Inside Zagame Autobody: Australia's most advanced bodyshop

By: Unique Cars magazine

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We visit Zagame's techno-palazzo

Are you familiar with the retro-tech movement in car building? It’s where you take a stock, elderly car body and cram it full of modern tech below the waterline. The end result is a car that looks like it just rolled out of an episode of Happy Days, yet has performance, dynamics and (sometimes) safety that rival the best new cars you can buy. And as I look at the stunning revamp of Zagame’s autobody shop (the Bespoke Division in Zagame-speak) I’m tapping into the same vibe.

Here is a workshop that can not only repair most high-end cars; it does so with the latest rocket-science available. But just when you were starting to geek out at the spectrometers (for colour-matching) compounds of welding gas I’ve never heard of before, and where the technicians reference the periodic table to avoid unpleasant chemical reactions in cars of mixed-material construction, suddenly you spot, standing right next to a computer-controlled jig, a good old-fashioned English wheel. Old meets new, for sure.

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But that’s the nature of modern car repairs, it seems, and while you still need a team of trained people who are inherently good with their hands, you also need to understand the importance of not botching the carbon-fibre in an Audi R8’s B-pillar. But in the very next bay to where that C-F is being ultrasound tested (no kidding) can be a crumpled front end, the result of a 1950s Ferrari Testa Rosa being parked a tad too close to a concrete barrier. Yet neither scenario presents any insurmountable challenge for the 32 souls (including three apprentices) who make up the Bespoke Division.

If you want to break it down even further, the new Zagame operation amounts to an extension of the factories of the world’s high-end car-makers; it's something that’s been made possible through an exhaustive process of certification for the Melbourne-based outfit. The Zagame autobody shop is even accredited to the monumentally exacting Classiche division of Ferrari’s HQ in Maranello. And that means the Zagame crew can call on Ferrari’s astounding collection of blueprints (every part for every Ferrari ever made). These days however, the plans are scanned and emailed, not sent by carrier pigeon.

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As well as Ferrari, the Tullamarine facility (which once housed The Age newspaper’s printing presses) was already certified to tackle any repairs on Alfa Romeo, Audi and Fiat. The recent expansion and huge investment has also brought brands such as Lamborghini, BMW and Tesla into the fold as well as high-end models from Honda (NSX) and Audi (R8). That has required a whole new level of understanding of aluminium, carbon-fibre, bonded construction and paint technology. This explains why its techs travel regularly around the world to pick up new techniques and why the new facility has 31 bays across 4000 square-metres and takes up a whole floor of the old printing works.

CEO of the Zagame Automotive Group, Michael Winkler, told Unique Cars that the new set-up also allows for scope for customers from New Zealand and Asia to tap into the brains-trust and have their four-wheeled treasures restored, repaired or rebuilt.

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"We can already take a basket-case with a compliance plate and rebuild it," said Winkler. "The values of high-end classics are now so high that, suddenly, they’re economically viable to repair."

Winkler also believes that the Zagame facility was a function of the changing face of the classic car scene around the world and was one way to ensure its future.

"Australia has some very skilled body repairers, but a lot of them are getting older and disappearing without a succession plan."

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My favourite part of the Zagame tour (the excellent coffee aside) was down in the body-shop proper where a vending machine stands in one corner. But instead of dispensing chocolates and soft-drinks, this one is loaded with sanding discs, rolls of tape and the other consumables that go with fixing dings in a car. As well as keeping track of what’s being consumed, the vending machine also records who has used what, ensuring that customers aren’t paying for somebody else’s 800-grit sanding disc. It’s a lovely re-purposing of an existing piece of workshop furniture and shows that even at this rarefied level, the art of lateral thinking has not been lost.

 

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