Two former RAF engineers are flying high after they decided to quit fixing up military jets to restore classic cars to their former glory. The enthusiastic duo spoke to community reporter Lee Peace about their transition from fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan and protecting British interests in the Falklands to fixing up vintage motors from their garage in Doncaster.
Former airmen Jamie Thomas-O’Brien, aged 24, and Andrew Proctor, aged 27, fulfilled their childhood dream when they joined the RAF as teenagers.
They spent the next few years serving their country in some of the world’s most high-profile combat hot spots.
But after numerous tours of duty, both had a desire to return to civvy street and turn their dream of restoring classic cars into a reality.
They left the RAF in October last year to set up VC Restorations - and several months down the line business is booming.
From their garage in Oakleaf Court, New Rossington, Doncaster, the two motoring enthusiasts have given a new lease of life to about 60 classic cars - and demand for their services is growing.
Jamie said: “Neither of us have any regrets. It was a bit slow at first, but now its really starting to take off.”
Andrew added: “When you see the transformation from when the vehicles come in all rusty compared with how they look at the end it makes it all worth while.”
The men served as senior aircraft technicians as part of 5001 Squadron in places including Kandahar, Afghanistan, the Falklands Islands, Germany and Gibraltar.
They helped to service Harriers and Tornado aircraft, but much of their time was spent fixing military motors, such as Warrior armoured track vehicles.
Jamie said he often had to flee and find cover while under attack from insurgents during his tour of Afghanistan last year.
He said: “The enemy was firing bombs over at a rate of three or four times a week sometimes and then other times it was quieter and you would only get one.
“When it happens a huge siren goes off - its the loudest sound I’ve ever heard - and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. You just do as you are drilled, take cover and hope for the best.
“It certainly gets the adrenaline pumping. There is no need for coffee on days like that.”
Jamie said the camaraderie between the different allied forces helped him to cope during long stretches away from home.
He said: “The banter really does help to keep you going.”
Jamie, who is originally from Reading, and Wakefield lad Andrew have settled in Cantley, and say Doncaster is an ideal place for start-up businesses.
Said Jamie: “The RAF gave us our discipline and tools for the trade, and now we want to apply that to the business.
“We chose New Rossington because it is a nice area and we can keep the overheads down. If you have had a classic car in the garage gathering dust we can repair and restore it to how it was originally built.”
Coveted classics they have worked on so far include a Chevrolet Impala from 1967, a 1956 Ford Zephyr Cabriolet, a 1979 MGB GT and a Rover P6.
Jamie said: “A lot of the cars we fix go on to be paraded at classic car shows. We have had some real gems in.”
Andrew, who owns a Chevrolet Impala from 1967, said: “My taste changes every time a new car comes in. Once we have restored them I look and think ‘I wouldn’t mind one of those in a few years’. Because of our military backgrounds, I think we are both perfectionists. The results always pay off in the end.”
VC Restorations can offer everything from a complete engine re-fit to new interiors and a full paint job. The company has also just set on two new employees to cope with increasing demand for its services.