At first glace it's easy to get caught up in the beauty of the paint, chrome, or leather of this 1958 C1 Corvette. You wouldn't be alone if you stared for minutes and lost track of time as I imagine thousands did when it WON "Best in Class" at the 2019 Hilton Head Island Concours d'Elegance & Motoring Festival. It's clearly a masterpiece and work of art; however, when I look at this Corvette it's beauty is not the first thing that comes to my mind. What I see is the story of this C1's restoration and the thousands of hours that went into crafting every curve on the body, the effort that went into tuning the engine for maximum performance, and focus that went into getting every small detail perfect. What I see is the story of it's restoration and the relentless pursuit of perfection of Gentry Motorcars, the company that built it...
As I share some details about this car's story keep in mind a few things. One, I'm the photographer. I'm not a professional journalist, nor am I a fantastic writer. But, I'll make one promise -- I'll try my best. Two, I don't have all the details. I wish I knew more about the specifics of the restoration or challenges the project went through but that's not my story to tell, that's Blairs. Who's Blair? He's the owner of Gentry Motorcars and the guy that restored this beauty building it from the ground up. Three, I like to be brief and conversational. This is a pretty long intro for me, so if you're still reading this don't worry we're about to jump into it.
The story of this vehicle is also the story of Blair starting Gentry Motorcars. In 2015 Blair founded Gentry Motorcars and returned to his hometown area with a new project - a ground up build of a 1958 C1 Corvette. It was almost like a leap of faith from Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade as Blair took a huge step forward with his business on a huge project that would take shape over the next 3 years. When I say huge project I really mean HUGE. This was a full restoration from the ground up meaning the entire vehicle was built and handcrafted by Blair. As I think about this it's really incredible. Most things in today's day-and-age are part of an assembly line or big production so companies can sell at lower prices while maintaining margins -- especially in the automotive industry. Having something handcrafted today is pretty unique, in particular when it comes to vehicles. What do I mean? Everything from body fiberglass repair, custom engine and transmission work, a custom built front end, and custom dual circuit brake lines for improved safety are just a few things apart of this vehicles story. Having a hard time visualizing this? Check out some of the pictures below.
Pictures courtesy of Gentry Motorcars Facebook Page.
As I learned more about this vehicle and talked with Blair the one thing that continued to blow me away was the hundreds hours that went into various parts of the project. As you look at some of the early pictures above think about the time and effort that went into making sure the fiberglass repair was of the perfect thickness and finish before going to paint, or the number of primer coats was perfect before applying a finishing paint, or the fittings, angles, and stability that went into creating the front-end were perfect so the engine could be secured properly. You're probably picking up on a theme now... there were hundreds, if not thousands that went into various stages of this project in the pursuit of perfection. As I learned more about this restoration and talked with Blair it became apparent to me that the pursuit of perfection was his brand, and the brand of Gentry Motorcars. As a friend this is one of the many things I respect about Blair, but as a photographer and fellow business owner I believe it's one of the unique things that separates Gentry Motorcars from the competition.
As the project neared completion Blair asked me if I could come up and take some pictures to showcase the progress. Without hesitation I said "YES" as this was the type of project I was honored to be apart of. It was honestly something I was pretty nervous about. Why? I had never actually seen "Red" in person, I only visualized her in stories Blair told along with pictures he shared. "Red" almost felt like a story from Greek Mythology - a legend of triumph and tribulation that was so incredible it was only suited for the gods. I was nervous because I had the task of capturing something incredible that someone else had created and I wanted to create images that would do it justice. On top of that, this was my first Commercial Job -- I wanted to do my best.
In July 2019 I met "Red," the name Blair had given the C1, for the first time at the shop in Manchester, MD. I remember it like it was yesterday... I prepared for days before the shoot with a shot list I pre-visualized, packed up vehicle I sat in double and triple checking I had all my gear, and excitement and nerves that had me repeat planning activities for days. When I showed up in Manchester and got out of my car I hyped myself up saying, "you got this." Looking back on it, it's kind of funny to me. This is one of those moments when your nervous as heck on the inside but you don't want to show it externally. You might not have those, but I definitely do. Little did I know, entering the garage and seeing "Red" in person would create an internal calmness about me that I needed. All the time I spent pre-visualizing and planning allowed me to get into "go mode" where I could exclusively focus on "Red" and enjoy all of her beauty and hard work. What did she look like? Check out the images below.
Seeing "Red" for the first time was incredible to say the least. Throughout my entire session I was blown away at the level of detail and precision that went into all the small things like engine bay wire management, stitching on the seats and upholstery, or polish of the chrome on all surfaces and tires. Everything was perfect or had an action plan on how it would be finished to the highest quality. As I walked around "Red" and talked with Blair more about the restoration two things rubbed off on me.
One, the pursuit of perfection is hard. Individually we have to make a choice on whether we want to pursue it or not. Perfection is not like a vacation destination where you show up to the beach and sit in your chair as you hear waves crash into the shore. It's more like the never ending car ride from your childhood where you keep asking, "are we there yet?" The funny thing is the answer is always no. The pursuit of perfection is not always about perfection and an end destination but about the journey and pursuit you go on to deliver the best possible outcome you can. This was an incredible epiphany I had and something I wanted to embrace.
Two, an action plan is required to make progress on your pursuit of perfection. What does this mean? You have to internalize and be honest about your strengths and weaknesses focusing on what you need to do better. For everything on "Red" Blair had an action-plan on how to complete it to the highest quality or if it didn't meet his standards how it was going to be replaced or fixed before delivering it to the owner. It was the second epiphany -- make it tangible and real so you can see progress and assess if you're moving forward.
These two things really stuck with me and over the next few months I
A few months later in October 2019 Blair completed "Red" and we scheduled a follow-up shoot which felt like a final farewell before she was delivered to her owner in South Carolina. My excitement was at an all time high as the shoot approached. Not only was I excited to see Blair but "Red" felt like the best friend from summer camp that you were seeing again next year. When she pulled up on location I couldn't help but smile ear-to-ear as her red paint glistened in the sun. Here's a few shots from downtown Middleburg, where she owned the streets.
The grand finale and focus for this shoot was creating 2 "Masterpiece" shots for Blair which can take from 20-60+ minutes per shot depending on the level of complexity. One of these shots was a "roller" where I was shooting out of the back of my Jeep (with a driver controlling the vehicle) aiming to capture the motion blur of the road while keeping the subject, "Red," in perfect focus. Here's how the roller turned out.
The second masterpiece was a "light painting" shot at Salamander Resort in Middleburg. I picked this elegant location as I thought it matched the level of craftsmanship that went into creating "Red" and I told Blair he would likely get multiple offers to buy the vehicle if we parked it in the valet area while we captured some shots with the resort in the backdrop. I was somewhat joking when I said this as I hardly expected anyone to come out and make an offer on the vehicle. As I worked through the light painting sequence there were multiple people that came out asking questions about Red and asking to buy her. I couldn't help but smile as I looked over at Blair and saw the appreciation he felt from complete strangers for the thousands of hours he put into building her.
We'll that's story of "Red." The 1958 C1 Corvette that pushed me create an action plan to relentlessly pursue perfection in my photography and take my business from a "casual side business" to something that has a focus and objective. For that I will forever be grateful.
Thanks for reading, until next time.