The specialist: South Cerney Engineering

| 9 Sep 2021
Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: South Cerney Engineering

South Cerney Engineering has been around since the mid-’50s, supplying engineering services to garages in the days when they repaired rather than replaced major components.

The rural location means that farmers have been good customers, too: it’s all paying work.

Keith Boley of the respected Ashton Keynes Restorations bought the firm more than 40 years ago because it complemented his activities, while still earning its bread-and-butter as an individual entity serving the workshop trade.

But the rise of the ‘crate’ engine – in a culture where you can buy a new runabout for £150 a month – has led to modern-car work taking a much lesser role.

Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: South Cerney Engineering
Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: South Cerney Engineering

All tasks are tackled at South Cerney Engineering

Now SCE has moved into a new phase under Jonathan and Matthew Wills of Cotswold Classic Car Restorations.

With its skilled staff and range of machining services, the benefits to its parent company are obvious.

But the brothers, mindful of the huge number of small engineering firms going out of business in our throwaway society, plan to go further, offering a full engine reconditioning service for classic car owners.

“We can strip, hone, bore, grind, rebuild and bench-test any engine as a turnkey service,” says Jonathan, who began his association in 2005 when SCE sponsored his Maestro Turbo racer.

“We want to be the go-to place for any internal combustion engine – cars, tractors, boats – but are still keen to offer a service for those who’d prefer to assemble the engine themselves.”

Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: South Cerney Engineering
Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: South Cerney Engineering

Honing bores (left); components can be made from scratch

South Cerney has never restricted itself to working exclusively on cars: steam engines, a Merlin V12 and even a kitchen sink from a local manor house have all passed through its doors.

The workshop building is not especially old, yet there is a Dickensian feel to the shop floor’s organised chaos, with every kind of machining device – some dating to the ’40s and ’50s, most highly specialised – for each stage of a rebuild.

There is an oven for heating cylinder heads so you can knock out the valve guides; a machine to straighten conrods; another for straightening crankshafts.

The crank grinder runs all day as a time-saving measure because, from cold, it needs 45 mins to balance itself. The vapour blaster is a modern addition that makes cleaning components much quicker and easier.

And if the power goes down, not to worry: one of the outhouses is home to an ex-army generator.

Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: South Cerney Engineering
Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: South Cerney Engineering

White-metalling bearings for pre-war cars (left); pressure plates galore

A small plastic tent in one corner is where SCE’s famous white-metalling takes place, an invaluable service for owners of pre-war cars.

Any component that cannot be replaced or repaired can be remanufactured from scratch.

Under the new regime a tidy-up is in the offing, but this is a charming mess.

Boxes with names such as ‘Phantom II’ and ‘Hispano’ scrawled on them bear testimony to the exotica that has been tackled.

Adorning the walls are pressure plates for testing the cylinder block of every type of engine SCE has worked on.

We spotted an A-series, several Jag XK heads plus modern Honda, Audi and Nissan parts being tended to.

Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: South Cerney Engineering

It might look like chaos, but this is an organised workshop, where items are repaired or can be made from scratch

A Chevy V8 is having a crack in its block mended by the cold-stitching process. Re-boring, linering, crank grinding and head machining are all in a day’s work for the four-strong team, with 200-plus years’ experience. The longest-serving joined in the early ’70s.

“Everyone loves the work,” says Jonathan, “because the customers are all great characters and you never know what is going to come through the door.

“You can be working on a Mini one minute, a Rolls-Royce or a Ferrari the next; we’ve even had an Aga in for repairs.”

Those two centuries of experience bring with them the problem of an ageing workforce, and the brothers recognise that new blood is required if they are to retain the skills the SCE team has acquired in what is perhaps the least glamorous but most exacting area of the restoration business.

Images: Luc Lacey

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