posted on August 11th, 2017

Vintage collector cars get dirty too

Robert Phillips was born and raised in the detailing business. Alongside his father and brother, Bob has helped keep P&S Detail Products going strong for 50 years. They manufacture and sell a range of chemical cleaners, equipment, and detail kits, and the variety might at first overwhelm the novice do-it-yourself car owner. They are firmly established in the detailing world and know just about everything there is to know about cleaning a car.

Bob has been helping people vacuum interiors, polish wheels, and wax body panels for 37 years. For much of that, P&S’s primary focus has been on the industry side of the business. But in the last 10 years, there have been huge shifts in the detailing industry. Detailers and product manufacturers have become increasingly visible to everyday consumers by building robust online presences. To represent themselves as physical brands, companies like Bob’s must embrace social media and engage with the car enthusiast community. More on that later.

Monterey Car Week is heaven for detailers

The other side of successful branding in the detailing business? Car shows. High-profile events where fine automobiles are shown and judged on quality and condition offer excellent opportunities for detailers to showcase their work. Vintage collectible cars are fragile and expensive, so the stakes are high. Preparing these vehicles for display demands experience, attention, and skill. And no event attracts finer or more collectible cars than Monterey Car Week.

The ides of August

Bob describes Monterey Car Week as “the Super Bowl of the the detailing world.” In addition to races at the legendary Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and a bevy of auctions, California’s Monterey Peninsula plays host to no fewer than 17 official shows during the annual August event. This year’s event kicks off today, August 11, and culminates with the iconic Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance on August 20. Many of these shows feature the finest and most exclusive automobiles in the world, and detailers who secure gigs at these events treasure the opportunity.

McCall’s Motorworks Revival 2016
McCall’s Motorworks Revival 2016

One such event is McCall’s Motorworks Revival, which last year celebrated its 25th anniversary. The wildly popular party began as a small barbeque among friends. As Bob tells it, Gordon McCall, who has been a P&S customer for 35 years, was a detailer who would clean the many nice cars that his friends would bring to Monterey Car Week. It soon became a tradition of sorts, and McCall decided to organize a party around their gathering. Now, McCall’s Motorworks Revival is the week’s unofficial kick-off party and shuts down the Monterey Jet Center with 3,000 guests every year. According to Bob, “it is the exclusive party at Monterey.”

Thanks to their long-standing history with Gordon McCall, P&S has been the official detailing team of McCall’s Motorworks Revival for a few years now. The party takes place among vintage cars and private jets and is sponsored by major car manufacturers and luxury brands of all kinds. It is “extremely red carpet.” Bob brings in a team of detailers to begin cleaning and preparing the cars on Tuesday morning. They detail and stage the cars all the way until the gates open on Wednesday night, which falls on August 16 for 2017. Many of the detailers whom Bob invites fly in on their own dime. Not only is the event excellent publicity for their businesses, but “they get to touch cars they’ve never touched before.” To give a sense of the type of machinery at this automotive paradise, Bob says there were five Koenigseggs on display at last year’s revival.

The Quail 2016
The Quail 2016
The Quail 2016

Gordon McCall is also the Motorsports Director of The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering. Alongside the Pebble Beach Concours, “The Quail” is one of the premier events for enthusiasts and collectors of rare automobiles and motorcycles. They do sell tickets (for many, many dollars), but Bob reckons it’s mostly an invite-only event. The garden-party style exhibition takes place on the greens of The Quail Lodge’s golf course in the beautiful town of Carmel. Bob and “the Detail Mafia”, his group of detailers, will detail The Quail’s historic and luxurious classic cars on Thursday and early Friday morning before the event begins at 10 am on August 18.

This year will be their third detailing the vehicles at The Quail. “We work really hard, but it’s an honor to do,” he says. “By the time we get done with the week, we’re absolutely exhausted. But we have so much fun.”

The Quail 2016

The official detailer of Air Force One

For The Quail and McCall’s Motorworks Revival, Bob sources members of the Detail Mafia to come and prepare the cars. The Detail Mafia is a group of accomplished detailers who are dedicated to collaboration and long-term mentorship. The boss of all bosses in the Detail Mafia is Renny Doyle. “Anyone in the Detail Mafia has trained with Renny,” says Bob. This family is about more than just technical excellence — they’re passionate about the craft and share knowledge of running the business side of detailing with each other.

Renny also holds the remarkable title of the official detailer of Air Force One. The story goes like this: Renny was at the Boeing Museum in Seattle, and glimpsed the original Air Force One jet decaying outside in the elements. He then simply asked for the job of cleaning it up. He took a crew and spent two weeks cleaning the plane, which was in horrible shape. The modified Boeing 707 introduced for President John F. Kennedy was the first aircraft with presidential livery and “United States of America” painted on the sides. It served eight presidents from 1962 until it was retired in 1998. It was replaced as the primary presidential aircraft in 1972, but was kept in service until President Clinton’s second term.

Just this past July, Bob, Renny, and dozens of their Detail Mafia cohorts spent a few days at the Boeing Museum detailing that same Air Force One — the aircraft that brought presidential air travel into the jet age. 2017 marked their 14th year detailing the longest-tenured retired presidential jet, the rest of which are scattered about the country at various museums. They also got their hands on a few other planes on display, such as the discontinued Concorde.

P&S Detail Products Trade Show

The evolution of the detailing world

As an industry, auto detailing is extremely shareable. When someone is done cleaning a car, they can stand back, look at their work, and share it. They can post pictures or share the experience in person with other detailers; Bob notes that social media has become a huge part of the detailing business. The enormous growth in online dialogue has catapulted car detailing into the public consciousness.

Aside from the crowd-pleasing promotion from sharing a beautiful, shiny, newly-detailed car, Facebook and Instagram provide platforms for detailers to view each other’s work and collaborate. “Social media has created quite the camaraderie in our industry,” says Bob. “10 years ago, detailers weren’t friends. They were out there battling for business, keeping their best tricks to themselves. Now, everybody knows everybody.”

P&S training workshop

For detailers, Monterey Car Week truly is the big dance. There is nowhere else with a concentration of vintage collector cars as robust and desirable as Monterey in August, and most of the best detailers flock to the peninsula on an annual basis. “It’s big, but small. I pretty much know everybody,” Bob says, noting that there are hundreds of detailers at the Pebble Beach Concours alone. Some will even work on just one car all week in preparation for the show. “They’ll even take the car apart, clean every piece, and put it back together.”

All this collaboration has pushed the industry forward. “It’s light years from what it was. Today I could get 10 good detailers together, and they’ll probably all know the best system to do something,” he says. Another big part of the shift is that the tools have vastly improved. Have you ever waxed your car and noticed swirl marks glinting in the sun? If you’re using modern tools (which you should be), swirl marks are no longer an issue. “And that has really occurred in the last five years. There are so many things that have happened in the last five years, so many developments.”

Tools of the trade

For Bob, sharing his expertise not only with other detailers, but with the do-it-yourself car guys, the regular consumer, is the best part of all. “In the last five years, I’ve been having more fun in this business than I’ve ever had,” he says.

So what are the crucial basics to keeping your car clean? Bob says there is no secret sauce. “It’s easy. Just give your car a little bit of love and don’t neglect it. Wash once a month and throw any wax on there once or twice a year. Maybe clay the car occasionally to remove solids. Clean the interior sometimes, and in five years the car will still look brand-new. Just wash your car.”

Steven is an avid car guy and content maker at Turo. Between Golden State Warriors games he can be found getting lost somewhere in California.