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Celebrating 40 Years of DK Engineering

Friday 22nd December 2017

The current DK Engineering base couldn't be further removed from the old stables in which David and Kate Cottingham started their business 40 years ago. After extensive building work over the past 12 months, there are sparkling new handover bays from which clients can pick up their cars. There's a new detailing bay, too, plus a workshop extension that currently houses a selection of cars that demonstrates DK's versatility: an F50, a 599GTO and the fabulous ex-Ron Fry 250LM - chassis 6105. In 1977, when the company was founded, that car was owned by Richard Colton, a friend of David's who thought nothing of driving it on the road.

The LM's presence proves - if proof were needed - that DK is entrusted with the finest and most significant Ferraris. The company has always prided itself on having the expertise to tackle complicated restorations and complete them to the highest standards.

The premises may have changed, but this is still a family business. David and Kate remain very much involved on a daily basis, and now work alongside their sons James and Justin. The ethos is the same as it's ever been - providing the best possible service. With its expansion over the years, and in particular the recent additions to its Hertfordshire base, DK now offers a complete range of services, from sales and servicing to storage, race-prep and restorations.

It all grew out of a hobby, and from David's passion for cars. His name first started to register in relation to a different marque though.

Workshop at Little Green Street

"I became involved in Jaguars for two main reasons," he explains. "I'd always wanted an XK120, and Jaguars were - and still are such fantastic value for money. In my early 20s, I could afford to buy XKs and race them."

David soon began looking after other people's cars to help pay for his racing: "I had a 9-to-5 job at Kodak, so I could work on the cars every evening. I restored a Cobra and a DB4GT, and I had a halfshare in a GT40. I had a couple of Ferraris, too - the first one was a 365GTC. My interest in Ferraris really developed from that point."

As the 1970s wore on, David came to realise that life at Kodak had its limitations. He'd rapidly risen through the ranks, but sensed that desk-bound management wasn't for him: "I was more of a guy who wanted to make things work. I didn't want to sit around in meetings, talking about when we were going to have the next meeting."

With the help of a nest-egg that David had built up, he and Kate decided to set up on their own. "We were both ready to take the plunge", recalls Kate, "so it wasn't such a leap of faith. Also, I had two boys in nursery, so I could help with the books and had another job to fall back on if needed." Despite David's experience with Jaguars, they decided to follow a different path. "The real turning point was visiting Graypaul while I owned the 365," says David, "meeting David Clarke and seeing all those great cars - GTOs, LMs, Short Wheelbases, the single-seater Dino that he was building at that time. He was a really helpful guy. It was a hobbybusiness he just wanted to help people improve their Ferraris.

"I saw that he was one of the only people in England restoring Ferraris. There were two or three in America - Steve Griswold was the main one. There was nobody in Germany, and I don't think there was anyone in France. I thought, 'Well - I'll get involved with Ferraris'."

It seems amazing from a 2017 perspective that not only was there the need for a Ferrari specialist, there was the need for one who could restore Maranello's now-revered 1950s sport-racers. In the late 1970s, however, there were a lot of unrestored cars out there - especially in America.

In many ways, the timing couldn't have been better. "I lived in Northwood," says David. "In the next road were some stables behind some houses. A lad had been left them by his grandma, and he used to rent them out. They were old-fashioned stables and you could get four cars in there.

"My first employee was a chap called Phil Challis, who'd worked for Raymond Mays before the war and had run cars at Brooklands. I could already weld, but we used to joke that Phil could weld rust!

Lovely old chap. He made me repair everything - repair things or make them. We hardly bought

anything. It was a very good grounding." At that stage, the company was also doing servicing and, while the odd XK or E-type passed through, it was predominantly Ferraris. David recalls restoring a couple of 275GTBs, but the sports-racers would come to play a central role.

"I became involved with four-cylinder Ferraris because I could afford to buy a Monza or a 500 Mondial," he explains. "I had a lot of those. Then, on the back of that, I bought 166MMs and 250MMs. The big Lampredi-engined cars were less money than the Colombo-engined cars." One of those in particular - a 340MM, chassis 0350 - would prove significant in the history of DK Engineering: "Phil and I purchased that car with three-quarters of an engine plus two other halfengines, and we built a complete V12 for it. For 20 years, nobody had been able to get that car back on the road.

