In their own words with James Cottingham, DK Engineering
How did you get started in historic racing?
As a business DK Engineering has been running historic cars for more than 40 years. My earliest memories are going to race meetings and rallies with my father when he was racing and running cars such as Ferrari 375MMs, 250 Testarossas and 512Ms. All I ever wanted to do was go racing.
Interest for historic racing cars, both in racing and preparation terms, seems to be increasing year on year. Is that a fair assessment?
I think, obviously, there’s no denying that the Goodwood events have glamorised and helped the industry grow massively over the last 20 years. Is it increasing? Yes.
What’s interesting at the moment is the direction that people are going in. It comes down to the affordability of cars – the Cobras and 250 GTOs and Daytona Cobras and all those classic, iconic racing cars are fetching higher and higher numbers – but people are looking for new directions, which is why I think the Le Mans Legends Series, that has been launched for 2018, is very interesting. It’s for Le Mans racing cars from the 1990s onwards. There’s a lot of good stuff out there and it could be a very competitive racing series for relatively little money. They’re iconic cars that you remember people racing not that long ago.
Also, the race series out there with historic cars that can be built up from relatively affordable donor cars are also very interesting, for instance the Porsche 911 2L cup, Pre-63 GT or the Austin A35 race series.
What do you think is drawing people to historic racing?
I think the attraction of the historic paddock is the noise – the cars give you that raw expression. They’re rudimentary but effective racing cars. You can see when a historic racing car is being driven hard – it looks more impressive. When there are big wings and aero, there isn’t much action. When two guys are having a really good dice in historic GT cars you see them locking brakes, outbraking each other and getting crossed up at the apex. It’s a much more exciting race to watch for that reason.
Is your main interest in prepping race cars or restoring them for clients, and do those clients tend to be quite demanding?
Our core business is sales and restoration. Often those restorations are with a deadline in mind. A few years ago, in 2012, we had to restore a Ferrari 857 S and have it ready for the Freddie March Trophy at Goodwood. One of the only items that we’d subcontracted in the rebuild went wrong at the test, three days before the event. We had to work 24/7 to get that item rebuilt and back on track. At the end of the day, we nearly won the race with that car only for it to retire two laps before the end with a technical issue that was caused by that original part. But still, the guys did a terrific job and we were so pleased with how it performed and how it went. And we learned a lesson from it.
Does DKE focus only on Ferraris?
Not at all. Originally, in the 1960s, my father’s first racing car was a magnesium- bodied ex-works XK120 and after that he had a low-drag E-type, both of which he raced. He was really, traditionally, a Jaguar man, but when he started his business specialising in historic cars 40 years ago, he saw a gap in the market for Ferraris. Not many other people were doing that.
The design of the Jaguars wasn’t as much of a challenge as the Ferraris, particularly the 1950s sports Ferraris. They had so many variations and iterations.
We also help clients manage their cars. We may not run the car ourselves, but we manage it. So that would mean running something like a GT40 using our experience and resources to run it quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively.
What series do cars prepared by DKE run in?
Our clients run in a variety of series. But with the way that values, especially of Ferraris, have gone up, it’s becoming rarer to see a Ferrari out on track. So we mainly prepare Ferraris for the historic rallies now and some of the gentleman drivers, not so much the competitive racers you see at the Goodwoods and the Monaco Historic.
What DKE-prepared cars will we see racing this year?
We are running all manner of things in series from the Ferrari Owners’ Club Challenge to this year’s new Le Mans Legends Series. We’ll be running cars in the Pre-63 GT Series, which we sponsor as of this year. It is a fantastic series for GT cars in their earlier pure form, echoing the race that Graham Hill first won in an E-type, ECD 400, which was the very pure, original form of E-type racing. We’re hoping that we’re going to get some Ferraris out in that series, some SWBs and a GTO or two. We’re preparing cars for a variety of clients.
What’s the biggest challenge in catering to historic racing clients’ needs?
The biggest challenge is balancing a client’s desire to be competitive with reliability. That’s quite a challenge because you can push to the edge of an envelope in terms of performance, but you’re possibly encouraging the car to be less reliable. When it’s unreliable, it’s disappointing in the eyes of the owner and driver. That’s the biggest challenge.
Equally, within that desire to be competitive, it’s about making sure that cars are still true to their original form – i e the one they raced in. You’ve got to be very careful not to cross over into the boundary of illegal specification. It’s all too easy to do things that maybe from the viewpoint of reliability may help, but aren’t in keeping with the cars as they should be. You need to keep the cars as they ran in period.
How many people does DKE have working for its clients?
We have just under 20 guys in our workshop with various different talents.
And do you manufacturer most of the parts at DKE, or is that process outsourced?
We do manufacture minor parts in house, such as one-off production parts. For things that are needed – and are popular, such as brake drums for Testarossas – we get them produced. We oversee the manufacture of those products, or else source a required part from somebody that already makes them; it’s all about the network.