The History channel is getting ready to air its latest show 'Ultimate Wheels', in which two skilled car restorers use their talent to add personal touches to the most unlikely of vehicles. Fancy a Ferrari pick-up truck? These are the boys to call. We caught up with car customiser Elo, one half of the show's mechanic duo and the brains behind the London Motor Museum, to find out all about it.
>Can you give us some background info about yourself?
My name is Elo, I was born in the UK, in Islington, but grew up in the US and moved back to the UK when I was 20. I modelled for 10 years or so and started my clothing label after that for three years, which didn't work out so I decided to do cars, which is my journey roughly to where I am today.
Where did the inspiration come from to start your business?
It was never a business, I did it for my pure satisfaction of my need for speed and need for having custom cars. It grew bigger and bigger as people saw value in it and wanted to be involved so it started shaping itself into a business. So it was never a business plan; it was one of those unconventional things. It's exactly like the guy from Silicon Valley and his computers, it was a way of communicating and making the world more digital and it just happened that it became a good business.
Well I was casted to do this new TV show, which was great, but they wanted me to pair with somebody. So the guy brought Will around and when he showed up it was an instant match because Will and I just worked really well. The minute I saw him come out the car, which was a modified Mini jacked up on big swamped wheels, I thought this guy is my kind of guy! Rough haircut, ginger afro, big wheels on a small car...it was yes, yes, yes, yes!
A modified car is very popular these days, how do you come up with unique and new ways to revamp your cars?
I have to listen to my car, but most importantly I have to listen to myself. It's about pushing the envelope, which I love. The first word when I look at a car is "but". It's like: "Hey this is a nice car, but...it needs larger wheels...it needs lower suspension". For me it's important that I do it that way to keep it fresh and different. So I always listen to myself and then push the envelope a little bit.
What was the first car you pimped up?
My very first pimped up car was the car I owned when I was 16, which was a VW Golf. I literally worked three jobs, one of which was cleaning my father's cars, in order to raise money to buy it. Then I decided to get my car pimped up, with 13-inch baby sham wheels and lowered suspension and there I was cruising the neighbourhood in LA in a VW Golf. Today a lot of kids do exactly that and it's called the "euro-trend", take small hatchbacks, drop the suspension, shave the bumpers and doors, put little wheels on it and cruise, which is cool because it looks like I was part of that trend from day one!
So when you started the London Motor Museum in 2001, did you imagine it would be as successful as it is now?
Not really, I mean it was kind of by accident and a calling from the Lord All-Mighty! I had about 30 cars and I had to store them as the parking in my area had changed. So I put my cars in storage and one of my friends showed up and said "Oh, my Dad wants to see your car collection, he loves cars and had a few cars in his lifetime". So I go over to show my friend's father the collection. As we open up the warehouse and look around, he says "Oh my god, it's like a museum," and there and then I thought, there isn't a car museum in London so I went over that weekend to learn what museums were all about and then when I got back I was more and more convinced I should open up a London Motor Museum. So along came April 2004 and the Motor Museum was born.
Where do you see yourself and the museum in five years time?
I think the museum will probably be a London attraction for kids and tourists from other countries to come and look at my cars. I think a lot of other car museums are about the invention of cars, I am about the manufacturing of them. We're a custom car museum, we take the cars from the designers who built them in the 40s, 50s and 60s, and we move them forward. Some people call us retro, some people call us custom. Our journey begins from the manufacturers and we make it look like what we think best and what reflects our life today. So people get to see these cars, not as they were built back then, but as a reflection of what they would look like if they were built today.
During the show you spend a lot of time and money doing up some exotic cars, what's the biggest profit you've made?
My heart. The profit is all in my heart. I have the best accountant ever, but he always tells me I have the worst business model because it's not about the money for me, it's about the satisfaction and the gratification for what I've done. Sometimes my accountant says: "It costs a lot more to build this" and I'm like "Well, it's a piece of art". So, it is all about the gratification and not the money. I've built some very expensive builds and some very cheap ones. Sometimes the cheaper ones are more interesting than the very expensive as it's all about diversification of resources and using certain things instead of money at times. It's about the quality of art.
What's the coolest car you've worked on during the show?
The coolest car I've worked on during the show is split between firstly the Ferrari pick-up truck, just for being so rebellious. But I also love the VW Camper Van because that was an ultimate flip of the whole story of the Camper Van. When you think about the VW Camper Van you think sunshine, festivals, camping, outdoors and I've turned it into a private jet camper van with an executive office, a bar, and screens for you to watch the news.
Which car gave you the most trouble?
Oh boy, the one car that I didn't like working on was the Datsun. The Datsun started off as a great project but it ended up as a mini nightmare. But because it was built by man it could be fixed by man, so my boys just sat back and cracked on with it, although it took a lot longer than expected. Every panel we looked at had something wrong with it and we needed to crack all those problems out and turn it into a Japanese samurai ninja car, which turned out to be a great car, so the satisfaction of having the great car in the end made up for the hard work along the way.
Is there any model of car you'd absolutely avoid pimping?
Elo: Not necessarily, I look at a car and try and pick out the faults in them and then I retrieve what's left of it. When you have a car with 90 per cent fault on it, it's hard to retrieve, but it means it has 10 per cent goodness left to work with. Sometimes ugly cars are my favourite cars to work with, because then I can very easily purposefully change it and change people's mind sets on that ugly car. Working on the Bristol was one of my craziest projects. I've always loved Bristols as they are the ultimate Gentleman's classic car, but on the show I was lucky enough to turn it into a Gentleman's hotrod. That was the cool thing because it went from this classic British mentality of "hello, hello" to this crazy hotrod mentality of rubber, fuel and beer – so that worked out really well.
Have you ever had someone come into your museum and offer you a silly amount of money for your car collection?
I've had one, but I turned it down. I can't value these toys, these are like my babies so it's like someone coming into your house and saying: "You've got three daughters, I'll have them all". It's very difficult to sell my cars, but recently I had a guy from Italy who wanted to buy one and I wouldn't sell it to him, but I swapped it with a helicopter, which is now in the museum. I prefer swapping things because then I don't see a quantum value to them. No matter how much money you give me, if I have a relationship with a particular vehicle, you will get nowhere.
What's the dream car you would like to work on?
I would like to work on a lot of cars. I'm working on a Mercedes right now and it's very close to my dream. But my dream car is a 300SL, so I call up on anybody that has a 300SL that wants to go custom with it. The old 300SL from 50s, 60s: if someone has one of those I would probably kiss them to death to work on it!
Ultimate Wheels is on Thursday 17 April at 9pm, on HISTORY (Sky 530/ Virgin 234)