‘The Accidental Restorer’

Fascinating story of Raja Gargour’s US car restoration adventure

Growing up in Amman in the sixties, Raja’s connection with cars evolved and he started collecting cars at an early age as “matchbox” models. (Photos: Handout from Raja Gargour)
AMMAN — Raja Gargour is a man of many talents, but he is a car aficionado par excellence and a world class expert in classic cars.  His contributions to Jordan are many and enduring; he helped establish eminent establishments, foremost of which are the Royal Automobile Museum, Royal Tank Museum, Jordan Museum, Royal Motorcycle Club of Jordan, and Royal Aero Sports Club, among others. His repertoire also includes being a world class judge at numerous classic car competitions known as concours. اضافة اعلان

With a special passion and devotion to restoration and preservation of automotive classics, Raja narrates his inimitable story about his entrance into the world of classic cars though a very visual and extremely interesting new book titled: “The Accidental Restorer: Cars, Concours, and Characters”, released in Amman this week, and available at The Good Bookshop in Jabal Amman.

A son of the renowned Gargour family, which originates from Jaffa, Raja’s family name is well-known for various business interests, most prominent of which is the Mercedes-Benz dealership, with offices and showrooms across the region.  Gargour is fabled for starting the trade relationship with the German luxury brand in the 1930’s, which as the folk story goes was a transaction in exchange for shipments of the finest product of Mandate Palestine, Jaffa oranges.

Growing up in Amman in the sixties, Raja’s connection with cars evolved and he started collecting cars at an early age as “matchbox” models.  He started dreaming of driving the super cars of the sixties, but little did young Raja know that one day that he would cross paths with the legendary race driver Phill Hill, who had won the World Drivers’ Championship in 1961.

Fast forward to the eighties, when Raja came back to Jordan from his studies in the United States and fate brought him to his first encounter with a car restoration project. He was driving around Amman when he saw a 1970 Mercedes 280 3.5 convertible in a garage in very bad condition.  Raja bought the car from its owner after much convincing and took it the Mercedes service center, where he, alongside a team of mechanics and technicians, worked on restoring it; embarking on a long journey of classic car restoration.  

In 1984, during a visit to Los Angeles, while then 27-year-old Raja sat at a friend’s home browsing through the classifieds section of a Sunday newspaper, he found a two-line ad that read: “restoration company for sale, Santa Monica, call us.” He went to meet the realtor, who didn’t him very seriously, but nevertheless accompanied him to what turned out to be “the biggest warehouse I’ve ever seen in my life”, according to Raja. In that vast space, there was a man pacing around, seemingly angry and yelling. “I recognized his face,” said Raja, and when the real-estate agent asked him, “this is Phil, do you know him?” Raja answered, “of course I know him; I have read many magazine articles about him, and as a child I had a matchbox model of his racing car.”

It was that same Phil Hill, the car racing legend, who after winning the World Drivers’ Championship title embarked on building an award-winning classic car restoration business, under the name Hill & Vaughn, with business partner Ken Vaughn. Phil had wanted to stay in the business, but his partner Ken Vaughn wanted to sell his share, Raja was told. “What struck me most during that visit to the Hill & Vaughn warehouse was the presence of around 50 classic cars of the 1910s and 1920s parked inside, and I thought to myself, that’s really cool,” said Raja.

Infatuated and passionate about restoration, Raja came back to Amman to convince his father of the high feasibility and value of this new business venture.  Although he faced some reluctance at the beginning, young Raja succeeded in getting his father’s blessing and flew back to Los Angeles to start his new Journey with Phil at Hill & Vaughn.

‘Accidental Restorer’ takes us on a journey to these very interesting adventures that Gargour and his partner shared and enjoyed, as well as the many, oftentimes rather peculiar characters that they encountered along the way, but more importantly the amazing cars that the two men brought back to life, winning many awards and trophies.

Spoiler alert: Raja’s partnership with Phil came to an end in the mid-nineties, when the real estate market downturn in the US America forced them out of business.

This book is definitely a must read for any car enthusiast, especially those who are passionate about classic masterpieces on 4 wheels.

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