Old skills in a new era



Restorative powers

New technologies combine with old-fashioned hand skills in a firm which will tackle almost anything built after the Fifties. As long as it’s a sportscar…

Words: Gordon Cruickshank. Photography: Jakob Ebrey

The nondescript brick building on an industrial estate in Molesey, Surrey, may not promise much, but when you’re met by a pair of classic Ducati motorbikes, you know that this firm is on our wavelength. Kevin O’Rourke, who with his wife Lynn owns Moto-Technique, is a fan of Italian machinery. Hence all the Ferraris inside this long-established firm.

I’ve seen a lot of car workshops, but one thing Kevin shows me is a first for me — the Spanesi ‘Touch’ digitiser. From a large box with computer screen extends a jointed metal arm ending in a delicate pointer. Placed anywhere on a car, this pointer registers its exact position in three dimensions. A series of measurements can record the exact shape of a panel, check a chassis, or indicate where a door hinge should end up. Spanesi can e-mail exact data for a car, and conversely Moto-Technique often transmits its own figures to the firm. I was impressed. Then I ask Kevin what happens with a coachbuilt Italian car which was never symmetrical in the first place. He laughs: “Sometimes you just have to take a position…”

On the checking rig is a special: a Dino being fitted with a later Ferrari V8. Purists can calm down: the car was a very rusty subject — no valuable history has been lost.

Another modified car sits nearby: a 250 California. “We’ve replaced the drum brakes with discs, and added Koni shocks,” says O’Rourke. “The discs are so much lighter than the drums it has transformed the car. Now it’s a pleasure to drive.”

Next door is a new Ford GT which has been rear-ended. “It’s our summer season,” says Kevin. “Through the winter we’re doing restorations on classics, then in May owners get their supercars out and we get the first shunts in.” With a complete restoration taking some three months and a staff of only 12, this seasonal pattern suits Kevin very well: “Accidents are quicker to repair; it’s good for the cash flow, it’s interesting for the guys. And it’s important for us to regularly work on moderns, otherwise you could get left behind.”

He’s talking about the new technologies today’s supercars involve. Not just carbon fibre: the F40 used plenty of that but, says Kevin who has mended several, it was “rude and crude underneath — more akin to the Dino than to the Enzo.”

We stop to admire the quality of the Ford GT’s innards — the aluminium extrusions and castings, the fact that even the stuff you can’t see is beautifully styled. All of which, allied to airbags, crumple zones and dynamic sensors means that there is no such thing as a small accident in today’s supercar…

Opposite the Ford, the opposite extreme — a 250 GT Lusso, hand-made 40 years ago. It’s on axle stands in the paint booth, where Peter has just finished one stage in the 300 or so hours it takes to paint a car. It will be silver, though it began life in dark blue; this was Rob Walker’s road car, which Kevin knows well. He first restored it 23 years ago.

Next, something that was new tech in the Sixties — a Porsche 904/6 being repaired after a racing shunt. Glassfibre repairs hold no worries here, nor carbon fibre. James, the composites expert, shows me an F40 door he has made. Although the firm will always source factory parts if they can, they can mould their own composite parts, even without an autoclave. Composite panels must be moulded under vacuum, so Moto-Technique enclose mould and lay-up inside a strong plastic bag. A powerful air pump exhausts the bag before the resin is injected; result, an airbubble-free panel. They can mould panels up to the size of an F40 nose, as a smashed front panel from the Eighties supercar on a nearby shelf indicates.

In the front shop is the svelte outline of a Lamborghini 350GT, also on a return visit from a regular customer, a major collector and racer. Like many such, he expects discretion, which is sometimes frustrating for O’Rourke. “We’ve done four 250 GT0s, but have always had to keep them quiet.” So he’s delighted with the latest one, whose owner is happy for them to display the job stage by stage on their website. “It’s boosted our online profile hugely, through people surfing for GTOs.” Even a firm devoted to pieces of metal can’t afford to miss out on net exposure. “This is a business, not a hobby,” Kevin points out — though he gives away the firm’s innate passion with his next statement. “We’ll tackle anything from the Sixties on. Of course, it has to be a sportscar…”

In the engine shop Paul is working on the California’s engine, and its broken final drive is spread out on the bench. “People sometimes think we’re a bodyshop, but we do most things here, including electrics” says Kevin. Like most shops they have their circle of nearby contacts who do jobs like specialist machining, though the trimming goes further afield, to Sussex, where Kevin’s son Rob runs his own trim shop.

Before founding Moto-Technique in 1980, Kevin was a partner in AC Cars with Brian Angliss, and before that was at Panther with Robert Jankel. “A great self-promoter,” says Kevin. “We’d paint the same car six different colours so that journalists thought there was a fleet of test cars…”

After those ‘smoke and mirrors’ days, Moto-Technique’s 26 years of reviving exotic machinery and undoing customers’ road or race indiscretions sounds positively placid.