Deus Ex Machina: The World’s Most Exciting Projects In Classic Cars and Motorbikes

The resurrection of classic cars and motorbikes by oil-streaked artisans is a kind of spiritual metallurgy. THE RAKE’s Motoring Correspondent highlights five of the world’s most exciting projects.

 Deus Ex Machina: The World’s Most Exciting Projects In Classic Cars and Motorbikes

Bell Sport & Classic Ferrari 330 LMB 

Writing about cars for 25 years has enabled me to get behind the wheel of some decidedly exotic metal, from one of the first Bugatti Chirons ever built to the legendary Bentley Speed Six ‘Old Number One’ that twice took the chequered flag at Le Mans 24 Hours — and was valued at £10m in 1990. But I have never been so apprehensive about driving a car as I was when I was invited to take the controls of the remarkable Ferrari 330 LMB re-creation built by the genius craftsman-engineer Elliot East, of the Hertfordshire-based Prancing Horse specialists Bell Sport & Classic. East spent three years creating the car as a showcase for the firm’s talents, a labour of love that produced what can only be described as a perfect facsimile of the 330 LMB, only four of which were originally built to race at Le Mans in 1963. The continuation project was started during the early noughties by a Ferrari-mad Essex farmer who died before realising his dream of re-creating what is a virtually unobtainable model. It fell to Bell Sport & Classic to finish the job, which involved making from scratch unobtainable components ranging from the fuel filler cap and window catches to an exquisite aluminium gearbox turret and numerous major engine parts.  With around 400 horsepower on tap and just 1,200 kilos to propel, the 12-cylinder racer is theoretically capable of more than 150mph, but I was so conscious of damaging what is a rolling work of art that I barely got beyond a third of that. All the same, it was a drive I’ll never forget. 

The 330 LMB’s complex body panels were handmade from scratch; its beautifully sculpted gearbox ‘turret’ began life as a solid block of aluminium. Photography: Tim Scott.

Brough Superior Lawrence 

“As fast and reliable as express trains and the greatest fun in the world to drive,” was how T.E. Lawrence ‘of Arabia’ described his beloved Brough Superiors. H.D. Teague, the editor of The Motorcycle during the 1930s, opined that the marque was the maker of the “Rolls- Royce of two-wheelers”. The firm was founded by George Brough in 1919 and operated on the basis that only the best was good enough. That inevitably translated into high prices, and, although those who could afford to spend the cost of a small house on a motorcycle were invariably delighted with their purchase, the business went bust in 1940 because the meticulously crafted 100mph machines were unattainable to most. In 2010, however, a Brough enthusiast, Mark Upham, decided to re-launch Brough Superior, to create new motorcycles inspired by the look of the originals and built with the same dedication to fit and finish. Now under new management and based in Toulouse, at the heart of the French aerospace industry, Brough Superior offer about a dozen different models under their own name, plus two others developed with the British supercar builders Aston Martin. Among the line-up is the Lawrence Original, a bike that pays tribute to Brough Superior’s most celebrated patron through a design “inspired by the sleek, flowing curve of [his] traditional Bedouin dagger”. Hand-built from the ground up, it combines traditional techniques with modern-day materials and features a lightweight, titanium frame, suspension parts machined from billet aluminium, and a 997cc, 102 horsepower, water-cooled V-twin engine designed and built in-house. Like all modern-day Brough Superiors, each bike is crafted to order, and buyers can specify bespoke features to make theirs unique. Prices start at about £55,000. 

The modern-day Brough Superior combines the character, quality and kudos of the 1930s models with the best that 21st-century motorcycle engineering can offer. Photography: L. Beylot.                                                  

Icon Derelict 

When it comes to old cars, they often say ‘it’s original only once’ — usually in reference to the belief that to restore an automobile with an excessively shiny paint job, chrome that gleams too much, and seats that are overstuffed is to strip it of its intrinsic character. As a result, a branch of craftsmanship has evolved to cater for enthusiasts who like their classics to be preserved as much as possible in their original state. Some specialists even offer to ‘add’ patina by chemically treating metal parts to accelerate ageing, artificially craze varnish, to give the impression of sun damage, and even create fake rust patches using clever paint techniques. But Jonathan Ward, the founder of the L.A.-based Icon, has taken the idea of preservation to a new level. The former actor set up his business in 2006 and originally specialised in rebuilding Toyota Land Cruisers and Ford Broncos from the 1960s and seventies, with modernised underpinnings and ancillaries creating cars with classic looks that were suitable for daily driving in the 21st century. More recently, Ward introduced his Derelict line — cars with fully upgraded mechanicals but with bodywork and upholstery that appear to have been allowed to gradually decay over the decades, just as nature intended. Creating the ‘rat’ look is an art form that requires rusted bodywork to be stabilised with great skill and interiors to be re-constructed with a plausibly worn-in appearance while being fully functional and comfortable. It’s the ultimate in automotive shabby chic. 

