Coach Trimming and a Bit of Archaeology
Story by Jack Pegoraro and photography by vroomphoto.com
O’Rourke Coach Trimmers are considered by many as the best in the business, and Robert O’Rourke, affectionately known as “Rorky”, has a big personality to match this reputation. The workshop is in the beautiful rolling countryside of West Sussex, UK, but on arrival I was brought right back to my Italian roots—when despite being a complete stranger—I was greeted with an expansive, very un-British hug.
I think that working on all those old Ferraris has had rubbed off on Rorky!
O’Rourke is known as the Ferrari trimmer, but its work is much more varied than that. I’m not going to bore you with the extensive list of high-end vehicles that have passed through its doors; you can find this and accompanying pictures on its website.
I want to concentrate more on what makes these craftspeople different from other high-end coachtrimmers. They handle some very special projects like the infamous 1933 Dymaxion from American inventor Buckminster Fuller, having trimmed both the original and the Foster replica. Only three prototypes of the Dymaxion were ever built, with just one (and a few replicas) surviving today. Buckminster Fuller himself was quoted as saying the Dymaxion, “was an invention that could not be made available to the general public without considerable improvements”. The first prototype infamously killed a test driver at the Chicago World’s Fair, and was subsequently destroyed when it caught fire.
The Foster Dymaxion Replica was commissioned in October 2010 by architect and old student of Buckminster Fuller, Sir Norman Foster. Details on the interior were not well-documented, so O’Rourke and his team had to conduct extensive research. Foster also struck a deal with the National Automobile Museum in Reno for a loan of the only surviving car so that it could be studied.
It was shipped to the UK and it too was then re-upholstered by O’Rourke. The car had been used as a chicken coop at some stage and most of the original interior had been eaten away. This kind of puzzle is exactly what the team excel at and from what was left they found clues enabling them to slowly build a picture of what it was like originally.
As ever, originality is paramount, so deciding on specs for a re-trim can be difficult. As the guys disassembled what was left during a current restoration, they looked for signs that might indicate what was there when the car left the factory. For example, the leather on the seats was thought to be correct, but on removal the covers revealed the vinyl originals still underneath. I was initially incredulous a classic high-end sports car would use this material, but Rorky explained that in the ’50s this was considered a fancy new material so for a brief time it was even used in some Rolls Royce models!
Under the leather-covered door cards, they found velour fluff stuck to the door, indicating that the originals cards were also covered in red velour and not leather. Most places would have simply cleaned this up and got on with replacing the leather; in this case, however, the material was carefully bagged (to be included in the car’s history file) and from the remains, the right cloth was tracked down. This forensic approach to originality is what really differentiates O’Rourke from other top trimmers.
I knew about Rorky’s reputation, but my tour of the workshop was still an eye opener. These guys go way beyond a bit cloth, leather, or carpeting. They can make up seat frames from scratch and are able recreate almost any plastic switch or trim parts from their own moulds.
Upstairs into the storeroom, I was shown original seat covers and door panels from a wide array of cars. They are kept here for reference to check on details as small as where the original screw holes would have been. On request O’Rourke can age parts of the interiors with various techniques, including taking a piece of material out with them on Friday night to make sure it looks sufficiently “Mick Jagger’d…”
The team especially relish the challenge offered by low number or one-off specials. Working on relatively high production run cars like Dinos, 275s, or Daytonas means merely replicating what was there originally. With the older Ferraris like 212s, it is a different matter as there is much less standardisation or documentation of the interiors, as explained in inimitable style by the man himself:
“In those days everything about the cars was very masculine, the shapes were bold and beautiful, the noise of the engine dominated and the drivers were fearless and brave. Women did the interiors of the cars back then, and nobody cared about that. No one ever said to Fangio: “Wow, is that a corduroy insert in that seat?’.”
The bodies and engines are generally restored to standard spec, but nobody knows what the interiors were originally like. There is little factory documentation, and the few photos that survive are generally in black and white. Rorky and his team like to be the first to disassemble what is left so they can look for clues on what was there originally.
For example, a diamond imprint in old glue might indicate a quilted finish as opposed to the carpet the car arrived in, much in the same way old screw holes, or the dents left by old cup washers can provide valuable clues. It definitely seems that the archaeological side of the work is one of the aspects that the team are most impassioned about.
I’ll leave you with a parting quote from Rorky, I’m sure it was meant to be tongue in cheek, but to me, it seems pretty accurate: “If you’ve got a standard in life it applies to whatever you’re doing, whether it is with family at home or cutting a piece of leather at work: you’ve got to do it right.”