Tea, A Hefty Portion of Cake, And Vintage Racing
Photography by Amy Shore for Petrolicious
I met Stuart because of a ridiculously silly error on my part and a wonderfully kind deed on his. Two weeks before Goodwood Revival last year, hotel booked and bags itching to be packed, I wondered why I hadn’t received my tickets in the post–then the penny dropped. I had forgotten to actually buy the tickets. To say I was disappointed and angry with myself was at least an understatement. However, word was spread about my predicament and Mr. Stuart Roach managed to save the day, finding me, and giving me a couple of spare tickets.
It also just so happens that this ticket-savior is the director of historic car fabrication business, Roach Manufacturing Ltd. (www.roachmanufacturing.co.uk), too. The business first opened under Stuart’s grandfather, Ron (aka, Rocket Roach) back in 1954. Over the years, son Keith began to learn his father’s trade, and then Stuart his. Initially, the cars weren’t the main business but instead, precision engineering and specialist trailers. Then in the 1980s, Keith’s hobby of restoring Austin 7s became more of a business than a hobby. To keep the company grounded to its roots, Stuart and his team of craftsmen still restore Austin 7s and had three Austin bodies in the workshop on the day of my visit.
Just before Stuart begins to show me around the workshop, he hands me a small packet of little orange earplugs and warns me, “You’re going to need these,” as the sounds of hammering and grinding thrum in through the door to his automotive art-covered walls and the workshop beyond.
As Stuart walked me around the busy workshop, I passed the likes of a 1960 Deep Sanderson Formula Junior, a 1961 Ausper Formula Junior, and a 1930 MG K3. I decided very quickly that this was becoming one of my favourite workshops yet, a decision fuelled by Stuart’s mother (and secretary), Heather, appearing with a mug of tea and a delicious, hefty portion of cake for me.
“The career advisor at school asked me what I wanted to do–I simply replied by saying I didn’t want to work in a nine-to-five office job. I love how much variety this job gives me, every day is different and there’s always problem solving to be done. For example, we recently had a chap who was 6’7” who wanted a 6’3” wheelbase vintage Austin 7 but we had to tailor-make the body to him so it looked like he was sitting in the car rather than on it. We make wire frames of the car bodies first to make sure everything is in the right place and the right size which is then easy to adjust, should we need to.”
Roach Manufacturing were also chosen by Audi to recreate their heritage and have been responsible for the bodywork on nine of their magnificent Silver Arrows. Currently underway in the workshop is a truly sublime W125 Streamliner under commission of Mr. Kevin Wheatcroft of the Donington Grand Prix Collection. Naturally, this was the first car I wanted to hop into when I arrived, despite it not quite having a floor just yet.
Apart from running the family business, Stuart has been racing since the age of thirteen when he began karting. On his first driving lesson four years later, his instructor told him that if that were to have been his test, he would have passed. He now races regularly in Historic Formula Junior during the summer months and competes in Classic Trials during the winter months, telling me that he obviously needed something to do in the summer and something to do in the winter.
I planned on being at Roach Manufacturing for an hour or so. Four hours later, filled with tea and more cake for my long journey home, I left one of the most enjoyable workshops I’ve ever visited for Petrolicious.