PH Revisit: Behind the scenes at Retropower


The very fact that this is our third instalment of Retropower coverage tells you a great deal about both the number and the variety of projects being tackled by the guys from Hinckley at any one time. Indeed, so varied is the spread of metal within the Retropower workshop that it can be difficult to find a common thread underpinning them all, aside from a commitment to quality engineering and flawless finishing, naturally. Here's what's been happening at Retropower HQ over the course of the last few weeks.



Gordon Murray Mk1 Escort Hub Assemblies and Engine/Transmission
Of all the projects Retropower has tackled over the course of the last ten years (and there have been plenty of those), it's probably this one that's garnered the most attention, and it isn't hard to see why. Part of this is down to the YouTube series documenting every stage of the process in minute detail, and part of it can be attributed to the owner of the car in question, one Gordon Murray, but the sheer amount of bespoke engineering infused within this positively demure looking Mk1 must also be a factor.

We've arrived at an important stage of the build, the freshly painted bodyshell wearing a pristine coat of Ermine White and now ready to accept its running gear. There's every chance that you'll already be familiar with the basic premise underpinning this car, but the recent arrival of the Cosworth built 'crate' Duratec has undoubtedly infused the project with added impetus; the end is very much in sight, and we're now at the point where it's possible to see the Mk1 take shape.


"We've reached the stage where we can begin reassembly of the Escort; the custom subframe with an Independent Rear Suspension of our own design is built up and has even been trial fitted, while the Cosworth engine and Mazda MX-5 gearbox have been bolted together. Both are due to be mounted to the Escort in the next few days."

The reassembly process is an ideal chance to take a closer look at the variety of somewhat left field parts which now make up the Escort's running gear, not least the hubs, brake and CV joint assemblies. The hubs themselves are from a Mondeo, the CV joints are drawn from a Mk1 Focus RS, with Land Rover Freelander uprights and bearings. There are some incredibly tight tolerances involved throughout, which is why the Mondeo hubs have been machined and 'sleeved up' so that they perfectly match the bore of the Freelander bearings.

"Our decision to go for 'off the shelf' parts was motivated by a desire to make the finished car easy to service and repair at a later date; all these parts can be ordered from any motor factor and have had countless millions invested in their development by Ford, so we can count upon them to perform well."


As for the aforementioned engine and gearbox assembly, it's a setup that's been in the frame for this project from the very beginning, back when Gordon first requested a six-speed manual and a high revving, naturally aspirated engine.

"It's surprisingly tricky to source a modern, lightweight six-speed manual these days, certainly as we wanted the 'box to be brand new. This eventually led us to the unit from the third generation Mazda MX-5, the NC, a gearbox that's been used with Duratecs a number of times in recent years, so much so that there's actually an 'off the peg' conversion kit available. It has been paired with a Retro Ford clutch and TTV Racing flywheel assembly, the latter custom engraved with Gordon Murray's name, which we thought was a nice touch."



1968 Chevrolet Camaro Project Overview, Disassembly and Dry Build
The departure of the W116 S-Class at the end of November freed up valuable workshop space, space which was swiftly filled by an all new Retropower project, this '68 Camaro. It's a project quite unlike Retropower has yet undertaken, it hailing from the USA, and one which will eventually be built along restomod lines.

"This car has only been imported to the UK in recent months, having spent all of its life up to now in a 'dry' state. It's also fresh from a fairly comprehensive restoration.

It might be a step away from Retropower's customary faire of European classics, but there's no denying that the guys are approaching the project with the correct mindset, namely by taking inspiration from such luminaries as Roadstershop in the US. To this end, and to ensure that the finished car matches the standard of their previous output, Retropower has commenced an in depth 'dry build' phase. This has seen the Camaro delicately stripped to a shell, before being re-fitted with the full roster of aftermarket hardware it will eventually sport in its complete, running form.


"One of the best things about working on car like this is parts supply; put simply, there really isn't much that can't be purchased brand new from the States, and that's before we touch upon the amount of uprated aftermarket kit available for GM muscle cars of this vintage. We ordered a massive job lot of parts from America and the result was a mammoth crate delivery some weeks back. It was petrolhead Christmas, basically."

The full list of parts is on the large side of vast, with a 475hp LS3 V8 destined to replace the trusty small block supplied from new, plus the attached Tremec six-speed. The positively agricultural rear end has also received some attention, with a Ford/Dutchman rear axle, complete with Truetac 31 spline LSD, now charged with doling out power to the rear wheels.


This being a Retropower build, plenty of attention has been paid to how the Camaro will eventually look, which is why it has already been trial fitted with a set of suitably high end wheels, custom Rotiforms. These wheels are actually intended for a separate Camaro project but their size, a whopping 10x18-inches at the rear, is perfect for this car, though it will eventually run a different offset to avoid any contact between wheel and arch.

Of course there's a long way to go before the guys can even contemplate fitting anything as final as the wheels for good, not least a smattering of metalwork (some has already begun, the arches midway through being 'tubbed' at the time of writing) and a whole host of engineering tasks. Still, it looks set to be one of the most spectacular RP projects to date, if only because it's so different from the company's usual fare.



Lancia Stratos - Engine Installation and Forced Induction Planning
We've been following the Retropower Stratos build for some time now, which is just as well - the last few weeks really have seen some astonishingly fast progress. We brought you details of the newly built 'Busso' V6 last month and now, barely four weeks later, said engine and attached gearbox are safely ensconced within the confines of the pretty Italian wedge (well, Lister Bell's best tribute to it).

