Bring a big pair of eyes, don't trip on all the Cosworths, and remember to breathe.
In a modest building somewhere between San Francisco and Sonoma, California, lies the Noah’s ark of racing history. In Phil Reilly’s Bay Area temple of vintage-race-car rejuvenation, every decade of competition is represented, from handcrafted prewar machines to carbon-fiber Le Mans prototypes. Just beyond the door, you’re greeted by the bare monocoque from Graham Hill’s Embassy Grand Prix entry, the last F1 car the double world champion ever drove. Behind that is Niki Lauda’s first Ferrari F1 car, awaiting a ground-up restoration. Spin your head to the right and it’s a monstrous Bugatti Type 57 engine being reassembled; to the left, the V12 and gearbox from a BRM P160, ready to be installed.
Phil Reilly passed away on 12/20/2022. This story, originally from our September, 2013 issue, is being republished in his honor. – Ed.
An emerging shop could make its name from restoring just one of these cars. Phil Reilly & Co. is entrusted with dozens.
Reilly at work.
The 15 men who work here would be right at home in a SoHo artist’s collective, but have chosen instead to express themselves with spanners and shears. Eyes are kept low, on the problems at hand. The coffee mugs are old and contain caramel-colored strata. There’s a reason for that.
“I’ve been parking my Alfa out front in the same spot for 32 years,” says mechanic Ivan Zaremba. “I think our newest guy has been here for 13 years. That’s who we are.”
“A lot of what we do is the impossible stuff no one else will tackle,” says Brian Madden, the employee who recently purchased the business and who still works alongside its founders. “And since there’s often no blueprint on what to do or how to do it, the Socratic method gets used a lot.”
“And there’s a lot of arguing that goes with it,” adds Jon Ennik, a former Indy 500 mechanic of the year. “It has to be done right—that’s the agreement we make. We might give each other the stink eye on how to get there, but if we do our jobs properly, these cars will outlive any of us.”
Phil Reilly, usually found standing over one of the 60 Cosworth DFV Formula 1 V8s he services, continues to drive the company. More than 20 F1 cars from the DFV’s 3.0-liter era have been brought back to life within his enclave. He’s one of the prime movers in the vintage-Indy-car community, responsible for breathing life into countless Millers and front-engined Indy roadsters. And despite the shop’s recent change in ownership, he isn’t ready to hang up his apron.
“I had no idea this would grow into what it has become,” Reilly says. “I wanted to tinker with the old cars I loved and had some friends who felt the same way. And I still love this. I think we’ve built a good place to work—a place where you can earn an honest living and be satisfied when you go home at night. I guess we have a reputation for the cars we do, but I hope the reputation of our people and how we do things is what lasts.”