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It’s April. There’s spring in the air – finally! And as such, we’re all itching to get the new driving season kickstarted. To get our classics out of hibernation and back onto the twisty backroads where they belong. Or even better, maybe treat ourselves to a new classic car for the new season. And that’s exactly what I’ve just done – even if it’s not quite as pretty and shiny as Claus’s new Alpine A310…

Only my very closest car buddies have known about my closet-obsession. It all started at the NEC Classic Car Show in Birmingham back in 2001. While I was aware of the existence of the Rochdale Olympic, this was the first time I saw one in the flesh, and it was love at first sight. It was quite unexpected, but the British specialist sportscar just looked so much better in the flesh than I had anticipated. Needless to say, I ended up hanging around the Fairthorpe Sports Car Club display for a fair while, taking in the diminutive proportions, the sensual curves and the simplistic details. I knew right there and then, that I simply had to own one – someday…

Despite cut and flared arches and much too big alloys, I was immediately taken with the shapely little Rochdale Olympic on display at the NEC back in 2001.

Within these pages, I first confessed – discretely – to my feelings for the Rochdale Olympic back in January this year with the article Specialist Sports Cars at Their Prettiest. Then last month I was a bit more committed to the cause when I admitted to my obsessions in Acquisition Through Compulsive Self-Justification. Subsequently, I had to at least try to make sense of purchasing these Rochdale parts and automobilia. So finally – approximately 16-and-a-half years after first meeting an Olympic in real life – I have just become the proud owner of a 1963 Rochdale Olympic Phase 1. Just being able to say those words makes me a very happy man.

Oh, I think I might have started this article with something about driving our new classic car this season. Well, that’s clearly not going to happen! But I’m proud nonetheless. Granted, my new classic car is a project. Well and truly. It needs a lot of tlc. – and money spent on it. – and time spent on it. So no, my Rochdale won’t be driving anywhere under its own steam this summer – that’s a definite.

The Rochdale Owner’s Club put on this display at the 2016 Manchester Classic Car Show. Note that project Olympic parked in the middle. Fascinating! Little did I know at the time that I would end up owning this particular car a year and half later…

So what is it I’ve launched myself into this time? Well, while I sadly don’t know the identity of the first owner, my Rochdale was first registered in Yorkshire on the 10thSeptember 1963. Then 15 years later in 1978 it was passed onto its second owner, John Garforth, who held onto the little Olympic for even longer than the first owner had. Around 2008 he took the car off the road due to lack of necessary spares, and then in 2015 it ended up with Rochdale specialist, Keith Hamer of Scholar Racing, when the second owner fell ill. Keith had no intention of keeping the car for himself, but merely wanted to find a suitable – or a sufficiently insane – new owner to resurrect the Rochdale. That turned out to be yours truly.

Since being displayed in Manchester, the car has been largely dismantled and the fibreglass body has already been striped from the majority of several layers of paint – but that’s of course only the beginning…

The doors are currently leaning up against the rear of the car, but I’m just happy that they’re still there!

On a positive note, the car is largely complete. The Olympic was only the second car to see production with a full monocoque body in fibreglass. Only the famous Lotus Elite beat the Rochdale to it. Saying that, the Rochdale actually used a lot less metal to strengthen the structure of the car than did the Lotus. In the Rochdale, the only fundamental components made of metal are the rollbar built into the front window frame and the front subframe. Luckily the bodywork of my newly-acquired Rochdale is in fairly sound condition, requiring just a small repair to the left front valence where there is currently a hole in the body. Oh, and refitting of factory style door hinges rather than the externally mounted mk1 Mini door hinges which found their way onto my Rochdale at some point during its 55 year life. Other than that, the fiberglass body just needs prep work and a fresh coat of paint. The front subframe is a rusty mess though and will need replacing, as that was the initial reason the car was taken off the road some ten years ago.

There’s a chunk missing from the left front corner.

The interior will need a complete retrim.

Just like two new fuel tanks will have to be built into the fibreglass bodywork in the boot.

The original and complete drivetrain is still with the car. The precise condition of the Riley sourced 1.5-litre BMC B-series engine is not entirely known, but it does at least turn freely and is matching numbers too. The Minor sourced front suspension and steering should prove easy enough to source spares for, while the Olympic’s rear suspension is a bit more bespoke. It’ll also need an all new wiring loom and a new fuel tank. The interior will need new carpets and roof-lining though a pair of front seats trimmed in oxblood red leather came with the car, which should contrast handsomely to the bodywork once it is returned to its factory light blue colour in which it was originally delivered. I’ll have to source a new windscreen and a new rear window too, just as various bits of trim such as the front and rear bumperettes and not least the headlights will need to be replaced. However, it’ll no doubt be a while before I need to worry about such details, as other aspects of the restoration will need to be seen to first.

The matching numbers 1.5-litre B-series engine is still with the Rochdale.

But it’ll clearly need a new wiring loom.

