Roos Engineering is one of Europe’s leading Aston Martin specialists. We meet founder Beat Roos
We chat to Beat Roos, creator of stunning shooting brakes and Swiss Aston guru
Roos Engineering has had a number of incarnations over the years. One thread has been common to all, though, and still holds true today. If you’re in Switzerland, or in a large catchment area beyond the Swiss borders, Roos Engineering – one of Aston Martin’s 13 worldwide Heritage Specialists – is very likely your go-to emporium of Aston expertise.
Nowadays it’s part of Emil Frey Classics, based in Safenwil, near Bern, which has a restoration and service workshop covering many types of classic cars – mostly British – along with a sales showroom and a museum that features the marques sold over the years by the Emil Frey group, one of the biggest motor-trade conglomerates in Switzerland and beyond.
So, today, Roos Engineering occupies one section of the impressive and mostly new buildings that house Emil Frey Classics. But the man who gives the Aston Martinspecialising operation its name, and who built up Roos Engineering into something so desirable that the Emil Frey group just had to buy it, is still on the board. He is Beat Roos, whose Virage-based shooting brakes have already featured in these pages and whose estate-car remake of a ‘wedge’ Lagonda appears earlier in this issue.
Beat, now 71, set up shop in 1975 in Wabern, near Bern, as a one-man Honda dealer and Aston Martin service agent. A year later, with the employee-count doubled, he moved the business to Bern itself and added a Lancia franchise. More expansion came in 1977: ‘I started a panel shop and a paint shop. My wife managed it; I was still just the mechanic. She said, “This is going to be expensive, we must be careful...” The first classic car I restored was a fuelinjected DB5. We were selling three or four Astons a year by then, too.’
Now numbering four employees, Automobiles Roos (as the company was then called) took on an official Aston Martin-lagonda agency. Business grew well enough to merit another upsizing move to Frauenkappelen, still in the Bern area, in 1983. It was goodbye to the Lancia franchise, and six years later – a new Aston Martin showroom having been built in the meantime – to the Honda agency, too. A year after that, in 1990, the company became Roos Engineering while expanding into new engineering and service workshops further along Frauenkappelen’s Murtenstrasse. That called for some sacrifices: ‘I owned an ex-peter Ustinov DB4,’ Beat recalls ruefully, ‘but I had to sell it when I set up the dynamometer.’
With expanding expertise in restoration (from pre-wars up to V8s) and coachbuilding, in 1996 Roos Engineering embarked on its first shooting brake conversion – the Lagonda. Other conversions followed, and some highprofile restorations including a DB4 GT that won at Pebble Beach in 1998 and, completed in 2010, the original Goldfinger DB5, chassis 2008/R.
Everything changed in 2011. ‘That year we closed the Bern operation and moved to Safenwil after Walter Frey [Emil’s son] bought 90 per cent of the business. Two years ago he bought the last 10 per cent.’
Seems like a sensible move as what would normally be a retirement age came and went, but Beat stays simultaneously hands-on and sometimes laconically, yet
wistfully, detached. ‘I come in one or two times a week,’ he says. ‘Somebody phones up, needs help on an engine or a restoration, or I’ll be involved with the museum or a show. Even after 40 years I can still learn something.’
We have just walked into a new and enormous building on Emil Frey’s vast industrial estate, handily placed next to a railway, the better to receive freshly imported Toyotas, Mitsubishis, Suzukis and more, ready to distribute to eager Swiss dealerships. ‘Tut, tut,’ mutters Beat, disapprovingly. ‘There are too many cars in the workshop.’
The building is the Emil Frey Classics workshop, and it is indeed fairly crammed, mostly with old British cars undergoing meticulous work in squeaky-clean conditions. The workshop was built in just 11 months, was finished in 2015 and is kept at a constant 20degc. But where is Roos Engineering?
