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All Torque: A day in the life of a Professional Detailer

Tim Oldland spends the day learning all about the mysterious world of ‘detailing’…

I’ll admit, I had a slight prejudice before writing this article. I had heard about ‘detailing’ and thought it was a way for clever people to charge a lot more for washing someone’s car. I couldn’t have been more wrong…

Richard Tipper runs Perfection Ltd, an independent detailing company and has cleaned some of the rarest and high-end cars on the planet. Name a high-end Hypercar and he’s set about it with his cleaning products – Zonda, Veyron, F40, F50,  Enzo, the list goes on. I’m eager to find out what it feels like to work on the finest the automotive world can create. It’s quite telling of his work ethic when he tells me of one of his mantras – “Fail to prepare, and prepare to fail”…

I arrange to meet him at the London headquarters of ecurie25 the Supercar Club as they have an endless supply of high end cars in need of a good deep cleaning. As he arrives in his custom van and opens it up it becomes very apparent that he has a lot of kit, and everything has its own custom made place. After a brief chat Richard is eager to get going – due to time constraints he’s going to do what is needed most – the exterior of a 2007 Bentley Continental GT in deep metallic blue, and the interior of one of my favourite all-time cars, a Ferrari 599 GTB looking amazing in silver.

Onto the Conti GT first. Most people would start cleaning a car with filling a bucket with hot water, but not here. Sure the car gets a clean first, but the first step is to spray a citrus degreaser over the lower body panels. The dirt clings to this degreaser, so that when he sprays the car with water the dirt simply falls away. Now the car gets a deep foam wash to get any remaining dirt and grime off the bodywork. Now the car is ‘clean’ but certainly not ‘detailed'.

Once dried off using microfibre cloths Richard starts work on the bonnet. This is where is starts to get high-tech, as before he goes any further he must test the depth of the paint. Paint is usually around 150 microns thick – that’s 0.15mm – and around 15-17 microns of that can be taken away to remove any scratches which are typically around 6 microns deep. For metal bodied cars he has a conductive depth gauge which cost him £300, but carbon bodies cars – an ever-increasing amount of his workload – don’t conduct, so he has an ultrasonic depth gauge which cost over 5 times as much.

Looking at the Bentley he’s happy with the paint depth, has spotted a few choice scratches  so sets about the car with some clay lubricant and a clay bar. This takes any raised surface imperfections and buffs them away, leaving you with a smooth surface to work on. There’s no point trying to machine polish a rough surface, as the disc simply won’t be touching the paintwork, only the raised parts.

Now onto the machine polishing. Richard takes what looks like an rotary sander (actually a dedicated polishing machine) and starts to work on buffing the paint with different stages of liquid. First up is a compound paste which feels quite rough to the touch, then an intermediate polish, then a finishing polish which get smoother to the touch each time. His trick is to start off with the pad spinning at a low rpm, which gets the grittier parts of the polish working their magic on the paint, then he ups the speed which builds heat and turns the paste smoother and polishes. Clever stuff.

Once all this has been done, the car is incredibly reflective – it’s almost like looking in a mirror. But he’s not finished yet – the final stage is to wax the car which seals the paint and makes it more resistant to water. There are varying levels of wax you can have from Richard, from the standard (which is still considerably more expensive than you or I would buy from our local motor factors) up to product which costs a barely believable £2000 per pot. After the waxing has been done we get to stand back and admire the incredible shine the car has now. It really is like a mirror now, the paint looks so deep and lustrous. I would say it looks like it is straight from the showroom, but in all honesty this is probably better than when new!

The final task of the day is to work on the slightly grubby grey and carbon interior of Maranello’s finest – the 599 GTB.

Starting with the seats, Richard uses a leather cleaner and conditioner to take the grime away, foaming up the seats and giving them a good scrub, followed by a wet vacuum to remove any residue. The seats look much better after this – brighter and certainly more even in colour. The same rigorous approach is then applied to the door skins, dash, centre console and carpets, paying special care not to scratch the £5000+ optional carbon fibre interior trim. He even treats the carpets to a lawn-like striping, that’s attention to detail.

