Meet Scania UK’s Picasso: where it’s all about the details
Sheffield is a city renowned for its heritage, and its steel. There’s a sense of solidity throughout the city, which wears its industrial heart on its sleeve. That’s very much the same when you visit Scania Sheffield. It’s a service centre that means business, and the team there are focused on getting the job done.
But it also holds a unique secret. It’s the only location Scania UK wholly owns that has a bodyshop. Tucked away in the corner of the yard is the team who deliver people their dreams, the unexpected and, in some cases, the impossible.
Let me introduce to the person leading the team, Lee Fox – the Picasso of Trucks.
“We’re based at quite a unique location and we’re hidden away,” he says. “But that’s good because you shouldn’t disturb an artist at work. Our work is Scania Sheffield’s biggest secret until we’ve finished – of course.”
The man behind the paint brush
The comparison to world famous artist and sculpturer Pablo Picasso may seem farfetched, but actually the similarities between Lee and Picasso are closer than you think.
One example is their beginnings. At a young age, it was well known that Picasso’s talents were being readily recognised. Although never reaching the heights of the Spaniard, Lee’s talents for designing, detailing and restoring vehicles to their former glories started early too.
From the age of 10, while his parents were busy running their chip shop, Lee would often be found around the back in the double garages fettling with British cars. Whether it was a Mark I or II Escort or a Triumph Spitfire, he was focused on one thing restoring those vehicles to their former glories.
Lee explains that for him it’s all about getting the aesthetics right.
“The Picasso of Trucks? I’ve never been called that – but I do like it,” he says. “Art was one of the subjects that I really enjoyed. It probably started from there to be honest.
“For me it’s not about the money, it’s about thinking how to make that truck look better. If it’s right for the customer – then job done.”
In much the same vein as Picasso, Lee continued following his passion, but his was for vehicles rather than art. From school Lee got into the world of trucks and started his career by becoming a technician. Before working in transport operations through to repairing vehicles.
In fact, his story has come full circle, as Lee is back doing what he started as a hobby, repairing, restoring and painting vehicles – only this time he makes a living from it.
“It must’ve been an underlying interest, because when we finished doing repairs on cars, we always liked to make sure the car looked nice as well.
“That meant putting different colours on the Escorts, and make them nice and shiny. I think it is the child coming out of me. When you’re small you play with little toys and now I’m playing with big toys.”
It’s all about the little touches
And playing with big toys doesn’t get much bigger than playing with trucks, and in some cases, buses and coaches.
Lee is a very focused individual and is keen to help customers deliver their vision of their truck. From the design work to the consultation, and even giving progress updates, he is involved in all those processes. While his team deliver the vision Lee has created through design and CAD software.
When it comes to personalising a vehicle, especially a truck, Lee and his team have seen their fair share of random colour combinations and ideas. But for him, it’s all part of the challenge to refine their vision into one that is more beauty than beast.
Whether that’s simply rationalising the colour choices to those that complement each other, or suggesting not spending money on painting parts nobody will see, through to suggesting key details that will finish off the vehicle nicely.
What drives Lee’s desire to be a perfectionist is, ironically, his OCD. It’s something that’s been apparent throughout his life from drawing clean lines on a page, through to maintaining a tidy workspace, and even ensuring a finished truck looks a million dollars before it rolls out of Scania Sheffield’s yard.
“It’s quite a good thing to have that kind of OCD in the business I’m in, to make sure everything is spot on,” says Lee.
“I always think it’s best to walk around the truck with the customer, because they will tell you what they want. It’s up to me to help them visualise it and suggest other areas they may want to paint, which they may not have considered before. For example, the door mirrors, the plastic trim around the windows or the spotlights.
“They tell me what they want, and I tell how they can enhance the effect. They start to picture it themselves, and to help I write on the vehicle with chinagraph pencils.”
But not every project is the same. There are simple jobs where parts or accessories need fitting and respraying to match the vehicle, to full paint jobs where the exterior colour changes completely.
Then at the far end of the scale is restoring and repairing vehicles, which is at the other extreme of his art form.
Giving heavy vehicles a second life
Another side to Lee’s job is assessing restoration and accident repair work. And while this may seem mundane and not in keeping with his artistic flair – Lee and his team have made it a habit of delivering the impossible.
