In the world of motorcycle-engine derived cars and kit vehicles, there are only a handful of names worth mentioning. One of those names is Andy Bates.
A former motorcycle sidecar racer and fireman, Andy had a successful racing career until a horrific accident at Oulton Park left him with a broken spine and no hope of racing again. To add insult to injury, Andyâ€™s 15-month recovery meant he couldnâ€™t rejoin the fire service on active duty.
Following a long and painful recuperation, he then turned his attention to motorcycle engines. He bought a single Honda Fireblade engine for Â£400. After stripping, cleaning and re-tuning the unit, Andy sold it to a local racer who went on to win his championship. Word of Andyâ€™s engine spread, and with the profits from that first unit he bought two more, then four. AB Performance was born.
Alongside supplying and fitting engines, Andy has made a name for himself in supplying and manufacturing many of the specialist parts that go into making kit cars powered by motorcycle engines: â€œI realised that there was nobody doing these parts, the special sumps and systems that these cars need. So I started to make them. We became a one-stop bike shop.â€
Some readers will have seen his appearance on the BBCâ€™s Dragonâ€™s Den programme alongside his home grown racer, the Sabre. Andy won investment from Peter Jones and Duncan Banatyne thanks to his passion and impressive business plan.
â€œIâ€™d been working hard for two years on the Sabre project, and we needed to publicise the finished car. I was working in the early hours of the morning and a window came up on the computer with an application for the show. I thought the worst they could do was make me look stupid on national television.â€
Following his appearance Andyâ€™s phone went off the hook. He had to install three extra phone lines just to keep up with the amount of calls coming in, while the AB Performance website went from 500 views per week to 260,000 in just a few days. Itâ€™s fair to say that business was booming.
These days Andy can afford to be picky over the types of work he does. He doesnâ€™t get involved with MOTs or many of the day-to-day jobs workshops will come across. â€œMy real passion is with the track day cars and racers. I canâ€™t do with the red tape involved with the road cars,â€ says Andy. â€œFor example I hate strangling an engine so hard to meet emissions standards that it doesnâ€™t run properly, just so we can get a tick in the book.â€
With the stresses a lot of his customersâ€™ cars are put under on the track, Andyâ€™s fabrication work needs to stand up to the rigors of motorsport. It certainly seems to do the job. In ten years of business Andy says heâ€™s only had four warranty claims.
â€œIf you charge peanuts, you canâ€™t afford to do favours for customers. If you buy an engine from me and it goes wrong, Iâ€™ll take responsibility for it. If thereâ€™s no money in the bank because youâ€™re not charging what you should, you canâ€™t afford to do that. Youâ€™ve got to charge proper money. Iâ€™ve learnt that you donâ€™t have to be the cheapest to win, youâ€™ve got to be the best.â€
The workshop itself is a 5000 square foot treasure trove of motorsport wonders. Thereâ€™s the Sabre, which former F1 race engineer Nick â€“ the only other technician in the business â€“ is prepping for testing at Snetterton racetrack, but also an off-road buggy Andy is modifying for a customer who only has the use of his right arm following an accident.
Andyâ€™s passion, and his determination for his business, harks back to his racing days: â€œWhen you race, you race until you physically donâ€™t have the scrap metal to repair the sidecar, or the wheels to put on the bike. Iâ€™ve seen so many people give up easily â€“ I wasnâ€™t going to be one of them.â€