Viking Motorsport is one of Classic Rallying’s great success stories and Phil Mills is as busy as ever. Setting up business in mid Wales, world rally championship winning co driver Phil Mills said his preparation firm building historic Escorts for was a post career semi retirement plan.
“When we came up with the idea for Viking Motorsport, our intention was to focus on historic rallying.” says Mills. John O’Connor who runs our workshop was one of the biggest influences, coming from the Rothmans Rally Team of the 1980s; his knowledge of how they ran Escorts from that era has been invaluable and is unrivalled.
“We specialise in one car – the Escort. It’s better to concentrate on one thing and master it rather than be a jack of all trades. We have got other ideas on other models, but Escorts are straightforward because there is a lot of continuity: all the parts are the same and its simpler to do from a business point of view.”
The Viking Motorsport Escorts have quickly become renowned as some of the most immaculately prepared cars in the sport anywhere in the world – something Mills has based his reputation on and clearly takes a lot of pride in.
“There is a lot of work involved in the preparation,” he says. “To build a car to our level, depending on which specification takes around 1200 hours. Everything is done in house, except for the painting which we do next door.”
The body shell alone takes about 550 hours to construct and Viking motorsport source is the best possible donor cars from which to create competition cars. It may be obvious but the nature of the story is that Escorts are now old and as time goes on it becomes increasingly difficult to find Escort body shells that are in good condition.
“Five or six years ago it wasn’t really a problem to find an Escort donor, but it is slowing up a lot now,” he says. “You could go out and find a rotten one tomorrow, the nice ones are a different matter. Existing cars now are being looked after and the values are actually increasing, not going down. It is getting more difficult to find any cars, but it’s actually keeping the market up very well.”
Mills and his team enjoy working with cars that had a previous history: “having a competition history of a shell does make it nice in historic rallying even it it wasn’t a works car, I find it interesting regardless of where they have been.”
Rallying history is important to Mills and Viking Motorsport is playing its part in the Escort’s future by continuing to produce virtually brand-new escorts in 2014.
“We have built a lot of cars” he said. We cannot build them a minute faster, the restriction is simply on capacity. When we started out we rented a unit then we moved to a place that is much bigger, now we are out of space again. Goldfish are supposed to grow the size of your bowl; we are small team at the end of the day. We have five full-time staff and they can only produce so many hours a year.”
When working at capacity, the temptation may push many businesses to expand further but Mills is comfortable with the size of production. “We could put on another five fabricators and speed the whole thing up but thats not what it’s all about. If we did do more, you can still control things but if you become a lot bigger, you need to be like all the big teams have people dedicated to quality control – Our original brief was to make a high standard product for a discerning customer. we have stuck to that rule and produced and supplied to that brief ever since.”
Viking only builds Escorts to a single specification as the historic version FIA appendix K model. These Escorts can compete in any rally in the world. They are as close as you can get to an original works car of 1975. We’ve got a full facility here, so we can pretty much do whatever we want.
Drivers want traditional builds. If you look at modern drivers like Jarri Matti Latvala, Mikko Hirvonen and Petter, they all have Escort Mark 2’s and that are all historic cars.
When we started to build Petters car he wanted 400 hp and paddle shift, after a few conversations, he decided that he wanted it exactly as it was. They want cars as close as to what Ari Vatanen drove during his career, he is a hero to many.
It is interesting that the modern professional rally driver still want a traditional rally car. Mills went up to Sweden last year and ran Petter on the historic rally alongside the WRC round and he won it. “I haven’t seen Petter smiling sop much! We have put the fun back into rallying!
Despite Mills Career peaking in 2003 winning the world Rally Championship with Solberg the Welshman get as much enjoyment from his most recent venture: “it’s very satisfying to see a body shell in the workshop and then later see it sit on the start line somewhere after it’s been completed. It’s quite a big feeling. The biggest mistake I ever made was thinking like coming in at 10am and have a coffee with the boys and leave by three. In reality I come in at seven in the morning and i am still here at 7pm!
With Classic Rallying on the increase here, who knows when we will see a Viking Escort in Australia!
I love it! with thanks to Phil Mills and motorsport news