Great article on high-end restorers from the NY Times. Go Francois! --------------------------------------------------- I was worried," David Letterman said, "that he wouldn't see me when I called him." But Mr. Letterman wasn't trying to get an appointment with a top-notch cardiac specialist. He was looking to get one of his vintage cars into the garage of François Sicard, a Connecticut mechanic widely known as the go-to guy for Ferraris in need of repair. High anxiety over a mechanic? For the finicky owners of exotic and classic cars Mr. Sicard, a former Ferrari racing mechanic, is among a cadre of high-end specialists who have established themselves as highly sought after and often elusive repair-shop gurus. Known for their high standards, historical knowledge and love of the marques, these mechanics, body craftsmen and upholsterers have clients who are willing to wait months if not years for an appointment and then spend $25,000 and more to have an engine rebuilt, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars for a complete restoration. That's if they can get in. Most of these specialists don't advertise and, Mr. Letterman's experience aside, won't pick up the phone for just anybody. Many have long waiting lists and clients with famous names and deep pockets, from Mr. Letterman to Ralph Lauren, who entrusts his Bugattis to Paul Russell, a Massachusetts expert in those cars. Bill Hoff, a manufacturing executive from Rockford, Ill., mounted a four-month campaign to get his partially rebuilt Porsche into the Chatham, N.J., garage of John and Ray Paterek, acknowledged to be experts in the 356 model line. Mr. Hoff started out interviewing other Porsche owners, who steered him to the brothers' garage. Then he had several long phone interviews with John Paterek, in which the two men felt each other out, doing a kind of automotive mating dance. After Mr. Hoff submitted photos of his car, Mr. Paterek agreed to take it on. "I really feel Mr. Hoff is motivated by a love of the car and wants top work," Mr. Paterek said. It also didn't hurt that Mr. Hoff's car is a rare 1951 Cabriolet. "I want to work on this car," Mr. Paterek said. In many cases, being accepted is only the first step to having your car fixed. Mr. Lauren's Bugatti expert, Mr. Russell, said that the next slot he had for an engine rebuilding was in mid-June, and he might be able to have it back to the customer in September. A car with major work? Sign up for a spot starting in the fall 2005. Meanwhile, Bonjour Stunson, a master of British cars in Glen Carbon, Ill., is booked for the next seven months for any big jobs, though he could slot you in for an oil change on relatively short notice. BUT those waits are nothing compared with Tom Yang's odyssey to have Mr. Sicard work on his car. Mr. Yang a self-avowed gearhead was introduced to Mr. Sicard by a Sicard customer and started hanging around the rural Connecticut repair shop about nine years ago. "I got smitten by Ferraris then," said Mr. Yang, a television audio engineer. But he didn't think he could afford one. Finally, Mr. Sicard counseled him to buy one of the cars in parts, then rebuild it himself. "He said he would help and guide me," said Mr. Yang, who bought his 1963 330GT America dismantled in August 1999, and then for the next four and a half years worked "Ferrari Fridays" in Mr. Sicard's shop, helping out with grunt work in return for the master's time on his car. Now Mr. Yang, who maintains a Web site about his car (he said he had thousands of hits a day), has become a gatekeeper of sorts for the master mechanic. When Ferrari fans e-mail him asking for Mr. Sicard's number, Mr. Yang interviews them first to see if he thinks they're compatible, then confers with Mr. Sicard and, then and only then, passes along the right cars and personalities for a phone consultation. "People kid me and say I only work for rich people," said Mr. Sicard. "But I try to help everyone who likes the cars." Surprisingly, like many of the master mechanics, his hourly rate is close to the $85 an hour that is routinely charged by new-car dealerships. But working on an exotic can take far longer than having your late-model Ford or Chrysler serviced. Figure about $200 for a Ferrari oil change with 14 quarts of oil, two filters and a road test. And woe to any client who tries to hurry the process along. "We take longer for those who push us," said Carl Nelson, a BMW specialist who runs the La Jolla Independent Service garage in Southern California. "Fortunately, some customers are trainable." Wayne Carini runs F40 Motorsports and Carini Carrozzeria, both in Portland, Conn., and does paint and body work for Mr. Letterman's cars. He said that another client "a powerful man" once dropped off a Ferrari unannounced for body work and repainting. "Then he phoned almost every hour asking when I'd strip the paint and get to work." Mr. Carini said. His response? "We sent his car back, and told him not to come back." Indeed, for the A-list types who tend to collect exotic cars, dealing with a guru mechanic can be a humbling experience. Stuart Zeh, a management consultant from Glen Ridge, N.J., said he thought of himself as a fairly hard-charging personality. But when it comes to having the Patereks work on his rare 1950 Cabriolet, he's all humility. "I'm thrilled to be part of the process," he said. "I track possible parts sources, and work on small parts. I'm so privileged these guys accept my cars." And in the case of some automotive specialists and their clients, at least, the anxiety runs both ways. "I work closely with customers, reviewing progress and materials," said Paul Russell of Essex, Mass., who has been rebuilding Mr. Lauren's vintage cars since 1980, including an award-winning Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic Coupe, which has been valued as high as $15 million. "But there's always that deep breath I take when I pull the cover off. How will Mr. Lauren react to the finished product?"