Restoring classic luxury cars means striking the balance between old and new

Restoring a vintage car from the 1950s, 60s or 70s to its former glory is a time-consuming business. At Urbans Garage, in Tartu, Estonia, Urban Eriksson uses a mix of modern and traditional engineering practices to give classic Porsche sports cars a new lease of life.

Urbans Garage moved to the new building in 2021 February.

“My dad was always in the garage working on some old car, so you could say my ‘career’ began when I was about 12,” says Urban Eriksson, a Swede who moved to Estonia in 2000, back when he was working in the plastics industry. In 2011, he opened Urbans Garage, an ultra-cutting-edge automotive workshop where he and his employees specialize in restoring vintage Porsches – more specifically classic sports cars of the 356 and 911 model series.
“When my former employer and I parted ways, I decided it was time to go back to my roots,” continues Eriksson, adding that Estonia, with its long tradition of craftsmanship, was the right place to do it.
“In Eastern Europe, during Soviet times, you couldn’t just buy whatever you wanted. Instead you had to learn to repair what you already had. That’s a skill that’s largely been lost in the West,” he says.
Today, Urbans Garage works with customers from around the globe, many of whom are high net worth individuals, while most are collectors of luxury vintage cars. At any given time, there can be close to 30 vehicles in the workshop, each worth anything from 100,000 to several million euros. The team typically spends at least 2,000 man-hours on each piece.

Before: 1955 Porsche 356 Pre-A. The 37675 original km one family owned from New Dutch Pre A 1955 is back on the road after a very complicated and time-consuming restoration/conservation.
And after - Very few parts were bought for this car, almost everything original. Body is now rust free and this car will hopefully be ok for another 65 years.

“We try to be as true to the original engineering as possible, using traditional techniques for things like sheet metal work, painting and welding,” comments Eriksson.  
He explains that he tries to preserve as much of the original body of the car as possible, rather than ordering new parts. Sheet metal is often carefully welded to parts that are excessively rusted to fill the gaps. 
Meanwhile, Eriksson is quick to point out that auto manufacturers in the mid 20th-century did not have access to modern solutions like metallic car paint or electric arc welding: “For the vehicle to maintain its authentic feel, you have to paint it in the way they would’ve done back in the day and the welds can’t be too perfect or too smooth.”

Before - 1974 Porsche 911
And after.

To safeguard that vintage finish, Eriksson’s team still use an old gas welder, while the process gases, including Argon and MISON, are provided by Linde.
“The welding technique may be old but the gases we use are state-of-the-art – because they are better for the welders from a health perspective,” explains Eriksson, adding that the same goes for the paint products, which have to comply with the latest European Union environmental standards.
Respecting the original product, while, at the same time, moving with the times, is a delicate balancing act. Going forward, Eriksson intends to start retrofitting classic sports cars with electric drivelines, safeguarding the look of the past, while making them ready for the environmental demands of the future.
“Everyone knows driving cars powered by fossil fuels is going to get more complicated in the years to come,” he concludes. “Electrification is happening across the auto industry, there’s no reason not to get on board.”

About Urbans Garage
Urbans Garage Inc. is an automotive restoration company based in Tartu, Estonia, which specializes in complete restorations of Porsche 356 and early 911 models. It is owned by Urban Eriksson: a Swede who moved to Estonia more than 20 years ago. The company employs 17 people and has an annual turnover of approximately EUR 1.5 million. 

Text: Isabelle Kliger
Photos: Urbans Garage
Find more info on Urbans Garage FB and homepage.