Finch Restorations History

Based on an interview with Ray Finch at Mt. Barker, Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Ray Finch in the workshopFinch Restorations history goes back to 1965 when Ray Finch established the business in Mount Gambier, South Australia.

Ray was born in England in 1941 and his family had migrated to Australia on the ‘SS Cameronia’ in 1951 when Ray was 10. Ray’s father had been a driver for Allards in London after the Second World War; then became works tester for the Ford Motor Co., including their classic sports cars. These inspired Ray.

After leaving school, Ray undertook an apprenticeship with the General Motors Holden dealers in Mt. Gambier. Ray started off as a motor mechanic for two years and gained a good mechanical background. Ray then transferred to the panel shop, and quickly rose to become the work foreman.

When he was 21, Ray went to New Zealand for bike racing and obtained a small contract to race there with £10 appearance money plus any winnings. As money was getting a bit short, Ray took a job at a long established company called Newton King in New Plymouth. They were importing brand-new Triumph TR3’s in ‘knock-down’ form, would put them together, paint them and finish them off.

Ray had a very good relationship with the English owner of the company. The owner told Ray that if he stayed with the company for another 12 months, he would pay all his expenses to get back to Australia. Ray obtained his first insight into coach-building at Newton King, where they made refrigerator-van bodies, and bus bodies. Here he learned to use an English Wheel metal-working machine to make corners for bus bodies. Many buses, in those days, had a wooden frame.

Ray moved back to Mt. Gambier in 1964 to work in a crash-repair and detailing shop. In 1965, Ray decided to go into business himself and established a crash-repair shop with a tow-truck on the road. Ray also joined the local Veteran and Vintage Car Club, and would do odd jobs for people. In 1966, Ray also joined another union when he married his wife.

I could work long hours. Sometimes I would drive a tow-truck 300 miles from Mt. Gambier to Melbourne to pick up a crashed car. Once within radio distance would ring my wife to prepare breakfast then I’d go straight to the workshop to work on the vehicle I had towed.”

A few short years later, Ray received an offer from the local Ford dealers to buy his repair shop. Ray accepted, and in 1970 he bought some industrial land on the edge of Mt. Gambier, and set up an all-purpose shop to do classic car work. He was getting a lot of work from Victoria but not a lot of work in Mt. Gambier, where people did not have the money to spend. He was working by himself while employing another man part-time.

Ray and his wife moved to the Adelaide Hills in 1985. He rented a workshop shed and a house at Echunga, opposite the Golf Club. At Echunga, he met Wayne Hocking who was making excellent antique furniture. They worked together as Finch & Hocking, but they weren’t financial partners. The business grew from there, and they soon outstripped the workshop.

Ray Finch in the workshopIn the late 1980s they moved to Mt. Barker where they built a purpose-designed factory. Ray was now about 50 years old, while Wayne Hocking was about ten years younger.

In 1989, Ray advertised for a full-time employee and Colin Higgs, who had been in the industry at Woodside, replied to the advertisement and joined the company as Ray’s first employee.

Colin, who today still works for Finch Restorations, has had a good association with Ray over the years. They travelled away together on many trips, with Colin being pit crew for Ray. All the people who worked for Ray are still friends.

At Mount Barker, the business soon established an excellent reputation for building MGT type bodies; they built over 100 bodies all told. They thought they had plenty of room at Mt. Barker, but became deluged with work. They gradually employed more and more people to work with them.

In the car world, everybody knew Ray and knew about the business. They were approached by General Motors engineers, asking them to undertake re-work on Monaros. GM’s dies and presses were misbehaving and panels were coming out the wrong shape. General Motors would send crates of panels up to the Mt Barker workshop, or employees like Colin would go down to GM’s metal shop, and with their shrinking machines re-shape the panels.

Finch Restorations were also doing work for Mitsubishi. They did a lot of colour-check cars for them, and would paint upholstery, using spray. Mitsubishi designers would say “We want this pale green or yellow in here.” Seats would be sprayed so that the designers could see what they would look like. They would be asked to cut a car down the middle, to produce a concept car that showed the motor-shaft cut down the middle.