"The cylinder heads were really badly warped. There was 50- or 100- thou of bow in the long head, which is massively thick because it's got screwin liners. We looked at the heads, and because the cam lines were bowed as well, we couldn't machine them because they were too bowed. We spent weeks on it - every night we'd warm the head up with oxy-propane. We'd have soft soap and we warmed it up until the soft soap just began to go brown - that was the temperature test - and we'd put it in a press and apply just a little bit of load, then cover it in fireproof blankets and leave it to cool overnight. Gradually we warmed it and straightened it. It could have broken in two!

"Phil and I restored that car to a very high standard, then took it to Mas de Clos. There was an event to celebrate 20 years since Phil Hill's F1 world championship. We took the beautiful blueand- white 340MM and I drove Hill round the track in it. There were quite a few American collectors there, so a lot of business came from that." In 1978, DK had taken on two more people, and by the early 1980s the workforce was up to six. The husband-and-wife team were operating well.

"It's only worked because we've always had separate jobs!" jokes Kate. "But David would often come home and say that he wasn't sure what to do about a particular problem. I'd be able to suggest something and he'd go away and think about it. It grew quite organically, and David made sure that he could always control what was going on." In 1984, David sold the 340MM to finance new premises in Rickmansworth Road, Watford. Opened by Stirling Moss, it would be the company's base until 2007.

"I attended lots of meetings and I was racing," he explains, "mostly at Silverstone. I went to every Ferrari club event and we won concours after concours with Ferraris. I enjoyed doing it, but I also saw it as a good business opportunity. Fix a car, win a concours with it and race it - you can't do more than that, can you?"

In racing terms, the car with which David is now most often associated is the 500 TRC '0682', which he'd bought in the late 1970s but which wasn't restored until the early 1990s due to the volume of other work he had. He's subsequently raced the car all over the world, while DK has restored - and sold - five TRCs during its 40-year history. He also competed in an 860 Monza that he bought shortly before the move from Northwood to Watford.

"I became very friendly with the guys from the French Ferrari Owners Club," he explains. "This particular car had lost its original engine and Chinetti had put a 121LM unit in it. Pierre Bardinon and Jess Pourret told me about it. He said, 'Pierre has a Super Monza in his chicken shed! He bought it for the engine and the engine is now in the 121LM. He's not interested in the car, David, and it's a very important car!'

"I bought it for pennies from Bardinon. We spent more time discussing his cognac and the wines in his cellar than we did talking about the car." When everything turned up at DK's base, David was still stuck for an engine, as well as the Tipo 520 transaxle. He managed to secure an engine from an 857S - chassis 0588 - and was going to build up the Monza using that.

"Then I went to Pebble Beach and met Bruce Lavachek," he recalls, "and within minutes of discussing the cars that we had, I told him I had the Monza. He couldn't stop saying: 'Well, I'll be darned.'

"It turned out that he had its engine, and within days he'd said that I must have it. He wanted me to have it. He said, 'I'll have 0588's engine - we'll swap'. So we were able to restore the 860 with all numbers matching except for the transaxle, which was from another car but was exactly the right type.

"It's all these wonderful people that I've met who are so kind, and so passionate about their cars. I became friendly with Gerald Roush, for example. Gerald had his 166 for 20 years, but couldn't afford to restore it. He'd seen the 340MM that I'd restored, and he was very happy for me to buy the 166 from him. I bought that, restored it, and did the Mille Miglia with it twice. Wonderful little car. Of all of the cars I've had, if I had that now, that would be the one I'd be using. You could do anything with it - it was a lovely little thing."

As the 1990s dawned, it was clear that the economic landscape was changing, and that DK would have to change with it. Fortunately, it was well placed to adapt.

"In the 1980s and early '90s, we were probably finishing five or six total restorations each year," explains James. "Because of the financial situation in the 1990s, and also because a lot of cars had been restored by then, that started to tail off. We realised that we needed to diversify, so we began to do modern servicing. We employed some ex-main dealer technicians and started to do that, plus sales and also storage. At that time, people were starting to build collections. We moved with the times."

