Richard Tipper has been cleaning cars for 30 years – although he’s come a long way since the days when he was earning pocket money from his nan as a 14-year-old! SIMON DAVIS tells his story.
It’s a job we’ve all done as kids – washing our parents’ cars at the weekend for a couple of quid. For most of us, it was simply a way of scoring a bit of extra pocket money.
For Richard Tipper, the one-man team behind Perfection Valet, it kick-started what would become an incredibly successful career that would see him work on some of the most legendary cars that have ever graced our roads.
The list includes nearly every model of Ferrari ever produced, a plethora of famous racing cars and every supercar under the sun.
As the son of a self-employed technician mechanic, Tipper was surrounded by cars when he was growing up.
‘I started washing cars when I was 14. My passion was always cars and Dad used to bring home cars that he’d worked on.
‘Nice stuff, and I was always attracted to the types of cars that I was familiar with, even at that age,’ Tipper explains.
‘I have a real passion for cleanliness, and I used to wash my nan’s car for a couple of quid. Then
a couple over the road came out and said, ‘‘Oh, have you got time to do ours ?’’
‘So from the age of 14, I had started washing cars and showing a bit of interest. That was on a weekend, after school – I had a nice little round of about 10 cars that I’d walk around to.’
Things quickly progressed when Tipper’s father started a new business in fleet management for big insurance firms that had huge fleets of cars – a large majority of which needed to be kept clean.
‘As well as the round I had built up, I was getting regular work from him through his business,’ said Tipper.
‘In the early years – between the ages of 14 and 17 – there was never really a time where I was short of work. It didn’t take long to fill up a week, cleaning one or two cars as a minimum every day of the week.’
Providing a young Tipper with a stable source of work wasn’t the only way his father helped him out in progressing his career. When he turned 17 and was able to drive, Tipper’s father – noticing his son’s eye for detail and passion for cleaning – pushed him to set out and start his own business.
So it was that in September 1989, Perfection Valet was founded. Armed with his own vehicle and cleaning equipment, Tipper set out to build his brand and hone his craft.
Central to his work is his Mercedes van. Not only is it an advertisement for his business, it’s fully self-contained and holds everything Tipper needs – from machine polishers to a high-pressure washer and water tank – to get his clients’ vehicles looking as new as they did when they first rolled off the production line.
Not only does his van enable him to carry out his fastidious work, it represents his brand and business all over the country.
‘I hate driving a dirty car. The van is always immaculate – it might get washed once or twice a day if there’s time,’ says Tipper.
‘Anything that’s personal or representing me would be mint. Aside from what I do as a business, if that was just my van, it would still look like that, because I think the way you drive a clean vehicle is totally different to the way you’d drive it if it was filthy.
‘You’d drive it more aggressively; less considerately. When you get into a clean car with perfectly cleaned glass, you’ve already got a sense of occasion.
‘You’re already starting off and you’re driving somewhere with a bit of pride. Whereas if you get into something that you haven’t cleaned for ever and you’re wiping the screen to see where you’re going, your mentality is not the way it should be, I think, for the importance of driving. Because, you know, you can killed on the road, so why not take it seriously?’
While getting his own van enabled Tipper to better pursue his chosen career, things really started to take off in 1997, when a chance encounter with a new client laid the foundations for what would become one of Tipper’s most valued working relationships.
‘I was working somewhere in Stanmore on a BMW 330 and a guy from a neighbouring house came over and asked if I had time to do his car. It was a Jaguar and after I’d finished, he said, ‘‘you’ve done a fantastic job, really pleased with it. I’ve got another car I’d like you to work on – do you go as far as Egham?’’
‘At the time, Egham was quite out of the way, but I’ve never been one to turn anything down so I said I’d do it.
‘Turned out it was at Ferrari UK, and the car was a brand new Ferrari F50.’
Following that job, Tipper managed to forge a good relationship with the owner – named Mark – who asked him to work on the F50 again in 1998 when it was going to be the star of a magazine photoshoot at Silverstone.
The journalist running the shoot was Richard Meaden, who took Tipper aside afterwards and said: ‘I’ll give you a card, I love what you’ve done with the cars. It would be really interesting to get to know you a bit better. Can’t say too much about it at the moment but we’re setting up a new magazine. It will be out soon, called Evo.’
Tipper didn’t think too much of it until he got a call from Meaden a year later in 1999, asking if he’d like to be featured in the new magazine.
‘Back then, they ran articles called Inside Job,’ Tipper explained. ‘It was two pages, and it featured someone closely related to performance cars in one way or another. They’d had a model maker, they’d had an artist, they’d had a driving shoe maker and then they featured me.
‘I had two pages, one was written and the opposing page was a picture of me. Mark let me use his F50, he said it was on the ramps in Egham having a service.
‘I went down with Richard and Emma Bradshaw – who is now his wife – and then that got published in Issue 4 in 1999.
‘That really, really pushed me out there. I’d done very special cars prior to that point, but that got me out to a massive audience.
‘I restricted myself to my own little cluster of customers, but that was nationwide and beyond. Literally the week that hit the shelves I got a great deal of phone calls from all over the place.
