Visiting The Restoration Shop That Brings The Brits Back To Life In Italy, Baroni Legend
Photography by Marco Annunziata
Baroni Legend has become synonymous with British classics in Italy, but the business includes restoration projects across Europe and North America as well. Based in Corsico on the southwestern periphery of Milan, Baroni Legend passionately restores Jaguars, Aston Martins, Rovers, MGs, and Triumphs, priding itself on its dedication to originality wherever possible, a commitment to using the highest quality engineering, and of course, attention to detail.
Led by Walter and his father Giovanni, the Jaguar marque in particular has been a lifelong source of inspiration for the Baroni family. The company hasn’t always focused its efforts on restoration, and it has been involved with Jaguar since the cars they now restore were brand new. Giovanni and his brother Rodolfo began their careers with a dealership in the 1950s, and were amongst the first in the country to sell the XK120 and XK140. Expanding in the ’70s with a new dealership, La Giaguaro (“The Jaguar”), they widened their range to include Rover and also BMW, but still with a spotlight on the big cats.
With the burgeoning Japanese manufacturers of the day catching Rodolfo’s attention, he departed the business to form a Subaru dealership. However, it was at that point, in 1984, that Walter joined his father in the family business. In addition to the car dealership, the father and son team also began repairing vintage cars, mainly Jaguars, Aston Martins, Bentleys, and some dabbling with the Germans in the form of Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs. Despite finding some success in this wider net, Walter’s focus increasingly turned to the British cars that his father had cut his teeth on, and in 1993 he opened Baroni Legend for vintage British car restoration, and as an approved service center for MG, Rover, Mini, and Land Rover current models. While the fortunes of the modern British car market began to decline, the classic car market was greatly expanding, and in 2005 Walter made the decision to dedicate the business completely to restoration work.
Today this means that Baroni Legend provides complete ground-up jobs, including chassis, bodywork, mechanics, electrics, and interiors. With the primary emphasis on nailing the details, only original components and materials are used, or those manufactured to exacting original specifications if necessary.
So what are the stages of a typical restoration at Baroni? “First of all, we have to disassemble all of the mechanical elements, starting with the engine and gearbox,” explains Walter. “Then we remove the differential group, the front suspension, and then lastly the electrical system.”
The body’s paintwork is removed by hand (“certainly not sand or water-blasted,” Walter emphasizes, a firm believer in the more delicate approach) and the condition of the body is then reviewed. “All of the mechanical components are dismantled at the workbench, where the gearbox, differential, crankshaft, and so on, are checked for condition. We replace the rods and pistons, chains and valves, the braking system, and the differential unit. All the bearings are replaced and the instruments are overhauled, as is the gearbox,” Walter continues.
After the body panels are treated, the car passes to pre-assembly where, following color-matching by Heritage Jaguar, it moves on to painting “after the customer has previously viewed an example on a 60×60 sheet, which they usually take home with them,” Walter tells me. Mechanical and electrical assembly follow, then the seals, chrome plating, and the interior materials, “which are always provided from England,” Walter adds.
Baroni restorations typically last from a minimum of eight months to a maximum of thirteen months, depending on the condition of the car coming in, with the timeline not only including the actual man hours of restoration work, but also the time required to research the characteristics and specifications of the original components, whether they can be located in Italy, Britain, or elsewhere. This philological, detailed approach to research in restoration has shown Walter, for example, that the bolts of the E-Type should be burnished rather than galvanized, as can be found on other restorations. More obvious examples include restoration projects arriving with modern black rubber fuel pipes instead of transparent plastic versions as originally used. Concerning upholstery, an original sample is very important in order to make the match with the modern equivalent.
First reported in Italian magazine, Auto Capital, Walter recounts how a client, presenting him with an Aston Martin DB4 for total restoration, requested respray in British Racing Green, which met with heritage and therefore Walter’s approval. In the final stages of the restoration, however, Walter’s client brought along a beautiful new girlfriend to show her his car. However, the client’s partner thought it a better idea, despite the late stage of the restoration, to paint the car candy pink. Walter flatly refused to deface the classic and the client and his partner departed, arguing. The best result was achieved though: the DB4 was completed in British Racing Green as planned, and Walter kept his customer. (We’re unsure how the relationship between the client and his girlfriend fared).
Despite Walter’s commitment to originality, Baroni Legend will engineer and install modern “practicalities” to vintage cars on request, like air conditioning, power steering, or brakes with a servo system.
Baroni Legend’s customers, and their cars, arrive from a variety of locations. A current example at Baroni Legend is an E-Type 4.2 from the first series in 1966, frame 1E1312 X. “We found this E-Type in the United States in a state of total dilapidation,” Walter recounts. “I have a trusted associate who travels across the U.S. for me in search of British cars to bring back to Italy to restore, but most are brought to us by customers, each in a different condition and each with its own history. Cars arriving from the United States have usually been abandoned, non-runners for at least 30 years; if you’re lucky you’ll find them in hot, dry climates, but sometimes they can be very badly sun damaged. This example wasn’t in too poor of a condition, but we still had to change the sills, trusses, the front frame, the bottom of the boot, and the two footwells.”
Working with expensive classic cars, it’s to be expected that Baroni Legend has dealt with some famous clients over the years. While Walter remains discrete regarding this topic, a famous name that has crossed his garage doors in the past, albeit indirectly, is Paul McCartney. Around 10 years ago, an Aston Martin DB5, Sierra Blue registration BYY 379B, owned by an Italian collector, arrived for restoration. The name of the famous Beatle was displayed in the details in the logbook. “It was acquired in 1964 for £3,800 – plus £793 tax!” says Walter. McCartney reputedly had an accident in the car in November 1966, the same accident which sparked the urban myth that he was in fact killed in the crash, subsequently replaced in the Beatles with an imposter recruited by John, George, and Ringo. The less conspiratorial but nevertheless glamorous reality was that instead, Paul parted with his crash-damaged DB5 for a new DB6.
Master of many previous restorations, which cars are Walter’s most cherished? “I am fascinated by pre-productions, by seeing and touching the craftsmanship of the cars in their earliest forms.” And what of the future for classic cars, according to Walter? “The true enthusiasts remain few in number: we must trust that they’ve taught their children!”