A revolution in renovation

Digital Technology is now being used to great effect in the repair of classic racers

At the Goodwood Revival we witnessed some of the most expensive historic racers in the world going head to head – and, in some cases, panel to panel. A large number of these machines are irreplaceable one-offs that will require hours of mending without the reference of a sister car to work from.

Once a car’s mended, though, will it be exactly the same as before? Jo Chan, the founder of [digital] Renovatio, claims it can be – to within 0.2 millimetres.

Chan studied automotive design at Coventry University and went on to work in design studios around the world for such as BMW, Volvo, VW, Nissan and Lamborghini. After taking a year out to do an MBA at Cranfield University, he struck upon the idea of using his road car expertise in historic cars and racers.

“I was rebuilding my 1955 Porsche 356,” he says, “and I just couldn’t get a lot of the parts. I looked into it further and there was an unmet need for archiving a car’s body, so you have the exact dimensions to work from if you crash.”

So how does Chan go about ‘saving’ your car’s body onto a computer? Let me explain… His company will travel to where your priceless racer is stored and then scan it. “It takes a day to capture a body and an hour or so to capture a component,” says Chan. “With the scanner, you basically work your way round the car and build up the data. All the points you scan are referenced digitally and you then piece it together.”

Once this is done a 3D pdf is stored in a vault and there it waits, until the owner needs it to rebuild a car part exactly how it was before.

You can imagine the possibilities… Bent a suspension arm on your Maserati 6C? Just scan the other side and digitally reverse it on the computer. Found a weakness in your 356 cylinder head? Scan it and find out where the weakness is, then re-engineer it before getting the new, stronger head cast. Want to fit wider wheel arches to your Aston Martin? Scan it and then examine the iterations on screen to avoid building wheel arch after wheel arch. We could go on, but one of [digital] Renovatio’s current projects neatly sums up just how much can be achieved through this sort of technology.

‘Pandora’ made its racing debut in the 1964 Whitsun Trophy at Goodwood, where it finished third in class. But during the 1970s the body was then changed to a Can-Am-style angular coachwork. The original body was lost, and a few years ago the then-owner decided to try and restore it to how it looked in period. “He went to the lengths of recreating a 10th-scale model and then tried to scale it up to a full-sized buck,” says Chan. “It wasn’t a great success because of inaccuracies in the wheelbase and track, so Andy [Prill, of Maxted-Page and Prill] took over the project.

“It was obvious that you couldn’t build the body because you wouldn’t be able to match it to the chassis, so I said ‘we’ll scan the model, scale it up, and then scan the chassis and superimpose the two to check they both match up’. It was then that my design background came in because some parts of the bodywork weren’t right, which I could see from the photographs. I reckon it was about 80 per cent accurate, so I changed a few parts on the computer and it’s now probably 97 per cent correct.”

As soon as the chassis is sorted Chan can match the two to ensure that the apertures are correct, you have full steering lock and suspension travel and you won’t have any rubbing bodywork. From there the panels can be made without any fear that they won’t fit or look right. It’s clever stuff.

Chan admits that it’s hard to tell whether this method is dramatically more expensive than doing it by eye. “What you need is for two 250 GTOs to crash in the same way and then rebuild one traditionally and the other with a scan in order to get a proper idea of which is better value. What you can be sure of, though, is that the scan would create a much more accurate finish,” he claims.

In all likelihood this hi-tech approach to historic car restoration will become more popular in the future, despite some initial reservations from the industry about keeping these cars in their original state. And the fact that you can look at cylinder blocks under a microscope on a computer and re-engineer the weak spots won’t sit comfortably with the FIA and its Historic Passport. But Chan is adamant that each case is examined carefully and the car’s originality is maintained.