‘That was the real point of change that got me out to a wider audience. I still bend over backwards for Evo, and I doubt that things would be the same for me now if it wasn’t for them.’
Tipper has now been running Perfection Valet for 28 years, over the course of which he estimates he’s worked on a staggering 26,000 cars.
These include no fewer than 28 different Ferrari F40s, F1 world champion Nigel Mansell’s JPS Lotus 91 from 1982, as well as the Le Mans- winning Silk Cut Jaguar XJR-9.
The list of rare and extremely valuable cars that Tipper has worked on is seemingly endless. However, out of all
the multi-million-pound vehicles he has detailed as Perfection Valet, one brand stands tall: Porsche.
‘It’s because of the whole ethos of the company,’ he explains. ‘The pedigree – just where they’ve come from and what their relevance is in motorsport, what their passion is, why they produce cars and the quality they produce.
‘For me, it’s just a very special brand. Obviously, you could say all of that about Ferrari, but there’s quite a definite line between the two companies.
Simple answer, I’ve probably done more Porsches than almost any other car. That said, I have done 64 different types of Ferrari.
‘I’ve done a lot for Porsche in terms of actual manufacturer-based work. I’ve worked for Porsche at the Goodwood Festival of Speed for 11 years doing all the Cayennes.
‘I used to do the supercar enclosure until the Cayennes sort of dominated and my time as a company was required more on the Cayennes than on the supercar enclosure.
‘So you get to know the staff, and I mean the staff up at the big house – not the dealership staff.
‘The people who are very relevant within Porsche UK, you get to know them.
‘And then you have their personal passion towards the brand as well.
‘It’s quite different to any other manufacturer that I’ve ever worked for. So Porsche would definitely be my chosen brand.’
These days, Tipper details roughly 300 to 320 cars per year – a far cry from the 200 vehicles he could be cleaning every week during the early days of his career. One thing that has remained constant throughout, however, is that the vast majority of his work is generated through word- of-mouth recommendations.
‘In the early years, it was word of mouth,’ says Tipper. ‘That still happens now, it’s just that the word of mouth is slightly more prominent in that there’s a very niche market of car collectors.
‘Everyone knows everyone, they all know what they own and a lot of deals go on off-market.
‘When you’ve got in with a couple of the big collectors, the sharing of information – especially as to how you got your car to look like that – is very relevant. Big collectors will not let an unknown start working on their cars.
‘That’s how a lot of stuff is generated now, through being recommended by relevant people – people who others really listen to in terms of their opinion.’
Social media – Twitter, in particular – has also been a useful tool through which Tipper has managed to reach a wider audience.
Presently, the Perfection Valet account has 12,900 followers and provides outsiders with a glimpse of some of the cars that Tipper gets to work on.
‘For me, social media is a very easy way of advertising what I do in a way that helps people interpret me as a person,’ he explains.
‘I’ve made it quite clear, or I hope I have, that my detailing account is very different to other detailing accounts in that I’ve made it predominantly about the cars, not so much about what I do to them and about, ‘‘oh, look at this 50/50, look what I’ve done’’ sort of thing.
‘For me it’s about the type of cars that I work on. And it’s about showing my followers cars that they wouldn’t normally see.’
As far as the future of Perfection Valet is concerned, Tipper would love to see his business running in much the same way as it is now, although there are a number of avenues he could see himself exploring.
‘I’m 45 in April, so age becomes a concern because it’s very, very labour intensive,’ he explains. ‘I’d perhaps see myself doing some consulting, some involvement in sales.
‘Because of my client base, I’m often approached by people who are looking to buy cars that don’t hit the market but they know I’m involved with and vice versa – people with cars like that who are looking to sell but don’t want to do it publicly.
‘I think there’s definitely a market for me to be a go-between. So brokerage, consultancy, training – not so much products because I think the market’s flooded. I think more of an upmarket involvement rather than the other things that I could get involved with.
‘But I would be more than happy if I could sit here in 10 years’ and tell you the same story.’
DAY I FOUND A BAG FULL OF CASH
HAVING worked on around 26,000 cars, Richard Tipper has come across his fair share of strange odds and ends that have been left behind or forgotten about by their owners.
However, one of Tipper’s strangest finds came about roughly 20 years ago when he was in the process of cleaning out a Datsun 280ZX.
‘The car was worth pence,’ he recalls.
‘It belonged to a woman who had moved house about two years prior. I was cleaning this car and I got under the boot cover to reach the spare wheel and there’s this Sainsbury’s bag sitting there.
‘I thought ‘‘bloody hell’’ because it was full of money. I mean, bulging.
‘I got this money out, put it to the side and took it in to the lady after finishing.
‘She was a very, very well-to-do singing teacher. Very theatrical, had a huge house.
‘So I’ve got this bag, and I go and say, ‘‘you’ll never guess what I’ve found in the front of your car’’ and she went, ‘‘oh my goodness!’’
‘She’d put this bag of money – which she had kept in a great big vase in her old house – into her car, moved house and had totally forgotten about it. It was £2,500!
‘It was 20 years ago, so at the time that could have got me out of debt, but I didn’t even get a drink out of it! Ah well, never mind…”