“I found a pot of Autoglym in my dad’s garage when I was 16 and decided to try it on my motorbike,” recalls Chris McCleery.
That was the start of a relationship that has seen Chris move from construction sites to concours lawns, having turned his love of Autoglym into a shining career.
Today, he is one of the highest-profile car valeters in the UK, looking after some of the most valuable concours exhibits in the world as well as the official cars used in the British Touring Car Championship.
“I transformed my bike and my dad’s cars with that pot of Autoglym, so I went round our neighbours offering my services as a car cleaner,” he said. “I’d have been about 16 or 17, and I showed off how smart my dad’s cars were as an example of my services. I soon had a car cleaning round that put some money in my pocket and I’d started a relationship with a product that – at the time – I had no idea would be the basis of my future career.”
When he left school, Chris took a job as a bricklayer, which led him into the construction industry – to the point where he became a site manager for a major housebuilding company, but his passion for cleaning cars never left him.
“I used to love cleaning my own cars at weekends and ended up doing a few jobs for friends as well. Then I had people asking me to do their cars by word of mouth. I was eventually offered a contract by a sports car company that would take up at least one day a week, so I decided to leave my job and become a sub-contractor, splitting my time between bricklaying one day and car cleaning the next.”
What Chris didn’t know at the time was how quickly his business would grow. Within a year, he’d laid down his trowel and was valeting cars full-time, using the Autoglym Professional range to clean and detail cars from private driveways to large dealerships.
“I’m a big fan of BTCC,” said Chris. “I used to go to the meetings and clean a few cars in the paddock, including a Porsche belonging to the series director, Alan Gow. I joked to Alan that I’d like to clean the official cars, pace cars and safety car as well. A few weeks later, I had a contract in my hand. That came as a surprise!”
As a result, Autoglym is quite literally lapping it up at race circuits across the UK, while Chris’s profile has really grown in the eight years he’s been operating full-time.
He – and by association Autoglym Professional – now look after some of the world’s most exclusive car collections and concours entrants, while he is often sought out to detail cars that need extra-special attention.
He recently worked on a pre-war Aston Martin that had been stored in a dusty garage for almost 60 years.
“That was a very specialist job,” he said. “It needed to be done sympathetically – the car needed to retain its patina to keep it as special as it should be, so unlike other jobs it couldn’t be over-detailed. It was a really exciting one to work on.”
Another of Chris’s more unusual jobs was the Beast of Turin – the oddball 28-litre Fiat S76 racing car of 1910, which starred at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2015.
“Watching it spit flames all over the paintwork I’d just spent hours detailing was one of the highlights of my career!” he said.
Luckily, the paintwork was heavily protected by Autoglym, a brand that Chris has remained loyal to ever since that motorbike detailing session as a teenager.
“I’d never use anything else,” he said. “Autoglym’s products work, the labels are straightforward so everything does exactly what the packaging says it will do. It’s simple to use, nothing is better and everything that Autoglym produces just works. I know if it has the Autoglym logo on the bottle then whatever’s inside it will be the best you can get. Plus, it’s British.
“It’s about trust. I trust Autoglym. My customers trust me, so whatever I use has to be good enough for them. My reputation depends on the quality of the stuff that I use.
Chris’s favourite Autoglym Professional product is Polar Blast Coat-It, a post-clean polymer wax that you apply with a pressure washer.
“It’s such a great product and a real time-saver,” he says. Put it on, jet it off and it gives a mega-shine, every time.
Yet despite cleaning all sorts of cars in his career, from the Beast of Turin to Nick Mason’s Ferrari 250 GTO, the one car Chris remembers most fondly was a humble Citroën C1.
“I’d not been established very long and a customer bought the little Citroën for her daughter’s birthday. The plan was to give it to her with ribbons on as a special present. But when she picked it up my customer phoned me up in tears. The daughter’s birthday was just a few days away, but when she’d gone to collect the car she’d found it was filthy inside and smelled strongly of stale tobacco smoke.
“She really didn’t think there was anything that could be done, but I convinced her to drop the car to me and leave it with me for a day or so. I cleaned everything, got all of the smoke residue out of the fabrics, valeted it to within an inch of its life and when it was finished it looked – and smelled – just like a new car. My customer couldn’t believe it was the same vehicle. She sent me a video of her daughter receiving it on her birthday and both she and her mum were in floods of tears. Knowing the part I’d played in that little story was more special than cleaning a Bugatti on a concours lawn, as it’s as much about the people as it is the cars.”