RE: PH Revisit: Behind the scenes at Retropower

RE: PH Revisit: Behind the scenes at Retropower

Tuesday 6th November

PH Revisit: Behind the scenes at Retropower

We came, we saw, we left. But now we're back for more! And on a semi-regular basis, too...



You'll probably recall our visit to Retropower last month. Our primary reason for calling into its Leicestershire-based workshop was to see Gordon Murray's bespoke Ford Escort taking shape - a labour of love which has taken on a life of its own elsewhere on the internet. But when we got there it turns out that the Mk1 belonging to one of the world's great car designers is just one of many fascinating projects currently underway in Wykin Village.

Clearly there wasn't going to be enough time to cover off everything in a half-day of nosing around (there was a dog to pat, after all) so instead we thought it might be nice to keep in contact with the Retropower brain trust - owner/brothers, Callum and Nat - and bring you a regular behind-the-scenes look at some of the more interesting examples of one-off engineering going on behind closed doors.

First up then, we take a look at the fabrication work required to bring a rusty Alfa Giulietta back into line, the capabilities of Life Racing's PDU, how to set about devising a custom supercharger setup, and what's involved with finalising an LS3 powered Merc...


Alfa Romeo Giulietta
Italian classic cars being prone to rust sits near the very top of the great list of automotive cliches, just above French car electrics and all German cars being hewn from granite, but as is the case with many cliches, there's a grain of truth to it. Case in point, this 1960 Giulietta, among the most challenging bodywork restorations Retropower has yet tackled.

"We're used to working on cars with rotten bodywork of course, that's why we commence all our restorations by taking them back to a bare shell and media blasting, but this has proved to be a particularly galling undertaking thanks to the advanced state of the corrosion, and also the amount of bodywork damage from various impacts over the car's life," explains Callum.

The end result of all this can be seen here, with Stu Gunn, Retropower's prime fabricator, having spent much of the past week panel beating a series of one-off replacements for the Giulietta's front end, the vast majority of which are no longer available from Alfa Romeo (or anywhere, for that matter) Both the inner wings and associated bonnet rails have been painstakingly recreated using a combination of an English Wheel, various presses and shaping blocks, not to mention Stu's decades of hard won experience, as have both sills and the front panel.

"That's been among the trickiest single panels to date, mainly as it's such a complex series of shapes to fabricate," explains Callum. "The trailing edge is relatively flat and Stu was able to recreate it within a day or so, whereas the leading edge, complete with radius curves, ninety degree bends and various catches, took considerably longer to complete."







Lancia Stratos 'Volumex' Power Distribution Unit
As much thought goes into the finishing of Retropower projects as the body and paintwork, particularly if the car in question is one of the firm's restomod projects. Case in point, the Lancia Stratos 'Volumex,' a car slated to be powered by a supercharged example of Alfa Romeo's glorious 'Busso' V6, the construction of which is well underway.

"We've long reasoned that there's little point in building performance cars if they're destined to be compromised by outdated electrics and fuses, which is why we've begun to use Life Racing's Power Distribution Units (PDU) instead. It's a system favoured by many of the current crop of WRC and WEC teams."

The concept at the heart of the PDU is actually pretty straightforward, it being a means of routing power around the Stratos (or more correctly, the totally re-engineered Lister Bell) without anything as rudimentary as fuses or relays. Comprising of the PDU, Life Racing ECU and control panel, the suite can control both digital inputs/output and analogue inputs/outputs, all linked via a CANbus-wired system.

The above might at first sound a tad dry, but its capabilities are anything but. The owner of this Stratos will be able to control every electrical system via a touch keypad which falls beautifully to hand in a bespoke pod on the driver's door. The 9" display screen can be programmed to display data in any way the user desires and this can include not only any engine sensor reading but also details such as electrical current draw on any individual output channel. Control buttons can be 'remapped' to operate different functions with a few keystrokes of a laptop, so the entire system is truly configurable to the owner's exact preferences.