With projects of this magnitude, it is always wise to set a date where one aims to have it all wrapped up. Simply to prevent it from stalling too badly and slipping into a ten-year soul-destroying burden. Luckily for me, I managed to convince Keith Hamer to assist me with parts of the restoration, and he’s already stripped the bodywork bare and started to perform the necessary repairs to bring it back to its former glory. I’m well excited, and I’m sure Keith will prove invaluable during the whole process! I’ve come to the conclusion that driving my Rochdale Olympic to the city of Rochdale during the Olympics of 2020 seems as good a goal as any. Is that realistic or highly optimistic? Time will tell – watch this space…

Assembling a Rochdale Olympic would have probably been somewhat easier with brand new parts back in 1963.

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10 Responses

  1. Claus Ebberfeld
    Monumental, Anders! And not least: Congratulations. I’ve had a thing for the Rochdale Olympic since I started in historic motor racing as I’ve always thought it was one of those cars that could make it to Goodwood Revival while still being able to pop down to the shop or doing the odd historic rally. And not least: All in style and with only the slimmest of chances for meeting another on the way.

    Factory light blue bodywork with oxblood seats sound fabulous as well. Yeah, I sort of see you in the finished car already, happy and fast!

    Reply
  2. Tony Wawryk
    Anders, you’re mad! As Claus says though, once finished – and now you’ve gone public with the target date, I’m reasonably sure you’ll make it – you’ll have a little gem that few others possess. See you at Bicester in 2020!
    Reply
  3. Paul Wilson
    Well done Anders in acquiring the iconic little Rochdale or in my eyes a “ miniature E type “ !!
    I’ve always loved this little car unique in every way and the pokey 1.5 litre Riley B series engine is just sublime
    All the best with the resto.
    And if you need any help with any aspect of the resto you know where I am buddy ….
    Paul
    Reply
  4. Anders Bilidt

    Thank you my dear old friend! :-)
    I haven’t actually yet decided on which spec my Rochdale will be restored to. Stock road spec? Light Sprint spec? Or maybe full-on race spec? Luckily though, at this stage I don’t really have to make that decision quite yet. Decisions, decisions…

    @tony-wawryk
    Heh… you’re probably right, I’m not all there am I? But then, too much sanity gets awfully tedious… ;-)


    Thx Paul. There is indeed quite a bit of mini E-type in the design of the Olympic. But interestingly, the Olympic was in fact developed ever so slightly earlier than the E-type, so it wasn’t a matter of copying the Jag’s design. The two cars just happened to end up having a similar design language. If the Olympic was in fact inspired by any other car, it was more likely the Porsche 356.
    Paul, once I get the restored and painted body from Keith, I might very well take you up on your kind offer. It’s always nice with a helping pair of hands during the grand re-assembly phase of a restoration…

    Reply
  5. Ole JAGmann
    Anders you are a brave man. But I like that you follow your dreams, you are a great example to us.
    It seems like a huge project, but I can’t wait to see it when it is finished.
    Good luck!
    Reply
  6. Paul
    Without seeing this dinky cracker in the fibre glass I hard to image how small it is. As above I agree the design is beautiful and well proportioned. I’ll be following the build closely as it comes together. Well done Anders. I sense a 2020 road trip coming on?
    Reply
  7. Anders Bilidt

    Thx Ole. As I’m sure you know, brave and bonkers are sometimes only separated by a very faint line… ;-)

    @tony-wawryk
    The Olympic’s similarity with the 356 is most pronounced in the front. The rear does actually look more like a mini E-type.


    Think MG Midget and you’ll have a rough idea of the Olympic’s size. It’s pretty small – much smaller than an E-type and 356. As for a 2020 roadtrip? Absolutely!! I’m thinking a grand tour of Scotland along the Coastal 500 would be a fitting baptism of fire…

    Reply
  8. Tony Stanton
    Hi Anders,
    It will be good to see your Olympic Phase I – 926 FWR returned to the road in the near future. Mr Tolhurst was the owner before John Garforth, but I am not sure if he is the original owner of the Olympic or the 2nd owner. Reference your comments “Despite cut and flared arches and much too big alloys” on my Olympic “Duffy”. The original 1960s Olympic had 14 inch steel wheels with 5.50×14 inch tyres. I have 15 inch alloy wheels with 195x50x15 inch tyres, so the same rolling radius. Most people think the discreet slightly flared arches and the wheels look well proportioned to the car. Also when you are putting 200bhp down to the road you need a little more tread on the tyres.
    Regards, Tony – Rochdale Olympic History Archive.

    Reply
  9. Anders Bilidt

    WOW! Thx Tony for the info on the owner prior to John Garforth – I really appreciate it. I’m pretty sure this Mr. Tolhurst would have been the first owner, as there are only three previous owners on the V5. Counting backwards, Keith Hamer is third, John Garforth is second, and that would of course make Mr. Tolhurst the first owner.

    Tony, as for the arches and alloys on your Rochdale, please don’t get the wrong impression – I’m not in any way criticising! After all, it was your car which kept me at the Fairthorpe Sports Car Club’s display for a good hour while taking multiple pictures from various angles. I was impressed!! And yes, I get it. With 200hp you need traction too.
    But all of that doesn’t change the fact that I personally have always been a bit of a stifler for originality. I just prefer things kept period. So yes, you’ll no doubt see 926 FWR back on the road, but it’ll most likely period correct… ;-)

    Reply

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