O'Rourke Coachtrimmers: in pursuit of authenticity

Colleting Cars

We meet the team that's become a bastion of knowledge when it comes to understanding ‘factory correct’ finishes.

Robert O’Rourke, known to anyone who’s heard of him simply as ‘Rorky’, grew up surrounded by remarkable automotive exotica. He recalls helping his dad by carefully packaging up parts from Nick Mason’s 250 GTO when he was just nine years old, preparing the car for a full repaint.

By his early teens he was assisting more regularly at father Kevin O’Rourke’s Mototechnique business, doing all the odd jobs from sweeping up to washing cars. It was around this time that Rorky jokingly says he “fell in love” with Nick Artusa – then the trimmer at Mototechnique – who would often be ‘tailoring’ fine leather interiors for classic Italian cars with exquisite care.

“I loved being in there,” says Rorky. “I didn’t enjoy the dust and fumes from the paint shop, but the smell of leather in the trim shop was just a wonderful aroma. It was Nick who taught me how to trim, and now his son is working with me here, so I can pass that knowledge back.”

Whenever the trim shop at Mototechnique wasn’t busy, Rorky would help out the metal workers or painters. “It gave me a really good background in fabrication and finishing cars to a high standard,” he says. When Nick parted ways with the business around five years later, Rorky stepped up to take on the trimming jobs. Before long he was doing everything from a partial re-trim of a seat to making complete centre consoles and dashboards for rare Ferraris.

While the O’Rourke Coachtrimmers business is now regarded as a bastion of knowledge when it comes to understanding ‘factory correct’ finishes, back in the 1980s Rorky’s priority was on the quality of the work rather than the research behind it.

“Back in those days, I wasn’t collecting much material information,” he explains. “Some of these cars weren’t quite classics yet either. They were only just starting to become collectable among certain groups, and most people weren’t really fussed about originality.”

“To give you another example, nobody really understood much about original vinyl interiors back then either. Many people would just have the vinyl completely ripped out and ask for a full leather interior to be put in instead.”

Nowadays, the level of knowledge among O’Rourke’s team means that they can expertly advise clients on the right options for their car. It comes down to items as minor as pedal rubbers and foot rests, where a choice of material or pattern might be determined by whether you’re trying to win a concours event or want to drive the car regularly across Europe.

Upstairs at O’Rourke’s premises is where all of the original and historically-valuable items are kept, ready for future reference. A badly-damaged but original Ferrari F40 seat hangs on the wall, alongside those from a Daytona, a Dino, a 275 GTB and a 250 GT SWB.

“I think we’ve sold out of our remanufactured short-wheelbase seats for the moment,” adds AJ. “We sell quite a lot of 250 and 275 seat frames to other trimmers and restorers – we’ve even sold them to people who just want to build bespoke chairs to put in their house.”

Looking at the original items up on the wall, you can see where frames were adjusted roughly in period. “When tubes were too long, they were just cut down to size by hand without much care, so it’s very common to find original seats that are poorly shaped.”

Inside O’Rourke’s material archive room is a stack of black and orange storage boxes. Unremarkable at first glance, you then notice the labels on the tape: ‘250 SWB’, ‘California SWB’, ‘330 GTC’, ‘250 Lusso’… and on it goes.

Delving inside the boxes reveals a treasure trove of patterns and materials. Colours, shapes and textures for new trim elements can all be compared to thousands of original pieces. Likewise, there are custom-made resin moulds stacked up in the corner, ready to produce brand new headrest and seat foams for all manner of cars.

Where customers want their cars to be perfectly matched to original specification, O’Rourke’s workshop manager AJ Pink can often turn to modern technology to find a solution.

“Our preference is always to borrow an original part and try to perfectly replicate the shape and the finish. However, when that part isn’t quite good enough, we start by 3D scanning it and running a reverse engineering process using computer-aided design. After this, we can commission a 3D test print. If that’s successful, we take the process on to cast items that are ready for customers.”

AJ lines up a series of components that show the progression from early prototypes to finished items – in this case, for a handbrake grip that can be found in a variety of classic Ferraris.

“When we are re-trimming a cabin, we’ll often find that these original handbrake grips have cracked under load. We remanufacture them in a more durable stimulated ABS plastic, and they’re about 0.1mm larger to reduce the stress and the chance of cracking in the future.”

Because the handbrake grip is a relatively commonplace part that often needs renewal, O’Rourke recognised the value of investing in the process to achieve a more robust replacement at a reasonable unit cost.

Other items are too rare to merit the financial cost of making new stock. “We looked at producing a run of gear knobs for the Dino 206 GT,” says AJ. “Realistically though, we would need to sell at least 10 units at about £1,000 each to make the business case – so that one’s off the table for the moment.”

For some smaller-run but less complex items – such as dashboard switches – O’Rourke can manufacture these in-house using custom silicone moulds, precisely measured against original items.

In some cases, there is no way around a complex and expensive process. O’Rourke recently remanufactured 10 pairs of speaker grilles for a Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona. While the original items were aluminium extrusions, the company milled their recreations. It took two hours to mill each item and an hour to drill the 130 speaker holes using a CNC machine.

The finish itself is achieved with two-tone anodisation in a four-stage process. The grilles are anodised in silver, before the 11 centre strips are masked off – by hand. The units are then un-anodised, before being re-anodised in black. The time, effort and material cost involved means they’re priced at £1,440 per pair.

For a Lamborghini Miura that the team is currently restoring, a new ‘snake bite’ pattern headliner was required. However, with no stock of the correct covering in the factory design available, a decision was taken to have a whole roll produced by the supplier – all for just one metre of material. “It was a seriously expensive exercise, but ultimately the only way to do it properly,” explains AJ.

The obsession with authenticity at O’Rourke is infectious. Where a customer wants something non-original, they are still happy to help, but when ‘factory correct’ is the objective, there are few people more tenacious or qualified in the pursuit. A throwaway comment by Rorky happens to sum up their dedication perfectly: “I’ll be running around in here until I snuff it.”

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