THE SPE­CIAL­IST

We visit GTC En­gi­neer­ing and meet the fam­ily team be­hind its suc­cess

VANTAGE - - Contents - WORDS JOHN SIMIS­TER PHO­TOG­RA­PHY TIM ANDREW

FIRST, THE NAME. As we know, there has never been an As­ton Martin GTC. ‘I like Ital­ian ex­otics,’ says GTC En­gi­neer­ing’s co-founder and now owner, John Win­sor. And Ital­ian ex­otics are what dom­i­nated Grand Tour­ing Car En­gi­neer­ing’s work­shops back in 1975, when John started the com­pany with Richard Colton, col­lec­tor of Fer­raris and other ex­pen­sively sport­ing ma­chin­ery.

Cast your eyes today over the au­to­mo­tive in­mates of GTC’S work­shop near Sil­ver­stone and yes, you will spot the odd Fer­rari or Lam­borgh­ini. But As­ton Martins dom­i­nate, as they have done for years. Still, the GTC name is well known, so why change it?

GTC today is a fam­ily firm, with John at the helm, son James his right-hand man, wife Anne and daugh­ter Kim keep­ing the ad­min run­ning smoothly. Also fet­tling the cov­etable cars that pop­u­late the GTC em­po­rium in a former farm­yard off the Dad­ford Road are Dave (builder of en­gines and sub-as­sem­blies, for­merly of Cos­worth), Paul (me­chan­i­cal and elec­tri­cal work, trim) and Ol­lie (trim and as­sem­bly work).

It was a dif­fer­ent pic­ture 25 years ago, when GTC had over 20 em­ploy­ees and 30 restora­tions on the go at any one time. Richard Colton had moved on to other things by then, and John was run­ning it all. It was be­com­ing a bit too much, and then in the early 1990s the clas­sic-car boom turned to bust. In some ways that was a re­lief for John, who seized the mo­ment to re­lo­cate to a smaller work­shop in Northamp­ton, where GTC stayed from 1992 un­til 2004 be­fore mov­ing to the present build­ings.

Today, as well as ser­vic­ing, re­pair and restora­tion of (mainly) As­ton Martins of the Feltham and New­port Pag­nell eras, GTC does a nice line in im­prove­ments. The two for which it is best known are its own take on an elec­tric power steer­ing sys­tem and an im­proved steer­ing box for the Feltham As­tons (DB2 and de­riv­a­tives), a fame which will shortly have a third strand in the form of the Jenvey Her­itage Throtte Body, which GTC helped de­velop (as re­ported in the pre­vi­ous is­sue of Van­tage).

BE­FORE WE EX­AM­INE TH­ESE, and GTC’S other ac­tiv­i­ties, we shall un­cover more of the story be­hind this com­pany’s cur­ricu­lum vi­tae. Go back to the begin­ning, and John tells of the two key things that hap­pened to his young self to set him on the GTC road.

One was be­ing born in New­port Pag­nell (in 1949) and grow­ing up there, which led to a school tour of the As­ton fac­tory and the chance to sit in one of the James Bond DB5S. The other was be­ing driven at 100mph by his cousin, Tony Rudd, in a Ford mod­i­fied by Ray­mond Mays, af­ter John had vis­ited the BRM fac­tory.

Rudd was BRM’S chief en­gi­neer, a po­si­tion he later held at Lo­tus’s road car oper­a­tion. ‘It was very spe­cial to have Tony as a cousin,’ John re­mem­bers fondly. ‘His mother was my great aunt Mil­dred, whose sis­ter Jessica was the nanny to Prince Chula’s daugh­ter, Nerissa. That’s how Tony got into motor racing.’ (Prince Chula of Siam ran a racing team in the UK, with which his racing-driver cousin Prince Bira had great suc­cess.)

John him­self started racing in his late teens, mov­ing on to au­tocross and ral­ly­cross and al­ways pre­par­ing his own

cars in­clud­ing, by 1976, a cham­pi­onship-win­ning MiniCooper S. Af­ter a year at univer­sity – ‘It was not for me’ – and work in the en­gi­neer­ing in­dus­try, where he learnt de­sign and ma­chin­ing skills that have proved very use­ful over the years, he started work­ing on cars full time in the late 1960s. It was while work­ing for Michael Grady, an As­ton ex­pert who ran a Fiat and Ford deal­er­ship with his brother, that John had his first hands-on As­ton ex­pe­ri­ence – fix­ing Michael’s DB2/4. Grady Broth­ers had cus­tomers with ‘in­ter­est­ing’ cars, too, so John was soon fa­mil­iaris­ing him­self with a DB5, a Fer­rari 250 GTE, a Jaguar E-type, a Porsche 911, an Al­lard J2 and more.

