Vintage Motorsport
January/February 2010

This time-honored establishment in Corte Madera, California, draws on the best that
the past and present have to offer while building its future in the rarified world it epitomies.

Story and Photography by William Edgar

Phil Reilly & Company is a shop made of many shops, each with its own master, making up a group of vintage motorsports talents that casual observers might call mechanics. By profession, they are. But no ordinary mechanics -- no way. They learn from, and work for, what many enthusiasts consider a most trusted and knowledgeable trio in the spectrum of vintage car restoration and tuning.

Phil Reilly, Ivan Zaremba and Ross Cummings, each a graduate of the esteemed Griswold Company school of getting it right, formed the Phil Reilly & Company partnership in 1983, and have been a leader in their field ever since.

Reilly, 66, pragmatic to the core, tells me, "This is a good, solid, honest business, and a middle class standard of living is entirely possible if you play it straight -- but if you try to get rich, you're probably going to fall on your face."

Zaremba, also 66, is both archivist and lover of using cars, driving them and sharing a camaraderie. "We span the broadest range of vehicle types and time of anyplace I've ever been," he says, "From turn-of-the-century to early 19802 F1."

Cummings, 62, a master machinist, summarizes, "The three of us bring different thinking in different levels. Phil is the eternal optimist -- everything in his world is going to be easy, quick, and it will just happen. Ivan, whatever tack you'r eon, he'll be on the other side of it. You would call me the guy who worries about all the nit-picking details."

Their distinctive efforts here have led to top awards on both track and grass. Year after year and into the future, it's these three elders in concert with the shop's middle and younger guard who make it happen.

After the partners, Chuck Mathewson has been with the shop longest -- 25 yhears. Starting as a fabricator, his first work here was on th eold John von Neumann Ferrari 500 TRC. "I've been around race cars since I was a kid," he says, "sitting on hay bales, smelling Castrol." Today, at 53, he's "tidying up" a Maserati headed for Amelia Island. "These Birdcages are easily damaged, easily worn out," he astutely admits. "We tend to work on stuff that other people don't -- because it's either too weird, or too hard to get parts."

David Wallace, engine builder, joined the company 21 years ago after taking Ross Cummings' college course in Machine Technology. "When I started," he says, "I was Ross's apprentice and made parts for all sorts of cars." Today, at 44, he's into the shop's Bugattis, Phil Reilly's growing dossier of Offenhauser-powered Indy roadsters, and has just completed the three-year build of a 1928 Miller inline-8 engine designed for boats.

Brian Madden, 48, is fundamentally the shop's go-to guy for whatever it is that needs to be done. In effect, Madden serves as shop manager. His brother, father, and grandfather were all mechanics, and he is, like his peers here, an important figure in the company's future. "I apply myself to whatever problem comes up, he says. "The idea is not to make everything your own, but to make it what it was."

An expert machinist and engine builder, Zeke Prince was inspired years ago by a Lola T-70 at a concours. "It blew my mind," he says. Now 40, here 12 years, he's master of the shop's quirky Berco line-boring machine that allows him "to make crankshaft bearing bores round and straight -- and to pick the centerline we want." Prince affirms, "any project that comes along -- no matter how daunting -- we'll take a swing at it."

"I keep my own fire lit," says Jon Ennik. "An overriding confidence drives this shop," he believes. Whatever comes in we will make it better cosmetically, mechanically." Reilly sees Ennik as being "very much the lead guy in our Formula One realm, an ace mechanic." At 45, with just seven years here, Ennik draws on the older, more experienced partners, "for their philosophy more than actual mechanical knowledge."

"I work directly under Ivan," says Greg Stasko, "in sort of the restoration side of the shop." Stasko, once an aspiring car designer, detoured to the Jim Russell mechanics training program, then went to work on contemporary British road cars. 40 now, he came here four years ago, does Bugatti engines, and just finished a Dusenberg's. "I came back to this kind of work," he says, "because I wanted to get my hands into it and actually make things."

Snooping for a job at Sears Point (now Infineon Raceway) in 1999, young Forrest Teran asked Joe Huffaker if he knew of one. Joe told the 15-year-old to go see Reilly, who was looking for a new broom. Teran impressed, and has risen from sweep-up, to minor tasks, and on to vintage F1 builder and Historic Grand Prix track support mechanic. Cars from way before Teran was born only egg him to learn more about them. He thinks "it's pretty neat to make cars look in period, run right, and be good." He also helps Reilly rebuild Cosworth engines.

Here three years, Rolly boorman is a perfect fit. A college major in industrial engineering, then Air Force reciprocal engine specialist, 62-year old Boorman sees the company's history and reputation as being "derived from our Smithsonian-like attention to detail." And he's very keen on Bugattis. "They're so well made and lovelyl to work on," he says emphatically. "Not easy, but rewarding."

Tom Smith, a fabricator who's spent most of his career with Indy racers, and with this shop for the past nine years, says, "I like to work on diabolically unique cars." At 61, he's already seen the race-thrashed stuff that got whatever it took to make it from one race to the next. "They were held together with bubble gum, cotter pins, and paper clips," he says, smiling, "and here we get to go back and try to make something good out of them again."

In a sunny room up front, Tom Cusack, 67 and three years with the company, oversees the office and billing, along with other planning tasks. Experienced in business consulting, he once ran a prosperous transmission and foreign car service. Seated nearby, hands on the pulse of jobs underway and incoming phone calls, is Liana Scheer, also three years here. The sole woman in this microcosm of car guys, she's no stranger to its mechanical ways. "I helped rebuild Chevy motors with my first boyfriend," she says. "Now it's like being with a bunch of artists here." Oh, yes, she's 27 -- meaning Liana arrived on our planet just about the time Phil Reilly & Company's partnership was also born.

Newest of the new, 18-year-old Robert "Bobby" Maggiora has been the shop's "Master of Custodial Arts" since last summer. "Sweeping," he quips, "is not the most exciting thing, but I'm absorbing a lot of information by osmosis." The favorite car of this kid whose dad races a '65 Shelby? No surprise: It's a Ford GT40. Fittingly, this shop's first full resto was also a GT40.

In true Reilly & Company style, Maggiora is already helping Chuck Mathewson part-time -- and has dissected a gearbox. So builds the future's future.