Passion for British cars runs in shop owner's blood

In the late 1960s, Sam Sehota’s father owned a car, a Hillman Minx, that needed to be shoved down a hill before it would start.

Mr. Sehota, then about 13 and living in England, remembers standing at the top of the hill with his brothers, helping to push the car so his father could get it running.

“It would bother me,” says Mr. Sehota. “Why couldn’t he get this thing fixed? Since then I had a great passion to find out how to fix things.”

Fast forward to the present and Mr. Sehota is now president of Berkshire Automobiles in Thornhill, a company specializing in keeping British cars running smoothly. The shop at 73 Green Lane deals with cars such as Jaguars, Bentleys, Range Rovers, Rolls Royces and Minis and also sells them, too.

As a specialty shop, which Mr. Sehota runs with his wife, Jas, Berkshire gets clientele from across the country and as far away as the Northwest Territories. But the main customer base remains the north-eastern section of the GTA.

The market remains small, with the Jaguar representing less than one per cent of the car market in Canada, Mr. Sehota said. But the demographic of people who appreciate such cars is growing, with affluent younger people in their 30s and 40s beginning to buy them.

Actor Hayden Christensen, who starred as Anakin Skywalker in the last two Star Wars movies, bought a Jaguar XJS at the shop in 1999 and continues to get the car serviced there.

“But it’s a very, very small market,” Mr. Sehota says. “We only sell between 200 and 220 cars a year.”

Mr. Sehota began his career as an apprentice in Redding, Berkshire working on cars. He eventually opened his own shop in London, before moving to Canada in 1979.

He had trouble finding a job exclusively working on British cars. Most companies wanted to see some Canadian experience, Mr. Sehota says.

Although he worked on cars from other countries for a while, he says his real interest has always been with British cars.

“It’s just a passion,” says Mr. Sehota, sitting in his office with a poster of a Jaguar XK 120 Coupé 1951 behind his desk. “I worked on Japanese cars, but it just didn’t seem right. My love affair was always with British cars.”

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The front yard of the shop boasts several classic British cars. A 1967 Jaguar E-type (British racing green) with a long front end sits beside a red, 1971 MGB. Both cars are no longer in production and buying one will run you between $50,000 and $80,000, Mr. Sehota said.

A final car lined up in front of the shop is a black Mini. The vehicle had the longest production run of any car and was made for 41 years, from 1959 to 2000.

“Everybody thinks it’s the Volkswagon Beetle, but it’s the Mini,” says Mr. Sehota, who recalls piling six or seven football players into a Mini to drive to a game.

“Thought nothing of it,” he says.

Mr. Sehota has himself owned several Jaguars and his basement displays pictures of each car. And his love affair with British cars shows no signs of cooling.

“I think in their days they were the best looking cars in the world, second to none,” Mr. Sehota says.