The specialist: Heritage Engineering Ltd

| 8 Feb 2024
Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: Heritage Engineering Ltd

From lightened camshafts for historic open-wheeled racers to a 150kg mounting plate for a Sherman tank turret, Bicester-based Heritage Engineering is a one-stop shop for metal milling and turning jobs.

Its workshop is packed with machines that include an old Colchester Triumph 2000 lathe and a modern Doosan CNC machine.

The team of five has decades of experience that qualifies the firm to mix hands-on, old-school methods with high-tech kit to tackle complex jobs.

Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: Heritage Engineering Ltd

Heritage Engineering Ltd’s Chris Strong uses the milling machine

Heritage Engineering was formed five years ago, and 29-year-old workshop manager Billy Jones has been there from the start.

“A lot of our work is for vintage and classic cars,” says Billy. “We have never really had to do any advertising; it’s all just been word of mouth.”

Most jobs arrive with an oven-ready CAD drawing that can go straight to the machines; others require a digital model to be produced in-house.

Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: Heritage Engineering Ltd

Machinist Colin Chart prefers to work hands-on – here on the metal lathe

Some trickier projects demand the reverse-engineering of lost or damaged components, as Billy explains: “Customers will come to us and not have a clue of what they want, and just say: ‘This is broken. I’ve got three of the four pieces, but I don’t know where the fourth one is. Can you just make me another one?’”

The work isn’t restricted to automotive projects, either.

“We’ve made false tibias for some surgeons who were trialling new ways to do knee implants,” he adds. “They were made from a polystyrene-like material.”

Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: Heritage Engineering Ltd

Datsun 240Z wheel hubs in Heritage Engineering Ltd’s Bicester Heritage workshop

“No one really knew what to do,” he continues, “but we are quite good at solving problems, fixing things and making stuff.

“We recently remade a Colotti gearbox. We had the original 3D-scanned, and then we messed around with the model to improve the original design and had it recast in aluminium.”

The size and shape of a component determine how it is produced: a turning machine rotates a piece against a cutting tool, but the process is reversed on a milling machine, which uses a spinning tool to shape stationary material.

Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: Heritage Engineering Ltd

Workshop manager Billy Jones served an apprenticeship making parts for British Touring Car Championship racers

Automated CNC units can reproduce parts accurately, hundreds of times over in some cases, but handcrafted items still have their place.

“I’m not into the CNCs,” says machinist Colin Chart, who’s been in the trade for more than 50 years.

“I’m a manual worker; I use my hands. We’ve got a couple of manual machines in here, and they’re the two I use.”

Colin’s skilled hands are mainly used to make one-off prototypes, which he can mock up in a fraction of the time it takes to programme one of the heavy-duty CNC machines.

Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: Heritage Engineering Ltd

Classic car enthusiast Keith Austin was tempted out of retirement in 2020

 “We do so well here because a lot of other places just haven’t got the same skills,” adds Colin.

“You can go into Northampton or Milton Keynes, where there are plenty of CNC-machining companies, ask for a component and they will make it for you as cheap as you want to get it, but that’s not my ethos of working. You need a happy medium of both.”

Heritage Engineering’s reluctance to rely solely on modern machinery, while at the same time not allowing itself to be stuck in the past, has helped the small firm stand out.

Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: Heritage Engineering Ltd
Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: Heritage Engineering Ltd

Lancia Stratos gearlever shaft (left); vintage Bentley components

Traditional machinists are few and far between, and Billy would like to add an apprentice to the team in the future.

“They’ve all got so much knowledge that it would be a shame for them to retire and not be able to pass it on,” he says.

CNC machinist Keith Austin was coaxed out of retirement in 2020: “It really is a hobby that I get paid for”.

Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: Heritage Engineering Ltd

Modern machining tools, such as the 2.2m-high CNC machine, have their place at Heritage Engineering Ltd

“It’s difficult nowadays to find people with the experience to pick up the jobs we do,” continues Keith.

That experience can be put to good use for projects away from daily work, too.

“Keith’s got a load of old cars and he’s always in here in the evenings or at lunchtimes to make little parts,” explains Billy.

“And Colin’s always mending a fishing rod for someone!”

Images: John Bradshaw

The knowledge

  • Name Heritage Engineering Ltd
  • Address Building 90, Bicester Heritage, Buckingham Road, Bicester OX26 5HA
  • Specialism Machining and engineering
  • Staff Five
  • Prices Four wheel hub adapters £300; flywheel skim £125
  • Tel 01869 277870
  • Web