It’s April. There’s spring in the air – finally! And as such, we’re all itching to get the new driving season kickstarted. To get our classics out of hibernation and back onto the twisty backroads where they belong. Or even better, maybe treat ourselves to a new classic car for the new season. And that’s exactly what I’ve just done – even if it’s not quite as pretty and shiny as Claus’s new Alpine A310…
Only my very closest car buddies have known about my closet-obsession. It all started at the NEC Classic Car Show in Birmingham back in 2001. While I was aware of the existence of the Rochdale Olympic, this was the first time I saw one in the flesh, and it was love at first sight. It was quite unexpected, but the British specialist sportscar just looked so much better in the flesh than I had anticipated. Needless to say, I ended up hanging around the Fairthorpe Sports Car Club display for a fair while, taking in the diminutive proportions, the sensual curves and the simplistic details. I knew right there and then, that I simply had to own one – someday…
Within these pages, I first confessed – discretely – to my feelings for the Rochdale Olympic back in January this year with the article Specialist Sports Cars at Their Prettiest. Then last month I was a bit more committed to the cause when I admitted to my obsessions in Acquisition Through Compulsive Self-Justification. Subsequently, I had to at least try to make sense of purchasing these Rochdale parts and automobilia. So finally – approximately 16-and-a-half years after first meeting an Olympic in real life – I have just become the proud owner of a 1963 Rochdale Olympic Phase 1. Just being able to say those words makes me a very happy man.
Oh, I think I might have started this article with something about driving our new classic car this season. Well, that’s clearly not going to happen! But I’m proud nonetheless. Granted, my new classic car is a project. Well and truly. It needs a lot of tlc. – and money spent on it. – and time spent on it. So no, my Rochdale won’t be driving anywhere under its own steam this summer – that’s a definite.
So what is it I’ve launched myself into this time? Well, while I sadly don’t know the identity of the first owner, my Rochdale was first registered in Yorkshire on the 10thSeptember 1963. Then 15 years later in 1978 it was passed onto its second owner, John Garforth, who held onto the little Olympic for even longer than the first owner had. Around 2008 he took the car off the road due to lack of necessary spares, and then in 2015 it ended up with Rochdale specialist, Keith Hamer of Scholar Racing, when the second owner fell ill. Keith had no intention of keeping the car for himself, but merely wanted to find a suitable – or a sufficiently insane – new owner to resurrect the Rochdale. That turned out to be yours truly.
On a positive note, the car is largely complete. The Olympic was only the second car to see production with a full monocoque body in fibreglass. Only the famous Lotus Elite beat the Rochdale to it. Saying that, the Rochdale actually used a lot less metal to strengthen the structure of the car than did the Lotus. In the Rochdale, the only fundamental components made of metal are the rollbar built into the front window frame and the front subframe. Luckily the bodywork of my newly-acquired Rochdale is in fairly sound condition, requiring just a small repair to the left front valence where there is currently a hole in the body. Oh, and refitting of factory style door hinges rather than the externally mounted mk1 Mini door hinges which found their way onto my Rochdale at some point during its 55 year life. Other than that, the fiberglass body just needs prep work and a fresh coat of paint. The front subframe is a rusty mess though and will need replacing, as that was the initial reason the car was taken off the road some ten years ago.
The original and complete drivetrain is still with the car. The precise condition of the Riley sourced 1.5-litre BMC B-series engine is not entirely known, but it does at least turn freely and is matching numbers too. The Minor sourced front suspension and steering should prove easy enough to source spares for, while the Olympic’s rear suspension is a bit more bespoke. It’ll also need an all new wiring loom and a new fuel tank. The interior will need new carpets and roof-lining though a pair of front seats trimmed in oxblood red leather came with the car, which should contrast handsomely to the bodywork once it is returned to its factory light blue colour in which it was originally delivered. I’ll have to source a new windscreen and a new rear window too, just as various bits of trim such as the front and rear bumperettes and not least the headlights will need to be replaced. However, it’ll no doubt be a while before I need to worry about such details, as other aspects of the restoration will need to be seen to first.
With projects of this magnitude, it is always wise to set a date where one aims to have it all wrapped up. Simply to prevent it from stalling too badly and slipping into a ten-year soul-destroying burden. Luckily for me, I managed to convince Keith Hamer to assist me with parts of the restoration, and he’s already stripped the bodywork bare and started to perform the necessary repairs to bring it back to its former glory. I’m well excited, and I’m sure Keith will prove invaluable during the whole process! I’ve come to the conclusion that driving my Rochdale Olympic to the city of Rochdale during the Olympics of 2020 seems as good a goal as any. Is that realistic or highly optimistic? Time will tell – watch this space…ADVERTISEMENTS