Preserving Vintage Automobiles: The Story of a Washington Shed Defying Scrap

North East Restoration Club is believed to be the biggest of its kind in the UK and Europe

In a seemingly unremarkable brick warehouse, a distinct scent of petrol lingers, while the air fills with the swirling exhaust fumes and occasional sparks from an aging Reliant Kitten. This unassuming location is home to the North East Restoration Club, where a dedicated group of enthusiasts works tirelessly to breathe new life into a remarkable collection of vintage cars. Situated in Washington, near Sunderland, this warehouse serves as a haven for preserving automotive history.

With a rich history spanning over five decades, the North East Restoration Club is calling for more passionate individuals to ensure its legacy continues for generations to come. Recently, the BBC had the opportunity to explore the inner workings of this remarkable club. Nestled within the historic Blythe Brickworks site, which has served as its home since 1973, the club has transformed the century-old building into a bustling workshop. Located near the railway sidings of the now-defunct Leamside Line, which once connected Gateshead and Tursdale in County Durham, the club stands as a testament to the region’s automotive heritage.

Led by secretary Andrew Billington, the North East Restoration Club stands out as the largest of its kind in both the UK and Europe, boasting an impressive membership exceeding 200 individuals. The club’s mission is clear: to revive classic cars and breathe new life into them. Billington emphasizes the importance of their work, stating:

“If we don’t preserve these cars, they will vanish from existence.”

Behind him, an unveiled vintage Singer proudly showcases its meticulously restored metalwork, serving as a tangible testament to the club’s dedication and expertise.

The Singer was built before World War Two

The North East Restoration Club is no stranger to challenges. From starting with just a shell, they have painstakingly rebuilt vehicles that have long been discontinued, often recreating parts based on drawings. Among their impressive roster of projects is a pre-World War Two car that arrived at the club in a state of disrepair. Andrew, filled with admiration, shares:

“People doubted whether we could restore it, but the dedicated individual working on it has done an absolutely astounding job.”

The club’s workshop is currently bustling with approximately 20 classic vehicles undergoing much-needed tender loving care. From vintage Minis to Volkswagens and even a Ford T4 from 1915, each vehicle holds a unique place in automotive history, and the club is determined to breathe new life into these iconic gems.

The North East Restoration Club comprises passionate car enthusiasts who own a diverse range of vehicles. These cherished automobiles are acquired in various conditions, sourced from online sellers, family members, and sometimes even discovered hidden away in back gardens. Among the club’s dedicated members is Michael Scott, the treasurer, who has been diligently working on a maroon Ford Zephyr since September 2021.

Treasurer and member Michael Scott has been working on a maroon Ford Zepher

Michael, a 71-year-old from Boldon Colliery, emphasizes the importance of rescuing these old cars. As he completes the restoration by reinstalling the rear brake drums, he states:

“This particular car was saved from a neglected back garden where it sat for 20 years. It was a choice between restoring it or allowing it to meet the fate of being scrapped. These vehicles deserve a second chance.”

Within the premises, the North East Restoration Club provides a total of 26 bays for its members. Twenty-one bays are dedicated to long-term restoration projects, while the remaining five serve as short-term workspaces. These bays are available for lease at a reasonable rate of £60 (US $76,94) per month.

In addition to the dedicated bays, all club members contribute an annual fee of £50 (US $64,11). This membership fee grants them access to smaller bays for tasks such as inspections, oil changes, and minor repairs. The funds collected not only support the day-to-day maintenance of the building but also help cover general upkeep expenses. Recently, the club faced a significant challenge when the aging roof developed multiple leaks. A daunting task lies ahead as the club has been informed that the entire roof needs replacement, with an estimated cost of £350,000 (US $448,800).

Despite these financial hurdles, the North East Restoration Club remains committed to providing a supportive environment for automotive enthusiasts to pursue their passion for restoration and maintenance.

The North East Restoration Club has managed to secure funding for interim repairs to address the leaks in the roof. However, the club is actively engaged in fundraising efforts and is also applying for a heritage grant to cover the substantial cost of a complete roof replacement.

The 1960s Ford Zepher is being restored

Andrew acknowledges the challenges faced by the club, particularly in light of the recent surge in electricity costs. As expenses continue to rise, the club strives to strike a delicate balance to sustain its operations and provide affordable services to its members.

Over time, the club has evolved into a vibrant community hub. It hosts a variety of engaging events, including exhilarating slot car competitions reminiscent of Scalextric, captivating car shows, and informative open days. These initiatives have proven invaluable in generating enthusiasm for restoration and preserving automotive heritage.

As the North East Restoration Club moves forward, it seeks the support of both members and the wider community to ensure the continuation of its vital work in breathing new life into classic cars and fostering a shared appreciation for history.

According to Andrew, being an engineer is not a prerequisite to join the North East Restoration Club. The club welcomes individuals from all walks of life, ranging from cooks and woodworkers to doctors and individuals with mechanical expertise.

The members’ backgrounds and professions are as diverse as their ages, spanning from their 20s to their 80s. Many are eager to contribute and lend a hand, even if they don’t possess a car of their own to restore. The shared passion for automotive preservation unites them, creating a supportive and inclusive environment within the club.

North East Restoration Club is believed to be the biggest of its kind in the UK and Europe

Andrew highlights the invaluable resource that the North East Restoration Club offers to its members. With a wealth of experience at their disposal, fellow enthusiasts are ready to provide guidance, demonstrate techniques, and collaborate on projects. Whether you need assistance or guidance, the club ensures that nobody is left behind.

While the North East Restoration Club prides itself on its uniqueness in the UK, Andrew acknowledges the existence of a similar club in New Zealand. However, given the geographical distance, it’s not a feasible option for most members. Thus, the North East Restoration Club remains a local haven for classic car enthusiasts, fostering a sense of community and camaraderie that is cherished by all.

North East Restoration Club is believed to be the biggest of its kind in the UK and Europe