With a name like Dino and Italian family heritage on his mothers side you might expect classic car collector and businessman Dino Kania would favour the prancing horse as his automotive passion. If not Ferrari then Alfa Romeo, or Lamborghini but no his head was turned by a British secret agent driving an Aston Martin DB5.
That first impression of the suave secret agent and his beautiful car planted a seed in Dino’s mind that would eventually lead to multiple Aston Martin ownership and the creation of his classic car business the Classic Car Lab.
Dino is a successful businessman starting a number of different enterprises over the years with his friend of more than 30 years, Alison Larkin. Alison now acts as Chief Executive as Dino is taking a back seat as he recovers from long Co-Vid. Though in truth she is more like a big sister than a business colleague. Adding a classic car business to the portfolio was never the intention and this new venture happened pretty much by accident. But this is no hobby, It is a serious business backed up by a highly skilled workforce and an established high value clientele.
It was Dino’s partner, Amanda that persuaded him to fulfil a childhood ambition and take the plunge into Aston Martin ownership. A DB5 became his first Aston but like so many other classic car enthusiasts, it didn’t stop there. More Astons and a couple of Jaguars were added over the years until an industrial unit was needed for storage.
The costs of running a classic Aston are high, as you can imagine. The cost of running a fleet of classic cars is really quite frightening, even for a successful businessman. One day whilst working at the storage unit someone walked in and asked if they could work on his car and that was the start of the Classic Car Lab.
By his own admission Dino is not a mechanical genius but does know how to build a business and so using the existing premises he recruited skilled staff across the range of skills needed to offer a full service restoration business. Mechanical, trim, bodywork and paint. He even installed a paint booth to ensure quality from start to finish.
The business quickly became established through customer recommendation and eventually they had to move to larger premises at Otley Mills in Otley, West Yorkshire. After a decade in business it continues to grow and currently employs 8 full time staff and a number of part timers. Again Dino pays tribute to the skills of his team. Lee the welder can weld anything, including Aluminium and has even mastered the English Wheel to help make new panels and repair sections. James the painter has over 40 years experience in the paint booth while at the other end of the spectrum Jack joined the company straight from college and has an amazing knowledge of classic cars, despite his youth.
The pandemic hit the business briefly, especially during the lockdown period but it didn’t last long. Long term restorations provided a stable work programme and now enquiries are growing on a daily basis. Growth continues to come from personal recommendation and call ins rather than advertising.
Workshop wizard (and manager), James took me for a tour of the garage running through the history of each of the cars and giving me an insight into the Classic Car Lab ethos.
First stop is a Golf GTI. It was brought in by a customer for paint but then (as is often the case) they wanted the rest of the car to match the quality of the paintwork so a mechanical restoration was added to the job list. You can see from the pictures that this is a good looking car and a potential prize winner. But you may be surprised that this is no pampered car having travelled 97 000 miles in its lifetime.
Walking into the garage you can’t help but see the freshly painted bright orange Porsche 911. A well used example it had multiple body work issues requiring new sills, wings and the drivers side window pillar was held together with body filler. Following the bodywork an engine and gearbox rebuild will be undertaken to create a reliable daily driver for the owner.
James has been at the Car Lab for 3 years now and passion and commitment shine through the conversation.
It’s like a work family, everyone gets on and we all enjoy the cars and meeting the customers. We are always happy to make the extra effort to get a car completed even if it means working late into the night or at weekends. To be honest, its not like coming to work at all.
I would love to tell you about every car in the workshop but I have limited space. I will be following up with some projects in more detail but just to pick out some of the highlights. The Jaguar E Type has been lightly breathed on for extra performance. The Morris Minor was in an accident and knocked out of shape requiring extensive body repairs. In the paint booth is a Jenson Interceptor receiving a new coat of paint following a mechanical restoration. The Mini, well that is going to be a very special restoration and electric conversion, hopefully we will be able to follow that build through to completion.
Tour completed I return to the office to say goodbye to Dino. It has been an enjoyable visit and one I hope to do again soon. Dino made a real effort to meet with me and I am very grateful as he has been suffering from Long Co-Vid. Infected before the availability of the vaccine it has developed into a debilitating illness and it has taken him a great deal of effort to make the meeting.
One of the worst parts of his illness is that he hasn’t been able to come into work for over a year now. It is clear from our conversation that he misses the team, his customers and the cars. Day to day running of the business is handled Alison who knows the business inside out. In fact, one of the reasons he did the interview was to pay tribute to Alison and the workshop team who have kept the business running like a Swiss watch.
I am sure that Dino will be back at the helm soon as this is more than a business, it is a passion awakened by secret agent with an incredible car. As for what comes next, well Dino tells me he has just acquired an Aston Martin Lagonda wedge. Now that is going to be an epic project.
If you need a simple service, repair, tune up or a bottom up restoration then Classic Car Lab should be on your list of companies to consider. Take a drive out to Otley, have a chat to the team and then enjoy a drive in the beautiful Wharfe Valley, perhaps enjoy afternoon tea at Betty’s in nearby Ilkley. You won’t regret it.
Tel: 01943 468380
Declaration: At Classic Yorkshire we believe that you should know if we get paid to make recommendations. I can confirm that Classic Yorkshire received no payment or benefit for this article.