Knowing cars, loving cars

Wednesday March 3, 2010

LENOX -- Brian Donovan likes the classics.

Out front, he's got a collector's paradise. A 1963 Corvette Roadster. A 1963 Jaguar E Type. A 1963 AC Cobra. A 1966 and a 1965 Austin Healey. A 1937 Beverly Cord.

Heading out back, it gets even better. There are Ford pickups from the 1950s, Mercedes from the 1960s, and a classic pink -- yes, pink -- Jaguar.

In the storage bay are even more classical beauties.

At Donovan Motorcar Service on Holmes Road, the showroom is visible from Route 7, and many people drive by thinking they'd like to stop in just to look at the beauties in the window. Some actually do.

But as Donovan says, most don't realize that there is a full-service, working automotive service bay in back.

Yes, they fully rebuild and/or restore classic and later model European cars. Yes, they maintain and even race classic roadsters.

But they also do more conventional repairs to any other car, including the domestics.

Until the late 1980s, Donovan worked on propulsion systems as a aerospace engineer for GE. But he had this hobby -- a five-bay, two-story garage at his house where he restored project cars for collecting and for racing. Friends would frequently ask him to work on their cars.

When GE dropped its defense business, Donovan lost his job and won his dream -- to make his hobby into his living.

"I decided to leave my jacket and tie behind," he said.

He opened his first location in 1991 in Lenox Dale, then moved to his present location in 1996.

Today, Donovan's nine employees work their way through several hundred cars every year, and still have the capacity for more.

"We've got talented craftsmen that work on top vintage race cars and collectible cars that can also repair late-model conventional cars," he said.

One of the most interesting pieces is the Cobra. It's one of the originals and was raced at one time by Carroll Shelby himself.

Donovan was in the market for one and found it advertised in 1996 by a private owner in British Columbia. He made the deal, made the arrangements to get it through customs, and was on his way when the owner had sentimental second-thoughts and told Donovan he wanted it back.

Donovan said it took a sincere conversation about the deal and that it was already completed before he could continue over the border.

At Donovans, they restore the best of the best, including Bentleys, Rolls-Royces, Jaguars and Triumphs. One customer heard about Donovan's reputation and -- dissatisfied with his current repair service -- ordered that his completely disassembled Jaguar be packed up and delivered to Donovan.

Looking at the pile of parts wrapped in paper and plastic, a bemused grin on his face, Donovan noted that the parts are not labeled and there are no directions.

"We've done enough Jags to know how to put it back together," he said.

To reach Scott Stafford:, or (413) 496-6241.


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