Words & Photography by Richard Tipper aka Perfection Valet
I’ve had a passion for cars from a very young age, most of which was instilled by my father who regularly brought home some very nice sports cars that he would service for his clients. I have vivid memories of being taken out for ’road tests’ in a Porsche 911 (930) Turbo and a Ferrari 246 Dino amongst others. These where very influential experiences as a youngster and I soon realised that I simply had to be around sports cars in some way or another.
In 1986, aged just 14, I would gather up my bucket of cleaning products and walk round to several neighbours’ houses and clean their cars on a weekend: “£2 please Sir”. £10 for a hard days grafting wasn’t much, but unbeknown to me at the time a valuable lesson was being learned. I was enjoying every minute, the satisfaction and pleasure I experienced was addictive. I was actually getting paid to do something I thoroughly enjoyed doing. I’m pleased to say that 27 years later nothing has changed.
At 16 I’d built up a good cleaning round and even found myself having to work in the evening after my day job as a gardener. I’d already started to save money with the view of being a fulltime professional car cleaner. I desperately wanted to drive and for my 17th Birthday, April 1989, I had my first driving lesson. Just 13 lessons later I passed my test and could now go fully mobile. On 1st September 1989 I took delivery of a shiny blue Vauxhall Rascal van and decided to make a go of car valeting as a business.
In the right place at the right time.. In August 1997 I got asked by a client to go along to Silverstone race circuit to give his Ferrari F50 a thorough clean as it was going to be photographed. This was all the information I was given at the time and I very nearly declined the invitation as I had never travelled such a distance to work on a car before. Upon arrival at the circuit I was met by a young journalist by the name of Richard Meaden, who at the time was Deputy Editor of Performance Car magazine. To my amazement he was there along with photographer Kenny P to run a feature on my client’s supercar. So this wasn’t just going to be a simple photo session then?
I was now under pressure to make the car look its best for what was going to be a substantial feature in a very popular automotive publication. During my time at the circuit, Dickie, as his friends and colleagues call him, commented on my work with a genuine level of admiration and subsequently asked for a business card, saying that he would be in touch in the very near future as there was something on the horizon that I could be interested in: “Can’t say too much about it at the moment Richard, but all will be revealed…” So, in October 1997 I rushed with great anticipation to my local Newsagents in Oakwood, London, to pick up a copy of Performance Car. The issue had the F50 slap bang on the front cover and inside was a five page spread titled “Prancing Force, driving the dream”. Not in my wildest dreams did I think that I would actually get a mention in the article, but boy was I glad I did, for it would change the future of Perfection Valet.
If the overwhelming response from a relatively tiny mention in Performance Car wasn’t enough, the following year I received a call which would throw the business into a new dimension. The newly formed EVO Magazine was now in full flow and following on from our discussions at Silverstone, Richard Meaden thought I should be featured in a section of the magazine called ‘Inside Job’, which interviewed people who worked closely with high-performance cars. With very little comprehension of what could lie ahead I arranged to meet up at Maranello Sales in Egham where my client’s F50 was being serviced. What better car to use than one of the most talked about supercars at the time, and for that matter, what better location than Ferrari UK’s prestigious HQ?
Richard sent along a freelance journalist by the name of Emma Bradshaw (now Emma Meaden…) who was going to write the piece. I was initially very nervous, but soon warmed to her relaxed interviewing technique. It wasn’t long before she had me dishing the dirt on the stranger things I had found in clients cars! It would later become apparent that these questions and associated answers added a welcome twist of humour to the article.
It would be ninety six issues later before I grabbed my next opportunity. Richard Meaden decided to go out and buy himself a toy in the shape of a beautiful Porsche 964 RS. “Hello Dickie, couldn’t help but notice your latest acquisition. I’ll make that look very shiny for you!” No sooner had I put the phone down I was off to East Northants to spend the day machining and enhancing the RS. The transformation was such that Richard felt compelled to write about my work and include it in the next issue of ‘Fast Fleet’ within the magazine. The timing was impeccable as EVO’s centenary issue was fast approaching and was destined to be a sellout. EVO was immensely popular and had a huge following. To appear in the 100th issue would mean valuable exposure read by many thousands of car enthusiasts.