"It's the best means we've found both of displaying and interrogating data, and that's before we touch upon the safety advantages associated with the lack of archaic fuses."





Lancia Stratos 'Volumex' Busso V6
If you know one thing about the original Stratos, it's that it was powered by the a V6 cribbed from a Ferrari Dino - a car not exactly known for being either commonplace or affordable these days! Seeing as Retropower don't fancy the expense of sourcing said V6 or incurring the wrath of the Tifosi by chopping it up, they've instead opted to base the car around a supercharged Alfa Romeo 'Busso' V6.

Actually devising a supercharged setup for this engine, one intended to be a pure, naturally aspirated design from the factory, has required a fair bit of one-off engineering. The 'charger (an Eaton M112 from a Jaguar XJC, boost nerds) has been fitted with a custom mount and now sits atop the engine, but this has created more questions than it's answered, mainly how and where to run the supercharger belt run and which pulley and tensioner to use.

"The tensioner and idler assembly is actually a modified Ford Mondeo V6 item, though we'll have to combine it with a billet mount and bespoke crank pulley with integrated supercharger drive, both slated to be machined from billet aluminium in the next few weeks," explains Callum.







Mercedes W108 'Project Kaiser'
The long term nature of all Retropower builds means that many take on a life (and a following) of their own, with 'Project Kaiser,' an LS3-powered W108 'stack light' Merc a classic case. Slated to be the first in a trio of similarly powered Benzes from the same era, all for the same owner, Project Kaiser has taken on a life of its own online.

That GM V8 lodged between the front wings is mounted to another piece of hardware from 'The General,' a 4L85-E autobox, but much of the rest of the running gear hails from far closer to home - Coventry, in fact. Both front and rear axles formally served within a Jaguar XJ, an X300 generation from the late '90s, and therefore both able to cope with the engine's projected 430bhp power output, and at the same time gifting it a Limited Slip Differential, which is always a handy thing in a car of this kind.

"Inside is another of those areas that's garnered a significant amount of attention from followers of the build, largely as it's probably among the most 'bespoke' interiors we've yet tackled," explains Callum.

Bespoke is most definitely the correct term here, with the interior now dominated by a sweeping centre console, running unbroken from front to back and with a series of aluminium recesses. One will eventually be home to the air suspension control system and wireless phone charging facility, while the rear, in a nod to the occupation of the individual commissioning the car, will sport a recess moulded to ape the contours of a specific bottle of single malt scotch.









Author
Discussion

FRA53R

Original Poster:

1,020 posts

103 months

Tuesday 6th November
quotequote all
Incredible feats of engineering going on there, love that everything they do is so individual, can't wait to read more on all their projects.

Jerseyhpc

8 posts

40 months

Tuesday 6th November
quotequote all
Next month...THE IMP!!!

Nerdherder

308 posts

32 months

Tuesday 6th November
quotequote all
Jerseyhpc said:
Next month...THE IMP!!!
Yes. Bring out the Imp.

Thanks for revisiting Retropower PH!

sgtBerbatov

773 posts

16 months

Tuesday 6th November
quotequote all
The Escort's good, but it's no Project Binky.

Although I have to say, in between waiting for videos from BOM the Escort videos do scratch the same itch.

mikey k

11,994 posts

151 months

Tuesday 6th November
quotequote all
Good stuff
I'm intrigued to see how the Stratos turn out
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Twoshoe

420 posts

119 months

Tuesday 6th November
quotequote all
Surely the Jaguar XJC never had a supercharger???

Earl of Petrol

91 posts

57 months

Tuesday 6th November
quotequote all
Imperative that we hear about the Imp. My 1st car.

Robert-nszl1

197 posts

23 months

Tuesday 6th November
quotequote all
Much as it is great that PH focuses on some of the restomoders, it would be nice for the net to go a bit wider than Retropower (this is in no way meant as a dig at them). I am somewhat biased as I own an Alfaholics fettled Giulia, but surely they would be rather more appropriate as a subject for an Alfa restoration? And recognising the Paul Stephens Porsche article, maybe a visit there too? Great to follow some specific projects, but do fly the flag for some of the other guys too....

