The 24 Hours of Le Mans has always been a playground for the world’s greatest racing machines.
Even though I wasn’t yet around, the race’s late-1960s to mid-1980s era is my personal favorite. During this time the drivers were fearless and the cars analog, something that made the racing super-exciting. Recently, the Ford v Ferrari movie only reaffirmed my love for this amazing era of motorsport at Circuit de la Sarthe.
One person that also has a great fondness of this era is Peter Bailey, the brainchild behind Bailey Cars in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Peter’s company is well known for building amazing recreations of the legendary Ford GT40 and Porsche 917 for an international client base. Bailey Cars build a few other models too, but I’ll get to those a little later on.
Interestingly, Peter’s working life hasn’t always involved cars. In the 1980s he started up a door manufacturing company, which was eventually sold to a large publicly listed company. This was followed up with another manufacturing business producing specialised welding electrodes.
Peter has always been a petrolhead, though.
It was during the electrode business in 2002 that Peter had an urge to own a GT40 race car. Of course, a genuine car was never going to be an option, so he conjured up a plan and enlisted two university automotive graduates to design a replica.
With the design completed, Peter built that GT40 replica for his own use. As a one-off project it was an expensive exercise, so the next obvious step was to test the market and see if he could find a buyer for a second car. He did.
The next year, Bailey Cars got its official start. At first it was run as a sideline business, but by 2005 it had grown to a point that Peter was able to sell his shares in the electrode company and work on his car enterprise full-time.
In the 15 years since, Bailey Cars has gone from strength to strength and is kept very busy. Peter still owns a GT40, which he races regularly and has taken multiple wins with, and at the time I visited it was in the shop having its engine reinstalled after some maintenance work.
The first version of the Bailey GT40 was on sale up until 2007. Seventeen of these were built in total, and sold to customers all around the globe. Many were campaigned successfully in historic race series, while a few were also converted for street use. The second generation car, which is still in production today, was improved in a number of ways.
Built around a laser-cut carbon steel space-frame chassis, the Bailey GT40 features an integrated roll cage, front fully independent double wishbone suspension, and an independent double trailing arm with transverse top link and lower wishbone rear suspension. Every build is tailored to a customer’s specification, so there’s multiple choices for coilovers and Ford Performance racing engines. Halibrand wheels and 4-pot AP Racing brakes are standard items.
I’ve talked a bit about the GT40, which is how the company started, but as mentioned, some really slick Porsche 917 replicas are also built at Bailey Cars’ small facility. You might remember the road-going example I featured this time last year.
Pretty much everything that can be done in-house is, starting with the chassis itself.
The steel components are all cut to size, bent to spec, welded together, and then perfectly refined.
After each chassis is completed, the bodywork begins. The body shells are constructed of composite GRP (glass reinforced plastic), which provides strength and lightness. All of this work is done by hand, so it’s a time-consuming process. In fact, each car takes an average of 1,500 hours to complete.
After a shell is prepared it’s sent off to the in-house paint booth where the finishing options are endless.
The final part of the process involves fitting the interior, engine, wheels and all the running gear. No GT40s were at this stage when I visited, but a Bailey 917 was.
This specific car is being built for an international customer whose brief to Bailey Cars was simple: ‘Build me the fastest car in India’. With an 850hp V8 engine running into an Albins ST6 sequential transaxle, I can’t wait to see this thing completed.
I mentioned earlier that although GT40s and 917s are Bailey’s most popular and best-selling replicas, they do offer other special-order cars as well.
One of these is their Ferrari P4 recreation, which is absolute sublime. They don’t build these too often, so I was very lucky to see one being assembled. These P4s are built using as many genuine Ferrari parts as possible, and that includes their V12 engines.
Bailey Cars has also done a few Lola T70 replicas, and their Bailey GT1, which is a recreation of the 2005 Ford GT. But that’s not all.The Porsche Market
Over the years, Peter and his team of highly skilled workers have become a trusted Porsche specialist in South Africa.
Their work ranges from simple engine rebuilds, to full nut and bolt restorations and race preparation.
When I dropped by there was a special Porsche job in the shop. This is an original Porsche 356 Speedster and former Kyalami 9-Hour race winner, which as you can see is fully stripped back to a bare shell, revealing all of its previously sustained race damage. It’ll soon be in pristine condition, so I don’t think we’ll see this one racing again anytime soon.
Tucked away in the back of the shop is a replica of an Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale. There were only 18 of these cars ever produced, so building this recreation has been quite a process. All of the bodywork has been handcrafted from aluminium and shaped with an English wheel, with Peter’s craftsmen working from a scale model car.Exploring
Whenever you venture into a workspace that’s been around for so many years, it’s always fun to explore all the little corners and see what you can find. At Bailey Cars there are multiple storerooms with new parts for current and future GT40 and 917 builds, as well as parts for the Porsche projects.
Another really interesting build I found peeking out from under a cover was the Bailey LMP2 car. With Le Mans the goal, this car was built over quite a few years and taken to the point where it was track tested. Ultimately though, spiralling build costs meant that development was stopped. What might have been…
Over the 17 years that Bailey Cars has operated, they’ve built around 75 complete cars. That might not seem like a large number in the bigger scheme of things, but for a relatively small outfit of around 15 staff – many ex-aircraft engineers – that do the vast majority of work themselves, it’s pretty impressive.
Not many people are lucky enough to turn their passions into a successful career, but that’s exactly what Peter has managed to do. In the process he’s also allowed many petrolheads around the world to live out their automotive dreams, too
These cars might not be the real thing, but let’s face it – the few genuine GT40s, 917s, and P4s that are left are all but unattainable for everyone out there. Bailey Cars are giving people access to a great-looking historic race car, but at a fraction of the cost of a genuine article.Cutting Room Floor