The specialist: British Motor Heritage

| 16 May 2022
Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: British Motor Heritage

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We’re on the outskirts of Warwick, in a compound filled with huge metal blocks piled to twice head height and streaked with rust.

Each block has a serial number, but a few carry great names of British motoring: Jaguar, Triumph, MG, Rover.

These are press tools, used for making panels back in the day and employed today by British Motor Heritage to make them again. This collection has been amassed over many years.

Our guides are British Motor Heritage managing director Graham Payne and Iain Taylor, general manager of BMH’s panel-pressing partner Taylor Pressform.

Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: British Motor Heritage
Graham Payne (on right, with Iain Taylor) is focusing on future-proofing British Motor Heritage’s business

These two companies make the body bits that keep MGBs and MGFs, Spitfires, Morris Minors, Minis and classic Range Rovers on the road.

Also here is a mind-blowing cache of historic blueprints and documents BMH has inherited and is now beginning to digitise.

Payne estimates there are one million pieces in all, some a century old.

A recent extraordinary find is a plan of Rover’s Solihull factory site so early it reveals details of the workshops used for automotive jet-engine research in the 1940s.

Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: British Motor Heritage
Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: British Motor Heritage
Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: British Motor Heritage
The huge document archive at British Motor Heritage is being digitised

BMH is well into its fifth decade, having been founded as a division of British Leyland in either 1975 or 1979, depending on who you ask.

The current expansion of BMH’s business is being led by continued strong demand from outlets around the world, as well as from hands-on restorers.

The recent lockdowns created more demand in two ways: by encouraging people to complete projects they had been working on for years, and by feeding nostalgia for the ‘good old days’.

Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: British Motor Heritage
Complex Jaguar E-type bonnets are hand-finished by true artisans

“Our traditional business, Midgets and MGBs, is still strong, but we’ve also been boosted by demand for Mini parts,” says Payne.

Other new customers include the fast-growing business in remanufactured and electrified classics.

Payne has a long history in car parts, having been COO at Rimmer Brothers after stints at Bearmach and Unipart.

Since joining BMH in 2020, he has upgraded the IT systems, started making new products and set up the document digitisation project.

He has also revised BMH’s Tex-branded ‘wipers and mirrors’ business and acquired trim maker Concours Carpets.

Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: British Motor Heritage
A skilled team of specialists works here at British Motor Heritage

“Our big problem at present is a steel shortage,” says Payne. “Material costs are in some cases three times what we were paying pre-COVID.”

Logistics are an issue, too: “We might have a demand for 50 parts a year, made with tools built to produce 500 parts a week.

“The minimum at Taylor Pressform is often 100, so we need to be clever about storing tools and parts.”

Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: British Motor Heritage
British Motor Heritage’s Concours Carpets acquisition brought 800 carpet patterns

Over at the headquarters in Witney, things are thriving. Some of the country’s most skilled artisans work here – and are proud to do so.

Complete bodies are made in batches, 20-30 at a time, usually twice a year. Suppliers book spaces in the next batch, so the pieces are all pre-sold.

“The demand right now is for repair panels,” says Payne. “We get orders from people who want to finish projects they began 20 years ago.”

Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: British Motor Heritage
Towering stacks of rescued and reclaimed motor industry pressing tools are enjoying a new lease of life at BMH

What of the future?

Payne has no specific production targets because demand is relatively predictable.

BMH has an annual turnover of £5million, and since 1991 has made many thousands of repair panels and well over 6000 complete bodies, including 2009 for the MG RV8 programme.

Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: British Motor Heritage
BMH is reaping the benefits of a healthy restoration scene

“We want to put what we do on to a secure basis with our top 50 products available off-the-shelf, with our specialists in closer touch and with our bills of materials in a nice, secure database,” says Payne.

“So much knowledge lives in the heads of employees who have been here for up to 36 years. That’s great for now, but they can’t carry on for ever.”

Images: John Bradshaw

The knowledge

  • Name British Motor Heritage
  • Address Cotswold Business Park, Witney, Oxfordshire OX29 0YB
  • Specialism Parts remanufacture for BMC, BL and Austin Rover cars, from brightwork to bodyshells
  • Prices Mini body from £9900, MGB body £12,300, TR6 front wing £558
  • Staff c40
  • Tel 01993 707200
  • Web


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