Later that decade, the sales side of the business grew even further and has now reached the stage where DK has handled a truly mouth-watering selection of cars. Among them are a string of 250GT Short Wheelbases, including the ex-Rob Walker car, plus - in the past few years alone - three McLaren F1s. The company has also become the acknowledged world-leading authority on Ferrari's 'F cars', having sold more than 150 F40s, plus countless 288GTOs, F50s, Enzos and even LaFerraris.

DK Team 2017

All the while, great cars were still being entrusted to DK for restoration. Thirty years after he'd owned the ex-Lumsden/Sargent Lightweight E-type, David was reunited with 49 FXN when Lord Bamford bought it and placed it in DK's care. During his own time with the Jaguar, David had driven it to Brighton for the Speed Trials and - in a bid to impress his then-girlfriend Kate - reached an enormous speed en route. He looked across to discover that DK's future Managing Director was fast asleep...

"The cars come back around, which is always interesting," says James, who joined the business full-time in 2002. "You are offered cars for sale, and you already know them. Someone might have owned that car for 10 years, and can't understand how someone my age can know so much about it.

It's because I remember it from 20 years ago, when I was maybe 10 years old. I've just always taken it in. "I did mechanical engineering at university, and I guess I realised that when I left I'd get more thrill out of selling cars. But I've always had an interest in the rest of it, too. It's a perfect balance for me, because I've now sold a lot of significant Ferraris and then been responsible for the management of their restoration. Better still, a number of them remain in our care and almost feel part of the family."

Among those restorations was chassis 0588, the 857S for which Bruce Lavachek had an engine, courtesy of that deal with David all those years ago. As luck would have it, Lavachek had left the engine with DK, so the firm was able to reunite it with the original car.

"Being involved in the restoration, putting the engine back in, then racing it - that was a real highlight," says James. "It was a brutal car - tough to drive and tough to race. It took me a couple of test days to get my head around it, but once I did it was just so phenomenally fast. In the Freddie March Trophy at Goodwood, it would have wiped the floor with everyone had we not had a couple of issues. That was a mega car."

In 2007, DK moved to its third set of premises. "We went from an industrial unit to a beautiful purpose-built, restored farm that's very much in keeping with our business," explains James. "We often say that this was our biggest restoration yet. To convert the farm was quite a challenge, but people love to come here. It's a nice atmosphere and we've continually added to the premises. Soon after we did the initial build, we added a rolling-road building. A few years later, we did an additional three-car restoration workshop. We've extended the workshop even more so that we've got five extra bays plus an indoor dedicated washdown and detailing bay with a ramp in it. And the three handover bays. The past 10 years have been really busy in terms of expanding our premises and perfecting them."

"It's been a very exciting time," agrees Kate, "and it's lovely to have the boys involved. The only downside is that, having seen us all week, they rarely want to come around for Sunday lunch!" With 2017 marking 70 years of Ferrari, the team - which is now 35 strong - has enjoyed a busy 12 months. In January, DK attended the Palm Beach Cavallino Classic with its Daytona Competizione - James reports that they've now restored five out of the 15 original works cars - and later in the year once again had a strong presence at Salon Prive.

The recently restored 250 SWB California Spyder - one of two such cars that DK has completed in 2017 - came second overall in the Chubb Insurance Concours d'Elegance, while the ex- Walt Disney 250 Tour de France - which DK has restored twice over the years - won the Owners' Choice award in Saturday's Ferrari-only event.

They've also been race-preparing everything from 1950s sports cars up to a modern 430 Challenge that won two races this year, and for good measure James won the Tour Auto in a GT40 with Andrew Smith.

For the Acquisition Consultancy and Sales team it has been business as usual with around 150 cars having passed through our hands. Some very significant cars have been sold under the radar and we continue to enjoy finding collectors the cars which others cannot necessarily locate.

2018 will no doubt follow on from 2017 and we look forward to welcoming our clients old and new to see our new extended premises which are now complete. See you in 2018!