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An Apprentice’s View of Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance

Kira Mundhenk, apprentice at the Aston Martin restoration shop called Steel Wings in Pennsylvania, gives a behind-the-scenes look at one of the most famous concours events in the world, Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, and demonstrates the value of supporting future restoration specialists with a good apprentice program.

By Jeff Mason

September 30, 2021

What was it like to prepare a car to compete at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance?

While the shop that I apprentice at is wide-ranging in its services, doing everything from basic service work to major modifications like adding air conditioning and fuel injection, one of my favorite things to witness so far was the restoration and preparation of a DB5 convertible for entry at Pebble Beach.

What was the restoration process like?

Most of us have probably seen television restoration shows where things are somehow sped up into a few weeks of refreshing and maybe a quick paint job, but on a high-end restoration and especially one meant for the concours, no detail is too small.

This car arrived in paint from the body shop not long after I started at Steel Wings and working in proximity to it was absolutely terrifying. The Aston DB5’s body is made of incredibly thin aluminum that often becomes even more delicate over the years through repairs and restorations, and the paintwork has to remain immaculate through assembly and test driving.

One of the best parts of apprenticing for me, because I’m always curious about everything, is getting to ask a lot of questions.

Anything touching the paintwork can cause micro scratches that will have to be dealt with down the road, so transitioning from working on a normal streetcar to building the right habits for working around cars of this caliber is absolutely crucial and a big part of learning to work in an environment like this.

Taping off the body took an entire day, and it gave me the opportunity to really spend time seeing every inch of the car before everything started to go together. Even though I thought I had spent a lot of time looking at cars, I’ve come to realize that it’s nothing compared to how much your eye really needs to be trained. Each bit of the bodywork has an ideal line and everything needs to be perfectly symmetrical.

What part of the car’s restoration did you work on?

At this point in the process, all aspects of the car have already been planned. The trim and grille have been fitted and most parts are already prepared for assembly. The trim is one of my favorite parts, because it’s truly the icing on the cake. Different areas are stainless steel or aluminum, but it all has to be brought to the most flawless finish possible. I absolutely love to see a piece of trim come back to life.

Over the years scratches and nicks can accumulate and aluminum can corrode. Taking out the impurities while retaining the shape and then bringing it back to a mirror shine takes hours and hours, but especially for a high-level restoration the original trim is crucial. While you can purchase some pieces of trim new, or even fabricate a new piece, the quality of metal will never be the same as an original. Occasionally the damage is bad enough that pieces need to be welded to repair cracks or to resize and shape to fit perfectly. Luckily, most of the trim on this car was in fantastic condition, and as I worked on a lot of the trim for this car, I was anticipating the shiny bits being installed more than anything.

What would you want the public to know about the apprentice experience as it relates to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance?

One of the best parts of apprenticing for me, because I’m always curious about everything, is getting to ask a lot of questions. Watching my boss work on the assembly I was able to ask so much, both about how the cars were originally manufactured as well as the techniques we can use to be as authentic as possible today. During this time, I was working on the assembly of a DB5 coupe directly next to the convertible in the shop, so any time I had a question about where a wire went or what kind of fastener to use, I could look over at the best representation and know that I was getting it right.

An Aston Martin DB5 convertible prepared for the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

Were you able to attend the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance?

I was obviously pretty biased toward the convertible, and I hoped that the judges would be able to see how much care had gone into the restoration. I would have loved to be able to attend the show and see work from other shops up close, but I was still able to spend the day of the show seeing pictures posted online and watching a live feed. When it came time for the awards presentation, my boss sent a picture to the group text of the car lined up for the ceremony.

The car ultimately received third in its class, which is already an incredibly selective group. I’m proud to have contributed to the restoration of this car, and I’m excited for the next time the shop has an opportunity to prepare a car for the show.

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