A friend of mine had an opportunity to visit a shop in the U.K., and he wanted to share his visit with us. We’ll have to make sure John brings his digital camera the next time he visits a shop!!!
I had the great privilege of visiting Mototechnique last month, on a recent trip home to the UK to visit my parents. I have made many visits to the shop’s website over the past couple of years, and on discovering that the facility is only five minutes from my parents’ house, I emailed owner Kevin O’rourke and asked if I could stop in to look around. He graciously said yes.
I’m an Alfa owner, and haven’t graduated to Ferraris (yet). I work for a group of car dealerships in Connecticut in the service and collision center end of the business and often find myself being more interested in the process of repairing and restoring nice cars than in the finished, shiny products. If you’ve never looked, Mototechnique’s website caters to enthusiasts like me, with big, clear pictures documenting their work. You may also have seen the recent series in Octane magazine, with their step-by-step rehabilitation of a GTO. I didn’t take any pictures during my visit, so you might want to visit www.mototechnique.com after reading this account.
The shop is located in an unassuming and compact building near Hampton Court. First we looked at a dark blue BMW 507 roadster which was mounted on the shop’s Spanesi frame machine. This car had been recently “restored” elsewhere but brought to Mototechnique for some remedial work; the front end geometry was way off. Kevin’s team found that the frame was badly bent in the front left corner. Two things impressed me: first, the size and quality of the BMW’s chassis, made of massive oval section tubing, perhaps five inches across. Second, the quality of the repairs the shop was performing. They had pulled, cut and TIG welded in new metal of the correct dimension. The work was immaculate and the proper geometry was assured with the Spanesi digital measuring system, because Kevin had previously measured a “good” 507 and stored that data in the measuring system’s PC. Through this same process, Mototechnique has amassed a library of critical measurements for most, perhaps all, of the cars they have repaired, and can use this information to bring a damaged chassis back into spec, or to fabricate an entirely new chassis, as they had done for a 275 GTB/4 just around the corner….
There were actually two 275 GTB/4’s in the shop, one completed (with its new chassis), the other whole but stripped of all paint, revealing a lifetime of dents, rips and tears in its skin. Holes in the chassis were being identified for repair. Predictably, the car’s snout had suffered the most over the years.
There were four 246 GT/GTS’s in the shop; three complete, but one in a very naked state of undress, its bead-blasted frame wearing little in the way of sheet-metal. This car was in for a total restoration, in the truest sense of that much-hackneyed term. Its main chassis longitudinal tubes were badly pitted, but Kevin has correct dimensional tubing custom rolled and soon the chassis would have all its weak metal removed with complete sections of tube replaced with tidy, strong TIG welds. I was blown away by the sheet metal being prepared for this same car: new door skins, jamb panels and valances to name but a few. All were hand made in the shop to an incredible standard. The new door skins had the air-intake scoop beautifully butt welded in place with no warpage or mess, their profile perfectly attained on a brake and an English wheel. No patching or screwing around of existing, compromised panels.
The car’s engine and transaxle had also been fully overhauled by the shop’s mechanical technician, an ex-dealer guy with 30+ years experience. Machine work is sent out, but most everything else is done in-house. The owner of this 246 will receive a finished product he can truly believe in, because he will know that it was taken back to its most basic structure and rebuilt to a condition that most likely exceeds its original condition. If I were in the market for such a car, I think this might be the way I’d prefer to go, thus avoiding a shiny car with multiple sins and errors concealed under its surface.
Close by was a long wheelbase 250 Spider; I couldn’t say exactly which year/model. It looked immaculate but had been restored and painted by Mototechnique ten years ago. It sat on a set of “slave” Borrani’s as its originals were sent out for overhaul.
The website often shows F40’s and Enzo’s in for repair, and while no such cars were there during my visit, a set of replacement F40 carbon fiber door pieces were coming out of their respective moulds. Laid in correct C.F. matting and resin, the inner and outer skins would have made nice “office art” in their raw condition. It was my understanding that the shop has constructed their own moulds for all of the F40’s body parts.
A similar exercise in the repair of plastic cars was an Aston Martin DB9 convertible receiving major re-work following a high-speed “off”. I had assumed these new generation Astons wore hand-made aluminum skins like their gorgeous predecessors, but that is incorrect. The bodies are an amalgam of aluminum forgings, steel and plastic. Where factory panels were not available, Mototechnique had produced its own formers and reproduced the panels themselves. All the more impressive was the twenty-something, polite and engaging technician performing the repairs. This struck a particular chord with me because in my work we also like to hire good kids coming out of technical schools and train them the “right” way to do things, rather than hiring someone else’s re-treads. Don’t believe it when someone tells you that there are no good young people entering the specialized automotive business anymore; it’s a lie.
Lastly, an AC Aceca coupe was in the downdraft booth being prepped for a repaint. Perfectly block sanded and about to receive it’s first color coat, there was a time constraint to get the car ready for a historic rallye to Monte Carlo a couple of weeks hence. Lucky owner.
As I said to my Dad after we’d thanked Kevin and his lads for their time, I could have stayed at Mototechnique forever. Like a pig in some very beautiful shit, I felt this was a business with which I would be very proud to be associated. It combined all the things I like to see in a shop: craftsmanship and integrity, but also a sense of what I’ll call professional momentum. These guys aren’t endlessly fussing around doing silly stuff, they avoid wasting time by going into a project as deep as necessary and using the correct materials and processes to complete the job in a linear and effective manner. I note this in contrast to the restoration jobs one sometimes see where bad decisions are made in the name of originality, resulting in patchwork repairs that may retain more original material but lack structural integrity or durability.
Please note that these remarks are based on my observations only. I am sure that Mototechnique will keep things as original as the client desires. Having personally learned over the years the pointlessness of trying to weld good metal into a rusty Italian car, I now know that I would rather have a Dino with new door-skins and chassis tubes than one that was patched back together in the name of originality.
Mototechnique appears to be in the enviable – and well-earned – position of having a reputation such that it can do work on its own terms, and not have to make the compromises that a lesser operator might be drawn into.
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