Icon’s Derelict range celebrates the glory of rust and patina. 

Metisse Steve McQueen Desert Racer replica 

Metisse Motorcycles were founded in 1959 by the successful motocross racing brothers Derek and Don Rickman. They specialised in making hand-built racing frames that came to be regarded as the sine qua non among discerning riders from around the world, including the Hollywood actor Steve McQueen, who, in the spring of 1966, ordered a now celebrated Triumph-engined Desert Racer from the company. In 1999, engineer Gerry Lisi acquired the firm and re-established it in Carswell, Oxfordshire, by offering exact replicas of the McQueen machine, a move that has drawn orders from around the world. The story of how the King of Cool’s coolest motorcycle came to be recreated dates back to 2006 and the opening of the (long-closed) Bamford & Sons store in London’s Sloane Square. Its owner, the JCB tycoon and incurable petrolhead Lord Bamford, decided that the type of people at whom the shop was aimed would appreciate a Steve McQueen corner, for which various bits of memorabilia, books and photographs were gathered. The one thing missing was one of the star’s favourite toys, but Lord Bamford had heard about the revival of the Metisse name and, having seen images of McQueen on his beloved ‘desert sled’, asked Lisi to build a carbon copy. In the intervening 18 years, dozens of McQueen replicas have been built by Metisse, each one handcrafted using freshly made frames and original, fully rebuilt Triumph 650cc engines from the correct period. Lisi and his team are careful to ensure that every replica is just that: an exact replica, down to having identical battleship-grey paintwork, McQueen’s special footrest design, and the exact same decals on the bodywork. The bikes are so ‘right’, in fact, that they are fully endorsed by the Hollywood star’s estate — and his son, Chad, was among the first to buy one. 

The Metisse McQueen Desert Racer is almost identical to the bike built to the King of Cool’s specifications in 1966. 

David Brown Automotive Mini Remastered

To traditionalists, the only Mini is the one launched in 1959 that enjoyed a 41-year production run during which more than 5.3m were produced and sold around the world. About 10 feet long, four-and-a-half feet wide, noisy, nippy and seemingly larger inside than out, the Mini was the car that defined the Swinging Sixties and was the unlikely winner of numerous international rallies.  Thanks to David Brown Automotive (DBA), it’s possible to relive that golden era with an as-new Mini of your own — albeit one that, dare we say, is a whole lot better than the original.  The Mini Remastered aims to create a car with the look and character of a classic while being far-better screwed together and finished to modern-day standards. Each one starts life as an original car, which, after arriving at the firm’s 18,000 square-feet Silverstone workshop, is stripped to the bone, with each body shell being scrapped in favour of a brand new one from the official manufacturer, British Motor Heritage. These are then ‘de seamed’ for a smooth appearance and improved with extensive soundproofing, additional bracing, reinforcement, and DBA’s own grille.  New and updated front and rear subframes and suspension are fitted, after which the engines and gearboxes are fully rebuilt  using top-quality modern components for improved performance, reliability and longevity, before being installed in the new rust-proofed body.  Inside, the seats, dashboard, headlining and doors are trimmed with meticulous care to the finish of the buyer’s choice, with air conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity and satellite  navigation subtly incorporated. A bespoke dashboard is fitted with beautifully engineered  steel switches and controls to complement the sixties-style wood- rimmed steering wheel, and, if you want it, matching gear knob.  For those who fancy recreating the famous red Minis with white roofs that competed for the ‘works’ in events such as the Monte Carlo rally, DBA will gladly replicate that livery and add chunky tyres and spotlights. Alternatively, check out the firm’s online configurator and build your own virtually. 

The Mini Remastered is better engineered, far more luxurious and a lot rarer than the original — but it’s just as appealing and even more fun to drive. Photography: Simon Kay and Dafydd Wood.