Peter Baylis is a skilled craftsman — but the skills he uses in his specialist line of work are open to view for only a short time once it has been completed. At Clanfield Coachbuilding, his main line of business involves making and restoring the wooden frames and other fittings used in the production of pre-and-post-war cars.

“Nobody really sees the results of my work,”he said. “The panel-beaters come along and cover it with the metal of the body and the trimmers cover the interior work with leather.”

Mr Baylis has a workshop based at the Old Mill, Little Clanfield, where he is joined in the business by wife Sandy, who deals with administration.

This has been his base since he began his career in working with wood.

“I trained as a cabinet-maker in the days of City and Guilds qualifications,” he said. “I started off making furniture, then moved into antiques restoration. But I have long had a passion for cars, as well as for wood so now I combine the two.”

A neighbouring company on the Old Mill site is Fiennes Restoration, specialists in vintage car restorations and the two companies work closely together, Mr Baylis building, or restoring, the wooden framework of a vehicle after the initial work has been carried out on the chassis.

“My part is the first in the restoration process, after the chassis has been made ready,” he said.

Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Lagonda and Aston Martin are some of the manufacturers’ names whose cars have come to Little Clanfield for restoration to their former glory.

And then there are the real vintage cars such as a 1904 Clement-Bayard, known as ‘Clemmie’.

Mr Baylis also carries out ‘new-builds,’ interpreting a client’s own design by creating the basic wooden framework. He explained: “A client may have an idea of exactly the car they want, but as it is not a production model, they ask for it to be made especially for them.

“This approach also applies to replica cars. So many vintage models are now held in collections that they cannot be bought, so the only way to own one is to have a copy made.”

Mr Baylis is a member of the Woodie Car Club, whose members share an interest in all cars from the era of wooden frames and arrange gatherings at events around the country.

Mr Baylis has his own ‘Woodie’, which he is in the process of restoring – a 1929 Rolls-Royce ‘Twenty’.

After the Second World War, many manufacturers were producing wood-frame ‘estate’ cars, often used on country estates. For these, even the doors and other panelling were made of wood.

Restoration projects brought by clients to Little Clanfield may arrive in a variety of states of disrepair — some minor, some major.

“As the cars of a few years ago are likely to have suffered from rust, so those from further back had their own problems,” said Mr Baylis.

“There were some pretty awful roads back in the 1930s and before, so the cars were shaken about a lot.”

As a result, the amount of work each project will involve varies greatly.

The advice from Mr Baylis to anybody bringing a car for restoration is: “Make sure you have as much as possible of every part of the car, regardless of its condition.

“We know where the doors and windows fit, but there are many fittings which are specific to individual models and we want to bring the car back as near as possible to the original on everything, including details such as catches and hinges.

“Any material that is still serviceable we keep and use in the rebuild. We are not in the business of throwing things away and making everything brand new. We like to tie in the car with its past.”

Dashboards, cappings, cabinets, toolboxes, together with veneers – many installations were originally of wood.

“Glamour was a big thing in the 1930s,” Mr Baylis added. “The cars were fitted with vanity units, mirrors and cigarette holders, instead of the iPod docks of today.”

Mr Baylis buys the timber he uses from Wootton Bassett, just over the border in Wiltshire.

“I deal only in homegrown timber. It is felled, air-dried and cut locally before being delivered in big planks of various thicknesses.”

The wood is English ash, as used in horse-drawn wagons, the forerunners of the motor car. It has been used for centuries, so I see no reason to think that we could find anything better,” he said.

Mr Baylis describes the building process as being like a jigsaw-puzzle — except that he has to make the pieces himself.

“You share each piece according to its neighbour — when you look at the shape of a car, you can see that it all flows,” he explained.

At Little Clanfield, the workshops are often occupied with more than one project in progress.

“We can cope with anything from rebuilding a boot-lid to a brand new frame, depending on the condition of the vehicle,” Mr Baylis said “There are cars around which still have sound timber and just require tightening up, and there are others which have been devastated by rot and woodworm – these just offer a greater challenge.

“But most of my work is restoration, which is what I like. I focus on each car’s originality and try to recreate that.” ib