Paul Russell can point to the specific day he fell in love with cars. He was 16, and his friend took him for a ride in an Austin Healey “bug-eyed” Sprite. Its unique look, the thrum of its engine, and even the smell of the exhaust all drew him in.
“It was my first experience with a car that was about more than just transportation,” he said. “It was about entertainment. For the first time, I appreciated a car’s emotional appeal. It was a revelation, and I was hooked.”
That moment sparked an interest that would develop into a prestigious, lifelong career. On April 30, McPherson College honored Paul Russell with an honorary Doctorate of Applied Arts in recognition of his contributions to McPherson College, its automotive restoration program, and the collector car industry.
“We’re most fortunate to have Paul involved at McPherson College,” said Amanda Gutierrez, vice president for historic automotive restoration at MC. “He has always held himself to the highest personal and professional standards in his accomplished career. Beyond that, he believes in the liberal arts and values the well-rounded education our students receive.”
Following that fateful ride at age 16, Russell started working on cars in his garage in his hometown of Andover, Mass. After several year of college, he left to work at a Mercedes-Benz repair shop. There he realized that high-quality technicians also needed to understand business and his desire to create high-quality work found root.
After five years at a firm focused on 1950s-era Mercedes-Benz, he negotiated to purchase the restoration side of that business. He opened in 1978 as “Gullwing Service Company, Inc.” and today marks 38 years in business – now doing business as “Paul Russell and Company.”
Paul Russell has had a hand in multiple aspects of the collector car industry. His restorations of significant historical vehicles – including Mercedes-Benz, Ferraris and Bugattis – have won prestigious international awards at events such as the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in California and the Concorso d’Eleganza at Ville d’Este in Italy.
Russell’s work has attracted clients such as fashion icon Ralph Lauren.
“This is not his job,” Lauren said, “It’s his life.”
He is a judge for the Cavallino Classic, the Ferrari Club of America, Masterpieces & Style, and Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. An advocate for the arts, he served as a guest curator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston’s “Speed, Style, and Beauty” exhibit. Most importantly to McPherson College, however, Russell supports automotive restoration education.
One of the early members on the National Advisory Board for Automotive Restoration at McPherson College, Russell has served on the board for 12 years and as chairman for the last three years. He was instrumental in advocating to move automotive restoration to a four-year bachelor’s degree, helped MC to create a strong strategic plan for the program, and has hosted numerous events to benefit the college.
As a guest speaker, he has also advocated for restoration education at numerous events, including the Revs Institute’s Symposium on Connoisseurship and the Collectible Car as well as the Historical Vehicle Association’s National Automotive Heritage Summit.
Russell said supporting McPherson College has been a wonderful way to contribute back to the collector car industry.
“I think it is the duty of someone who has gotten so much out of this profession to support and encourage those that follow and to try to influence the maintenance of high standards,” he said. “That’s why I love my association with McPherson College.”