Afew years later, a cus­tomer came into the garage where John was work­ing to seek help with a Bent­ley Speed Six that wouldn’t start, and a Fer­rari 275 GTB whose en­gine was se­ri­ously out of tune. That cus­tomer was Richard Colton, whose re­cal­ci­trant cars John soon had run­ning well. So an idea formed be­tween them, an idea that be­came GTC En­gi­neer­ing which the pair duly set up in Higham Fer­rers, Northamp­ton­shire.

The en­ter­prise went well, grow­ing into big­ger premises in Rush­den as ever more Fer­raris clam­oured for at­ten­tion, in­clud­ing Richard’s own 250 LM, 250 GT SWB and 275 GTB4. Then Richard bought an As­ton Martin DB4 GT while John ac­quired a DB2/4, swiftly fol­lowed by the first Se­ries III DB4. Richard left the en­ter­prise around this time, too soon to see the DB4 be­come the sub­ject of GTC’S first full body-off restora­tion, car­ried out in the mid-1980s with body panel spe­cial­ist Shapecraft.

Busi­ness was re­ally hum­ming by now, with As­ton Martin it­self com­mis­sion­ing restora­tions from GTC. Some were of im­por­tant cars such as DP199 (the orig­i­nal DB4 GT pro­to­type), DP114/2 (a pro­posal, with de Dion rear sus­pen­sion, to re­place the DB MKIII, and canned in favour of the even­tual DB4), DB4 101/R (the first pro­duc­tion DB4), and the Ber­tone Jet (a spe­cial-bod­ied DB4 from 1960). GTC En­gi­neer­ing wasn’t cred­ited with th­ese restora­tions at the time, but it made sense to the fac­tory to sub­con­tract the restora­tions to the com­pany best suited to the task.

‘I am very proud of th­ese works,’ says John today, ‘but I have never re­ally taken credit for them out of loy­alty to the fac­tory.’ The Ber­tone Jet was a par­tic­u­lar chal­lenge, hav­ing been left by the side of the road in Cal­i­for­nia af­ter an un­der­bon­net fire. ‘I first saw it in the ser­vice depart­ment at As­ton Martin. It was in a dread­ful state af­ter that fire, and once we got it in our work­shop we found rust by the buck­et­ful. This was al­ways go­ing to be a dif­fi­cult job, with

‘The Ber­tone Jet was a par­tic­u­lar chal­lenge, hav­ing been left by the side of the road in Cal­i­for­nia af­ter an un­der­bon­net fire’

so much of the car rusted and burned, but I spent hours with Kings­ley Rid­ing-felce of Works Ser­vice dis­cussing the project to get it right.’

Dur­ing the boom years, GTC be­came ever more steeped in As­ton restora­tions, in­clud­ing the DB4 Con­vert­ible used in Theital­ian­job (and fea­tured in Van­tage is­sue 14), but Fer­raris still fig­ured along with a smat­ter­ing of Maser­atis, Jaguars, Coop­ers and Lis­ters. John also hatched a plan with Clive Smart of Shapecraft to cre­ate what turned out to be three DB4 GT Za­gato repli­cas. The fac­tory was work­ing on its own Sanc­tion II Za­gatos around the same time, but the Gtc/shapecraft in­ter­pre­ta­tion beat them to launch by a fort­night.

And then came the down­turn, GTC’S down­siz­ing move to Northamp­ton and, says John, ‘a more per­sonal in­volve­ment’. Son James joined the busi­ness in 2000 and, via the move near to Sil­ver­stone, that’s where GTC is at today. It has weath­ered the tur­bu­lence of the mar­ket over the years and is fight­ing fit.

JOHN TAKES ME on a guided tour. My eye im­me­di­ately falls on a red DB6 Mk2 in Brilliant Fast Red, its whee­larches sub­tly flared, await­ing fi­nal fit­ting-up. There’s a Mercedes-Benz 190SL in front of it; GTC is not all Bri­tish and Ital­ian.

I then spot a steer­ing col­umn with an elec­tric motor grow­ing out of its side, sit­ting among neat coils of wire and an elec­tronic box of tricks. This is GTC’S EPAC2 elec­tric power steer­ing con­ver­sion, the lat­est ver­sion of a sys­tem of which GTC has sold over 500 ex­am­ples for As­tons and a few for other cars. ‘We first looked at elec­tric power steer­ing around 15 years ago,’ John re­calls. ‘I was sit­ting in a Fiat Punto with a City but­ton, and I thought, “How does that work?” The sil­ver DB5 here [the Jenvey HTB test bed] was the first car to have our sys­tem.’

We move on to the ma­chine shop, where small runs of pro­to­type parts are made. ‘We’ll make three or four to get them right,’ John says, ‘then have them made out­side.’ Those parts in­clude the com­po­nents needed for GTC’S re­make of the ‘Feltham’ steer­ing box, most orig­i­nal ex­am­ples of which are fairly worn-out by now. John reck­ons the steer­ing was al­ways tire­somely heavy any­way, and GTC’S steer­ing box can re­duce ef­fort by up to 30 per cent. With many of the orig­i­nal com­po­nents now be­yond re­pair, GTC makes com­plete new boxes as well as the in­di­vid­ual parts.

