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Where to Go for ‘Best of Show’

  • Scott Sargent, of Fairiee, Vt., drives a 1927 Type 43 Bugatti over the Connecticut River into Piermont, N.H., during a test drive on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, from Sargent Metalworks in Bradford, Vt. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Scott Sargent, owner of Sargent Metalworks in Bradford, Vt., talks on the phone in his office on Friday, Nov. 17, 2017, at the restoration shop in Bradford. Sargent and his team preserve, maintain and restore mostly pre-war exotic cars in the 15,000-square-foot facility. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Ben Musty, left, shop foreman at Sargent Metalworks in Bradford, Vt., and Kermit Upton, a part-time helper, look into the engine bay of a BMW 2002 on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, at the restoration shop in Bradford. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Scott Sargent, left, of Fairlee, Vt., raises a scissor lift for photographer Mathieu Heurtault, of Vernouillet, France, during a photo shoot for a Type 55 Jean Bugatti Roadster near Sargent Metalworks on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017, at the restoration shop in Bradford, Vt. Sargent, the owner of Sargent Metalworks, restores and sells pre-war exotic cars, some of which sell for millions of dollars. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Jason Matton, left, a restoration technician at Sargent Metalworks, hammers out the dings and dents of a large set of fenders for a 1937 BMW 328 Roadster while Scott Sargent, of Fairlee, Vt., grinds a rearview mirror casing that he is making for another customer's Bugatti on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017, at the restoration shop in Bradford, Vt. Sargent, owner of the shop, restores and sells these pre-war exotic cars at high-end auctions such as Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance and Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Seen from the rearview mirror of an Austin-Healey 100M, Scott Sargent, of Fairlee, Vt., fabricates a rearview mirror casing for a customer's Bugatti on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017, at Sargent Metalworks in Bradford, Vt. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Jason Matton, a restoration technician, and Ben Musty, shop foreman, work on a fender for a 1937 328 BMW Roadster by using a shrinker stretcher machine on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017, at Sargent Metalworks in Bradford, Vt. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • A Type 52 Buggati child's car is seen in the lobby of Sargent Metalworks on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017, at the restoration shop in Bradford, Vt. Scott Sargent, the owner of Sargent Metalworks, restores and sells pre-war exotic cars, some of which sell for millions of dollars. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Seen from the passenger seat of a 1914 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, Scott Sargent, of Fairlee, Vt., works on an aluminum door skin for a 1930 Type 40 Bugatti on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, at Sargent Metalworks in Bradford, Vt. Sargent said the shop specializes in the restoration of pre-war exotic cars and often takes them to auctions to be sold. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Scott Sargent, of Fairlee, Vt., works on an aluminum door skin for a 1930 Type 40 Bugatti on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, at Sargent Metalworks in Bradford, Vt. Sargent said the shop specializes in the restoration of pre-war exotic cars and often takes them to auctions to be sold. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



STORY BY ALEX HANSON
Saturday, December 09, 2017

Bradford, Vt. — Not everyone can point to the moment when he knew his life would change dramatically.

Scott Sargent can. It was September 2000 and he was in his shop when Peter Williamson called. Williamson, a neurologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, was also the world’s foremost collector of Bugatti cars. Sargent had restored a couple of cars for him, but when Williamson called that September day, it was to ask Sargent to oversee restoration of a 1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic in preparation for showing the car at Pebble Beach, one of the world’s foremost exhibitions of collector cars.

Sargent said yes and walked out of the shop, which was then behind his house on Terry Hill Road in Fairlee.

“I walked up to the house, I opened the door and I told my wife, ‘Things are going to change, starting today,’ ” Sargent said in an interview Tuesday morning.

In September 2001, Sargent moved his wife, Robyn, and daughter, Megan to Colorado and oversaw a two-year restoration of Williamson’s Atlantic, which is one of only two survivors; the other belongs to Ralph Lauren.

The car won Best of Show at the 2003 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, essentially the Nobel Prize for automotive restoration.