Having known Stuart Gallagher from the early years of EVO I was approached by him to be featured within the pages of the highly-regarded GT Porsche magazine, of which he is the Editor. Naturally I jumped at the chance. Better still a supportive client very kindly allowed me to use his 997 3.8 GT3 RS for the feature. Porsche was a brand I struggled to appreciate for many years. The penny dropped when I started to work for them at corporate events. Having been spotted in EVO magazine by James Taylor, who at the time was Head of Press and Events, I was soon asked to work at new car launches and press/customer driving days. I found myself attending some very exclusive locations. My job was to prepare the cars and present them in a uniform fashion. I was given strict instructions to line the cars up with millimetre precision, set the temperatures at 22`, ensure the seats were all level, steering wheels straight, doors must be able to open without touching the car next door and navigation systems must have the route pre-programmed. The level of professionalism was truly eye-opening, the tiniest detail had a relevance beyond comprehension. “Now I get what Porsche is about: Precision, Professionalism, Presentation and Delivery.” And all this was what went on behind the scenes on the day, let alone what goes into their cars. It wasn’t long before I was completely smitten by the brand. I have worked for Porsche GB at the Goodwood Festival of Speed since 2006 and have also become an authorised provider of services to Porsche Cars GB. A real honour it has to be said.
I then received a phone call from the offices of the most highly respected Motorsport Club in the world, the BRDC. Members include some of Motorsports greatest names. Sir Stirling Moss, Lewis Hamilton, David Coulthard, Allan McNish and Jenson Button are just a few that have reached an accolade high enough to warrant membership. Not only is membership invitation only but the same applies when the club puts together its bi-annual Bulletin. Ten companies get the privilege of having their business viewed by Motorsports greatest, an invitation like this is not to be turned down. The advertising department claimed that never before had a business like mine been considered for inclusion, “We think a company like yours deserves to be introduced to our members, many of whom would not trust many people with their automotive possessions”. Each advertiser would receive one page, I chose to be right opposite ‘News from Silverstone Circuit’, rather poignant when you consider the club owns the circuit and Silverstone is the heart of British Motorsport.
Detailing fine automobiles gets you access to some amazing machinery. Over the years I have worked on cars dating back as far as 1905. I’ve always taken great pride in my work and always shoot some pictures of the finished cars. Many pre-war Bentleys in the shape of the 4.5L from the late 1920s and early 1930s have been glazed with ‘Perfection’ wax. At the last count eighteen examples had been maintained and prepared for sale. Very rare and obscure marques have also been worked on. Siata, Pegaso, Voisin and Invicta to name a few are all cars I needed to Google to assist in my research before arriving to detail them.
Ferrari have been producing road cars since 1949 and I can very proudly say I have detailed 54 different models, including a 1955 410 Sport Berlinetta, four 250 GT Tour de France (one of which was a 14 louvre), four 1961 250 GT SWB California Spiders and a 1963 Series 1 250 GTO.
Porsche goes back even further; their first road car was a Type 64 in 1939. Sadly not a car I’ve worked on but I have done several 356’s, 911’s dating back to the 1970s including sixteen 2.7 RS’s, a GT1 road car and forty other models in various guises. Strangely I hadn’t cleaned any Lamborghinis until about 1995, when my first experience was a 2WD Diablo in yellow. Since then I’ve worked on 400 GT 2+2’s, Miura 400S and SVs, Countachs and many Diablos, Gallardos and Murcielagos.
I love super cars, but I’m also a huge motorsport fan, so to get my hands on rare homologated road cars is always special. BMW E30 M3s, Lancia Delta Integrales, Audi Quattros and Porsche GT3 RSs are just some examples of ‘specialised’ cars I’ve had the pleasure of enhancing as well as Gilles Villeneuve’s Ferrari 312 T4 F1 car and Alan Jones Williams FW-07 from 1981.
Largely thanks to Stuart Gallagher (Editor of GT Porsche) we went along to the offices of BMWCar magazine in Essex to work on the editors E92 M3 which had recently had a full vinyl wrap removed. Being a very dark Blue the paint was looking rather tired. Eight hours later we had turned it back into a new car again. As it was part of the magazines fleet our work got written about in the monthly running report, this covered two pages of the publication and was dedicated solely to the work that was carried out.
