In the center of the hall, a man sits on a tree trunk and patiently hammers a sheet of aluminum into shape. To the front right of the hall, there are cars that look like they date back to the 1920s or 1930s. At the back of the hall, there is an auto body paint shop where a number of metal frames for new cars that have been soldered together in meticulous handwork can be made out. And to the front left, a couple of unpainted luxury sports car bodies with the sumptuous curves of the 1950s and 1960s wait to be painted in the right hues. Amongst them, an almost finished specimen modeled after the Talbot Lago T26 (1947). "Our cars are re-creations of vehicles that no longer exist. We produce everything here ourselves, from the car body all the way down to the tires," says Gustavo Mancardo, aged forty-five. The cars in the hall all bear the name "Reklus" – after the brand he created.
All this is the result of a dream that began thirty years ago when Gustavo's father closed down the family-owned car part manufacturing factory. With all the ups and downs of the Argentinian economy, running it had become too much of a burden. Gustavo, then 15, started tinkering with old cars as any other boy that age would, given the chance. But the result was not just a pimped out car to impress the girls. Gustavo had managed to lay his hands on an original Marmon "Wasp" engine – and entirely rebuilt the old race car that had originally been introduced in the US in 1929. From the delicate wheel rims to the interior, everything down to the last detail was perfect.
Gustavo's father recognized his son's talent and gave him a shed to store his self-built cars in. Soon, there were five, then ten. And, when somebody asked him what the make of his cars was, Gustavo remembered the street sign at the corner. "Calle Reclus," Reclus street. That sounded good, but looked even better spelled with a "k". "I only found out later that Reclus was the name of a French surgeon."
Gustavo, whose friends call him Pini, went on to study business administration and then to manage a tire company in Tierra del Fuego. Only in his mid-thirties did he find his way back to his first calling: old-timers and sports cars from the 1940s and 1950s. With a true aficionado's passion for detail, he launched into production. Today, he employs over a dozen staff. "We sell most of our cars to the US and Europe where customers value quality," the car builder says. Manufacturing a new "old" car takes up to 10 months, and the boss chooses all the models himself, tracks down historical photographs, draws the plans and buys up used engines. And, that is the Reklus concept in nutshell: original engine, new exterior.
Despite his enthusiasm for automobiles, Gustavo doesn't really feel comfortable talking to reporters. He prefers to delegate this part – and exhibiting at trade fairs – to his brother Walter, who is younger by two years.
Clients need to know they can trust us.
"We Mancardos carry the fascination for motor cars in our genes," says Walter. "Gustavo's son tries to copy everything, and he's only four. We give him some pieces of aluminum and a plastic toy hammer, and he spends hours banging on the metal parts." An earlier carrier of the car-gene was Grandfather Mancardo who used to compete in tractor races on a monstrously large, steam-driven vehicle at the beginning of last century. And Gustavo's father met Juan Manuel Fangio, the five-time Formula One world champion, at a school fete. Later, Mancardo senior went on to become friends with Froilán González, Formula One vice world champion of 1954. To this day, the erstwhile race car driver occasionally looks in on the factory to admire the Reklus creations.
"You have to be pretty car-crazy to start a project like this," Gustavo admits. "Nobody works here just for the money. You could offer them a job in a refrigerator factory with a 50% salary increase, but they'd still be working here." The only chance they have to survive in the global market is by delivering consistent quality, Gustavo states. "Our customers need to know that they can trust us." Quality, to him, means: The right material. Precision. The perfect color. Handmade quality. Original engines. And the car needs to have the right feel – a newly-built Reklus automobile isn't supposed to feel new.
The Reklus collection is changing along with customer tastes, brother Walter adds. "The previous generation looked for vintage pre-war cars because those were the cars they had admired as children. Our customers today have memories of later models; the cars they saw as children were those of the 1950s and 1960s." Which is why Reklus is currently focusing more on the curved shapes of the cars from that era.
Despite the clear business plan, the company doesn't invest in advertising. "First and foremost we are concerned with cars and less with sales. Maybe we should go to trade fairs more often, as that's where we meet our clients," muses Gustavo, who has thawed a bit over the course of the conversation. In his leisure time, the Reklus founder goes mountain biking and uses a Honda for dealing with city traffic.
A brand I like that is not a car brand?
Gustavo doesn't have to think for long: "Chopard, now that's a watch where everything is just right."
His dream hasn't been entirely realized yet. The car builder envisions an old-style country estate outside of Buenos Aires, a place where customers could visit, spend the night, test the cars on the spot – and in the evening devour a juicy Argentinian steak. "That would be the perfect setting. It's easier to decide on a model after taking a prolonged test drive," Gustavo explains.
Guard dog Tyson has already made his choice. He's chosen the red Marmon and is taking a nap beneath the venerable, yet drop-dead gorgeous automobile.
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