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The Art of Perfection
Lenny Copp and West Coast Classic Restorations

By Robert Hallstrom

What would you do with an extra twenty to thirty grand? Take a trip around the world? Use as a down payment for a house? Buy a new car? How about restore an old one? That's roughly the amount world-renowned West Coast Classic Restorations (WCCR) charges to transform a rusted out vintage Beetle into a show winning, trophy car.

How about a 21-Window Bus or an early Ghia? No problem. WCCR is a highly creditable full-service restoration facility, willing and able to tackle the most comprehensive restorations regardless of vehicle condition, model or year. In fact, the company has been churning out expertly crafted turnkey restos for nearly twenty years and has estimated roughly 700 completed restorations to its credit (give or take a few, of course).


Founded by Lenny Copp in 1986, the company still occupies its original building located in Fullerton, Calif., which has expanded over the years to encompass over 8500 square feet. The feel of the place is quite comforting to any VW enthusiast with Volkswagen nostalgia visible from floor to ceiling. From giant retro lollipop dealer signs and other vintage wall art to an antique Coke machine and several counters packed with rare VW toys, parts, accessories and memorabilia, the shop provides plenty of eye candy for visitors and customers alike.

Currently employing a full time staff of 10, Copp prides himself on his skillful team, many of whom have been on the payroll well over a decade, including Jessie Quintana who was hired over 14-years ago to head the company's various upholstery services. "Maintaining good help is the key to our success" Copp said. "Our team is comprised of individuals who are considered among the best at what they do, and I couldn't be more fortunate to have them. We all love VWs and I think it shows".

WCCR's commitment to quality and consistency in workmanship has brought the company a measure of creditability you can't place a price on. Copp and crew have also earned a handful of industry accolades recognizing their work, including two VWTrends "Best Restoration Shop" awards, as well as countless magazine feature articles.

While the company has restored VWs of virtually every model and year, even including late model Super Beetles, naturally early vintage represents the better majority of the business.

"Whether it's a 1943 Split or a 1979 Beetle Convertible, each car is treated with equal care," said Copp. This attention to detail undoubtedly ensures an ideally "correct" restoration, if not better than the factory ever intended--a testament to general manager Nate Mulholland and shop foreman Rafael Gutierrez who help oversee day-to-day operation.

At any given time, the shop is flush with vehicles waiting their turn for a new lease on life. Many receive full pan-off treatment. A tedious and cumbersome chore, the procedure reveals just how much time and effort (and money) is administered from start to finish.

From the drive train, interior to paint and body, every aspect of a restoration is closely monitored by Copp and often photographed and placed on the company's web (www.classicvws.com) to illustrate vehicle progress during assembly. A nice customer perk.

In 1994, WCCR began selling its popular line of vintage interiors via mail order. Today, with three full-time dedicated upholsterers, the company provides a classic hand-sewn interior correct down to the imported German cloth for most any model imagined, including early 1943-'59 Beetles, 1950-'67 Buses, as well as 1956-and-later Karmann Ghias. In addition to seat covers, WCCR also offers a number of vintage interior and exterior accessories from steering wheels to roof racks. From time to time they also offer various lifestyle accessories such as limited edition "speedo" watches.

While Volkswagen restoration is the core of the business, it's not unheard of to see vehicles of other German vintage within its restoration bay--most recently a 1965 Porsche 356 SC was handsomely restored with award-winning detail.

When further prodded about the company's model for success, Copp replied "Integrity above all else. If we had a company motto that's how it would read. Also, never cut corners. We build every car as if it was our own and we wouldn't have it any other way. Period."

Lenny Copp and crew of West Coast Classic Restoation can be found at 1002 E. Walnut, Fullerton, CA 92831; (714) 871-1322; www.classicvw.com.

Five Minutes with Lenny Copp

At what point did your fascination for VWs begin? In 1972 after graduating from "Auto Mechanic School in New Hampshire, I applied for work at all the local dealers, including Chevy, Ford, etc. I also applied at the local VW dealership. As fate would have it, they were the only ones willing to take a chance and train me. I worked there over two years as a line mechanic, beginning a fond affection for Volkswagens. I've owned and worked on them ever since.

When did you branch out on your own?

Well, like much of the VW industry, I started out of my garage, repairing cars for extra money. With the help of a partner I opened a VW repair shop in Peterborough, New Hampshire, but it was short lived and I decided to move to California. Upon closing down the business, I packed up my son and wife into our '58 European Beetle Sunroof and headed to the West Coast. We had everything we owned either on the roof or in the back with my son. It took eight long days to get here, but we made it. Unfortunately, someone stole the car shortly after we arrived and we never saw it again.

Not a very nice welcome, but obviously things changed for the better.

Yes. I started repairing VWs out of my garage again. It helped make ends meet while I was employed at a small start-up automotive company, which designed and manufactured diagnostic tools. In 1986 when the company was forced to close its doors, its president and I founded West Coast Classics (WCC, Inc.). I later bought him out and changed the name to West Coast Classic Restorations.

You now run one of the industry's premier VW restoration facilities. Did you ever imagine?

Yes and no. I always wanted to work with Volkswagens. Keeping them on the street where they belong is a wonderful thing. Through a lot of hard work, things turned out and here we are.

How many restorations are under construction at any given time?

Currently we have about 12, mostly early-model Bugs and Buses. Every now and then we'll see a few coachbuilts such as Rometsch, D&S and Hebmuller.

What's the average cost of a restoration? I get that question a lot. There are two types of restorations. One is for a finished driver. The other is a complete body-off "show winner" restoration. This would include every nut and bolt. The former run roughly $18,000 to 25,000, while the latter range from $28,000 to 35,000, on average. Of course, it all depends on the condition and the completeness of the car.

In contrast, what is the highest amount charged for a restoration? When you get a rare VW or coachbuilt you have to spend the necessary time to make it right again, regardless of condition. Some of these older cars come in looking as if they went through a garbage disposal. If you've seen the "before" pictures of the '49 Heb we're doing you'll see what I mean. We had one person on that car for almost five months, every day. How much should I charge for that? That's where the love comes in and the passion for what we do. I want that certain car to be the best out there. So we will spend the time to make it that way. To answer your question, we've had one or two near the $50,000 mark.

What's the rarest VW you've owned? And likewise, what's the rarest vehicle you've restored?

There's no question, if you consider coachbuilt VWs then it would be my 1951 Rometsch coupe. It's the oldest known split-windshield coupe to exist. How's that for rare? It's currently unrestored. We've done a couple oval window Rometsch's, which could classify as the rarest restored. Only a small handful of these cars remain.

WCCR hosts two annual industry parties, which bring hundreds of people from around the globe. How do you prepare for such large crowds?

Warn the neighbors and have lots of carne asada. The June open house attracts about 500 people each year. Our entire facility is packed inside and out with VWs wrapped around the block. In February, we have a much smaller gathering following the Toy Lit [Toy & Literature] show.

Speaking of party's, any plans for the company's 20th anniversary? Not yet. But, man, it should be good...





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