Getting it in was easier said than done of course, and protecting the pristinely painted shell from damage was of prime importance. There's precious little room in the back of a Stratos at the best of times let alone when you're attempting to swing a fully built 24v V6 into place, even more so when said engine is topped with an Eaton supercharger assembly (there was simply no way of fitting it in situ). Completing the operation successfully ultimately involved a quartet of Retropower staff, half a mile of judiciously applied protective tape, and a fair bit of muttered swearing.


There's yet more to squeeze in though, with a custom charge cooler slated to adorn the rear cam cover. The 'cooler will ultimately sit where the OE inlet plenum once was, though Retropower have worked hard to ensure that the 'Busso's' most distinctive feature, its six chromed inlet runners, is retained.

"We're making full use of the Stratos shell when it comes to running and routing the charge cooler setup, with a pair of dedicated radiators set to be located within the decanted vents on either side of the clamshell. These will cool the water within the charge cooler system, helping to keep intake temperatures to a tolerable level."

Last but by no means least, the location of the Eaton 'blower' itself, approximately a foot from the drivers' ear, should mean that driving this 450hp monster is visceral experience - and that's putting it mildly.



Mercedes W108 - Centre Console and Interior Assembly
Automotive interiors are a tricky thing to master, fraught with the risk of 'over egging the pudding' and generally going too far, which is why a great deal of Retropower's collective energy is focussed on ensuring their creations are just as wonderful to sit in as they are to drive. The one currently taking shape within the confines of the Retropower W108 Mercedes is a classic example, and also a clear indication of the lengths the firm must go to in order to ensure the tastes and personalities of its clientele are accurately reflected.

"Recent interior progress has been centred on the W108's centre console and seating. The long-term plan has been to have a clean, unbroken sweep of console connecting front to rear - simple enough as a concept, but anything but, certainly in terms of actually pulling it off with any degree of class or subtlety."


The centre console has now begun to take shape, with all exterior panes having been clad in swathes of black Bentley Nappa leather by Retropower's in-house interior specialist, Trimworks. There's also an aluminium 'top' section, recently hydro-dipped with a swirling wood grain coating, not to mention a pair of 'cubby' holes; a custom whiskey bottle for those in the rear and a control panel (complete with wireless phone charging port) in the front.

The eagle eyed amongst you will also have spotted a further, equally bespoke addition to the centre console, a 3D printed inlay with a recess designed to perfectly mimic the dimensions of the W108's Airlift Performance air suspension control module. The process required to get this looking suitably high end was long winded and at times threatened to drive the team to distraction, but the overall effect now that has been perfected is hard to fault.

Nappa leather is the material of choice for other elements of the Merc's interior, most notably its seats. The front pair, originally from a Daimler XJ40 and selected both for their impeccable support and their fold-down dinner trays, have now been trimmed in yet more cow hide (and more purple stitching, naturally). Both will shortly be mounted within the confines of the W108 for the final time, after which the guys will be able to begin construction of the one-off rear bench.



Nissan Sunny ZX Coupe
If you wanted to demonstrate just how willing Retropower is to turn its collective hand to anything as long as it vaguely fits the 'retro' bracket, this innocuous looking late '80s Nissan is it. We feel we're on fairly safe ground when we say that the Sunny ZX Coupe is far from the top of most folks' dream car list, though there's no denying its wedge-y, edge-tastic lines have weathered the years rather well.

Not that this particular example bears much resemblance to those churned out by the million by Nissan 'back in the day.' The most obvious changes are, well, obvious; the ZX's bodywork has been comprehensively 'Retropowered,' with widened 'box' arches, a more aggressive front air dam and rear end, all beautifully rendered in steel. The overall effect is certainly dramatic, with the once unassuming Sunny now having more than a touch of R33 Skyline about it, which is no bad thing.


"This is exactly the kind of project that everyone here relishes tackling, something we can really get our teeth into and get creative with. It helps that the owner was fairly happy for us to take the lead when it came to the eventual spec, but the appearance, the wide arches and such, that's all down to his vision."

Power will eventually come from a C18DET, an engine that's currently in the process of a rebuild. No, it isn't quite as exotic as Retropower's customary selection of V8s or boosted V6s, but then it doesn't need to be - this car will spend the majority of its life cruising through central London, doubtless drawing admiring glances at the same time. It will likely never set tyre on a race track, probably only being driven in a spirited fashion on the odd summers' day, making a 250hp 'DET the ideal candidate.



 

 

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Comments (21) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Global Nomad 29 Jan 2019

    is that an RO80 behind the Stratos?

  • dandare 29 Jan 2019

    Global Nomad said:
    is that an RO80 behind the Stratos?
    Looks like it.

    What an interesting place to work. Great job, chaps.

  • playalistic 29 Jan 2019

    The youtube series on the Murray escort is a cracking watch and highly recommended.

  • Jon_S_Rally 29 Jan 2019

    Was a bit confused on the Escort stuff. They talked of an adaptor kit to fit an MX-5 box to a Duratec. Isn't the engine in a MK3 MX-5 basically a Duratec anyway?

    The independent rear end on the Escort is an odd choice for me too to be honest. Seen a couple of rally folk do it, but it does take away from the personality of the car a bit for me.

    Certainly an interesting place though!

  • TheTyreAbuser 29 Jan 2019

    Someone has to be that guy, but Hinckley, not Hinkley smile

    On a seperate note, how the hell did I never pick up on how local I am to these guys? I've been following them forever and always thought their stuff was incredible and yet always assumed they were somewhere in the home counties.

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