E-type restorer, classic dealer and petrol retailer Classic Connection has revived a 70-year-old village service station in the New Forest
“This garage is on a road I’ve driven on many times over the years, but I never realised how much workshop space it had at the back,” says Charles Ramsay. “When I heard it was on the market, we came and had a look – and just had to have it!”
Dawson Engineering was founded in 1947 and became a village garage in 1949, remaining in the same family until bought by Ramsay two years ago. It’s a wonderful timewarp, with the original stores upstairs stacked with boxed parts dating back up to 65 years, and Ramsay has added to the atmosphere with his own extensive collection of automobilia. “We extended the showroom,” explains Ramsay, “doubling its size. And we’re planning to build a new twoworkshop bay at the back. But we won’t be changing the front – it’s so rare to find an original garage such as this and we’re determined to preserve it. My wife Andrea really enjoys serving petrol to local people, many of whom have been coming here all their adult lives to fill up – and many still buy their petrol on account. As, now, does a certain popstar who lives locally.
“We do MOT tests and servicing on modern cars, and we get asked to do all sorts of jobs, from mending punctures on wheelbarrows to storing the trophies for the annual vegetable show – which is a very serious responsibility!”
An IT contractor until 2005, Ramsay had always had a passion for classic cars, so when an inheritance came along, he then invested it in setting up a classic car sales and restoration business, specialising in E-type rebuilds. With a small team of restorers, including a Jaguar Mastertech-trained engineer, Classic Connection has turned out several very fine full restorations: the white S1 4.2 coupé pictured has had a total rebuild with mostly new panels. The V12 was a sound car that needed work only on the wheelarches and boot floor, but it was repainted and trimmed to the customer’s order, and fitted with a 6.1-litre engine with six twin-choke Webers. On a brief test, it drove well, feeling exceptionally tractable and untemperamental, as well as extremely potent. It looks like new under the bonnet, two years and 5000 miles after completion. “It’s the quality of powder-coating and anodising that makes it last – we pay a lot of attention to that,” says Ramsay.
Inside, an S1 3.8 coupé is being reassembled with newly painted bulkhead and engine frames, while an XK140 Roadster is coming back together well after being brought to Classic Connection as a failed restoration. “It took a full day to get the headlights to fit correctly,” says Ramsay. “We do every job with the passion to get it right – just look at the door shuts now, you don’t see many XKS with them like that.
“We use a third-generation painter in Dorset – he takes his time, but the results are well worth waiting for. The engine was supposedly rebuilt – we dropped the sump before attempting to start it and found that the oil was full of swarf and the oil pump hadn’t been primed. The customer couldn’t face another rebuild, so we cleaned it all out and it’s running well now.”
In the showroom, Ferraris rub shoulders with E-types and many more cars are in the reserve store at Ringwood: the future looks very bright for Burley’s once-neglected little village garage.
Clockwise from top: the old Dawson Engineering garage; Charles Ramsay (on right) with 190SL; XK140 under restoration; six-weber 6.1-litre V12