BFleming

723 posts

78 months

Tuesday 6th November
quotequote all
That Merc W108 could have been the ultimate sleeper, but I'm not sure about the custom interior work. Well, I'm sure I don't like it. But the rest of it? Yummy.
Stratos - always one of my favourites in any guise. And the Busso mill has the correct number of cylinders, more displacement than the original, and a Supercharger too you say? Oh my!
Escort - never been a Ford person in any guise. OK an RS200 would do, but that's about my limit.
Hell of a place. There are a few places doing similar work around the country - try Big Perm Customs for some very interesting projects.

Edited by BFleming on Tuesday 6th November 11:01

SturdyHSV

6,156 posts

102 months

Tuesday 6th November
quotequote all
Twoshoe said:
Surely the Jaguar XJC never had a supercharger???
The 112 was on the V8 XJR, so presumably that?

Max_Torque

12,836 posts

152 months

Tuesday 6th November
quotequote all
IMO aftermarket PDUs are really silly because all they do is replace conventional fuses and relays with electronic smart switches, whereas once you have done that, it really makes most sense to also leverage the inherent serialisation of distributed control over CAN to also simply the wiring loom as well (which frankly, for most cars, is more of an issue than having a small a box with a couple of relays in it...)



Sford

54 posts

85 months

Tuesday 6th November
quotequote all
Robert-nszl1 said:
Much as it is great that PH focuses on some of the restomoders, it would be nice for the net to go a bit wider than Retropower (this is in no way meant as a dig at them). I am somewhat biased as I own an Alfaholics fettled Giulia, but surely they would be rather more appropriate as a subject for an Alfa restoration? And recognising the Paul Stephens Porsche article, maybe a visit there too? Great to follow some specific projects, but do fly the flag for some of the other guys too....
Rennsport and pro9 in the Porsche world jump to mind.

blueacid

191 posts

76 months

Tuesday 6th November
quotequote all
I love it! Definitely worth seeing if you could get a video of some of their engineers showing off the work and talking about the challenges, bet it'd be a good watch. Plus no doubt you'd see them grinning a crafty grin of pride too.

aww999

1,951 posts

196 months

Tuesday 6th November
quotequote all
It's great to see that, whatever the budget, it's not a proper modified car unless it's got a pair of 6 x 9s chopped into the parcel shelf laugh

daytona111r

358 posts

139 months

Tuesday 6th November
quotequote all
I want a DS with an LS3 . .

sr.guiri

216 posts

24 months

Tuesday 6th November
quotequote all
I'd be interested to see what they're do with the W123 there. I recently sold a stock and immaculate 230E - a case of necessity as I was moving to a different country. And after witnessing first hand the quality of these, and being a big admirer of the old Merc shape, I'd love to see one of these professionally modified.

Keep up the good work, properly jealous of your business.

theholygrail

207 posts

103 months

Tuesday 6th November
quotequote all
Nerdherder said:
Yes. Bring out the Imp. Haha very good smile

Thanks for revisiting Retropower PH!

Twoshoe

420 posts

119 months

Tuesday 6th November
quotequote all
sr.guiri said:
I'd be interested to see what they're do with the W123 there. I recently sold a stock and immaculate 230E - a case of necessity as I was moving to a different country. And after witnessing first hand the quality of these, and being a big admirer of the old Merc shape, I'd love to see one of these professionally modified.

Keep up the good work, properly jealous of your business.
Don't think there's a W123 there. If you're referring to the green Merc behind the Stratos, I think that's a W116.

matbat

130 posts

180 months

Tuesday 6th November
quotequote all
Twoshoe said:
Surely the Jaguar XJC never had a supercharger???
You know you're on Pistonheads right, it's not as if it's a publication dedicated to automotive enthusiasts.

PistonHeads

Facts "dont" Matter!

skylarking808

183 posts

21 months

Tuesday 6th November
quotequote all
So David Beckham is getting his Merc done up ???