Philip Glenister and Ant Anstead interview for For the Love of Cars
Actor Philip Glenister and car designer Ant Anstead are like two kids in a sweet shop. The pair are so thrilled to be working on a show all about cars, it can be difficult to get a word in edgeways. Here, they discuss their best and worst cars, how restoring may be a dying art, and why Ant’s wife could do with a decent birthday present.
For those who didn’t see series one, explain what For the Love of Cars is all about?
A: It celebrates our love affair with classic cars. In each episode we look at the history of various types of car, and we restore one back to its former glory.
P: We look at the car’s history through people we meet, the restorations we do, the stories that we tell, and we do a few road trips on this one to test the cars out. It’s sort of a combination of three shows rolled into one, in many respects. And we hope that people will come along for the ride.
You’re both passionate about cars, but in different ways, aren’t you?
A: When it comes to understanding motors, Phil’s a very good actor.
P: I’m more on the design side. I pick the colours and the cloth for the interior. And Ant…
A:…does the actual work.
P: Ant gets covered in grease.
So Phil, is it fair to say that Ant can sometimes bore you with his excitement about obscure technical details of the cars?
P: I think it’s incredibly fair to say that.
A: Yeah, but Phil bores me with his Shakespeare lines.
P: I was doing The Hollow Crown while we were filming this, so I used to bring my Shakespeare lines in and test them on Ant, to see if he could do received pronunciation. He can’t.
The first series was basically just British cars. You’re widening the net this time, aren’t you?
A: Well, more than that, the first series was an episode on an individual car. Now each episode isn’t just on an individual car, but a family of cars. So we’ve widened the net in that respect as well. And we’ve tweaked the format in that we’re no longer buying a car, fixing it up and selling it, we actually take someone’s pride and joy, someone’s stalled restoration that they can’t go any further on, and we finish it for them. So there are a few changes, and I think series 2 is better for it.
And the car is auctioned at the end of every programme, isn’t it?
A: Yeah. Series one had a specific auction episode, whereas in this series, each programme will finish with the car being sold at auction. It gives the programme a start, a middle and an end.
In this series, did you ever have any owners who were so pleased with the finished results that they didn’t want to sell their car after all?
A: I think all of them. You have to remember, these cars have a special place in the hearts of these people, for various different reasons. For somebody to let go of something that important to them is hard enough, but when they see the results at the end of the restoration, it’s really tough. These are jobs that they’ve not been able to finish themselves…
P: So along come a couple of suckers…
A: Yeah, we finish it for them and then give them the money.
P: What a brilliant business plan.
Where do both of you get your passion for cars from?
P: Mine sort of started off from seeing cars on TV. And being on two shows where the cars were very heavily featured, and were almost stars in their own right – the Cortina in Life on Mars, and then the Audi Quatro in Ashes to Ashes. I’ve always had a fascination with the role that cars play in TV and film. Indeed, in this series, I get to drive the original Volvo P1800 from The Saint, in the company of a man called Johnny Goodman, who was the producer on The Saint and on The Persuaders. He regaled me with a few groovy stories. They only ended up using a Volvo because they approached Jaguar, who were a bit sniffy about it. So Johnny approached Volvo who couldn’t have been more helpful. They said “How many do you need, and when do you need them by?” The rest is history. As the show became a worldwide hit, the car became a global phenomenon.
What about you, Ant? Where does your passion come from?
A: My dad couldn’t change a wheel. But I bought my first car when I was 16. As a kid I always had Lego and Mecchano, model sets. I built Go Karts when I was 10 or 11, and threw my brothers down the hill in them. I built my first car at 16. I was really lucky, because at the back of my parents’ house, there was a block of about five garages. My parents had one of them, the rest belonged to neighbours, but within about a year I’d filled all the garages. I managed to convince the neighbours that I needed the space. I’ve been building and restoring cars ever since then, and that’s what I do full time now.
Have you ever fallen in love with cars you’ve restored and not been able to bring yourself to sell them?
