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Restoration Outfit Drives it Old School

Good, old-fashioned craftsmanship is not a thing of the past, even as it pertains to automobiles. Mike Kraljevic and his father, Marjan, owners and operators of Vantage Motors in Stamford, are a testament to the fact that handcrafted skill is alive -- and thriving.

The father and son team work together -- often side-by-side -- restoring old cars, but not the clunkers one turns in for cash. "We service, restore and sell high-end, vintage automobiles, such as Aston Martins, Maseratis, Lamborghinis, Bentleys, Ferraris and Austin-Healeys," says 34 year-old Mike. "Oh," he adds with a laugh: "And the family Rolls Royce, too."

The Kraljevics didn't just stumble upon a heap of expensive, broken down old cars and open a business around fixing them. Marjan knows his cars. He immigrated to the United States from Croatia in 1964 (escaping from what was then Yugoslavia), and worked in the U.S. for BMW, Lamborghini and Maserati before being invited to join the Aston Martin vintage racing team as its chief mechanic.

He opened Vantage Motors in 1990. Mike joined him at the shop fulltime in 1998 but not before he spent most of his young life unofficially apprenticing for his father. "I learned everything about cars from him. I always helped him however I could, from holding the light and fetching tools to learning everything I could about the workings of all the vehicles. It was totally old-school," he says. "And working together isn't always a picnic. Sometimes it's more like a reality television show," he adds.

Both Marjan and Mike are passionate about these cars. Mike says: "Everything's hand made and hand fit. They're completely beautiful and amazingly overbuilt, which is what makes them so incredible. The people who built these took great pride in them, which is exactly how we approach servicing and repairing them." Their exacting work speaks for itself, as clients, who hear of them mostly through word-of-mouth, send their cars from across the country and over oceans -- "Customers fly them over," says Mike -- in order for the Kraljevics to get their hands on them.

Of course where there are expensive cars there is celebrity. Among the tons of steel arranged in perfectly chaotic order in the shop is a 1966 Austin Martin DB-6. What makes it special is not that it's just one digit away from James Bond's ride (his was a DB-5). No, this car is royalty: "It's pretty cool. It belonged to Sir Paul McCartney," he says.

Vantage Motors is located at 11 Fahey Street in Stamford. (203) 327-1747.

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