New York Garage Has 40 Years of Restoration, Service & Racing
Briarcliff Classic & Imported Car Service is approaching its 40th anniversary and has never left its current location in Briarcliff Manor, New York, for that entire time period. Owner and founder Bob Millstein, an automotive enthusiast from a young age, sat down and spoke with Petrolicious about his legacy, BCI.
Q: What started your interest in cars?
A: My brother, who was 10 years my senior, was given a 1949 MG TC when he went off to college. He promptly started racing the car, and I joined him in his adventures at 10 years old. As I grew older, I was given more responsibility working and crewing with the car. In addition, my father was also intrigued with cars and his last two was a Porsche 912 and a Volvo P1800.
Q: What was your first car?
A: My first car was a 1958 Austin Healey “Bugeye” Sprite. My father purchased the car for $100, and my brother and I fixed it up for the street (we lived in upper Manhattan at the time and had to park the car on the street). I ended up driving that car through my college years.
Q: Where does your love of English cars come from?
A: English cars, for the most part, were inexpensive. Also, my brother raced an English car and they were the first cars I learned to work on. MGs, Austin Healeys, Mini Coopers were all variants of the same technology so it became very easy, because if you worked on one you could work on another.
Q: You then moved on to more exotic marques?
A: Yes. I moved up the evolutionary chain from the Sprite. My next car was a Mini Cooper S then an MGB followed by an Austin Healey 3000 and finally a Jaguar XKE, which I still own along with a Aston Martin DB4. The Bugeye had a 58 cubic-inch engine, the Jaguar has a 4.2 litre engine in excess of 300 HP. I learned to live with these cars and drive them every day and, putting up with their shortcomings. I’ve restored many of these cars as well, I love English hot rods. I never got into American cars per say, though we do work on them in the shop. I never had a Corvette or any of the American hot rods—I always had English hot rods: Jaguars, Aston Martins, etc. These cars, in my youth, were plentiful and inexpensive to buy. When they broke down owners would jettison the car and you could pick them up for very little money. If you knew what you were doing you could have a great sports car without breaking the bank.
Q: How long has BCI been in business?
A: Briarcliff Classic was established in 1974 as a quality alternative to dealer servicing. We want o be a friendly, accessible place for the local community who need service for their cars. As time went by, we expanded our staff and the repertoire of cars we worked on to include current Asian and American classics. We have invested in a lot of equipment to stay current with the demands of newer cars. But still maintain our focus on vintage vehicles. As a result we have survived the effects of the pitfalls of the economy for 40 years.
Q: What type of cars does the shop work on in general?
A: It mostly depends on the time of year. Presently, with the coming of fall there are fewer classics and the shop tilts toward the service and preparation of modern cars for the winter. When we do get special projects during the winter, we focus on restoration and rebuilding of engines in addition to service. In the spring there is an influx of sports cars both modern and vintage, when people remove their cars from cold-weather storage. It’s not unusual to see Mercedes gull-wing or a Morgan alongside a recent Audi in our shop.
Q: Who are your customers?
A: Our customers are from Westchester mostly, some bring their cars from New York City to have us work on them. We also have customers come from Connecticut and New Jersey. We are known for our classic car work so people come from all over, while the later model work is more from the surrounding areas of Pleasentville, Chappaque, Briarcliff, and the like.
Q: Who are your mechanics?
A: We employ three full-time and two part-time mechanics, some of which have dealer training. Leo Bunker specializes in British marks and classic cars, while Dan Thaler enjoys servicing the late-model cars and solving complex electrical problems. Ricardo Vazquez straddles both worlds, servicing modern and vintage cars.
Due to the personal nature of the shop, mechanics discuss the problems and priorities with the customers to determine the best course of action, and I have great respect for my crew, because of their dedication to getting the job done correctly the first time.
Q: What keeps you going after all these years?
A: Personal stubbornness, the enthusiasm of my fellow workers, and the appreciation and friendship of the customers we work for. I have the satisfaction of knowing I do a good job and perform a service to my community. It also provides me an avenue to race and restore cars, specifically my Jaguar special. I wouldn’t be able to do that without my team and tools at the shop. It’s provided me with a great life.
Interview and photography by Sean Smith