A couple of years ago some Porsche engineers herded a group of journalists into a room that had its lights turned down low. It was the unveiling of a stunning piece of technology about which the engineers were extremely proud and excited. The lights came up and there it was: an electric motor. The response from the hacks was somewhat subdued, several commentating that it could be from a vacuum cleaner rather than a high performance car.
I test drive lots of electric cars and might even end up owning one in the future but I’m never going to fall in love with one or its technology. I mean, what’s exciting about a battery pack or the sight of a charging socket?
The contrast between walking into that darkened room at Porsche and into the engine-build shop at Moto Technique in Surrey is a universe apart. Before me is a row of eight titanium connecting rods, gleaming cylinder heads, new pistons and fuel injection trumpets. Those connecting rods will go into a Ferrari 308 GTB cylinder block that already has fitted a set of oversize cylinder liners and a stroked crankshaft. By the time it has been fitted with its custom-made pistons it will displace 3.8-litres and produce almost 400bhp.
Kevin O’Rourke, who is giving us our guided tour around this display of treasures, founded Moto Technique in 1980 in a workshop in Chertsey. “I was born in Woking and grew up there. My first job was in the body shop of the local BMC dealer and from there I went to Old Woking Service Station. That doesn’t sound very exotic but it was the company that prepared the works 240Z rally cars for Datsun so it was a great place to work.
“From there I went to Panther Cars and then to Autokraft which specialised in AC Cobras but was also known for taking Ferrari Daytona coupés and turning them into convertibles. Another interesting place to work.”
Although over the last 40 years many makes of classic have passed through Moto Technique’s workshops the company’s reputation is for first class restorations of some of the most important, rarest and most valuable Ferraris made. “We’ve restored three 250GTOs,” says O’Rourke, “many 250GT SWBs; 275GTBs and countless Daytonas and literally hundreds of Dinos.”
What makes Moto Technique particularly interesting is how it has evolved over the decades, moving with the times and, as often as not, in a direction that O’Rourke finds either particularly interesting or challenging.
“For the first few decades we concentrated on restoration but then just by chance around ten or fifteen years ago we started getting a lot of crash-damaged cars from insurance companies. That was very interesting work and often very challenging. Once we repaired a damaged 288 GTO only for its owner to crash it again on its maiden voyage. Then, almost overnight, the insurance work disappeared. Partly because the insurers tend to write the cars off as a complete loss and perhaps because people are driving their cars less.”
Time then for Moto Technique to move into a new phase. Twelve years ago O’Rourke had taken his own Dino (he’s owned a couple of 246s, a 308 GTB and GT4 as well as a 400i and 412), removed its V6 engine and replaced it with a 3.2-litre V8 from a 328 GTB. I’ve driven this car and apart from having more power than the original engine, its set up of electronic fuel injection via throttle bodies and engine management from an F355 makes it unbelievably tractable and easy to drive. So easy that O’Rourke has driven the car to Austria in the winter and all over Europe.
Call them restomods or evolutions, but today the workshop is full of Ferraris that are in for a shot in the arm. Finished, but getting its final shakedown runs and tweaks before going to its lucky customer is a beautiful black 308 GTB. This car is equipped with one of the company’s bored and stroked V8s complete with incredibly sexy intake trumpets that can be seen through a clear window set into a carbon fibre engine cover. The cover was made in-house. O’Rourke and his seven-strong team don’t limit their work to just engines: the black 308 has Nitron adjustable suspension and brakes from a 360 Modena and the most stunning wheels you’ve ever seen. They’re custom made by Marvic in magnesium to the style used by Lancia on the Stratos.
Another 308, this one in metallic green and wearing a badge that reads ‘388 GTBi’ is also nearing completion. A Dino is in the paint booth receiving its finishing touches. “We put it in the booth and heated it up to 50c and ran the engine. No sign of overheating or rough running. We sent the owner a video of the car running, in fact.
“The iPhone has totally transformed our business. Our relationship with our customers, which has always been close, is now intimate. Very successful and presumably busy owners send us reams of texts asking us questions about their project, discussing specifications and really getting involved. It’s great to share their enthusiasm.”
Of all the projects currently in the workshop, the most exotic is a Dino that’s in the early stages of a quite dramatic conversion. Early, but already a year’s work has gone into the car and there’s plenty more to go. Already you can see the potential of this car because in the back is an engine from a 458 Italia. That’s enough in itself to whet the appetite but there’s more. The 246 Dino’s 2.4-litre V6 is mounted transversely but the 458 engine fits longitudinally in its original home. “Turning the engine around in the Dino’s bay has meant that we’ve had to increase the length of the rear bodywork by several inches,” explains O’Rourke.
Quite some job, but not so daunting for a team that knows the Dino literally inside out. “We’re also adding aluminium honeycomb sheet to improve rigidity and improve crash protection,” says O’Rourke, “but one of the trickiest things has been to fit a manual linkage to the 458 gearbox. Ferrari doesn’t sell parts for this because it doesn’t want people doing this so we’ve had to have our own cables made.”
This ‘SuperDino’ also features 458 brakes and an electric power steering system that’s been developed in-house and which is also fitted to the 308 Evos in the workshop. And like those 308s, this car will be fitted with a bespoke exhaust system in Iconal complete with a valve system that allows the driver to switch from discrete to a full orchestra. When finished the car will have in excess of 500bhp with handling and stopping to match. It’ll be interesting to see how the lengthened body will look. Talking of which, is it sacrilege to carve up an original 246 to make this car? “Not really,” O’Rourke comments, “firstly, plenty of Dinos were made and second, we could return it to standard. We’ve restored Dinos from completely rotten wrecks.”
Although the Evolution cars are taking up most of the time in the workshop, traditional jobs are still squeezed in. A 250GT SWB is in for a tune-up as is a Mercedes-Benz 300SL ‘Gullwing’. “We’ve restored seven Gullwings over the years,” explains O’Rourke, “and they’re about the most challenging old cars to work on. Hugely complicated with amazing details.”
There’s also a Daytona that’s in for some post-fire fettling. “It’s from a loyal and long time customer from Austria and isn’t as badly damaged as it looks. Shouldn’t take too much to put it back into perfect condition,” says O’Rourke with the confidence of someone who has, quite literally, been there, done that.
The Ferrari 365 GTB Daytona. Now here’s a car that would be fantastic for ‘The Treatment’. Its truck-like steering would be greatly helped with electric assistance and the tractability of that great V12 would be transformed by electronic fuel injection and engine management. Modern brakes would also allow for some extra horsepower to be easily dealt with. I wonder how many Daytona owners would be brave enough to commission Moto Technique to wave its wand over their car? After all, Daytonas are a fair bit rarer than Dinos. “We’d love to,” says O’Rourke. “We’ve got a potential customer in Brazil who has four cars he wants to work on including a 365GTC. We were good to go until Covid struck. Hopefully we’ll still get the chance to transform his cars.”
The big question: What would O’Rourke and his team say if a customer came in and asked them to convert a 246GT into an EV? O’Rourke grimaces. “I’d say, ‘That’s not really what we do here but what’s your budget?’” He’s smiling as he says the last part of the sentence but I suspect when it came down to it O’Rourke would follow his heart and not his wallet.
His love for the internal combustion engine, further proven by an ever expanding collection of classic Ducati motorcycles, is too profound.