Restoration work is a labour of love and fits neatly within the artist’s remit of re-sculpting a vehicle from its current funk into a new, original version of itself. One example is the full nut and bolt restoration of an original Scania Vabis, also known as the Bulldog, which is co-owned by Scania CV and Scania UK.
But when it comes to accident repair or big structural adjustment jobs, the Bodyshop team at Sheffield don’t shy away from anything.
From twisted chassis, trailers and cabs to removing doors on a bus – all seem crazy and impossible to do. But for this team – this is their bread and butter.
“It makes me smirk to be honest,” says Lee. “Because if there’s anything we think can’t do or we will find difficult to do I know the team will find a way to do it.
“We always end up making it work and getting that end result. It might take time, but I know the lads can do it.”
Sheffield sees a lot of trucks and trailers that need a bit of straightening up. To many, it’s a job not worth doing because it’s time consuming, and you need the correct equipment and knowledge to get it right.
Just to be clear, the team don’t see just minor twists. But things at the extreme end of the spectrum such as twists beyond 60mm. A tough challenge to overcome. Especially when the end result may not show itself for two to three weeks, as Lee explains:
“You’d think a bent chassis was a game over, but you can use chains around it and use rams to push and pull metal.
We put heat spots down the chassis using an induction heater while we’re pulling. It’s like manipulating the steel. Then we push and pull with 80 tonnes of pressure. It takes time to do, but I have the right team who are trained to do it and straighten it back up.”
The link to the great Pablo Picasso may seem a farfetched idea when you first meet Lee outside his office. But first perceptions can be deceptive.
The main difference is, rather than residing in Catalonia, Lee and his team are forging their own style right in the heart of Britain’s Steel City.
Bringing Scania Vabis back to the future
When a classic Scania was in need of restoration, there was only one location for Sweden to send the truck. That’s to Scania Sheffield and the Picasso of Trucks.
To bring a vehicle back to life, especially an old one, requires time, patience and perseverance. And boy, did Lee and his team need all three with this job.
The vehicle was a Scania Vabis, nicknamed the Bulldog, which was in need of some tender loving care. Little did the team realise it would lead to a complete nut and bolt restoration. Including the fabrication of parts no longer available.
Lee says: “The Scania Vabis was a great project to work on because we rebuilt pretty much the whole thing. At certain points, there were some parts Scania couldn’t help us with, so I had to buy classic truck magazines off eBay to find out how things looked.
“It made me proud, and the result was the conviction we needed for all the work we’d done. It took us 12 months to do, I had 2 or 3 people who worked on it constantly.”
Challenges the team found along the way included replacing a worn and degrading interior. Using a local upholsterer, Lee’s team fitted the truck with a new headlining and cloth coverings for the seat to ensure the interior matched the factory fresh exterior.
It didn’t take long for the team to bask in the glory of completing such a momentous project, as Lee recollects the look of shock and awe by Executive Director for Services at Scania UK and co-signee Mark Grant, when he saw the truck for the first time.
Lee says: “I remember taking it down to Milton Keynes Head Office. Then it went straight to Peterborough TruckFest and we got a massive reception there as well. It’s jobs like that, that make it all worthwhile. We’ve revived the impossible, because there were things we couldn’t get and we had to fabricate it ourselves.”
Mission impossible: the bus ordeal
The bodyshop team at Scania Sheffield may be artists on all things truck-related, but their skillsets also extend to the bus and coach world. While there’s not so many glamorous livery jobs, they do get stuck in making them look visually perfect.
Often the jobs revolve around sorting poor paint jobs such as overspray and repairing issues such as water leaks in the roof. But the other side of the coin is far more involved.
Retrofitting equipment to buses and coaches can often be long, arduous jobs, but Lee and his team are always happy to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in.
One job that springs to Lee’s mind is the retrofit job they did on 12 double deck buses, as he explains:
“We were asked to move the disabled area to a different location, and to take the second set of double doors out altogether. We replaced them with panels so it seemed as if the doors weren’t there.
“We had to rebuild each bus – and we did all 12 of them. That was a challenge, because we’d never done them before. The first one was a test to make sure we got everything in the right place.”
The change although seemingly simple from the outset was a large challenge for the team and it took them almost two years to complete all 12, as each retrofit took 8 weeks to complete.
But that wasn’t the end of the job, as each bus then needed an MOT and to be painted before they were ready to hit the road and collect passengers.
Let’s just say this delightful dozen gave Lee some sleepless nights.