It’s in the same building but in its own, rather airier zone, filled with classic Astons on service ramps – apart from one Maserati interloper for which there was no room elsewhere. Who, then, works for Roos Engineering? Does it have its own people? Deborah Schweizer is one of 12 people nominally attached to Roos; she’s in the middle of servicing a Towns-styled V8, the only mechanic in the service bay on what, we discover, is a Swiss holiday, but older Astons abound nearby as well as a newer Virage.
‘Actually,’ says Beat, ‘we mix up the people – there are 24 in total – between Frey and Roos. It’s becoming one, but it’s a question of branding. We live in a different world now, with more money, bigger budgets, greater pressure. But there are still three people who were working for Roos before and are now here. Roland Trüssel, in the bodywork section, was with me for 20 years.’
The other two Roos loyalists are mechanics Eric Stäheli (20 years) and Thomas Lüscher (26 years), but they’re having a day off. Not so Roland, who we meet in the panel shop a spanner’s throw (but don’t) away from the Roos service area. In the shop is a 1958 DB2 owned by the then Swiss importer, Limmat Garage AG of Zurich, until 1958 and still on only its second owner, who has a 40-car collection in Bern. ‘It’s in for a little bit of repairing at the back,’ says Beat. ‘The customer likes it to be 100 per cent.’
Also in the shop are an ex-swiss Post Office Land Rover Series 2 and, undergoing a complete restoration, a Series 1 DB4 in white. Roland has restored all the body parts, and
‘I OWNED AN EX-PETER USTINOV DB4,’ BEAT RECALLS RUEFULLY, ‘BUT I HAD TO SELL IT WHEN I SET UP THE DYNAMOMETER’
I see how the fit of the front grille is perfect with exactly the right gaps and recessing. Not all restorers get this right. Roland has also created an air scoop under the front bumper, like those of later DB4S, to improve cooling, and there’s a boot liner, re-made in glassfibre, ready to fit. Trolleys and shelves nearby are labelled with the cars to which the parts they carry belong.
Next is the electrical room, currently occupied by a rare 1949 Jaguar with a Swiss Langentahl body. Manfred Horner, whose Bosch training certificate is proudly on display, is fitting a new fabric wiring loom. ‘It’s not so easy to find a good electrician,’ Beat muses. A restored Bosch electrical test machine and a distributor tester are also in residence.
Earlier we saw 20 newly-cast blocks for the Marek sixcylinder engine, made in Germany. Now we’re in the engine room where, when needed, they will be built up into complete engines. ‘They have a few modifications,’ explains Beat, ‘such as no gaskets under the liners, just a special Loctite seal. The liner top surface should have a 2.5-degree inclination so the outer edge is higher than the bore edge, with the liner sitting slightly proud of the block.
‘We use Mahle oil-cooled pistons with special oil rings, so oil consumption is just half a litre per 1000km. The old engines used to use three litres per 1000km! We can take out the Marek six-cylinder engine to 4.2 litres, or it can be standard. The V8 can go to 6.3 or maybe 6.5 litres, or seven litres if we modify the block.’
Then there’s the testing of the complete engine, in a test cell on an AVL electromagnetic dynamometer that cost CHF 1.5m. (No wonder Beat had to sell that DB4.) ‘It can simulate a racetrack, full power, braking, whatever you want,’ says Beat proudly. ‘We run the engines in for five hours on special oil, all in one go at 3000rpm, then change the oil and test the engine. We go to maximum speed, then back to idling, to 1500rpm, 2400rpm, 3000rpm and so on in steps, always checking the CO and the lambda.
‘It means the customer can drive fast straight away. We don’t give a warranty for racing, but for road cars we give a three-year, unlimited-mileage warranty. Ownership of the job is important. Building an engine is simple, but I can tell who built an engine from how it behaves on the dyno.’ The engine room also contains a giant Swiss-made Oerlikon boring machine from 1958, of which Beat is particularly fond. ‘The new ones aren’t as good,’ he says.
