SOMETIMES IT’S HARD to work out where the time has gone – especially when it comes to catching up with people.
We’ve known Tim Fenna at Frontline for a good number of years, so when it came to catching up with the sportscar sorcerers, it came as a bit of shock to realise that years have floated by and that they’ve moved from Batheaston to Abingdon. Not only that, but that the ‘new boy’ Ed Braclik has been with them since 2007…
Ed had been a regular customer of Frontline’s due to him building his bonkers MGB GT, so when Tim was involved with another project, he liked the company so much he went to work for them as Sales Director.
“I used to head up the European sales team for the owners of Budweiser – Anheuser-Busch – I wanted a change and came here,” says Ed. “This has been back to basics for me, which is good, because I’ve learnt a lot.
“When you’re in a senior corporate role, you’re very much into delegation, collating information and coming up with a plan with a team of people. Here, it’s very much about collating information with the guys, getting feedback from the media, working out a cunning plan and then implementing it yourself. It’s much more rewarding and much more enjoyable – and instant. We’ve done lots – and it’s been good fun.”
So clearly it was about time we stopped by and caught up with a company which has got an enviable reputation for tuning and modifying MGs and Spridgets by improving almost every aspect of the cars’ drivetrain, suspension and brakes.
Basically, the company grey out of Tim’s fondness for tuning Spridgets in 1991, which soon led to a Toyota five-speed gearbox conversion – and it was this which sowed the seeds for business success.
Frontline now has an enviable reputation for producing K-series conversions with mighty power outputs, Ford gearbox installation kits, bolt-on telescopic damper kits, all around brake discs, etc. Plus in recent years, the company has changed the way it manufactures its products – aside from clutch plates, it’s still all ‘Made In England’ but quality has improved significantly thanks to laser-profiling, powder-coating and zinc-plating.
In essence, Frontline Developments has transformed the humble Spridget from a low-powered sportscar into something which will frighten certain species of Porsche – but without losing the car’s friendly dynamic predictability. If only all engine swaps were as well-executed as Frontline’s.
“There’s only so much you can sell to MGB and Spridget market, so we’ve expanded into Lotus, Caterham and Triumph. The company is even manufacturing parts for the Westfield 11 (the Lotus 11 replica) – brakes, axles and gearboxes.
“Over the first nine years – 1991 to 2000 – Tim was based in an old dairy before outgrowing that for another showroom. More stores out back were then needed and a workshop too, because we were starting to do in-house work – but that was about six miles away because we couldn’t afford the time to get one big combined building.
“I only live about three miles away from here and we were finding that we were losing a bit of business from people saying we were ‘all the way down in the West Country’ – despite us only being an hour and a half away from London! So we decided that it would be much better to be more central and we moved here in January.
“We now have workshops, offices, warehousing – everything in one building. We also have an Abingdon-on-Thames address which is quite nice – we work quite closely with the MG Car Club which is just down the road from us and there is an awful lot of MG history here. It’s also the old Benetton F1 team’s engine-build shop. Development is much easier to do with the workshop in-house, because it’s all here and it’s quicker to get to the testing stage. So, at the moment, we’re designing a load of new products.”
While the integrated workshop is a welcome bonus to the company, the majority of business is Frontline-designed parts sales – such as suspension and brakes. “There isn’t anything which we sell more of than anything else. We do five-speed gearbox conversions for about five to 10 different models now. Wheels… Anything we look at think, ‘it’s a shame they didn’t have the technology to do in the Sixties’. So that’s why we do a bolt-in five-speed gearbox conversion for a Morris Minor that only requires you to undo 12 bolts and do up another 12 bolts.
The Minor kit was launched in January 2010 and Frontline offer similar five-speed kits for 948cc, 1098cc, 1275cc and 1500cc Spridgets; Spitfires, GT6s, Heralds, Vitesses, even TD, TF and TC Midgets…
“I had a guy on the phone this morning – his gearbox had blown up and the rebuild quote was only a few hundred quid cheaper than one of our kits. He’s decided to bite the bullet and do it. As bits are dying on the car, he’s replacing them with more modern solutions,” says Ed.
“Don’t ask me how, but our Spridget front suspension kits have sold between 4-500 units per year for the last 15 years. At around £350 you get a huge amount of parts including new wishbones and dampers – and it absolutely transforms the car. So I don’t know where these cars are coming from, but they keep coming!
“At the higher end of what we do, we are now getting more builds in-house. People come along saying that they’ve always fancied a fun car and that they’ve looked at a Caterham or an Elan, but… The Midget ticks all the right boxes in terms of strength, rigidity, practicality, weather protection, boot-space and if you do have a dink, you are in a steel shell – but they want it to be quicker, to handle and stop better, and a bit lighter to drive. If someone’s looking at spending £30 grand on a Caterham, you can have a nice Midget for a lot less which will keep up with an R400. No problem,” says Ed.
So is that it for now or is Frontline Developments working on anything else? Well, it’s early days but if you’ve got a Spridget or an MGB which you fancy fettling, keep an eye on their website. You see, they’re currently working on a new five-link system for the Spridget and a bolt-on supercharger conversion for the MGB and Spridget.
Now, I wonder if it’s too late to rewrite my Christmas list…?