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Classic BMWs have always been desirable machines, and specialists have enjoyed looking after models such as the Neue Klasse line and E9 coupés for many years.
As the generations shift, though, cars built in Munich from the 1980s onwards haven’t always been served as well.
This is where new kid on the block Stephen Curtis and Classic Bahnstormers come in.
“I’ve always been quite opportunity-focused,” says Curtis. “Everything I’d ever done I turned into a business.
“I started out as a music teacher because I played guitar then wondered how to make money out of that. It’s the same with this.
“I became aware that some businesses had been around for a while but weren’t moving with the times.
“I zeroed in on the imminent explosion of retro models that were climbing in popularity, the E24 6 Series and E28 5 Series especially, so I wanted to start something new.”
Initially, Curtis was hesitant of mixing his passion for BMWs with his new business plan.
“People said, ‘Why don’t you do cars?’ but I didn’t want to spoil my hobby. I had my first old BMW when I was 23 – a white E24, proper Miami Vice spec, which I’ve just brought out of storage.
“When I started out, the only way I could own a car like that was to buy it, enjoy it for a bit, then sell it. The business started as a buying-and-selling idea; if I made a few quid I was happy.”
When the decision came to focus on making Classic Bahnstormers a success, Curtis credits his girlfriend, supporter and silent partner Lucy Brown as a key team member.
Similarly, his long-time employee and current workshop foreman, Peter Bowles, is a big reason behind why the firm is moving forward so rapidly.
Investing in people is at the heart of what Curtis is about: “I want Classic Bahnstormers to be a great place to work.
“There isn’t a lot I can offer my guys, but what I can offer is autonomy. I don’t want to micro-manage them.
“I expect everyone to take responsibility for what they’re doing and to do it to a great standard. I want everything done to the highest standards – anything less will be open to criticism.”
The endless welding of rust-damaged panels was recognised as a bottleneck in the process.
“When Peter joined he was a godsend,” recalls Curtis. “After a while he said he wanted to learn to weld, so I bought him a starter kit and a 12-week course at a local agricultural college. He takes so much pride in what he does.”
As soon as images of Bowles’s welding appeared on the Bahnstormers’ social media, enthusiasts loved them. “It went up a gear,” says Curtis. “People started to take notice of us.”
He continues: “I am a complete luddite when it comes to technology. A university friend, Tom Bromley, wanted to do something in automotive PR and badgered me to get an Instagram account.
“Every time I posted, he texted to tell me what I’d done wrong, so I offered him some beer money to do it. The main factors in the success at Classic Bahnstormers are Peter and Tom.”
Curtis is quick to point out that his main focus is managing resources for his growing team, but if they drag out a barn-find that hasn’t been started in a while, he’s first there with a spanner.
“I love making them go and bringing them back. If they’re full of acorns and smell of mould, that’s great. I love it when they’re finished, too – everything in the middle is everyone else’s job.”
Significantly, ex-BMW main dealer staff are now becoming part of the Bahnstormers ranks as they join Curtis in spotting the modern classic niche the firm is filling.
“There is a waiting list for big rebuilds, while smaller stuff is running two weeks to a month ahead. It’s a nice problem to have.
“We’re hungry because the business is young. I’m business-motivated on top of an enthusiast’s head.”
Images: Luc Lacey
- Name Classic Bahnstormers
- Address School Road, Kemble, Cirencester, Gloucestershire GL7 6AU
- Specialism Classic BMW fabrication, restoration and servicing
- Staff Seven
- Prices £65+VAT per hour
- Tel 07833 491349
- Web classicbahnstormers.com
- Email email@example.com