The Art of the Instrument Maker

April 11, 2022

At last month’s Techno Classica, an eye-catching Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 B Touring Spider won the award for Best Pre-War Restoration. The cappuccino-colored car debuted in Essen and is truly stunning, but what caught my eye was a celebratory Facebook post by the fellow who made the gauges. So what did I do? I gave him a call.

His name is Gabriel de Meurville, an ex-pat Argentinian living in Surrey, U.K., an area where many of the world's top restoration shops are located. Gabriel is an artist and designer by training, and has become one of the top restorers of gauges for pre-war cars.

Read our interview below about how he got into this profession, and the painstaking work required to create period-correct gauges for some of the most iconic cars in the world.

Chris Bright: What was your path into this very particular line of work?

Gabriel de Meurville: In the early 1990s, I was studying graphic design while living in Buenos Aires. A friend of mine has an MG TC. He asked me to draw with graphic design software and print the instrument dials. That kickstarted it, and led to operating my own workshop in Buenos Aires for the past 10 years. The economic situation deteriorated in Argentina, so I moved to the U.K for what was only going to be a year. That was 19 years ago.

Thanks to my skills and a dose of luck, soon after my arrival I had a full contract with Rolls-Royce. While I was there, I started to take on work with restoration shops, including Jim Stokes Workshops in 2004. I did contract work for them, including instruments, but my background as an artist also led me to freehand painting a Scuderia Ferrari shield on an Alfa Romeo 8C 2300!

Since 2011, I have had my own business called AutomotiveArt, and it has been my full-time job for about ten years. I primarily work for five or six shops on pre-war Alfa Romeos, as well as Bentleys, Maseratis, and Ferraris.  

CB: How did you train for such a specific type of craftsmanship?

GdM: My passion for any wheeled device started from a very early age. I enjoyed drawing and painting, but was also very passionate about cars. When I started doing this it came naturally.Initially, I understood the design and visual side, but then I learned to build and repair instruments. At first, it was just trial and error, but in Argentina I found a few people to teach me. In England, the people who have been doing this work are much older, and they are passing on their knowledge to me.

CB: Let’s talk about the award-winning Alfa Romeo at Techno-Classica. Can you tell us about that process to illustrate your work?

GdM: This Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 is one of the best projects I worked on. I was commissioned to build these instruments from scratch. My part of the project began in May 2019 after being contacted by Jim Stokes Workshops.

First I must research the original gauges to understand exactly what they looked like, their size, how they operated, right down to the fonts used for the text and numbers. My research begins by looking for photos and drawings from the period. I was fortunate to photograph four 8C 2900's through the years, for details and information. Also, I had my own library of more than 10 years of photographs to reference, because I also take documentary photos for the shop.

This car had Veglia gauges and there simply are none available, so I had to start from scratch. The speedometer went up to 240 km/hr. The odometer was at the top of the window, and there was also an oil pressure gauge, fuel gauge, and clock. The search for period gauges begins with those we can find in the market and at autojumbles.

One challenge I thought would be huge, was the rev counter on the car ran counter-clockwise -- and there was nothing like that available in the market. I carefully reversed the spring and it worked perfectly! It was easier than I thought -- which rarely happens!

The cases were done by Adrian, an expert craftsman who helped me often with the metal hardware stuff. I then meticulously recreated the faces on my computer. While many use available fonts, I create every font myself so the letters and numbers are precisely as the original.

The assembly process is very time-consuming. Everything is bespoke for this car. Things get fitted, then you find something isn't right, and you have to sort it out. In this build, I had a problem fitting the needles. The instruments were initially fitted in June 2021. We had to test that they worked and, more importantly, were accurate.

CB: What other cars have you worked on?

GdM: I now have many cars in my portfolio, including important cars like the Alfetta 158 Grand Prix, the same as Fangio and Farina drove back in 1950, and an Alfa Monza. I recently completed an exciting project in which I recreated the gauges for a pair of meticulously recreated Ferrari 156 ‘Sharknose’ Formula Cars from 1961. Setford and Company built a pair that debuted in 2017, and I built the gauges for these cars. I painted the lettering by hand and I am proud to have contributed to these cars.

CB: What cars do you personally own?

GdM: Growing up in Argentina, we had many French cars. I became enamored with Peugeot, and have two of them, a106 XSi and a 405 Mi16. Both are sports versions, have great handling, and are fun to drive! My most modern car is a Mazda MX-5 with many upgrades.

CB: Gabriel, thanks for taking the time to share your experiences, it was very educational and great to see you carrying on this work that is so important for the collector car community!

Be sure to follow Gabriel on Instagram @a_traccion and if you want to contact him, send me an email.

Photo Gallery

Gabriel assembles the Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 B's instruments.
The re-created Veglia gauges are ready for installation.
The many components that make up these works of art.
Blueprints include precise gauge specifications, assuring a correct appearance.
Before and after images of the Bentley temperature gauge show the created patina, which is crucial to restoration work.
A re-created Jaeger speedometer before and after Gabriel aged it.
Gabriel in the process of painting the iconic Scuderia Ferrari shield on an Alfa Romeo Tipo B.
The finished Scuderia Ferrari shield on the Alfa Romeo Tipo B.
A great deal of work is required to Install the instruments just right on this Alfa Romeo 8C.
Gabriel's artistic touch brings this 'quadrifoglio' to life.
A custom-painted sign for this Bentley, owned by a well-known collector!
Paint detail on an Alfa Romeo 158 Alfetta with numbers and details painted by Gabriel.
Paint detail on an Alfa Romeo Monza.
Finishing touches on one of two 1961 Ferrari 156 'Sharknose' re-creations.
A mirror-like paint job for Rolls-Royce in 2005.

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