How Craig Carreau has revved up the classic 4×4 trend on Nantucket.
Craig Carreau grew up during a time on Nantucket when driving a beaten-up 4×4 was a status symbol on the island. He took great pride in his family’s 1973 Jeep Cherokee Wagoneer complete with yellow whale pinstripes and rusted-out wheel wells. “It rotted into the ground,” Carreau says. “We literally had to pick it up in pieces.” In more recent years, there’s been a resurgence in these old 4x4s—classic Broncos, Defenders and International Scouts— on the streets of the island. And many of them have Carreau to thank for putting them back in drive.
After growing up on Nantucket and studying art in college, Carreau took over the family business running a summer camp in Plymouth, Massachusetts. During the weekends and winter months, he tinkered with old muscle cars in his garage, taking them apart, rebuilding them and teaching himself how to be a mechanic as a hobby. Carreau eventually expanded his hobby to include old Ford Broncos, the boxy 4x4s he admired driving along the beaches of Nantucket when he was a kid. That’s when something clicked. With each 4×4 that Carreau meticulously brought back to life, word spread among car enthusiasts that he was the go-to guy for high-end 4×4 restorations.
One day a man from New Jersey showed up unannounced at Carreau’s home garage in Plymouth while he was working on his latest Bronco. “I heard you have a nice Bronco for sale,” the stranger said. Carreau politely explained that the vehicle wasn’t for sale. This was just a hobby and he built the Bronco for himself. The man was undeterred. “Everything is for sale,” he said, opening a bag of cash. “I want to buy it…how much?” So it was that Caruzn Customs was born.
Today, Carreau’s outfit has grown to nine full-time mechanics that turn out fifty classic 4x4s a year, ranging in price from $40,000 to $150,000 and up. It’s become a global operation, with Carreau sourcing Land Rovers from Portugal, Italy and Spain. After he finds a model he likes abroad, he’ll fly an employee over to vet it and then send it back to the United States in a shipping container or in the hold of a ship. And he’s not only importing vehicles. Carreau has shipped his Broncos to clients all over Europe and as far away as Dubai.
Fifty percent of his clientele, however, is on Nantucket, where he still owns a family home in Cisco. This summer, everyone from hedge fund managers to local bank presidents to art dealers could be seen driving around in a Caruzn Custom. “As an art dealer I am constantly looking at things with a curatorial eye,” says Lee Milazzo, the owner of Samuel Owen Gallery who received a 1969 Bronco this fall as a birthday present from his wife Cindy. “When I saw Craig’s Broncos for the first time I was blown away by his work. Craig has an artistic eye and his attention to detail is unmatched.” Milazzo also appreciated the fact that Carreau customizes his vehicles with Nantucket in mind, stripping each 4×4 down to only the essential components so that there’s less opportunity for rust. “That made a lot of sense to me as the owner of five vintage cars on the island,” Milazzo says. “I have spent the summer driving my 1969 Bronco around Nantucket. I take it on the beach, through the mud and into town for dinner. It’s my daily driver, and it’s my most reliable (and fun) car to drive.”
And that’s how Carreau wants his vehicles to be driven. They shouldn’t sit in a garage as a show piece. They’re designed to drive—hard. “I love the utilitarian purposes of these vehicles,” he says. “A lot of guys who spend close to six figures on a toy don’t use them and I hate that. I want them to be driven on the beach and used as they were intended.”
Carreau’s shop shows the work in progress on vehicles that are either receiving cosmetic improvements or are being rebuilt from the chassis up. The job of restoring these 4x4s is complicated by the fact that sourcing parts can be akin to detective work as many vehicles have long since been discontinued. The complexity of his work more resembles reconstructive surgery than simply bolting parts together, which accounts for the enormous time it takes to bring a classic back to showroom condition.
He currently has a year-long waitlist. “The Broncos have gotten crazy in the last year,” says Carreau, who also purchased the newest model Bronco released by Ford this past summer. “Their value has gone up by 250 percent.” Sensing that the Bronco boom might overheat at some point soon, Carreau believes that the full-size classic Chevy Blazers are about to become the next hot ride. “I see those trending high in the next year or two,” he says. “They’re bigger, they have more creature comforts and they’re a pleasure to drive…In the last few weeks, I’ve received twenty requests for Blazers.”
Though his business only appears to be accelerating, Carreau still owns and operates his family’s summer camp in Plymouth. “I haven’t paid myself a salary from the cars,” he explains. “I’ve just reinvested into building the business.” Indeed, Carreau is still fueled by his passion for these projects. “I enjoy it; it’s relaxing for me…it’s fun… it’s therapy, I guess,” he says. “They always say, if you can do something you love for work, you’ll never really work…that’s certainly the case with this.”