the spe­cial­ist

Roos En­gi­neer­ing is one of Europe’s lead­ing As­ton Martin spe­cial­ists. We meet founder Beat Roos

VANTAGE - - Contents - Words John SIMIS­TER PHO­TOG­RA­PHY matthew how­ell

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 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


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

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