A: A couple! Most of my cars are commissions. Clients come to me with a project and a brief, but there have been times when I’ve come across a wreck and just had to buy it and do it, yes. Too many times, my wife says.
What was each of your first cars?
P: The first car I actually owned was a Peugeot 205 GTI. It was great.
A: Mine was an MG Midget. Vermillion orange with a black hood.
What’s the best and worst car you’ve ever had?
A: I’d say the worst car I’ve ever had was a Fiat X19. My wife broke down in it once, and she ended up screaming at me. It was just rubbish.
P: The worst car – actually, it wasn’t mine, but a friend of mine had just passed his driving test and I was working for a company at the time, and the guy who was in charge of transport had a Mini to sell. It looked really nice – it had ice white stripes on it, it looked really rally-ish. But Christ, it was a danger. Anyway, I persuaded him to buy it, and it was just awful. I remember driving back, and him saying “It drifts to the right quite a lot.” It was like a boomerang. It would just go round in circles if you’d let it. It was terrible.
A: I had a Lotus Elan – an early one. Great car. And I was rebuilding it, and I had the engine in my dining room for two years.
Your wife is a long-suffering woman!
A: That’s true. For her 21st birthday present, I bought her a set of Weber Carburettors. She didn’t want them, obviously – turns out they fitted on my MG perfectly.
Ant, what would you say to people who wanted to get into doing restorations full time. Is it a good way if making a living?
A: There’s a whole romantic vision that restoring cars is cupcakes and rainbows. It isn’t. Car restoration is hard work. It’s graft, its long hours, it’s a horrible, dirty, sweaty job. You cut your knuckles, you tear your hair out, no two cars are the same, parts are impossible to come by. It requires a degree of patience, but I’d say a bigger degree of passion. I would say that someone interested in getting in to it should try it out first. Do a project in the garage, get involved, see what it’s really like.
If someone comes along in 30 years’ time, wanting to restore cars that are made today, will it be as simple?
A: No. The car sector’s moved on – some might say it’s improved – but of course everything is electronically driven now. It’s all computerised.
P: If something goes wrong with a car now, you’d have to go to the manufacturers. Everything’s computerised now, and the only people who have the codes are the manufacturers. It’s just another way of them making a few quid.
A: I suppose as the car industry moves on, it just illustrates how beautifully basic classic cars are. Things like Citroen 2CVs and VW Beetles are beautiful because of their simplicity.
So does that mean that restoring cars will become a dying art, the further we get from that simplicity?
A: It kind of is. The way cars are manufactured used to require a great deal of skill. But are we training new apprentices to pick up the skills that the old guys had 50 years ago? The answer is no. The volume of skilled labour is disappearing at a faster rate than the introduction of new labour. Ultimately we’re going to run out of those skills in this country. Luckily, there are still some great apprenticeship schemes out there that will teach people how to do up old cars.
P: That was a party political broadcast by the MP for Hertfordshire.
A: I employ a number of people to build classic cars, and staffing is really difficult. It takes a vast amount if skill before you can even get in the door. These people are really hard to come by, so when you get hold of them you try to keep them. Phil, do you reckon you could go back to school and retrain?
P: Listen, if the acting all goes tits up, I’ll be there.
If all else fails, you can always make the tea.
P: Exactly! I make a great brew.
How many cars do you both have?
P: I have two. I have one, and my wife has the other one. I haven’t got room for any more than that. I’d have nowhere to put them.
A: I’ve got over a handful. We won’t mention how many.
If you could find any car from history and restore it on the show, what would it be?
A: I’d want to find a significant car. You hear all these stories about cars being unearthed in barns. I’d want to find one of those holy grail cars – not necessarily because of the car, but because of its history. Maybe a missing car that won Le Mans, or a famous car in a film. James Dean’s missing Porsche, that kind of thing. The thing about classic cars is it isn’t just the car, it’s the car’s story. I’d want to do a car that was significant because of what it did.
P: I would like to find the Ferrari Dino that Tony Curtis drove in The Persuaders, because apparently it’s out there. Nobody knows where it is, but they think it’s somewhere. I would like to make a programme about it, and call it Finding Dino.