SPOTLIGHT: Gary O’Brien, Bendigo Retro Muscle Cars
If you are a fan of Touring Car Masters there is a high chance you will know the name Gary O’Brien.
However a huge part of O’Brien’s life is his highly successful restoration business, Bendigo Retro Muscle Cars, which is registered on Networkcafe.com.au.
Located in Kangaroo Flat, Victoria, Bendigo Retro has more than four decades of vehicle restoration experience, with its reputation and past projects positioning the company at the forefront of classic car builds.
O’Brien told Networkcafe.com.au how his business came about.
“I am an enthusiast and as a young person I had experiences with people taking advantage of people not knowing in regards to engines and bits and pieces,” he said.
“One of the first cars I ever had painted we took to a local bloke to look after an engine and that left a pretty bad taste in my mouth when I got taken for an engine swap and it was only a tune-up required.
“I wasn’t happy with the paint job either and got my apprenticeship and managed to re-do it and that turned out alright.
“Because I was in fabrication I used to make steel panels and watch my mates panel-beat them and paint them, but we did all the steel work, so that’s how I got going on it.”
Many years on, O’Brien has built the business to be a one-stop site for all things retro, with a commercial smash repairs shop and the restoration component in a separate shop.
One of Bendigo Retro’s biggest projects was building the Holden Torana A9X that John Bowe currently races in Touring Car Masters.
“I got Bendigo Retro going about eight or nine years ago and we’ve just picked up where I left off as a young fella,” he added.
“We built Bowe’s car, the Torana…It’s a thriving business, I can’t believe how many people are doing up cars.
“We’ve got about three years’ worth of work in front of us. We try and pace ourselves and I’ve actually grown our staff in the retro shop to about 12 and they’re such good guys with great skill sets.
“We’re trying to systemise what we’re doing so these things don’t take forever.”
For O’Brien, there is a deep personal side to his business given the emotional connection many customers have with their cars.
“It’s about getting it back to a trust thing; when people come to me there’s a lot of responsibility in delivering the expectation and that always revolves around a budget,” he added.
“There’s a lot of trust and I like to have these cars turn key and operate like a brand-new car and that’s generally the result we end up with, pending budget.
“A restoration is a lot more than just a paint job.”
Naturally, a large portion of O’Brien’s work stems from his long-standing involvement in motorsport, especially TCM.
Despite having raced himself in the mid-2000s as well as most recently driving a Holden HQ in TCM in the early 2010s, O’Brien is instrumental behind the scenes.
“What I’ve done with TCM and our Toranas and Commodores is design crash zones on them so that we fabricate that,” he commented.
“So when they get crashed instead of costing like $15,000 to fix the front of a Torana it’s only going to be a $5,000 exercise now.”
O’Brien has worked with John Bowe for more than six years in a crew chief role in TCM, with much of what he does stemming back to Bendigo Retro.
“I guess for me personally my commercial shop is our bread and butter business and that’s the main component of our world,” he said.
“Our restoration in what I call our retro shop is about 80 percent of it and then our racing would be 20 percent. We’re always building new cars.”
O’Brien hopes to build more connections on Networkcafe.com.au as the business continues to grow.
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