How much his life would change is evident at Sargent Metalworks, a 15,000-square-foot shop in Bradford filled with all the tools a restorer of some of the world’s rarest, most beautiful and therefore priciest cars would ever need, all protected by state-of-the-art security and sprinkler systems. After his first Pebble Beach win he’s expanded his shop twice, moving to Route 5 in Fairlee in 2004, then to his current space in 2013.

Not bad for a kid from Fairlee.

Sargent started working on cars at an early age. His father gave him an old Ford Model A to work on when he was 10, and Sargent took it apart, put it back together and drove it around the fields near his house.

He graduated from Oxbow High School in 1979 and went to the University of Arizona. He joined a frat and studied business, but he also ran a small shop specializing in 1932 to 1934 Fords. He called it Little Detroit.

He stayed in Arizona for a while, and when he came back to the Upper Valley he kept at it in the car business. He worked at a restoration shop in Rumney, N.H., and in sales at a GMC truck dealership in Plymouth, N.H.

He met Peter Williamson in 1992, and opened his own shop in 1993. He worked on some of Williamson’s cars and Williamson sent him to a sheet metal expert in Detroit. Sargent learned the art of shaping, stretching and shrinking body panels and put that knowledge to use on Williamson’s cars.

Williamson died in June 2008. His cars were later sold. Published reports put the sale price of the Bugatti Atlantic, which was purchased by the Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard, Calif., at $30 million to $40 million.

Sargent specializes in pre-war French cars, limited edition vehicles by Delahaye, Delage, Talbot-Lago and Bugatti, but this last name is his true passion. Of the dozen or so projects now in his shop, about half are Bugattis in various states of dis- and reassembly.

The company built about 10,000 cars from 1909 to 1939. The cars weren’t so much assembled as fitted together by hand.

In restoring cars, particularly pre-war rarities, Sargent often finds himself advocating for the cars as the hours and the bills mount up.

“When you start getting into these things, they’re always worse than you think,” he said, standing next to the chassis of a 1937 BMW 328 Roadster.

The body was in the next bay, undergoing corrosion repair. Part of its trunklid had been cut off and a new panel was held in place by clamps, awaiting welding.

When a car comes apart for repair, Sargent often has to talk owners into doing the necessary work. A car’s stay at his shop often lasts a year or two, and a full restoration runs into six figures. Then again, returning the car to as close to its original condition as possible makes it more valuable.

“I have to remind them, maybe we should do what’s right for the car,” Sargent said. “If we go back to stock, that’s where the value is.” For a car that’s worth millions, the quality of the restoration can make a huge difference in its eventual sale price. In the long run, almost all cars get sold.

Sargent is as much a consultant and a friend to many of his customers as he is a restoration specialist. He works with Gooding and Co., one of the leading classic car auction houses, helping to authenticate cars and to find buyers. He often travels to look at cars and to attend events with collectors.

“Everybody I work for, if they’re not a good friend, they become a good friend,” he said.

Right now, Sargent has three employees who keep the shop running when he’s away, though he still handles all the customer calls, the parts ordering and the project management.

Although much of the work is done in-house, specialized jobs are farmed out, some to local shops such as River City Machine in White River Junction, and All-American Woodworks, which rents Sargent’s old shop in Fairlee.

To an extent, Sargent is also an historian, researching paint colors and other details to make sure his work is authentic. Old cars have stories to tell, and as interesting as horsepower or the smooth curve of a fender might be, a car’s history is paramount.

Standing next to the old BMW, he pointed to another car, a 1914 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost. The chassis was shipped from England to the U.S. at the outset of World War I, and the body was built in the States by Brewster and Co.

“That car still belongs to the same people since new,” he said.

Although he had a career breakthrough with the win at Pebble Beach, that followed years of working seven days a week. Those days are coming to an end, Sargent said. He has a 1934 Ford three-window coupe hot rod in the corner of the shop, among other projects, to which he’d like to devote some weekends.

Whatever he’s doing, classic cars will be close at hand.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.