Christophe Piette (51) used to have a construction company. 'But all my life I've been busy with cars left and right,' he says. 'That became my own collection, and until 2012 I had a small studio here where I worked on my cars. I rebuilt and expanded it, to start as a professional in 2012. I knew a lot of people in the world. The goal was to work on my own cars and those of acquaintances, and break even. But I never got around to mine.'
"A lot has changed," he sighs. In the showroom are beautiful cars of his own among those of customers, whether or not for sale. "They're still coming," he laughs. We swallow our amazement when we see a Porsche 550 Spyder, the manufacturer's earliest sports car from Zuffenhausen. The model in which James Dean crashed, yes. And no, not a replica. "The history of this specimen is very clear," says Piette, who just repaired the petrol tank. Further on, a Fuhrman engine is completely open. "Parts are very hard to find. Eight years ago such a car was sold for 600,000 euros, now for 5 million euros. At that time it didn't occur to me that that was not much".
Just a few yards away is a 959, one of the most mythical Porsches, albeit from the eighties. "This one, too, belongs to a customer. Comes from the collection of Luigi Compiano, who raised 51 million euros at the end of 2016 during the Duemila Ruote auction in the Fiera Milano" Compiano had a security firm that, among other things, transported money, but best of all he had his own company, which went bankrupt. He also forgot to pay many millions of taxes.
We're moving on to the heart of the matter. This isn't a garage, this is a workshop. And it's squat. We count no less than twelve cars for restoration, plus a few for smaller repairs. "I sometimes wonder where they keep coming from", Piette laughs. "We mainly do total restorations." He shows a 1965 911 brought to new condition. "I think I've saved a hundred to a hundred and twenty of the scrap so far. Cars that were totally depreciated but resurrected.Those are almost reconstructions. In front of us is a newly dismantled 356 Convertible D in, and we quote, rotten state. "Now we're going to take stock of it: we'll look at the condition of all the parts and find out what's original. Then it will be given an electrochemical KTL immersion bath or sandblasted. We are going to weld it, tarn it, sand it, give it an anti-corrosion treatment and varnish it. In the meantime, a little further down the road, in the corner for mechanics, the engine will be completely rebuilt, as will the gearbox and the suspension. Still others are working on the rims, the rubbers, and so on.
"He shows the hoods and interiors department. "The dashboard of a 911 sometimes has to be completely rebuilt: you can't restore foam..." This is where some fifteen specialists work in engine construction, mechanics, sheet metal, interior, and even detailing. We see fifty-somethings at work, but also thirty-somethings. "Some of them come here fresh from school," says Piette. "The 356 is more artisanal than the 911," he explains, and shows an almost finished copy. "A year ago, this car too was completely destroyed. The total restoration of a 911 a bit further on took six to eight months, accounting for just over a thousand working hours. "It can go fast. A lot depends on whether the car is complete and the availability of parts. We get those from Porsche Classic and others who deliver there. Almost everything is available. Almost everything is available."
Often it's in details. "Fitting the right lights affects the final value. Screws can also vary from year to year," it goes into the absurd. "On every Porsche rim there is a reference date: that is not only a year of manufacture, but also a month," says Piette. "It doesn't matter if that's not right, but it does if you want your car to be in competition. Some people pay attention to it," he shows a pedal. "An old piece that we've completely dismantled and galvanized. If the client says we have to go all the way, we go all the way."
Originality is of course a controversial issue. "Yes, sometimes they're better than new," says Piette. "Originality is not always desirable either. For a Swiss person who stood here one day in Lauwe, he restored a 911 2.7 RS completely to its original condition. But there is also a 911 2.4 T of which he made a 2.7 RS: "This is from a car expert at RM Sotheby's who lives in London. He wanted an engine that went forward, so we built one. Now we widen the car to fit wider rims, like on an RS. Other customers want a backdate. We are converting this 964 to the F-model from the 70's." RSC Automobile also prepares cars for rallies and competitions. "As for the 2L Cup of Peter Auto, for the real gentlemen drivers, with only pre 1966 Porsches with twin-litre engines and Solex carburettors. This competition goes to circuits all over Europe. They all drive more or less the same car. If they cheat, you see it immediately"
"Often we have to solve someone else's misery", Piette says. "In our sector there is a lot of amateurism, tampering and cheating. Too much money is involved. The purchase of a 911 can cost 50,000 euros, but also 500,000, while both cars look almost the same. There are people who buy a price. The old adage also applies here: if it is too good to be true, it is usually not true. But you can also pay too much. Explaining in detail what is needed and why takes a lot of time, but that pays off." "And yes, sometimes you have to invest more than 100,000 euros in a good restoration, while that doesn't always outweigh the market value of your car. Sometimes I also say that: it's not economically profitable, but put 50,000 euros in a bad restoration and you lose them. Of course, the emotional value sometimes also weighs through - father's car. I have clients who bring comrades to come and see the restoration of their car. Usually the customer can follow the progress. "You pay an advance and follow up the work - and your balance - via Dropbox", Piette says. "The customer also knows in advance how much he will receive in the end. And we drive a thousand kilometres on every newly built engine. The boîte of this 911 made a strange sound in fifth gear. We threw them open again, without charging."
Nevertheless, he shows a wreck of a 356 Pre-A Cabriolet, the so-called 'Knickscheibe'. This alone should cost 100,000 euros. "Fifty million for a Ferrari 250 GTO: I get that," he says. Is there one of those in Belgium, I would like to know. "Not to my knowledge", it sounds. "But here in West Flanders alone, there are cellars with collections of world quality.
Give me an unlimited budget," he says, "and I'll buy everything from Porsche. "About 550, but also an ordinary 911 3.2. I always had Porsches as my daily. I always had Porsches as a daily. You can really play with it, feels perfect when it breaks out. An RS dangerous? But no,you! Well,maybe it's because I've driven it so much. On track,too,yeah. An old man once showed me how to do that. I was already in my forties and thought I could drive..." (Laughs) "We can do bodywork for any car", he says, while gradually giving some more insight into his own collection. We see among others a 356 Speedster and a 911 2.7 Carrera RS. But it doesn't just consist of Porsches. "As a little boy, I went to see a Jaguar XK with my dad. There's also a Mercedes Pagoda, a Ferrari 328 and a Testarossa. "I'd prefer to have some more Italians with me", he whispers. "The Etceterini, those are gems, with a special place in car history. But Italians are not engineers. On circuit I swear by Porsche.
After ten laps the others come in, Porsches keep on driving. My father mainly collected Italian and English material. But at the age of 50 he also ended up with a 911." I throw him in the face of the fact that electric classics are also appearing nowadays. Shouldn't he also equip his studio there to convert them? It turns out to be an extremely sensitive theme. "Never mind", it sounds. "I'm not ready. I hope that the explosion engine survives me, or at least that it can continue to exist alongside other drives. I have children of fifteen, eighteen and twenty. My son also has a passion for cars. Also some of his comrades. But that's for more modern equipment; rarely pre-war. In anticipation of armageddon, he bought a lot of space for RSC Automobile. He wants to expand the business with extra storage space and a bar for the customers. "For them it's often an outing."
Photography by: Lorenzo Hamers