Modena on the Atlantic Modena on the Atlantic

Published: Feb 12, 2010
Words by Ya'acov Zalel
CarBuzz talks to Jason Wenig, the workshop’s owner and founder.

In its 10 year existence, The Creative Workshop has created some of the most intriguing restoration and tributes to the legendary Italian Carrozzeria.
As a child, Jason Wenig, 45, owner of The Creative Workshop, loved cars. Anything that was powered by a gasoline engine enthralled him. However, as a New Yorker, he took the conventional route into corporate America through a college and university education. But unlike his colleagues, who become either intoxicated by corporate America or corrupted by Wall Street, Mr. Wenig decided to change course and pursue his childhood passion.

«We turned a passion into a business»
Mr. Wenig and his wife Kim sold their possessions and moved from New York to Florida where they bought the facility in which The Creative Workshop, celebrating its 10th anniversary next August, is now located. "We did what we wanted to do and love working with cars and building the business from there," says Mr. Wenig. "[We] turned a passion into a business".

In almost ten years The Creative Workshop has produced some of the most remarkable car restoration projects. They even had the courage to create from scratch their own tribute to Italian Carrozzeria of the 1950s, though American mainstream cars of the 50s and 60s have enjoyed the same loving care as the European exotica. They've restored a variety of brands such as Ferrari, Jaguar, Mustang, Chevrolet, Mini Minor, Aston Martin, Stanguellini and Maserati. They've also done racing cars, sports cars, GT cars, saloon cars and even a horse drawn carriage and an armored vehicle.

"My passion from day one was surviving," says Mr. Wenig. "It was not necessarily European cars or American cars or concourse cars. It was the idea of being able to work with cars, being able to build the cars for people. It wasn't a client-driven thing. It was my personal love affair with cars and if you can make a business out of it. Can you survive and be happy doing something that you truly love and that you think you are good at?"

Though Mr. Wenig loves all cars, he doesn't hide his inclination toward the exotics. "It is safe to say that when presenting a number of different projects... my affinity naturally has gone toward the exotic, the rare and the beautiful," he says.

A lot of people, claims Mr. Wenig, make a living when standardizing into one format and specializing in just one model, like the Mustang or Camaro. And then compete for customers trying either to be cheaper, better, or just faster than others in getting a job done.

«It's not good enough until it's perfect»
"I don't want to compete with people," says Mr. Wenig. "I want this to be about art, about automotive art." And as art comes into the equation, then Italian Carrozzeria must be the source of inspiration and the object of imitation for Mr. Wenig and his artisans who are hard to come by. "Staff is always a difficult thing," says Mr. Wenig. "It's a very unique type of person that fits in here, that will survive here and that does well here."

The most important skill that's needed in order to become an artisan at The Creative Workshop is, well, not absolutely defined. Basically, according to Mr. Wenig, if someone already has the "very unique set of skills" that is needed he will have to perspire. And perspire a lot. "It is 99 percent perspiration, 1 percent inspiration," Mr. Wenig explains. "The basics skills, that is the one percent; everything else is just tenacity, it's hard work. It's knowing. It's not good enough until it's perfect. When you find the right person it's easier. When you don't find the right person it's a nightmare."

The Passion for Italian Art

During its decade in business, The Creative Workshop has become known for its expertise in Etceterini, a flying term for Italian sport and racing cars from the 1950s. "The Etceterini are incredible cars like Stanguellini, Moretti, Volcini, Berdini," says Mr. Wenig. "I found myself being more intrigued or driven towards the bizarre, interesting, unique challenging projects. I want to spend months researching black and white photographs, to find out who owned the car back in 1936, if the car was raced in the Mille Miglia. That stuff is exciting to me. I love the most boring Mustangs. I love the most exciting Ferraris and I love them all in between. I didn't start off by saying I'm going to do this. I started off saying I love cars. Let's see where this brings me."

The Creative Workshop, located just a few streets away from the Atlantic Ocean, is housed in a nice industrial building fully equipped with all the tools and machines that are needed for car restoration. The artisans can bend tin and aluminum sheets, paint them professionally, match the colors to the originals, and exchange modern injection systems for previous generation carburetors. They can also stitch leather for seats and steering wheel covers. They can weld either a 50s American car's bulky chassis or Italian style Superleggera fine structure. Reconstructing a wood-framed 1940s British sports car is also possible.

