Coachbuilder Daniel Longford loves to mix traditional with modern techniques in his Hampshire workshop
For a youngish bloke – although he’s been in the business for 20 years – Daniel Longford Clazey has an impressive car CV behind him. He’s made bodies for Alfa 8Cs and one of Jim Stokes’ new Alfa 158s, and he’s designed and built a series of one-offs, the latest of which is the elegant Lagonda Rapier shown here: “The owner had some idea of the cars he likes, such as the Peter Wenman Zagatostyled Rapier and the Type 54 Bugatti Bachelia,” says Longford. “I used a coachbuilder’s drawing, lowered the radiator and drew out the new design to scale – it’s a useful way of checking wheel travel. I then scaled it up from there.”
It sounds so easy, but Longford has worked with and learned from the best: “I spent 10 years at an Aston Martin specialist, but moved down here to the New Forest to gain more experience on a broader range of cars.” He’d started amassing tools before his move, and there’s an impressive collection of three wheeling machines as well as the usual rollers and folders, plus a full set of 40 profiles, or sweeps, hanging from the wall in the light and airy workshop: “Each one is curved more than the last, which you use to make sure the curves are the same on both sides. Do it once, and do it right.
“I use two wheeling machines together because it’s quicker – one usually has a flatter wheel for the main body of the panel and the other has a higher crown for the curved areas. I’ve converted the smaller wheel to run a kart tyre and had lower wheels made to my specification. I can vary the pressure and therefore the contact area on the panel, so I can move a radius such as in the running boards on the current job.”
The middle machine was made in the ’20s by Ranalah, and the next job in is a Rapier with a Ranalah body: “It’s great to be using a wheel from the same company that made the coachwork, and it may have made the actual body.”
There’s a bandsaw, too, to cut templates and ash frames: “On the woodwork, I’ve had a lot of help from my friend in the north-east, Geoff Henderson, a retired coachbuilder. He was good enough to give me his drawings for the Abbottbodied Rapiers, among others.”
Steel frames are an option, too. “That’s the Italian style, and it takes up less space,” says Longford. He’s not averse to incorporating modern materials to do a better job: “I like to produce an original car, but one that is discreetly improved with modern technologies – with the owner’s consent – such as bonding as well as wrapping aluminium skins, to give a stronger frame that’s sealed from the wet, and using modern compounds to stop galvanic corrosion.”
Longford considers his chassis jig to be crucial – his own Alvis 12/70 is currently sitting on it, waiting for a rebuild: “It’s really important. It’s fairly normal to find some accident damage on an 80- or 90-year-old car, and it is essential to have a solid, straight base to work from. Fortunately a ladder chassis doesn’t require a huge amount of energy to straighten, but the jig also has a hydraulic ram and pulling arm if needed. It then becomes the datum for the frame build, and provides a level base to measure from and give an accurate body.
“The Rapier had been damaged and then badly repaired – which was picked up and straightened when it was on the jig.”
Each body takes up to a year: “The next job will take me until March, and the Rapier owner has just bought a Hispano-suiza V8 aircraft engine, so he wants me to find a chassis.” Which means the Alvis isn’t getting a look-in for now.
Clockwise from main: Longford is currently creating a bespoke Lagonda Rapier; one of his three wheeling machines; working on a new timber frame; taking measurements from a scale drawing