car is an investment you can actually enjoy, and there’s a generation of baby boomers at an age where they want to spend their money and enjoy it before they get too old.”
Brad and his colleague Kip – an expert in bespoke body fabrication – are the only two working full-time, plus there are two part-timers. “It’s very hard to find people able to do this sort of stuff,” Brad said. “It’s a problem for everyone with a business similar to mine, even finding young people who are interested in it.”
Repairing, restoring and creating such classics certainly looks more satisfying than doing the same dull service work on Toyotas, but Brad acknowledges it’s not the easiest work in the world. “People do want to try it, but it’s difficult and most jobs take a long time. You have to be focused and patient. Lots of it is filthy dirty work too. When you’re working on this old stuff, a lot of days you’re covered in filth.”
Positively, Brad said the job satisfaction level was high. “Customers are mostly really nice guys. It’s their hobby too, and we’re not working on a broken-down new car where the customer’s inconvenienced by not having it and doesn’t want it costing too much. Our customers come in, we have lunch with them, and when the cars are finished we go for drives together. It’s a really good atmosphere.”
You can’t do this kind of work without being hugely passionate yourself, and Brad has this in spades. On display is a Porsche 550 Spyder timber buck, something Brad hand-built under his house. It’s a work of art in itself, and took about 1000 man hours to finish. Upstairs is where they create carbon fibre body parts, and the oven to bake it. The carbon Porsche 910 was Brad’s pet project: “I just love prototype race cars from the 1960s,” he said (who doesn’t?!), “but I’ve since sold it to a customer because I need some money to buy the parts.”
The plan is to sell more 910s once it’s complete as they’re now tooled up to do so. “We spent a lot of money making tooling for the 910, and we cast all the suspension uprights,” said Brad. “It’ll be a lot easier to make a second car.” There’s been plenty of interest from potential buyers in Australia and overseas. The 910 is such a valuable car these days (only 29 were built in period) so a replica you can actually use makes ideal sense. In McKernan’s example they’re fitting a modified 2.7-litre air-cooled 911’s engine. It’s now a 2.8 with “lots of good bits in it,” and Brad’s bespoke created its beautiful slide throttles.
On the engines front, that aluminium Porsche 550 is getting a 912’s four-cylinder. Brad said he’s made a new timing cover and fan housing so it looks like the (massively rare, valuable and iconic) original Porsche four-cam engine, but without the mad cost. But funnily enough, beside it there is a genuine Porsche four-cam motor which Brad’s in the process of rebuilding.
The 904 is road registered and recently took part in the Targa Barrier Reef event, helped by its worked and very powerful 3.2-litre 911 engine. The Alfa T33 Stradale? Well, that had to have an Italian heart, right? In this case, a Ferrari 360’s V8 is waiting to be installed.
Brad said those considering moving into this type of work could have a fantastic career. “Newer stuff will become increasingly electric and there’ll be less jobs to do on them,” he explained. “But there will always be old cars, even if just for track days. It’s getting harder to drive fast on the roads, so lots of people want weekend track toys.”
The work may not be easy, but it’s in huge demand right now, and just look at the works of automotive art you get to be beside every day.
For more information visit mckernanrestoration.com.au