Specialist: Omicron Engineering Ltd.,
ACCENT ON THE ITALIAN
Whether for parts or restoration, Omicron will forever be linked with Lancia – but, writes Martin Buckley, many marques of Italian exotica have had a temporary home there
Omicron is a name most closely associated with the better kind of Lancia – supplying parts and undertaking expensive but exquisite restorations – but this family firm has seen all kinds of exotica at its rural Norfolk workshops.
‘One of our first jobs was a Lamborghini 350GT’ says Martin Cliffe, the ex-Lotus engineer who started the company in 1981 when the DeLorean money started to run out at Hethel, ‘and more recently a Lamborghini 400GT which looked beautiful, but had no ground clearance.’
Cliffe nurtures mixed feelings about the big-name supercars he’s been involved in restoring. ‘The thing about most Italian so-called supercars is that they only do a couple of things well: go very quickly and sound wonderful.’
‘The engines, perhaps the gearboxes, were good but the rest was mostly awful. As road cars they are not satisfactory: they were usually designed by “intuitive” engineers who had neither the resources – nor perhaps the will – to work through the details properly because the cars were to be built in only small quantities. In many cases the cars are just crude…”
Not that all “exotics” have disappointed Cliffe, who helped to develop the Turbo Esprit whilst at Lotus. ‘I enjoyed the Maserati Khamsin that we restored, which had a lovely torquey engine and Citroën hydraulics. We did some work on a Bora once, which was a surprisingly refined car.’
Omicron began to outgrow the Cliffe’s home so in 1994 the firm moved a few hundred yards to a converted 10,000ft² tithe barn on the village green at Mulbarton: here they could begin to take on restoration work again and even expand. Ten people now work there, including his wife Elizabeth and son Andrew who co-ordinate parts sales – new and secondhand – for Aurelias, Flaminias, Flavias, Fulvias and the Stratos.
Fulvia spares take up a lot of their time, as the model was easily Lancia’s best-seller before the Fiat takeover, though Stratos parts make up a large proportion of their turnover ‘as the orders tend to be few but large’, says Cliffe
Investment is heavy in remaking parts, obscure but important items like Fulvia door seals and rebuild kits for Flaminia brake servos. The company even re-issues workshop manuals and owner’s handbooks for the cars, and publishes comprehensive parts lists.
Omicron is highly regarded for its restoration work, attracting customers from all over Europe. Complete restoration facilities are offered in a new workshop, with separate areas for body and engine work. Recent projects include a B24 Aurelia Spider heavily front ended on 1996 LE JOG, a Flavia Sport Zagato and a Packard Super Eight.
At the time of our visit a Hispano-Suiza H6B, restored by Cliffe, was in for a spring service. Omicron is happy to work on later Lancias and the pre-war kind: conversion of a Gamma Coupé from auto to manual transmission, and the rebuilding of an Aprilia, has just been completed. Competition oriented work is a recent development and Omicron has done a very successful replica of a group four manifold for a Fulvia Coupé that will be used in historic rallying.
While Lancia might not be as emotive a name, Cliffe argues that the cars did more things to a better standard. ‘You could race your Aurelia Coupé, take it shopping, go to the South of France in comfort or enter it for a concours. The cars were great all-rounders, and beautifully engineered.’
Martin Cliffe’s passion for the marque began with a Fulvia Coupé in the Seventies and he became involved with the Lancia Motor Club while restoring a B12 Aurelia saloon. ‘Since then, I have always had at least one Lancia.’ •
Classic Cars, August 1997