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Neil at the altar of hot rod innovation

I am always full of admiration for people who are both self-taught and mechanically minded.  It’s not that I’m averse to tackling the odd mechanical job or a bit of body and paint work, but the thought of building a complete car from scratch is certainly beyond my abilities and, I would guess, those of many DRC Review readers, too.  By comparison, Neil O’Shea positively seems to thrive on such challenges.  He has not only set about building his own hot rod roadster, but also shunned the idea of using off-the-shelf components in favour of fabricating everything himself.

Of course, it helps if you have the equipment for the job and Neil has built himself a top notch workshop at his new Wisbech premises


“I can appreciate the rodding packages that are readily available off-the-shelf,” says Neil, “but that’s not what I was after.”  Instead, he aims to build a custom, one-off hot rod with many innovative and unique features, which will become apparent over the coming months.  We say that because we’re pleased to report that has been given exclusive access to follow the progress of the car in a series of features, which will culminate with photos of the finished project when it debuts – hopefully, sometime next year.  In the meantime, a bit of background information is in order.

4-litre BMW V8 and matching 6-speed manual gearbox being positioned


Neil explains that he began to acquire his mechanical knowledge when he started playing with cars (a Mini) at the age of 16.  “I tinkered, read the books and then got stuck in,” he explains.  “You learn as you go along and just try things out.  I did some work on Sas Hunter’s Toyota MR2-engined roadster several years ago, when I lived in Bracknell, specifically converting it to left-hand drive, but I am not someone you would call a well-known name in UK hot rodding.”  We should point out here that this is Neil’s first-ever project, and there can be little doubt he has chosen to jump in at the deep end. 

Wheels are 6 x 15 and 8 x 17 inch American Racing Salt Flat Specials


 “It’s trial and error when you are building something as specialised as this,” he continues.  “Most of the time, you know what will work and what will not.  And if you are not sure, you just trial it until you are sure it will work.”  Having seen what Neil has achieved to date and talked to him in some detail, it’s clear he has both an impressive understanding of all things technical and the talent to pull this ambitious project off.


With the exquisite lines of Steve Moal’s recently debuted roadster providing the inspiration, Neil is already well down the road with his car and looks to be creating one of the most innovative hot rods yet seen on either side of the Atlantic.  “But why a roadster?” one might well ask.  Neil’s answer is succinct: “I like the shape of Moal’s creation,” he says.  “It has some nice ideas and touches that have proven inspirational.”

Steve Moal's Licorice Streak roadster is providing inspiration for the project


Neil can visualise in his own mind how he wants the car to look, but needed a bit of artistic input to turn those ideas into something more tangible.  I’m pleased to say that DRC Review, in a roundabout way, has come to the rescue.  I discussed the idea with automotive illustrator (and brother), Steve Kirk, who after a little persuasion, agreed to put pen to paper again after a break of several years.  It was always going to take something very special to coax Steve out of retirement and inspire him to pick up his magic markers again, and this project has proven to be just the catalyst.  We’re looking forward to seeing what he comes up with, at the same time as incorporating Neil’s ideas on the elements he wants to retain.

In spite of the huge kick-up at the rear, Neil is aiming for around six inches of ground clearance


So far, Neil has fabricated his own chassis rails and cross-members, dropped in an aluminium, 4.0-litre, fuel-injected BMW V8 and matching six-speed Getrag gearbox (both to save weight and because they were available – and different), created his own four-bar rear suspension set-up and is now mid-way through completing the wishbones for the front end.  Finalising the correct track width in relation to the rear was a key issue as we went to press. 

Volvo axle will be utilised with custom-built rear discs


We met Neil at Billing a few weeks ago, and in the course of our chat, he showed us a sample of the teardrop-shaped, chrome-moly tubing he is using to create those front wishbones.  It’s this kind of detail, plus other aspects, like a radiator that echoes the shape of the body, a shaped screen with concealed wipers and Neil’s ideas for custom headlights, which lead us to believe this Roadster is going to be something very special once completed.  In a moment of slight naivety on our part, we asked Neil if he could put his finger on one aspect of the build that he felt was particularly novel.  “Well (short pause), I think you could say everything about the car so far,” came the reply.


Stay tuned for further updates, and in the meantime, here’s where the project is right now.


Story: Andy Kirk & Graham Jones
Photos: Neil O'Shea

The chassis begins to take shape - it will be fully boxed

Custom four-bar set-up in place

Willwood discs and calipers used to help mock up the front wishbones.  They will be fashioned from round tube and then remade in aircraft quality, teardrop-shaped chrome-moly tube 


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