ROCHDALE MOTOR PANELS
& ENGINEERING LIMITED

Rochdale Motor Panels were started in 1948 by Harry Smith and Frank Butterworth, operating from premises in Hudson Street, Rochdale, Lancashire. Both were panel beaters by trade and they had met whilst they were in the Army. Initial work comprised general bodywork repairs, although, through their membership of the 750 Motor Club they soon progressed to constructing aluminium bodies to fit the Austin Seven chassis. These were being advertised for the sum of 70, although an MG style body was also available at 28. A number of 'one off' aluminium bodies were also made to fit a variety of chassis. The most well known of these being Gilly Tyrer's Supermotor and Alex MacMillan's Lamgia, both of which were used primarily for circuit racing. However, these aluminium bodies were expensive to produce.

By 1953 Richard Shattock had produced his RGS fibreglass bodyshell and Rochdale Motor Panels decided to investigate this new technology. The result was the Mark 6, designed to be as universal as possible and comprising a front section, rear section and two door panels. By shortening the door panels the shell could be adapted to fit a wide variety of wheelbases, whilst the shell could also be produced in wider form to suit different tracks. The shell was advertised in March 1954 for the sum of 75, although this was eventually reduced to 47 10s as rivals came onto the scene. Whilst either repairing, or constructing a completely new aluminium bodyshell for MacMillan's Connaught ALSR chassis, the exact circumstances being lost in the mists of time, Rochdale Motor Panels produced a set of moulds from the aluminium original and the C Type fibreglass bodyshell came into being. This sold for 75. A third fibreglass bodyshell was also produced, loosely styled along the lines of a then current Ferrari and called the F type. This sold for 55. These two were bare shells, requiring much work to complete and were fitted to a variety of different chassis.

By the mid 1950s the Ford Anglia/Popular chassis was becoming the 'Special Builder's Car' and Rochdale Motor Panel's next shell, the ST or Sports Tourer was based specifically on this chassis. The moulds were bought from Bonglass in Kent. This shell included all bulkheads, inner wheelarches and dashboard and sold for 100. Richard Parker, a young engineering student, visited RMP to buy fibreglass materials and finished up designing, in conjunction with Frank and Harry, a fixed head 2+2 bodyshell, called the GT. As with the ST it was designed specifically to fit the Ford Popular chassis and also incorporated all bulkheads, inner wheelarches and moulded in dashboard. The doors accepted the bolt on tops from the Morris Minor, giving opening windows and quarterlights. When introduced in 1957 the GT was a quite sophisticated shell and sold for the sum of 140. It was to be Rochdale Motor Panel's best selling shell and provided finance for future projects. Later developments, in 1959, included the Riviera, in both two seater and 2+2 hardtop versions. At 140 and 148 respectively they were effectively a convertible version of the GT, but with subtle styling changes. A tubular chassis with bonded in floor pan to replace the normal Ford item was also introduced for the GT and Riviera.

Richard Parker was persuaded to join the company full time and proceeded to design an all fibreglass monocoque shell. This was to take Morris Minor components, which the company thought would become the new 'Special Builder's Car' The prototype was running in late 1959 and after some changes to the shape to increase the glass area the Olympic was put on sale in late 1960. The glass fibre monocoque included only limited metal reinforcement, this being confined to a simple sub-frame to take the front suspension and a hoop to stiffen the windscreen pillars. Initially it was sold as a bodyshell, with certain specialised parts such as rear suspension coil spring damper units and trailing arms. The customer's rear axle was modified with welded on brackets. The 'A' type Olympic would take either Morris Minor or Riley 1.5/ Wolseley 1500 components and was sold at 256, whereas the shell could also be bought in 'F' type format suitable for Ford sidevalve components at 248. Aided by good reports in the motoring press orders were soon received, however, production was halted by a factory fire early in 1961, when only about 10No had been supplied.

A move to premises in Littledale Street followed and after some delay new moulds produced and production resumed. A complete kit was now available at a cost of 670 with Riley 1.5 components and 625 with Morris Minor components. During 1962 a modified version was under development and the phase 2 Olympic introduced at the Racing Car Show in January 1963. Price for the complete kit had now risen to 735. Whilst the external shape was largely unchanged significant modifications were incorporated. A larger opening for engine access and a rear hatchback were the most noticeable changes. Under the skin there were further modifications. The front suspension changed to Triumph Spitfire components, with disc brakes. At the rear the BMC 'A' series axle was retained, but with a different arrangement of trailing arms. The Ford 1500cc 116E engine in GT tune was now standardised, although alternatives could be supplied to customer's special requirements. By the late 1960s demand was tailing off, although a bodyshell could still be supplied to special order into the 1970s.

Exact production figures for the various models are unknown, although the following are thought to be the best estimates.  Alloy Bodies - 15  ,  Mark Six - 150 , F type - 50 , C type - 30 , ST - 100 , GT - 1350 , Riviera - 42  Phase 1 Olympic - 250 , Phase 2 Olympic - 150

Derek Bentley

Email FSCC Rochdale Registrar  Derek Bentley 




         Rochdale Olympic