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Wheel Stories: Along came his Spyder

By Michael Stahl, 16 Feb 2019 Features

Wheel Stories: Along came his Spyder

This master car craftsman is about to deliver the ultimate tribute

BRIAN Tanti’s coachbuilding and engineering skills propelled him to the curatorship of Lindsay Fox’s staggering car collection for 27 years. Now Tanti, 56, is showcasing those car-building techniques in an innovative Sydney workshop and events space, where body jigs and milling machines mix with cocktails and coffee.

Tanti was born in Malta, his family moving to Melbourne when he was nine months old. His parents ultimately had seven kids. “My father wasn’t particularly interested in cars, but two of my uncles had an influence. One worked as a fitter and turner, the other as an aircraft fitter. At a very early age I learned about excellence. And I had a cousin, an apprentice at Ford, he had an XU-1 Torana. I’d watch him working – I was six or seven – and just be fascinated by the way people problem-solve.”

Tanti took an apprenticeship as a panel beater, being introduced to wheeling machines and metal forming during stints at the Kangan Batman TAFE. “I found that very creative – taking something inanimate and giving it form.”

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He spent a year in the UK at a coachbuilding firm, returned to Melbourne to do restoration work for a Rolls-Royce dealership, then joined a new, independent shop repairing and restoring early Ferraris. After one more stop (working on E-Types), around 1991 Tanti got a call from Lindsay Fox’s people.

“Lindsay had a workshop employing two mechanics, a trimmer and coachbuilder; I was the second coachbuilder hired. We were in a small shop in Caulfield with no signage. We didn’t do any outside work.”

Tanti recalls that, when he started, Fox’s 130-or-so car collection was valued at $9m. “By the time I finished in June of this year, $9m would be almost tied up in one car.” Tanti says that while Fox didn’t seem to drive his cars often, “he’s very passionate about seeing the cars going from being basket-cases to cars that are paraded on concours lawns – and I think he likes showing people that process, too.”

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One favourite project was Fox’s blue 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder – chassis 56. “A lot of things weren’t right, and it became almost an Indiana Jones experience, restoring it … Lindsay was kind enough to let me go to America, where I looked at three cars and took the math data. In many respects, it was the most challenging car I’ve built.”

By mid-2018, Tanti found that the 550 was just one of a couple of attractive forms playing on his mind. “I met a girl and I’d been commuting to Sydney for two and a half years,” he says. Tanti took the “leap of faith”, then proceeded to fully equip a large, modern workshop on Sydney’s lower north shore.

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“I’ve had this idea to reproduce a 550 Spyder,” he explains. “I’m tooling up to build four, nut-and-bolt faithful cars and I’ve had a few enquiries from serious collectors.” He suggests pricing will be around 10 to 20 percent the value of a genuine 550 Spyder, which change hands for $4-$8 million. Those maths also tally with the 4000 to 5000 hours Tanti says go into building one.

The exercise is being sustained by Brian Tanti’s Workshop (www.briantantisworkshop.com) functioning as a corporate events space.

“One of the things I learnt from 25 years of running events at Docklands was that people loved the museum, but they really enjoyed being in the workshop. I’m talking about people that had no particular interest in cars at all.”

And he’s running the whole show on his own. “At one point we were employing about nine staff at the (museum) workshop in Docklands. I’m happy to just be here on my own and see where we go from here.”