California dreaming

Bruce Canepa and the love of making classic cars you can enjoy every day

For all the gleaming facilities, incredible array of road and race cars and the 70 people employed to prepare, restore and sell them, the overriding passion apparent from chatting to Bruce Canepa is his love of driving. Fast cars are his life, and the examples he sells are among the very best of their kind.

Canepa, his eponymous sports and race car restoration company, based in Scotts Valley, California, is a veritable Aladdin’s cave for anyone interested in motor sport or classic cars. Not only is it brimming with the world’s finest cars alongside the on-premise restoration facility, but there is also a vibrant motor sport museum, a workshop dedicated to the support of historic race cars, and an innovative custom vehicle design house.

As such it’s a relief to hear that Bruce is fixated on the enjoyment of cars as driving machines, rather than purely as investment assets or status symbols. Little wonder given his background: his father ran a car dealership and Bruce took a keen interest in motor sport from a young age, eventually driving everything from Porsche 935s around Daytona to big rigs up Pikes Peak. Combining these influences, his business is about taking the very best cars in the market and preparing them so owners can appreciate them properly.

“I’m with Jay Leno on this one,” he says of his approach. “Guys worry about taking restored cars and using them and I say, ‘Look, start out with it perfect. If it’s done properly it’s like owning a new car – drive it as much as you want, go where you want and enjoy it. You can always restore it again!’ ”

Getting the right cars and preparing them to this level is, of course, where the hard work comes in. “People say ‘you’re an overnight sensation’ but I’ve been doing it for 40 years and that’s a lot of overnights!” he jokes. “I’m a control freak and if you want to maintain timelines, quality and costs you have to do it yourself. I’m a detail-oriented person and, while I don’t micro-manage, you need to stay on top of detail. That’s the difference between the best and less.”

As such Canepa’s workshops can handle anything from machining to carbon fibre prep and paintwork. And while trusted specialists like Jack Roush pick up certain jobs like Ford V8 rebuilds, as much of the work as possible is kept in-house – whether it’s rebuilding a Colombo Ferrari V12 or preparing a Porsche 917 engine for historic racing.

Keeping to a strict restoration timetable is one important discipline Bruce enforces, no job taking longer than 24 months. “We had an alloy-bodied Ferrari 275 that was a mess,” says Bruce. “By the time we were done that car had 4300 hours of work logged on it but we had it finished in 11 months. You can only do that if you’ve got complete control over the process.”

Porsches remain Canepa’s personal passion, his time racing the 935 sealing it as one of his all-time favourite cars. From road-going classic 911s to Group C 962s and his own in-house programme for upgrading 959s he’s especially proud of this expertise, but the same rigour is applied to all projects. It could be improving the cooling on an original Cobra to make it more usable in modern traffic or a full ‘outlaw’ 300SL conversion but the goal is the same – make them drive properly and encourage the owners to enjoy them as much as possible.


The company founder on how he brought the Porsche 959 to the US market

We’ve had more than 60 Porsche 959s go through our shop now. It kind of started in 1987 with me trying to figure out how to get them legal to drive here in the US [the cars did not meet US government regulations, including emissions limits]. We were looking at losing 100hp to make them compliant with emissions limits which led us onto a development programme to make 550hp emissions legal. We made a Gen 2 with 650hp and now we’re at 800hp! We’re now working on ground-up restorations and have done five or six cars – the reason they’re popular is you can make them as fast as any modern supercar but they are just so usable too – you can drive them all day long.