Rudiger (Rudi) Gunter von Koniczek moved from his native Germany via Toronto to Victoria in 1971. Since then, he has built what has become one of the most respected and sought-after restoration businesses in the world. He was tutored by three different automotive meisters while working for Mercedes-Benz, and the third of those, Josef Dunjko, convinced him he was meant to be more than a mechanic. Dunjko also impressed upon him that imparting knowledge is vital to the ongoing process, something Koniczek adheres closely to. Thus his restoration business, Rudi and Company, is part mechanics, certainly, but also what he describes as “automotive art.”
The garage where the magic takes place is hidden away in the woods, guarded by high stone walls and a gargoyle-adorned gate, not terribly far from the Victoria airport. The space is lofted, airy, bright, and occupies eight full-time mechanics, plus assorted artisans who do such things as build car seats from scratch. Meticulous is the word; Koniczek has a passion for getting things exactly right, something that has not escaped the attention of Daimler-Benz headquarters in Stuttgart. His specialty is the Mercedes-Benz 300SL. As a child, Koniczek built model cars, and had a deep affection for the 300SL; he would craft complex models, then slot cars for racing, and often took kits instead of money as payment.
His work entails taking a car completely apart, down to the last bolt and screw. If new pieces are required, Stuttgart supplies them, based on the car’s history and the company’s extensive parts library. Clients make all kinds of requests, for materials, colour schemes, but not all are fulfilled. “It has to make sense with the car’s lineage,” Koniczek says. “We do say no on occasion.” Upholstery, carpet, all is done from scratch, by hand. It is painstaking, methodical work, and it also requires a clear vision of what the newly born car should look, and drive, like.
The cars arrive from all around the world, and restoring them to what amounts to brand-new status keeps Koniczek and his team exceedingly busy. The vehicles show up in a wide variety of conditions, and the identification badges on the car are authenticated with Stuttgart before any work begins. Fire damage, collisions, none of it stops Koniczek, who simply states that “we are building a new car, so it doesn’t matter to us what shape it arrives in.” In one story that seems apocryphal but which Koniczek confirms to be true, he discovered one of only 29 300SL Alloy Gullwings in existence, Number 21, in a derelict garage under a pile of rubble. It took him nearly two decades to convince the owner to sell him the car, which was then restored to its original glory. It is one of four Alloy Gullwings he has restored.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau inherited a silver 300SL Roadster from his father, and Koniczek made it brand new again. Each restoration is fully dedicated to the original—no ostrich skin interiors here. A full restoration can be a year or more, and includes nearly 1,000 kilometres of road testing before the owner is allowed to claim the car. “These cars are meant to be driven,” says Koniczek, ever to the point. Mentorship and an ever-changing automotive landscape are always on his mind. “Today, it is almost all technical, not mechanical,” he says. “However, there will always be people who have, or want, cars for something other than everyday commuting.” We are at a place now where “the best theft deterrent a car can have is a stick-shift,” he says with a sly smile. “In the early days with Mercedes, my job evolved into travelling the country, fixing cars with deep idiosyncrasies. I kind of evolved my practise from there.”
The care and attention to detail are immense. Daimler-Benz has in years past asked him to come to Stuttgart’s museum workshop to critique some work, and by now his reach is truly international, built solely by word of mouth from extremely happy clients. His motto of “think twice, do once, with passion, dedication, and enthusiasm” has paid off. Out in the middle of a semi-urban wilderness, restored wonders never cease.
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