Prodrive’s origins started in motorsport, founded in 1983 by David Richards, who at the time was an accomplished rally co-driver having won the 1981 World Rally Championship sat alongside Ari Vatanen. The knowledge and expertise David gained during those formative years meant that when Prodrive set up as a motorsport team, they hit the ground running. There’s been no slowing down in the 38 years since.
I’d been itching to have a look around Prodrive’s expansive facility in Banbury, Oxfordshire for a Speedhunters feature, so when an opportunity to do just that came up, I wasn’t going to let it pass me by.
Walking through the main entrance, a bold statement confronts you. Three Prodrive products, rotated on a semi-regular basis: Metro 6R4, WRC MINI Clubman and the Safari-spec S6 Impreza. Each of these cars has its place in the history of the company’s motorsport endeavours, and it gives you a preview of what to expect.
Also on display was an engine usually found deep inside of the BTCC Mondeo I spotlighted a few months back.
Through another set of double doors, you are met with instantly-recognisable automobiles; cars that have adorned the pages of motorsport magazines and television screens for generations.
While it predates Prodrive by quite a few years, the Mk2 Ford Escort holds a special place for David. This is the very car he was co-driver in all those years ago. After much convincing, the most recent owner eventually agreed to sell the Escort to David, and it’s since had a complete restoration, right down to the hand-painted livery.
Prodrive’s relationship with Subaru is how most of us came to know the company, but this did not take place till much later. It started with Prodrive entering the Porsche 911 SC RS into the Qatar International Rally in 1984, which it won on its inaugural outing.
The 911 SC RS was pushed through to compete in Group B when delays in 959 homologation meant that car wouldn’t be ready in time, but it wasn’t smooth sailing with the 911. Prior to Prodrive’s involvement, the 911 proved troublesome and unreliable over the rough terrain. A host of mechanical and structural improvements were applied and the team won five out of the 13 rallies the car competed in between 1984 and 1987.
Following on from their successes with the Porsche, Prodrive then set about developing the BMW E30 M3 into a competitive package for rally and circuit racing. Prodrive-built cars took multiple event and championship victories in both codes. In the past, Prodrive has built and campaigned touring cars for BMW, Alfa Romeo, Honda and Ford.
From that point on, the link to Subaru was formed, first with the Legacy and then the various iterations of the GC8-chassis Impreza. The working relationship between Ari Vatanen and David Richards was rekindled with the Group A Legacy, however this time as driver and team principal. This particular car sadly never saw much success in competition, finishing 4th at the 1000 Lakes Rally in Finland.
It was a different story for the Impreza, of which a very special example sits in the collection. This car brought Colin McRae and Subaru their first WRC drivers and constructors titles respectively in the 1995 World Rally Championship and truly cemented the longstanding partnership between the manufacturer and motorsports specialist.
Over the subsequent years two more drivers championship trophies and numerous podiums found home within the halls of the Banbury HQ, but ultimately the recession and downturn in the economy in 2009 sadly resulted in Subaru and Prodrive withdrawing from the WRC.
In 2001, Prodrive entered into GT endurance racing with the Ferrari 550 Maranello, built for the then new GT1 class regulations. They ran for four years and won the GT class at the 2003 24 Hours of Le Mans and took overall honours at the Spa 24 Hours in 2004.
Following on from that success, Prodrive has campaigned Aston Martins in various GT classes since 2007, starting with the DBR9 and then in the later years moving onto the Vantage platform. Having run the Aston Martin Works GTE entries, Prodrive also designs, builds and operates GT3 and GT4 variants for privateer entries across numerous global championships.
For those unaware, GTE cars competed in what was once the GT2 class, and are designed as manufacturer entries. To the untrained eye, customer-based GT3s and GT4s may look similar to GTEs, however they are more closely related to their production-based origins in both specification and price. GTE car prices run in the region of £1 million, whereas a GT3 car is closer to £350,000.
This substantial difference in cost alludes to the extent GTE cars are modified; carbon fibre body panels and a more aggressive aerodynamics package are only some of the alterations. Despite running similar power levels, these differences mean GTE cars are significantly faster.
Prodrive currently builds a GT3/4 Vantage at a rate of one a week, with over 200 cars sold to date. These along with shells for other projects make their way through the fabrication shop to receive a full weld-in roll cage, with all sub assemblies and other components built by one of the skilled team next door.
A Hunter T1+ space-frame and Aston Martin sat on the in-floor jigs, along with a slew of GT4 roll cages ready to be fitted.
A Ford Falcon may seem a bit out of place, not being something seen on British circuits. Its presence is for good reason – Prodrive ran the Ford Performance V8 Supercar program in Australia for 10 seasons.
For two years Prodrive managed the BAR Honda F1 Team (2002-2004), but unfortunately this relationship had a few challenges and was ended before the team found their stride.
The Dakar program has been a key focus for the company for a few years now, debuting the Prodrive Hunter in 2021. The Hunter also competes in the T1+ category of the FIA World Rally-Raid Championship (W2RC). More will follow as I dedicate a feature to Prodrive’s newly released road-legal equivalent.
Advanced Technologies is the department that, truth be told, I never realised existed before I visited Prodrive. A huge portion of Prodrive’s business is the design, prototyping and production of subsystems, components, composites and vehicle development for other manufacturers. The collective knowledge within the company means that they have made everything from the hydraulic rear wing assembly of the McLaren P1, to the motorised champagne and flute chiller for the interior of Range Rovers and, most notably, ventilators for hospitals during the early days of the Covid pandemic.
Multiple CNC machines allow for many simultaneous workloads, turning large chunks of billet into useable components in a fraction of the time it would take compared to outsourced manufacturing.
London natives may recognise these Ford Transits, which are now electric-based but feature a single cylinder combustion engine acting as a range extender. Ford challenged Prodrive to redesign the existing platform to fit the electric motors and a combustion EcoBoost engine into the Transit and produce 28 prototypes, all without impacting the cab or load space. This was all achieved in just 18 months.
As is often the way with companies dealing in current and future technology, there was much that I saw that I wasn’t allowed to photograph or talk about at Prodrive, and it was very subtly inferred that there was way more than I wasn’t even allowed to see. The non-disclosure agreement you sign at the first point of entry made sure of that.
The P25 project that’s caused a bit of a stir online is one of these, but between my visit and this feature going live, it was unveiled at the 2022 Goodwood Festival of Speed.
There are more ventures – both motorsport and otherwise – which have had Prodrive involvement than I have space to mention here. Each car and trophy on display has its part in time-stamping an era in the company and serves as a reminder of what can be accomplished given the opportunity.
Some of these serve as reminders of what could have been.
After my visit, I had one takeaway: Prodrive as a company are incredibly talented and versatile, but they don’t shout about it. You don’t see them advertising in the automotive press or online. The saying ‘speak softly and carry a big stick’ comes to mind.
Since the company’s inception, Prodrive have accrued the collective knowledge, capability and most importantly passion to succeed in whatever remit required. If you have an idea (and the pre-requisite budget), you would be well served having this team in your corner.