Restoring any car is quite a challenge, even for the most experienced restorers. But restoring a prototype of which only one was built, which achieved 308 km/h during testing in the '70s and which the new owner wants to see achieve 200 mph (320 km/h), is quite a different story!
Words: Wilhelm Lutjeharms
The Aston Martin Bulldog project is certainly an interesting one - there's plenty to read out there on this topic at the moment. The fact that a collector and a bunch of enthusiasts felt the need to buy this strange one-off concept and to have it fully restored should be celebrated. A few weeks ago the restored car was unveiled at Hampton Court Palace outside London, but the work isn't done... There is another task the current owner has up his sleeve for this special prototype.
The past two years
Brett Eggar has been the lead restoration technician at Classic Motor Cars in the UK for the Aston Martin Bulldog and discussed the mammoth task that was this project. What is more, he is a South African!
“Virtually everything was a challenge in this restoration. You have to keep the car true to what Aston Martin’s vision was for it in the late-70s. It was built more than 40 years ago and the guys didn’t have the technology we have today. At the same time, we need to make the car work as well. The owner is a hell of a nice guy, but he is unique in the sense that he is happy to drive prototypes.
“From the beginning I realised that we would need to make this car functional, be it to start it up at a show or to drive it down the road. I think our biggest challenges are still to come. When we start tuning it, we'll have to make sure it doesn't overheat, keep it reliable and do all the final, detail adjustments.
“And that is the case for the entire team of specialists. The trim for example must be able to take some wear. Then there is Andrew who assembled the 5.3-liter V8, twin-turbo engine – that is really nerve-wracking. Malcolm did the gearbox, Craig did all the wiring and the harness. We still need strategies on the injection system, boost control and how we are going to do it all safely. It has really been a team effort. In total around eight to 10 specialists have worked on the car.
“We are running a programmable engine and electronics management system. That is the only way to really keep the car reliable and user-friendly on a daily basis. But, we haven’t changed the motor or what the philosophy was behind the car.
“When we received the car, we could see that a lot of people had done a lot of things to it over the years. For example, whoever changed the paintwork from the original colour to green wasn’t very good. Luke and the rest of the bodywork specialists went through a lot of trouble to straighten the bodywork.
“The chassis wasn’t too bad, but there had been damage over time. There were an number of tubes that needed to be replaced. All the joints, i.e. brakes and suspension needed to be replaced. The back axle, for example, had to be remanufactured because it took a hit at some stage.
“We were lucky enough to have documentation and photographs of what it looked like back in the day. There were plenty of changes we needed to make to take it back to its original condition.
“A lot of machining was needed on both the engine and gearbox. We noticed that the engine ran really hot at some stage. The engine received new sleeves and we stiffened up the bottom end. There is a custom steel crankshaft, custom steel connecting rods and custom pistons but the valves are stock standard. The engine was re-engineered top to bottom. The transmission was completely overhauled with new gears and other parts. This was done to improve reliability and we used the best oils. The new intake manifold we manufactured ourselves as well as the exhaust system.
“Being a technical guy, the highlight for me was probably once it was back on its wheels. The ride-height setup is quite interesting - the car lifts itself by the press of a button. It is all hydraulic. When all these systems work perfectly, then you realise all the hard work was worth it.
“I was so surprised by the level of interest when it was unveiled. The owner was also really nice throughout the entire process.
I told Brett that I couldn't imagine the car not hitting 200mph (320 km/h) after everything he had told me, especially since the car already originally achieved 308kph back in the day.
“I get goosebumps as soon as you say it! It will be the best if it can do this. We’ll start testing soon. You need to approach it in an orderly manner. We don’t even know what the aerodynamics are going to do. Will there be a vacuum on the car that could affect the doors, do you have enough airflow over the radiators and through the engine? We’ll have to approach this slowly and methodically.
“Obviously, we have to data-log the engine, because we don’t want to rebuild it again. We’ll have to carefully monitor it. Back when the car was aiming for its top speed run Pirelli actually came to the party and developed tyres for the car. Now they will do the same, obviously with a modern compound, but the size and even the tread pattern will be the same.
“Professional racer Darren Turner will be taking the wheel to do the testing and ultimately aim for the 200mph mark.”
Oh, and if you wonder where the exhaust pipes are, they run straight down behind the bumper and point downwards, contributing to the sleek and clean design of the car, even at the rear.
We’ll be sure to follow this interesting journey as the team's efforts to reach 320kph in this classic prototype unfolds.