And that’s the point of all this, I come to realise. Most people clean a car, but for Richard it’s all about the detail – making sure that every little bit is done, and done the very best it can be. At the end of the day I had a huge amount of respect for the work that he does, and we sat down and I asked him a few questions:

TorquingPoint: How long have you been detailing?

Richard Tipper: 22years

TorquingPoint: What made you get into detailing as a career?

RT: When I was 17 my dad had a car fleet management company, and he would bring the cars home and I would clean them, along with my parent’s cars. I found that I really enjoyed doing it and had an idea to do it as a career as I was working as a gardener at the time. Dad gave me a list of all his high profile clients, and I started cold-calling as I knew some of them already. The business grew as I worked for my dad, and branched out to building up a client base of my own.

TorquingPoint: What was the first car you detailed?

RT: Luckily I had a friend of a friend who had a couple of nice cars and I managed to do those as my first paying job. He had a Bentley Mulsanne Turbo and a Jaguar XJS V12 Cabriolet, and his wife had a Mk2 Golf GTi. I did all three and got a taste for nice cars!

TorquingPoint: What is your worst detailing experience?

RT: Well for me personally – in the early days of machine polishing I was doing a client’s Porsche 911 Carrera 2 with Aerokit  and he had a deep scratch on the C-pillar and set about it and accidentally burnt through the laquer completely. Luckily I knew a smart repairer who came out and fixed it within a few hours, and of course I told the customer who was fine with it.

Another bad experience was when I had detailed a Ferrari F50 and was following the owner who was driving it, in his Ferrari 456 through London. Long story short, the F50 ended up wedged under the back end of a Mercedes 190E after a collision. Not very nice to see!

TorquingPoint: What’s the most expensive car you’ve detailed?

RT: That has to be a Series 1 Ferrari 250 GTO, worth around £15,000,000. Well, there have been other one-off Ferraris, but I can’t talk about them…

TorquingPoint: What is the favourite car you’ve detailed?

RT: Initially I’d have to say the Pagani Zonda F Roadster. I really admire the build quality and attention to detail they have. But then I also have a soft spot for a regular F40 I work on – it’s just raw aggression. Then there’s the Bugatti Veyron Grandsport – it takes engineering to another level. My overriding feeling though is of an affinity for Porsches, how they are just the most useable and high quality cars, and of course the enduring passion of Ferraris in general.

TorquingPoint: What car would you most like to detail that you haven’t already?

RT: That’s an easy one – the McLaren F1. I’ve also never worked on a Ferrari 288 GTO which seems odd given I’ve worked on pretty much every other Ferrari.

TorquingPoint: Do you have any celebrity clientele?

RT: Yes I do, but Perfection Ltd runs a highly discreet service which is essential when working on this level of car, so I could never mention who they are.

TorquingPoint: What is your opinion on the new fad for matte paint jobs?

RT: Well for a start they really restrict the amount of work I can do on them. You can’t polish them at all, and they require a lot more work just for the washing. You’re supposed to use purified water as otherwise you can get a build-up of impurities in the non-smooth surface over time. I think they’re rather short-sighted, as the paint will look very tired after a couple of years.

TorquingPoint: What is one piece of kit that no-one should be without when detailing their car?

RT: A 100% Lambswool wash mitt. 80% of scratches on a car are from the washing process, and the mitt will limit that – just don’t use a sponge!

The next day Richard was off to detail another few Supercars, but he couldn’t tell me what they were or who they were owned by. Such is the life of a professional detailer…

Many thanks to Richard Tipper and Perfection Ltd. His website is here: you can also follow Richard’s exploits on Twitter.

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About Tim Oldland

Contributing Editor - Long time petrolhead, automotive design engineer and journalist. Also Social Media Manager for the ecurie25 Group - Tim has worked in the automotive sector for many years, but has been a fan of anything with 2 or 4... read more