In the workshop there is a separate space for waiting customers that's insulated from the working space by wooden walls and furnished with red leather armchairs and bookshelves full of interesting materials. This is part of the literary collection in the workshop, which consists of three libraries. The technical library is the biggest of the three with hundreds of manuals covering cars from 1910 to 1971; the second one consists of parts and suppliers catalogues; and the third one is the resource and research library in which marks books are collected.

From Nut-and-Bolt Restoration to a Paint Job

Why Americans are interested at all in European exotica? Mr. Wenig answers: "You want what you can't have. You tend to admire or dream about the things you don't regularly see. So I find it very exciting and a vibrant community of people, a lot of very excited people, who are going after those cars."

Restoration can be done in varying types and degrees: racing cars, concourse cars, daily drivers, retrofit (or, as in Wenig's vocabulary, 'redux'), and all options in between. It can be from a small paint job to a full 'nut-and-bolt' restoration.

The biggest challenge at the workshop is restoring Etceterini like the 750 Stanguellini Bialbero for which its owner won an award at the 2007 Pebble Beach Concourse d'Elegance. That car arrived at the workshop with only its chassis, a few crumbled body parts and a two-stroke Mercury outboard engine. In order to restore it, Wenig needed all of his best resourcefulness. He twice travelled to Italy and was given help from the Stanguellini museum. He was lucky enough to find an original 750cc Stanguellini engine in a wine cellar in France; he received the right color code for the unique Stanguellini red; and he had factory drawings to repair a few damaged chassis tubes.

"Everything depends on the damage," says Wenig. "In some cases you can hammer out the damage and get it rough and use that as a template to make a new piece. In some instances it has to be done from photographs by analyzing them. Sometimes you have to actually travel to see other cars that are not damaged. Sometimes you have original factory drawings. But ultimately what it comes down to is, at some point, when you get whatever information you get. It is a man, aluminum, and steel making a box and hitting it with an English hammer or rolling on a sand bag getting that shape just right." Components suppliers, another critical part of the business, are from around the world. "What happens is that you learn that a lot of cars, as obscure as they are, tend to have shared components with other vehicles. In this instance the Healey Westland had a Riley Motor, so motor components were actually Riley components. You make a lot of phone calls and send a lot of emails. If the part is really rare, then we will make it from scratch. Casting, computer modeling, machining... whatever it takes. We make a lot of custom parts."

Stanguellini and the Sport Speciale

The two most famous completed cars to emerge from The Creative Workshop are the 750 cc Stanguellini Bialbero Sports Racer and The Creative Workshop's own Sport Speciale (Italian accent, please). The latter is a custom hand-built coach build vehicle entirely from scratch that emulates the Italian racing cars of the late 50s and early 60s. Power, however, comes from a BMW V12 racing engine in order to avoid Ferrari's wrath. The inspiration came from models such as the Ferrari TR59, Maserati Birdcage, and the Aston Martin DBR1. An entirely hand-formed superleggera and aluminum sheets cover the structure, as it's a great testimony to the skills of the workshop's artisans.
"What is interesting and ironic is that since the community of coachbuilders that lived in Italy and did their thing," says Wenig, "they were a very close knit group of people. Most of them were in Modena [and had] that build technique and style that are very similar. When we restore a Vignale or Scaglietti, we don't see radical changes in the way they built the cars. Certainly there are differences with aluminum bending techniques, welding techniques, and rolling techniques, but it's not like we are building a Mustang or a Mercedes-Benz where, holy moly, the Mercedes-Benz is so much better built, so much better engineered."

In its almost 10 years of existence, The Creative Workshop has completed about 100 nut-and-bolt restorations and several hundred more cars have passed through for anything from a small paint job to a complete engine overhaul.

The price of a complete restoration is dependent on the model, its rarity and, of course, the amount of work invested in the project. In general, an American car brand will be priced in the region of $150,000. For European cars, however, it tends to be in the range of $250,000, but for the rare and exotic, the bizarre and the one-off, it will cost the happy customer at least $350,000.

Such are the prices of present day Italian automotive art and craftsmanship.