Metal craftsman creating a coupe that never existed
David Ryan’s commissioned project is the complete body of a Cord Aerospace two-door hardtop
Taking a flat sheet of steel and giving it the intricate curves, creases and folds of an exotic auto body panel is a skill honed over time. And it’s one that metal craftsman David Ryan has perfected. Currently working in B.C. on a commissioned project, Ryan is constructing the complete body of a Cord Aerospace coupe. To fabricate the body shell, he uses specialized tools such as hammers, dollies, planishing hammer and a Pullmax metal working machine.
“I was raised in London, Ontario,” Ryan says. “My dad was a salesman and wasn’t mechanically inclined, but he’d pick up Dinky toys and plastic model cars for me without really knowing what it was he was buying, so it became quite a varied collection. But I really liked the shape and design of the European car models, and I always knew I wanted to do something with auto body for a career.”
As a youngster, Ryan and his friends spent time riding, breaking, and repairing bicycles. A friend’s dad had a well-equipped garage, Ryan says, and they could use the space when it came time to fix something. During high school, Ryan took shop classes and worked in a co-op system that saw him employed at a General Motors dealership. He learned to sweep floors, he says. “But I would always watch a friend there who was amazing at collision repair – he was a friend and a mentor,” Ryan explains.
After graduation, Ryan applied for a job at six or seven auto body shops. He got one offer, to work as an auto body prepper. They didn’t need anyone for collision or metal repair.
“I passed on that,” Ryan says. Instead, he placed an ad in the paper and began taking on rust repair and other minor auto body jobs using his own meagre collection of tools. “I was 19, and it was all just blind force, passion and stupidity,” he laughs.
Just one of his mentors was Reg Beer. Ryan got his apprenticeship at Reg Beer Coachbuilder, in Bolton, Ontario. Ryan worked there for three years on Rolls-Royce, Bentley, and Morgan cars, and got his autobody licence in 1988.
In 1998, Ryan got a job at RM Classic Cars in Blenheim, Ontario. Well-known among high-end classic car enthusiasts for their execution of flawless restorations, RM Classic Cars has earned several Best of Show awards at shows such as the Concours d’Elegance at Pebble Beach. While at RM, Ryan was involved in the restoration of a 1931 Rolls-Royce Double Six 50 that took Best of Show at Pebble Beach in 2006.
But, in 2008, Ryan’s friend in Alberta told him he should come work in the oil patch, earn some money, and then set up his own shop. That wasn’t exactly the route he followed. After he left the pipeline job, Ryan floated around a couple of custom car shops in Edmonton and then worked in Calgary at the Rod Shop.
“But I really wanted to do my own thing,” he says. “At RM, I’d worked on some of the most beautiful cars in the world. I had all my own tools by this time and ended up meeting a fellow who helped line up a few really cool cars for me to work on.”