Two key pieces of equip­ment in the ma­chine shop are a Bridge­port milling ma­chine and a Shad­ow­graph, which projects the out­line of a com­po­nent onto a screen. That out­line can then be trans­ferred to GTC’S ad­ja­cent com­puter to be­come a CAD file, and checked for ac­cu­racy. And there’s more meet­ing of old de­signs and new tech­nol­ogy in the en­gine room, where lives a Faro 3D mea­sur­ing arm.

Ac­cu­rate to two-thou­sandths of an inch, this sweeps around an ob­ject at up to a 6ft ra­dius like a laser-scan­ning paint­brush. The data it gen­er­ates can be used for com­par­ing camshaft pro­files at one ex­treme to com­plete re­verse-en­gi­neer­ing of com­po­nents at the other, helped by GTC’S 3D printer. Just for fun, res­i­dent elec­tron­ics whizz James scanned a com­plete en­gine and 3D-printed a 3in­long model of it.

As for the en­gine-build­ing, that’s mostly John’s do­main with help from ex-cos­worth David. ‘That’s a torque plate,’ says John when I puz­zle over a hefty lump of alu­minium sit­ting on top of a Marek straight-six en­gine block, con­tain­ing six bores to match the cylin­ders be­low. ‘The bores go slightly oval when the head is torqued down,’ he ex­plains, ‘so we bolt this to the block at the right torque be­fore we hone the bores of a re­built en­gine.’ And when the en­gine is fi­nally built up, it will con­tain one of GTC’S own com­pos­ite head gas­kets, with seals spe­cially de­signed to ac­com­mo­date any cor­roded wa­ter­ways that might ex­ist in an aged cylin­der head.

Other tasty parts therein might in­clude Cos­worth pis­tons, Ar­row con­nect­ing rods – and tap­pet buck­ets coated with DLC (di­a­mond-like car­bon). ‘It’s all to do with stop­ping the scuff­ing in lit­tle-used en­gines,’ John says, ac­knowl­edg­ing that an old As­ton’s life today can in­volve ac­tiv­ity much more spo­radic than when new. Crankshafts and camshafts are typ­i­cally bil­let items from RS Wil­liams: ‘If we use a stan­dard crank­shaft, we’ll crack-test it first.’

Other GTC specialities are retro-fit­ting air-con­di­tion­ing and up­dat­ing trans­mis­sions. It has de­vel­oped con­ver­sions us­ing a ZF au­to­matic gear­box or a Tre­mec T5 five-speed man­ual, in­clud­ing a ‘world class’ ver­sion of the lat­ter with car­bon­fi­bre syn­chro­mesh rings and bet­ter bear­ings. One con­ver­sion for an As­ton Martin V8 in­volved a Gen­eral Motors 4L ATE au­to­matic gear­box with a ‘trick’ valve body and six ra­tios in­stead of the usual four. There are cre­ative minds and a can-do spirit at work here.

ON THE DAY of our visit, a DB6 had just been driven to GTC from Guernsey for a pre-mot check. An­other DB6, pre­pared for clas­sic ral­ly­ing by GTC ten years ago, was back from a trip around the world in 80 days that in­cluded the Gobi desert. ‘It’s done 110,000 rally miles,’ re­ports James in amaze­ment. ‘I think we’ve de-sanded it now.’

Mean­while, GTC also sends parts to Europe and the US, plus Hong Kong, where EPAC2 is much liked. Brexit pro­duced a spurt of in­ter­est here: ‘We had an or­der from Hong Kong the day af­ter it was an­nounced,’ says John, ‘as soon as the pound dropped. Now we’ll wait and see what the fu­ture brings.’

What­ever that turns out to be, GTC will con­tinue to do what its does best and loves most. As soon as you step through the door, you sense this is not an oper­a­tion driven by profit and ruth­less ef­fi­ciency: there is not a mol­e­cule of cor­po­ratism here. It’s a busi­ness, of course, but one based on en­thu­si­asm, for try­ing new ideas and for do­ing the job right. Ex­actly, in short, what a spe­cial­ist should be.

V

Clock­wise from above GTC’S roots were in Ital­ian cars. It’s mostly As­tons th­ese days, but you still see the odd Fer­rari (and other mar­ques) in the work­shops; team is led today by John Win­sor (far left in line-up); trim spe­cial­ist Ol­lie, and John’s son James at the com­puter as Shad­ow­graph shows pro­file of a steer­ing-box worm

Clock­wise from bot­tom left Mercedes SL one of a hand­ful of non-as­tons at GTC on the day of our visit; com­po­nents for a Feltham steer­ing box; James Win­sor drives the Faro 3D mea­sur­ing arm; dad John in the en­gine shop, a Marek block and torque plate be­hind him, and me­chanic Paul at work on a re­furbed axle

Right Fa­ther and son, John and James Win­sor, and (be­low) the present GTC work­shops near Sil­ver­stone

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.