Mercedes-Benz at Brooklands had back in their possession a rather special car, in the shape of a 560 SEC, which 1992 Formula One World Champion Nigel Mansell drove during the height of his career. With only 41,000 miles on the clock we were asked to make the car look its best so that it could take pride of place in the museum. An added twist to the day was that Mercedes Enthusiast magazines photographer Eric Richardson was going to be on hand all day taking pictures and asking questions with the view of putting a report together for inclusion within the magazine. What followed was a whopping seven page spread on the car and the work that we did. This was tremendous coverage, my biggest yet.
25,000… that’s roughly how many cars I’ve washed, valeted or detailed since 1989. In the early years I used to work for dealerships like Winchmore Hill Rover, Lancaster Mercedes-Benz in Hertford, Porsche and Mercedes-Benz at Bow and Lancaster Jardines at Lakeside performing valets and forecourt presentation. This work would see myself (sometimes as part of a team) cleaning upwards of 30 cars a day, which has obviously boosted my average somewhat! As the years passed by I did less and less dealership work and concentrated on spending time on full valets, two or sometimes three could be achieved in a long day. On top of that I used to rely heavily on repeat business, so certain days of the week would be put aside for maintenance cleans. Indeed it wasn’t uncommon to complete 15 of these on a long summer’s day. Nowadays it is easy to spend many, many hours preparing cars. The higher my expectations become and that of the clients, the longer it takes to complete a job.
Looking back at some of the incredible cars I’ve worked on has made me realise just how lucky I am to have found a career that not only introduces me to some amazingly talented people, but also takes me behind the scenes at places you just wouldn’t be able to get to in most other circumstances. To work so intimately with some of the worlds rarest, most valuable and most prestigious cars remains an absolute privilege. Fortunately, I am forever asked to enhance, protect and maintain the world’s finest cars and my enthusiasm grows with every detail. I never stop loving what I do, nor do I ever take for granted the privileges this job has introduced me to.
Whilst I hope that I am blessed with the physical ability to continue detailing for many years to come I’m not ignorant to the fact that this is a tremendously tiring and physical job. My body and mind has adapted to the long hours, harsh weather conditions and general anxiety felt by a conscientious person trying to provide a service to his clients. Times are never easy and it’s a constant but enjoyable battle to try and keep up with the latest products, automotive materials and service demand. Regardless of how busy I might be I never feel complacent or take anything for granted. I thrive to perform, and sleep fitfully if I ever feel a client has been left dissatisfied.
I have managed to remain independent for all these years despite many offers to become affiliated with various chemical companies. I feel that this has been to my advantage as I’m able to try and test various products and use those that perform best regardless of cost.
I hope to produce my own line of products one day or I may also choose to work solely for a small select number of clients on their collections and reduce heavily the maintenance cleans that require so much rushing around. Whatever I choose to do in future I can only hope that I remain as happy now as I have been for the past 24 years and I’m able to provide a level of service that continues to see my detailing in demand for many years to come.
“Before I met Richard Tipper I thought I knew what a clean car was. I was wrong. In the sixteen years I’ve known him, Richard has never failed to blow my mind with how he can make a car look. Whether it’s the spectacular revival of a tired and previously unloved vehicle, or the tangible enhancement of what the rest of us would already believe to be a cherished and spotless machine, the results he achieves are unfailingly dazzling. Perfection. The clue’s in the name.”
Richard Meaden – Freelance Journalist and Racing Driver
“There have been many occasions where we have thought a car had been detailed and prepared to a satisfactory level by ourselves. But then Richard and his team come along and transform – and I mean really transform – a
car that already looks great into something that looks truly outstanding. We are proud to have worked with Richard and his team over the past 10 years and have enjoyed doing so as well.”
‘Fiskens’ Fine Historic Automobiles
“My Pagani Zonda and Lamborghini Countach look amazing. Until you’ve had a car detailed by Perfection Valet you’ll never believe the results.”
Harry Metcalfe – Founder, EVO Magazine
“We have personally known Richard for nearly 20 years and during that time he has been entrusted with every single one of Page and Cooper’s cars. He’s turned mundane cars into magnificent, ordinary cars into ‘oh my’ cars. It is Richard’s extraordinary attention to detail that has gained him a clientele of some of the most important car collectors, exclusive classic car dealers and even world manufacturers.”
Jonathan Bordel – Page and Cooper