It’s a busy day at Jack’s Garage in London’s Notting Hill. On a ramp, a well-worn Mk2 Golf is undergoing an overhaul, a stripped-down Type 2 camper is being reassembled in the bodyshop and the phone is ringing off the hook. There’s nothing to suggest that, just over a year ago, this classic Volkswagen specialist was nearly forced to close in the aftermath of a national tragedy.
It’s difficult to ignore the 221ft shell of Grenfell Tower looming overhead. White sheeting now hides the extensive fire damage, but the legacy of what happened here in 2017 is palpable. Joseph Salama, owner of Jack’s Garage for 12 years, explains how his business’s proximity to the site nearly made continued operations untenable in the months after the disaster.
“Parts deliveries couldn’t arrive, clients couldn’t pick up cars and pay or drop off their vehicles,” says Salama. He also recalls several incidents where he had to calm down customers who broke down upon seeing the tower. “A lot of people don’t register how close we are,” says Salama. “Consciously or subconsciously, if you had a choice to come into the area, the majority of people chose not to.”
As Christmas 2017 neared and turnover reached new lows, Salama had to start making cutbacks. “A lot of staff left of their own accord, and I had to let a few go,” he says. “The workforce more than halved – we had 14 people, now we’ve got seven.” Two days before the shop shut for the holidays, a threatening visit from bailiffs forced Salama to forego his own salary in order to pay an outstanding energy bill. Things were not looking good, and drastic changes needed to be made.
Which brings us to the yellow Beetle convertible parked outside. To the casual observer it’s a nicely restored example but, in place of the traditional air-cooled engine, you’ll find the Bosch electric motor from the e-Up city car. Some will call it sacrilege, but self-confessed ‘dubhead’ Salama is all but converted. “The driving experience is incredibly refined – the weight distribution and handling is amazing,” he says. Driving this car is “terribly exciting” and it’s “bloody fast” to boot.
This electric Beetle (Salama calls this one Bumblebee, for obvious reasons) is the work of German classic car specialist eClassics, and this particular prototype – one of just 10 in existence – is here as a symbol of a new partnership between the two businesses. Following a successful pitch at last year’s Frankfurt motor show, Salama has secured the rights to operate as eClassics’ UK outpost and will begin selling right-hand-drive electric Beetles in the coming months. Demonstrating his enthusiasm for the project wasn’t a problem, he explains, but showing that his charmingly traditional garage could deal with such future-thinking technology was a challenge.