To Sam Hard, cars are a whole lot more than a method of transport to get from A to B. They’re his life.
Since the age of 15 he’s had his head underneath bonnets, fine-tuning motors of all shapes and sizes.
And he’s good at what he does. In the space of 10 years, the 29-year-old has gone from being an apprentice behind the customer service desk at Mercedes-Benz to talk of starring in his own television show.
‘Our blood is supposed to pump a certain amount of beats a minute, but I think it’s more revs a minute for me,’ Sam says.
I meet him at his customisation/mechanics shop Hard Up Garage in Fareham and am greeted by the sight of a gleaming 1972 Ford Capri rally car, a stunning 1960 Cadillac Coupe DeVille and a Ford truck, carrying a spooky, Gothic-inspired artwork of a demon mariachi band.
Sam talks in great detail about each one, how it came to the garage as a ‘complete dump’ and how his team have polished it to perfection, adding several thousand pounds on to the value.
Sam is on the cusp of big things. Hard-Up Garage is growing in popularity, not just in the UK but even has fans across the Atlantic in America and he’s built himself a strong reputation for his work.
This reputation has led to TV networks beginning to take notice of him and the Fareham-born mechanic is heading Stateside later this summer to hopefully achieve his dream of a TV show.
So, how did it happen? Let’s rewind to 15-year-old Sam, sitting in class at Neville Lovett School (now Fareham Academy) daydreaming about getting home and spending his evening working on cars.
‘I just didn’t have the attitude for academic work,’ Sam says.
‘I would just get home and I would go and obsess over all the different parts, learn what made a car run. It was all that I was ever interested in.’
His history teacher, Mr Chatband, spotted the daydreaming and struck a deal with Sam.
‘He said that if I could get my head down and get a C in history, then he would help me get a NVQ in vehicle studies.
‘Right there and then it changed my life, as he sent me down the path that I’m on today.
‘I sorted my act out, worked hard, stopped being a tearaway and suddenly I was doing one day a week at Southampton City Council, learning the trade.
‘Following that, I managed to bag myself an apprenticeship at Mercedes-Benz and after three years I became qualified as an advanced apprentice at the age of 19.’
Sam continued his development, spending some time in Aldershot behind the customer service desk. But then, at the age of 20, he decided it was time to make his dream a reality.
He said: ‘I set up my own company under the name Elite Vehicle Maintenance, got myself the space at Fort Fareham and started putting my years of hard work to use.
‘It all started moving very quickly from there and I got busy.
‘I was really happy, I was doing what I really wanted, though on the side I was picking up cars and tinkering with them as that was the overall dream. At that point it wasn’t part of the job, just a side project, but I was learning all the time.
‘I still had the love of designing cars and I thought to myself that at some point there might come a moment where I can really make this happen.’
Sam’s idol is Richard Rawlings, the American petrolhead who runs Dallas-based Gas Monkey Garage and stars in Discovery Channel show Fast N’Loud, where he scours America for tired and run-down cars that he can restore for profit.
Derek Hard, Sam’s father, who is also a mechanic, invited Sam out to El Paso in 2013 to have a look at bringing a car over to the garage.
The seller just happened to know Rawlings, who managed to arrange for Sam to meet his hero.
‘He got his phone out and just had his number right there. He rang him up and spoke about me. I then took a plane out to Dallas and met my hero.
‘He inspired me and told me that I should just go for it and live my dream by designing cars.
‘On the plane home with my dad I said to him that I was going to go for it and came up with the name Hard-Up Garage then and there.’
Once Sam was home, the garage was re-branded and Hard-Up Garage kicked into gear.
The garage has around 40 cars on the lot. The operation has expanded significantly over the years.
Taking banged-up old cars, stripping them to their core and giving them a stylised makeover is now the forte of the garage, although the team still do jobs for valued customers.
Sam says: ‘Since deciding to just go for it, we’ve been growing in popularity and stature. We’ve got people wearing our T-shirts out in Miami and we’ve got television networks getting in touch, so I think that just shows how far we’ve come not just as a business, but a brand.’
Despite the growing stature of the business, Sam has quite a modest number of staff which include an airbrush artist, a mechanic and two apprentices.
‘I feel that after everything that the experience gave me, I had to take on apprentices as it really is a great way of breaking into the industry and I feel that I have got to give them the chance.’
It’s been a whirlwind journey for Sam, who is now married with two children.
He says: ‘For me, I feel like I’ve got everything I could have ever really wanted.
‘Now I’m just excited to see what the future will bring.’
n For more information, go to hardupgarage.com