It doesn’t matter what a car designer does. It doesn’t matter how much time they spend labouring over a design or how many sketches they produce before approval. When the car is done, someone will change it. The engine of the world’s first car had barely warmed up before watchful eyes started pondering how it might be altered. But this isn’t to say we, as motorists, dislike the good work of the car designers. We don’t. It’s just a case of any one car design having to appeal to the great many. For truly unique cars, we have to look to make those changes ourselves. Or or course we can hire a skilled hand to bring our vision to life.
Some of you reading this will no doubt be outrageously gifted when it comes to teasing metal into new shapes or fitting different engines into different cars. If you are one of those people, we’re jealous of your impressive skill. If you’re not, and the prospect of working on a car leaves you in a cold sweat, you’re going to need to find a company that can do the work for you. But customisation and modification isn’t general repair work, this is full-on bespoke fabrication we’re talking about. Who do you turn to?
One place to consider would be Retropower up in Leicestershire. Stepping foot into the unassuming industrial unit reveals a vibrant hub of activity. Everyone is busy, everyone is doing something. There’s no slacking going on. But nobody looks to be there under duress or just to pay the bills. There’s a chipper, upbeat energy in the air. These guys love what they do.
As we move into the workshop, the catalyst behind this energy reveals itself. It’s the cars, the wonderful and in some cases wild, in others, weird cars. There’s no brand affinity here. NSU Ro80? Yup, they’re working on one – a full restoration if you’re wondering. Mercedes-Benz SL ‘Pagoda’? Yep, got one of those, too. Mk1 Escort? Of course. Nissan Sunny coupe… um, yeah, why not? Lancia Stratos? Oh, go on then. And as you can see from the pictures, the list goes on. But before we get into the metal, how did Retropower come to be?
The men behind Retropower are Callum and Nathaniel Seviour. Callum is an ex-bar manager. Not exactly a CV entry that you’d expect for a man at the helm of a company at the top of its automotive game, but trust us, he’s more than qualified for the job. You see, when he wasn’t serving pints and checking IDs, Callum could be found buying, tinkering with and fixing cars. It was a side gig, a hobby if you will. One that a fair few of us can probably relate to.
As for Nathaniel, he has an extensive history in engineering and fabrication, having been a Process Improvement Engineer for Timken Bearings. After this, he worked at Metzeler/Schlegel automotive (an automotive sealing systems manufacturer, supplying companies such as Bentley and Toyota) as Engineering Projects Manager. High profile stuff, and experience that means he’s well-versed in the art of making metal do impressive things. But even with his involved day job, he too could be found tinkering with cars with Callum. However, the hobby wasn’t enough. So, when it looked like the money being made from the cars would be enough to support them both full-time, the jump was made and Retropower was born.
By Callum’s own admission, things started slowly. There was the buying and selling of cars and also some general repairs. Panel replacement, MOT prep, rust repairs, that sort of thing. It was work that kept the lights on, but it wasn’t anything like what Callum, Nathaniel and the team are knocking out today. That soon changed though, with the arrival of an Opel Ascona.
Curt Pattinson presented Retropower with an Opel Ascona shell back in 2010. A fairly unremarkable car in standard form, the desire of Curt was to have it built in full ‘400’ rally flavour. Retropower jumped at it. Little did they know what an impact the car would have.
Built from the ground up and almost entirely in house, the Ascona created a legacy for Retropower. The Ascona wasn’t a difficult leap into undertaking full builds. Instead, it was the opportunity Callum and his team needed. With it, they could show the motoring world what they were capable of. This was helped, of course, by Curt’s wonderful insistence to drive the Ascona everywhere once completed, leading to many a conversation around ‘who built it?’.
From there, the floodgates opened up. But with it, Retropower was careful. They didn’t want to be working on ‘bitty’ projects. They wanted to see things through, do them from the ground up and have them leave the Retropower workshop as completed projects. For the best part, that’s what they’ve done, though there is the odd exception. But even then, there’s still an instance of a certain level of completeness. For example, Retropower isn’t the place to go to get your sills repaired. If you want all the metalworking doing though, they’re your guys.
Back to the workshop, and as we said, it’s a rainbow of the weird and the wonderful. The bright turquoise NSU is undergoing a full restoration, as is the SL ‘Pagoda’ next to it. The Stratos is going more down the custom route with an Alfa V6, Eaton supercharger and bespoke burnt orange paint. The W108 Mercedes-Benz is one of three cars Retropower is building for one customer. This particular Mercedes boasts Jag sub-frames, air suspension and a Corvette LS V8. But none of it looks forced. In fact, it looks factory. It’s only the red lettering of ‘Corvette’ atop the engine that actually raises suspicion.
Looking around the cars, the one thing that grabs you is the staggering attention to detail. Nothing is missed or overlooked. You won’t find a rusty bolt or screw, or a frayed edge anywhere. It’s all put together with care and consideration and ultimately, pride. And it’s an attitude that seems to be paying off for the guys here. The reputation has grown massively, and now people see Retropower as the place to go to get something truly special built. If you have a vision, Retropower can more than likely build it, as long as you can afford the labour, of course.
A case in point is the Mk1 Escort sitting in the corner. This is being built for none other than Gordon Murray. You know, the man behind the design of the McLaren F1. He chose Retropower to build his car. That’s a major indicator as to the level of quality at play here. And with completely reworked and fully-independent rear suspension as well as a Cosworth Duratec engine, Gordon will soon be at play, too, the lucky lad.
What’s grown here in the guise of Retropower is pretty special. The pride, the precision and the skill to be found in this one-stop-shop for car building is simply staggering. You walk around this place, and you want them to build you a car. And the chances are, they would be more than happy to do so.