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For the love of British design

PUBLISHED: 08:41 11 November 2014 | UPDATED: 10:22 11 November 2014

The Evanta DBR1 convertible, a replica of Aston Martin's 1959 Le Mans winner

The Evanta DBR1 convertible, a replica of Aston Martin's 1959 Le Mans winner

Archant

For the Love of Cars star Ant Anstead has been designing and building stunning vehicles in Hertfordshire for years and is now setting his sights on putting the British coach building industry back on the map. He tells Kiran Reynolds his plans

Ant Anstread and For the Love of Cars co-host Philip GlenisterAnt Anstread and For the Love of Cars co-host Philip Glenister

Three tons of cow dung gave Channel 4’s For the Love of Cars star Ant Anstead a jump-start into what he describes as ‘the bazaar and crazy world of car design’.

In the early days of his automotive design career Anstead also played in goal for Ware FC and as part of his contract used the club’s lawnmower shed as his car customisation and design workshop. As his business grew he needed a bigger site and picked his perfect spot carefully – an occupied cowshed at Marshall’s Farm in the town. He struck a deal with the owner to restore the shed in return for using it as his workshop rent free for 12 months. He spent four weeks shifting the smelly knee deep remains left by its former tenants before kitting it out ready for what became a four-year stint of solo hard work creating client’s dream cars.

These humble beginnings gave Anstead the confidence to take his business further, and he set up Evanta Motor Company in 2005 with the financial backing of his father-in-law Evan.

Since then, Evanta has expanded to four sites in Tewin, Hertford, Harlow and Coventry where all kinds of extraordinary vehicles are created, including Anstead’s own range of 1950s Aston Martin-inspired bespoke sports cars. His elegantly-sculpted car bodies are fitted to a Corvette V8 engine, Tremec 6 gear box and Jaguar XK components. It was Anstead’s creations that caught the eye of Channel 4 producers looking for someone to tackle ‘wrecked treasures’ in a new car restoration series.
‘Our site in Hertford is where we filmed series one of For the Love of Cars,’ Anstead says, adding that the show is more than about saving lovely old vehicles: ‘It also celebrates the emotional connection people have with their cars’.

The chassis and body of Evanta's DBR1 convertible, a replica of Aston Martin's 1959 Le Mans winnerThe chassis and body of Evanta's DBR1 convertible, a replica of Aston Martin's 1959 Le Mans winner

The 35-year-old is certainly not a purist when it comes to restoring classics in the series. He describes an MG TC, which he and co-star Philip Glenister decided to spray a shocking bright blue – ignoring an often-invoked rule of classic car restoration to keep the vehicle in its original colour. ‘We ripped up that rule book,’ Anstead grins.

As he bites into a chunk of watermelon in the kitchen of his Tewin workshop he recalls the ‘phenomenal task’ of restoring six cars in just 20 weeks for the show. ‘But for me the show isn’t about schedules and costs but the actual finished quality of the car itself.’

Anstead has designed and customised close to 100 cars, and some have been outrageous. There has been a 1929 Austin 7 single seater he adapted for a wall of death stunt, and an off-the-forecourt Aston Martin he cut in half and remodelled to give it a more vintage aesthetic.

‘Cars are like art,’ he explains. ‘People commission me for bespoke cars as they want it to be unique to them.’

Polishing the bodywork of a Barchetta convertiblePolishing the bodywork of a Barchetta convertible

He says his clients rarely commission a car for daily driving but rather for the purpose of adventure and escapism. But for all the flair of the results, what it comes down to is precision engineering. The client’s height and measurements are taken to fit the car to their shape. ‘Designing a bespoke car is like tailoring a suit’ Anstead says. ‘Precision is key. The seat for example will be tailor made to fit the driver’s exact proportions.’

His high skill levels reflect the price clients will pay for his cars, with the cheapest roadster costing £80,000 and the cheapest GT £120,000, while some designs top £500,000.

But what you get for that money is more than metal and fabric. Antstead states: ‘Cars are emotive. If we are building a roadster, it has got to look, perform, sound and smell like a roadster. If we’re building a GT, it’s got to have that Grand Tour appeal.’

With a penchant for the best, Anstead’s own car collection is impressive. A shiny black Aston Martin Vantage sits at the head of his work station. ‘That’s my daily road car,’ he proudly points out, going on to explain he does have the use of a more practical Land Rover for family days out. However his heart remains bound to the homegrown classics, ‘My Austin 7 is my favourite car – it’s just so quintessentially British.’

View into the cockpit of the BarchettaView into the cockpit of the Barchetta

It is this love of great British design that underpins his latest challenge – an all together bigger aim – to revive the glory days of Britain’s coach building industry.

Creating bespoke bodies for standard rolling stock was a skill Britain’s coachbuilders were exceptionally good at in the 1930s, Anstead explains. ‘Rolls Royce for instance, would sell the chassis, engine and wheels, then send the customer to a coachbuilder such as Park Ward who would design and make the body.’

Keen to bring back this formula, Anstead has partnered with Afzhal Kahn, an internationally renowned designer and head of A Kahn Design. Together they have set up a new company, Ant Kahn, in Coventry – the traditional home of British car manufacture. Anstead says, ‘We are about the emotion, passion and creative side of car design. The mechanics and the engineering are already a proven factor.’

Over the last 12 months the pair have been developing five new cars under the Ant Khan name, including their version of a Barchetta – a classic stripped-back Italian two-seater, which was unveiled at The Goodwood Revival festival in September.

DBR1 on the racetrack at GoodwoodDBR1 on the racetrack at Goodwood

The duo has also produced the Wide Body – a run of 49 new Aston Martin DB9s completely stripped and redesigned, selling at £300,000, which Anstead describes as ‘huge, aggressive looking machines’.

‘We want to create a cutting edge car brand that is centred around being British.’ he explains. ‘Putting bodies on cars is something I do everyday but to do this on an even bigger scale will truly put Britain’s auto industry back on the map.’

With a full schedule of car design and coach building projects, as well as filming for the second series of For The Love of Cars, Anstead still finds time to indulge his other loves – creating metal sculptures, playing football for Ware FC’s senior team, and his family. His wife Louise he describes as ‘a legend’, adding that luckily, ‘she is crazy enough to deal with my ambitions.’ He adds, ‘I live by the saying: ‘To be fulfilled, have a full life, and rest when you’re dead.’

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