Prep Work | Qprep Engineering Workshop, Oundle

Nestled deep in the quiet market town of Oundle is Qprep, a busy engineering workshop. We talk to the company’s two founders about their services and what sets them apart

With their combined skills the result is a company that offers a huge range of automotive and engineering services.

Everything you need to know about Qprep is stated on the sign outside its workshop. It reads Engineering Services. The meaning is simple – these aren’t simple mechanics, somewhere to take your Ford Focus to have its brakes looked at. These are highly trained engineers who not only fix and sort engineering problems but who can machine specialist parts.

‘If you give us a good problem, we’ll find a way around it’ Quentin Nicholls, one of the firm’s two directors, told us.

The Oundle-based company was started 18 months ago when engineers Nicholls and Steve Baker joined forces. And yet if it wasn’t for some sad news it might never have happened.

As a trained engineer, Nicholls worked for Volvo-Penta (the marine engine specialists) and travelled the world solving problems. But eventually, and with a young family, he wanted to be at home more and so a decade ago took over his father-in-law’s private taxi hire firm. Although it fulfilled his desire not to travel, there was also an ulterior motive for the change – it gave him access to a large building to indulge in his interests.

‘I’ve always messed around with cars as a hobby, either fixing or restoring them for the road or rally, but only for friends. The workshop I used for the taxi business gave me room to do that.’

Two things then happened that were the geneses of Qprep. Firstly a taxi client was going to collect a Marlin kit car he had bought. With his interest in cars Quentin said he would take him and have a look. What he found was a car with such bad wiring behind the dashboard it was a fire hazard. The owner asked whether he would be interested in fixing it. It would be Quentin’s first paid job, but it wasn’t the last and he soon took on more outside work in his spare time.

Quentin would often nip over to nearby Global Engineering where Steve worked and would machine the specialist parts Quentin required for his restorations. ‘I used to spend hours over there’ he says ‘discussing solutions for problems I was trying to solve.’ ‘We always communicated easily’ adds Steve.

And then around two years ago the owner of Global Engineering sadly passed away. With the machining tools Steve used going at a very reasonable rate through his late boss’ estate, it offered the opportunity for the two to go into partnership.

‘It was a perfectly natural progression to work together’ Steve admits.

With their combined skills the result is a company that offers a huge range of automotive and engineering services.

‘What we mostly do is build rally cars’ explains Quentin. ‘That’s where I started. But I also build kit cars, restore classics and I’m beginning to become more involved with track day cars. We can then go to the event and setup the chassis, brakes etc.’

Despite the newness of their company, the pair are quickly becoming known in the area for the quality of their work, as the many successful rally cars they’ve built shows. As well as the Ford Escorts and VW Golfs, they also turned a Volvo 144 into a rally car that in 2010 won a major historic endurance event. This was the gruelling, 14,500km Carrera Copacabana in South America. ‘It originally came in here half built, but it simply wasn’t good enough so we took it apart and put it back together again.’

Having to sort out other people’s mistakes is a very common part of their work. ‘I have a customer with a little Ginetta sportscar he was building. He didn’t have time to finish it off so asked if we could. I had a look and said the only thing I would do was take it apart and start again because it wasn’t to the standard I’d be happy with. And sure enough when we dismantled it we found the front axle was all over the place and the suspension geometry was wrong.’

But this isn’t unusual. Thanks to their joint passion for cars, both Quentin and Steve’s attention to detail is clear. ‘If we’re not happy with it, it doesn’t go anywhere’ confirms Steve. Take a turned aluminium dashboard they’re making for a beautiful pre-war Bentley. It is possible to buy sheets of turned aluminium but the swirls are too large for the age and style of car. And so Steve shows me a scrap piece of aluminium on which he’s been testing different ways to make the swirls using either doweling or polish. It’s a long and laborious process but worth it in the end.

Having a machinist in the workshop is a real bonus for Quentin’s specialist restorations

Having a machinist in the workshop is a real bonus for Quentin’s specialist restorations. He points to a spider’s web of a chassis that belongs to a Keift, a Fifties F3 racer. ‘It has tubing on the side of the chassis but you can’t buy the original size. Because it has to be historically accurate we have to buy tubing in a larger diametre and Steve then turns it down to the correct size. To get that done elsewhere would cost a fortune.’

‘When you restore a car’ Quentin continues ‘the new parts don’t often fit and so it’s easier to refurbish the old ones.’ He points to a Hillman Imp his son is restoring as a good example. ‘Having been stood since 1988, the water pump shaft was seized. It was easier to take the pump apart and make some new sleeves for the shaft than it was to buy a new one.’

Other than producing parts for Qprep, Steve also machines one off or small volume parts for leading local companies, such as Fairline Boats and Redring Electric. However, he’s happy to take on smaller commissions and one of his first at Qprep was to produce door handles for a church.

‘There is a lot of purely engineering work that isn’t involved with the vehicles. I’m often asked to produce one off items when a company is in the design stage of a product. When the design is finalised it’s then made in its thousands elsewhere from other materials, such as plastic. As a result I’m involved with their development.’ With engineering core to everything Qprep does, the company has taken on an apprentice to learn traditional engineering skills. ‘Most modern mechanics are trained to be fitters and using a computer for diagnostics’ says Quentin. ‘It’s mechanical skills we need.’

Qprep has plenty of projects lined up for the future, each one a mechanical challenge. So it looks as if that sign won’t be changing for some time to come.

Unit 1, Eastwood Road, Oundle, Peterborough PE8 4DF
Tel: 01832 270027

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