THEY MAKE STUFF – ARCH MOTOR & MANUFACTURING CO LTD

For over sixty years, Arch Motor has been the go-to company if you want a chassis for your racecar or specialist road car. They have been making Caterham and Lotus Seven chassis for over sixty years and during the sixties every F1 team bar Honda and Ferrari used their services. The great news is, this story isn’t a retrospective per se as Arch Motor still exists and although times have changed greatly, they are still very busy, as STEVE HOLE reports. By the way, I haven’t missed an ‘S’ off ‘Motor’ as although most people call them Arch Motors the company’s name is actually ARCH MOTOR.

Arch Motor & Manufacturing Co Ltd was founded way back in August 1958, by Bob Robinson and his friends, brothers Ted and Alan Young with the ‘Arch’ part of their name coming from the King Street railway arches in Tottenham where they were based for the first eight years of their existence, before they moved to their current address at Redwongs Way, Huntingdon in 1966.

Robinson was a close friend and ex-college mate of Lotus’ then development engineer, Don Gadd, who introduced him to Colin Chapman, who back then was based in a large shed behind Stan Chapman’s Railway Hotel in Hornsey, North London.

Arch’s first job for Lotus was producing the throttle pedal for the Seven, which was followed soon after by the lower front wishbones for the car. Suitably impressed this led to the fabrication of the complete spaceframe chassis and related componentry followed by work on the 23B and arguably Lotus’ best-selling customer car, the Type 24.

Word spread fast about the quality work that Arch Motor could offer and soon the bulk of Britain’s motorsport industry was heading to their doors.

They also fabricated parts for another well-known Huntingdon-based company, Lola Cars, when Eric Broadley commissioned them to fabricate parts for him and his cousin, Graham’s Mk1 and all those early and iconic Lolas, be they Formula Junior single-seaters or sports racers were produced by Arch including the Mk6 GT, which indirectly led to the Ford GT40, of course, which Arch also worked on, incidentally.

Bob’s son, Bruce – a nicer chap it’s hard to find – has been running the company for well over thirty years having started work there in 1976. He’s continued on the same path as his father with the company still known for its craftsmanship. They are quite simply, metal bashers par excellence although ‘metal bashers’ might seem like a chuck away remark it is meant as the highest compliment that I can give.

Arch used to work very closely, with their former next-door neighbours on Redwongs Way, GRP supremos, Specialised Mouldings, run by Peter Jackson. They very often worked on the same cars although they both helped bring work to their respective doors. Quite handy for Arch Motor to have one of the finest purveyors of glassfibre lamination next door. Indeed, the legendary Chevron B8 was born in Arch and Specialised Mouldings workshops.

The reception area of their impressive 18,000 sq/ft facility sets the scene perfectly, with a photo roll-call of honour showing just some of the illustrious cars they’ve worked on over the years. It’s still a family affair at Arch Motor as Bruce’s brother Philip also works there. Their other brother, Neil used to be there too but left to follow a new career opportunity.

Until 2005, Arch made every single chassis for the Seven and when Caterham Cars took over the project in 1973, they seemingly revised the chassis every year. Arch happily accommodated these changes, actively involved in the name of making fabrication more efficient and the product better.

From 2007 Arch was responsible for the underpinnings of the CSR model and the hybrid S3/CSR, the C400 racecar (a CSR with de Dion rear suspension, basically). They also produce the Series Five (aka SV chassis). In fact, Caterham Cars-related work still accounts for around 45 per cent of their turnover.

Arch Motor is also still responsible for items including the de Dion tubes, aero-wishbones, fuel tanks, cockpit sides, aluminium bonnets and the windscreen frames, which are also glazed by them, too.

However, if you have an older Seven that is in need of a chassis repair, Arch Motors are the master of that work. As Bruce Robinson says: “We’re happy to have a go at anything really, as flexibility is one of our strong points. We can always come up with the goods when others maybe can’t.”

More recent jobs have included fabricating parts for Isle of Man TT and motorcycle road race star, Michael Dunlop’s Team Classic Suzuki racer.

Their team of craftsmen (thirty employees these days) are masters of their art and include some of the finest practitioners of the art of welding that you will ever see. They are skilled at bronze-welding (aka brazing) and, in fact, were the first company to use it on a car chassis (Lola Mk1 in 1958). That is the top of the tree as far as welding is concerned.

They’ve been making the Ariel Atom chassis since it first appeared in 1998, as well as that of its sister the Nomad as well as the company’s Ace motorcycle. Those Ariel frames feature bronze, MIG and TIG, incidentally.

You’ll regularly find chassis restoration jobs in the workshop and they are always open to new clients engaging their services. They used to make wishbones for Morgan, and they also produced the metal parts for the LCC Rocket and fabricated all of the Ford RS200 tubs.

They don’t just fabricate metal components, either. In addition to Caterham windscreen frames – and glazing same – they can also offer media blasting and powdercoating, too.

The company can handle the lot from a complete chassis and all its ancillaries like wishbones and uprights, but they are equally happy to just produce one specific part of a car if that’s all you require.

Although on a slightly smaller scale than the halcyon days of the sixties, when Monday mornings would mean a queue of crashed racecars to straighten out they still get a few racecars in that have been, er, structurally rearranged over the weekend. Their neighbours are well used to seeing trailers queueing outside the factory gates on a Monday morning!

It was tempting to come up with a list of racecar manufacturers that used – or still use – Arch Motor’s services but I quickly decided that it may well be easier to come up with a list of companies who didn’t!

When Brabham was the go-to marque as far as customer F2 and F3 cars (BT21C and BT23C, for example) were concerned the metalwork for those cars was produced here, while we’ve already mentioned Lola and Chevron, but Bruce McLaren (M4A) and others like Hawke, Merlyn (CRD), March, Ralt, Royale, Titan, Van Diemen, Ensign, GRD, Gemini (The Chequered Flag), the list goes on and on … were customers.

The Lotus models born at Arch is a healthy list and following the work on the Seven in those early days, this led to Formula Junior chassis like the Lotus 22, the sports racer Lotus 23B and Lotus 24 F1 chassis as well as wishbones and roll-over bars for the Lotus 25. Later chassis fabrication for Lotus included Lotus 31, 41, 51, 59 and 61, Formula Ford 69, 69 F3, 69 F2 and parts for Lotus 49 and 72 F1 cars.

Times have changed greatly since 1958 but it’s rather reassuring to know that Arch Motor & Manufacturing is still going strong. Long may that continue, I say.

For more information contact:

Arch Motor & Manufacturing Co Ltd; 6 Redwongs Way, Huntingdon Trading Estate, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire PE29 7HD

Tel: 01480 459 661

Website: www.archmotor.co.uk