Blokes like me and Colin can be found overseas, but are thin on the ground in Australia. I was probably first to do this as a specialist business in South Australia. Some crash repair shops might paint up a car and sell it as a restoration … but its not. Most people who do this would be a hobbyist.

The history of the business … it just evolved, got bigger and bigger and we got a reputation for good work.”

The SS100 Story

Ray Finch with Jackie Stewart and the award winning Finch SS100

Building a Jaguar SS100 became a dream for Ray. In Melbourne, he met a fervent SS Jaguar enthusiast, Ed Nantes, guitarist withThe Roundells and other leading Australian rock bands. He had built a black SS100 Jaguar with a racing body from parts. Ed was going to England shortly, and told Ray that if he saw anything that might interest him, he would ring.

12 months later Ray got a phone call from Ed saying that he could get him a set of factory drawings for £100, a pair of headlights (£650), a rear vision mirror (£100) and a radiator badge, (£100 ). Ray arranged to send him the money, and when Ed returned home a few months later, Ray went to Melbourne to pick up the parts.

Ray started building his SS100 Jaguar car with these four items.

I also made some parts for a Canberra guy’s SS100 that had been put together by a farmer in Victoria. Bits came from England. A pretty scruffy car for which he paid $30,000. There were some bits missing, and I made him some bits. He had the car restored, and has recently sold it in NZ for $450,000.”

A Melbourne man contacted Ray and arranged to bring his SS100 Jaguar to Mt. Gambier, all in pieces, for Ray to re-build the car for him. In the process, Ray copied everything, engaged an Engineer to make the drawings, and enlisted Wayne Hocking the carpenter next door to copy and make the wooden frame.

Ray took fibre-glass patterns of the mudguards, made wooden formers, as a buck would be made, and used these to make the final metal mudguards.

Ray tracked down an engine and gear-box in Salisbury, South Australia, and learned of a chassis in a swamp at Naracoorte. He found the remains of the chassis, but all that was useful was the cross member from the centre.

Ray showed the drawings to a friend at the Trades School in Mt. Gambier, they had the chassis laser-cut, and Ray made the chassis in his workshop at Mt. Gambier.

Ray built the seats, and made the whole car virtually from scratch - timber frame, aluminium body, aluminium bonnet, and the windscreen frame made in brass - but not the instruments, nor the driving wheel, nor the glass windscreen.

He had built his first SS100 himself in his shed at home. It took 2,000 hours to build.

When Ray moved from Mt. Gambier up to Mount Barker a few people who saw the car approached him. Ray built three replicas, side by side, for people who paid a deposit and progress payments, in the manner of building a house.

Each car cost about $200,000 at the time, while today it would cost perhaps $400,000 to build one from scratch. One could be built more cheaply, if the client was not concerned with its strict conformity with an original.

Some of Ray’s projects have been ambitious projects that others wouldn’t try because it was too hard. When Ray started, the knockers in the background would say “He’ll never finish that.”

When it was finished, they would say “Oh! It’s only a replica.” No credit was given for what was achieved – it was not a ‘tupperware replica’ but a fastidious reproduction. Even the Ford Motor Company, which then owned the Jaguar marque, wrote to Ray and congratulated him on his achievement.

Events with the SS100

When Ray was a boy, he remembered reading about Ian Appleyard (son-in-law of Jaguar man, William Lyons) who won the Monte Carlo rally after the Second World War (over Bailey bridges). When Ray won a rally with the SS100 it was a dream coming true for him. He couldn’t believe it, while his navigator, Andrew Wellington, was just as thrilled as he was.

At Mallala they let Ray out on the track (after the competitors had to do timed laps) and Wayne Gardner was behind him in a Cobra. Gardner caught him pretty quickly on the first bend. Ray swung the SS100 round the bend, Gardner spun the Cobra into the dirt, and he wasn’t happy at all. He muttered something like “that old fart of a car”. He didn’t think Ray would get around the corner. It was a big achievement for Ray, who can look back on the things he achieved and wonder if it really happened.

For ‘Wings & Wheels’ at Parafield airfield north of Adelaide, Ray raced against a Spitfire. Ray drove the SS100 and got to the end of the runway in 17 seconds as the Spitfire was just taking off.

Finch SS100 with Spitfire