Now we’re heading upstairs to the meeting and training rooms – ‘Schulung’ in the German spoken in these parts – where new recruits might learn about old-school carburettors and electrics. Some rather lovely one-eighthscale models are on display here, made by a friend of Beat’s who used to work for CMC models: a DB5, a Zagato body, a Zagato chassis, the superleggera underbody framework. Also upstairs are stores containing racks of
‘I CAN TELL WHO BUILT AN ENGINE FROM HOW IT BEHAVES ON THE DYNO’ – BEAT ROOS
used parts to recondition, moulds for windscreens and rear windows and much else.
And back downstairs again, and across to another building with a paint shop mostly occupied by new cars undergoing rectification work. But the team here also paint the classics; a DB MKIII waits with a Mitsubishi Lancer on one side, a Kia Carens on the other. Oh, the ignominy… Markus Rüegger weaves paint magic on new and old with his water-based palette of RM paints, but he says he prefers old. The DB MKIII will be metallic grey with red or black leather, incidentally.
We return to the Emil Frey Classics building and the ‘old-car room’, where cars are stored awaiting work or some other fate. A 1984 Lagonda is one of a collection of pewter-coloured cars. There’s another white DB4 for restoration, this one a Series 2. I like it as it is, patinated with just a bit of sill bubbling… but there, of course, lies the tip of the iceberg.
What else? A DB2 convertible, a Us-spec DB6. A dark blue DB4 from France that has had its engine rebuilt, first serviced by Beat 20 years ago. A V8 Zagato Convertible, modified in 1992 to suit a two-metre man and gain better cooling to stop overheating. A DB4 convertible with horrible squared-off sills, hiding who knows what nightmares. And more besides.
Perhaps surprisingly, Beat estimates the cost of restoration in Switzerland to be about the same as in the UK, with a full job taking maybe 1000 hours. Hourly rates are highest for engine work, servicing next, restoration lowest. ‘It’s a one-stop shop,’ says Beat. ‘It’s all here, in 40 different workshops. There’s nowhere else like it in Europe.’
Does he miss the old days? ‘Well, it’s very big now. I did it for the last 40 years, working from 8am to 8pm, and weekends if needed, because it was my company. Now they’re gone at 5pm. It’s not quite the same.’
Beat Roos still has his own workshop, entirely separate from the Emil Frey group, where he dabbles in projects and keeps cars that have been important to him. Not just cars, actually; a 1966 David Brown tractor rubs wheels with a yellow Triumph TR7, a Shorrock-supercharged MG TC that was Beat’s first car, and several Astons through the ages, right up to a Vanquish.
And of the cars he has created over the years, does he have a favourite? ‘That will be the DB6 Special, the DB6/S we created for Sheikh Nasser al Sabah for his collection.’
Sheikh Nasser is one of the investors in Aston Martin and his collection includes more than 300 Astons. Andrew Mcgeachy and Beat Roos designed the DB6/S in 2011. It reinterprets the rear quarters with a hint of DB4 GT Zagato while retaining the flavour of the DB6’S Kamm tail and rear spoiler. ‘We found the chassis in Miami – it was not very good, completely rusty in fact – and shortened it. We made it a bit Pininfarina, a bit Zagato.
‘I think that is my favourite. Or maybe all three shooting brakes, to have done the complete engineering and design.’ He pauses, reflectively. ‘And to have the customer spend the money, and trust me with it.’
Above and opposite Today, Roos Engineering is part of Emil Frey Classics, but it still has its own dedicated Aston-specialising workshops, while Beat Roos (opposite) is still actively involved with the company
This page and opposite full range of aml service tools; mahle pistons ready to be fitted to a newly cast blocks in the engine room; new wiring looms assembled in the electrical room. bottom right: recently opened emil frey classics museum and classic-car showroom features a number of astons, including a 1968 brico fuel-injected dbs in purple and a 1934 1 ½ -litre mkii coupé with a harry bertelli body
Right and below DB4 Series 1 approaching the end of a full restoration, and one of Roos Engineering’s bespoke creations, a special-bodied DB6 for Sheikh Nasser al Sabah