QUAIFE Engineering History

For the last forty years, whether on two wheels or four, one name has been synonymous with high performance transmission systems.

 That name is QUAIFE.

Since 1965, the aims of the company have been constant, striving for excellence in the high-tech world of cutting edge transmission manufacturing, but never forgetting the human touch that makes all the difference.

On the surface, the story of QUAIFE is one of success and expansion. Dig deeper and it's easy to see how consistent hard work, dedication and investment - both in machinery and human capital - have transformed the company from a one man effort to a seventy strong global leader in the motorsport industry, one that exports 75% of its product overseas.

That story began forty years ago when engineering entrepreneur Rod Quaife acted upon a chance suggestion from Norton motorcycle specialist Ray Petty. It was tempting enough for Rod to change his strategy he was then involved in and began afresh to specialise in motorcycle gearbox design and production. Enthusiasm and skill made good any financial shortcomings in these early days, and soon the new company - known as RT Quaife Engineering Ltd - began producing the first Quaife transmissions that converted four speed Norton gearboxes into five speed units. Motorsport success soon followed, culminating in John Cooper testing at the TT on a Quaife equipped 350 Norton in 1967.

By now, QUAIFE was producing components for the AMC Motorcycle factory in Woolwich and Norton's great competitor, Triumph Motorcycles, expressed an interest, ordering five speed gear clusters for its Daytona racing machines. After taking the first three places at the race that year Triumph purchased the rights for the five speed cluster, which it then productionised and used for the next thirteen years.

 This success led to expansion, with RT Quaife Engineering relocating to a factory at Tonbridge in 1971, but as the British motorcycle industry declined, orders dwindled and a change of direction was needed. And having added an extragear ratio to a motorcycle gearbox, Rod Quaife reckoned he could repeat the trick with a car transmission, so he set about designing a five-speed, close-ratio gear cluster for the Ford Rocket 'box, as used in the phenomenally popular Escort RS2000. This went on sale in 1971, pre-dating the first Ford five speed rear wheel production gearbox by ten years and proving an instant hit with the motorsport industry, so much so that it's still in production today!

So began a program of constant development and range expansion, which has seen QUAIFE adopt the mantle of market leader in both transmission design and product range. Before long, Quaife Engineering was producing half-shafts, performance hub kits, gear linkages and final drive ratios for a number of applications. The two wheel market hadn't been forgotten during this period, as Rod's son Mike hit the circuits at this time, racing a Yamaha using QUAIFE gears.

As the 1970's moved into the 1980's the company continued to expand and the profile of its clients continued to grow, as did the variety of product it was manufacturing, whether for front, rear or four wheel drive cars. For example, Quaife could count Team Toyota Europe as a client at this time, as well as Adam Opel in Russelheim, while a new product - the now famous ATB differential - was finding its way into the road going Maserati bi-turbo supercar.

 Surely the ultimate challenge for a QUAIFE product surfaced in 1986 and 1987, when the company provided ATB differentials for both Leyton House and Benneton Formula One teams. Harnessing over 1000 bhp, a Quaife equipped Benneton, driven by Austrian Gehard Berger won the 1986 Mexican Grand Prix without stopping for tyres!

QUAIFE thrives on diversity and by the mid-1980's as total traction all wheel drive cars were making their name in rallying, Quaife decided to develop its own four wheel drive system, based around the ATB differential units. To prove the system, Mike Quaife constructed a Gartrac shelled Mk3 Escort, complete with an ex-RS200 Ford BDT engine, hooked up to the four wheel drive system. Boasting 450 bhp, the Quaife Escort enabled the company to develop, refine and sell motorsport-orientated four wheel drive systems to the rallying fraternity at a competitive price.

And with business expanding, active involvement in motorsport became a constant theme for the remainder of the century, leading to the build of another, more powerful (650bhp!) MK5 Escort in 1992, built this time by Gordon Spooner Engineering. Ever innovative, this car saw Quaife debut its now common sequential gearshift, allowing the Escort to be highly competitive at both British and European Championship levels.

By 1994 QUAIFE had outgrown its premises, moving to its present location near Sevenoaks, enjoying three times the space of the previous unit to house an increasing amount of CNC machinery and 25 staff. Commercially, the product range diversified still further, with ATB differentials being fitted to everything from vans to ambulances, while QUAIFE contemplated another move - from the dust and mud of the rallycross tracks to the solid tarmac of the racing circuits.

To that end an Escort GT car was built, but it soon became clear this would be outclassed by sleeker, purpose built machinery. Therefore QUAIFE decided to beat the opposition at its own game, stunning the GT crowd by designing and building its own unique, V8 powered four wheel drive GT racing car, which hit the tracks in 1999, just after the unveiling of the road going version. Plenty of development followed, but it allowed QUAIFE to enjoy circuit racing success right up to Mike Quaife's retirement from active motorsport in 2002.

 By then the racing torch had been passed to the next generation, as Mike's son Phil had begun racing a Radical, and Sharon Quaife's son, Adrian is a double Mini Max Champion and lap record holder in karts. And it's this eye to the future that accounts for a large part of Quaife's extraordinary success. QUAIFE has always been a keen supporter of Formula Student, supplying product across the globe to automotive engineering students, of which the next generation of technical directors are selected. But this eye to the future extends beyond the customers and the staff employed by QUAIFE, because the company has always been keen to invest in the latest production technology.

Today the fruits of QUAIFE's investment are easy to see, in a company that employs 75 people. After all, you can't ignore the 3D solid modelling design department, the pattern making shop, the state-of-the-art CNC gear cutting, milling and turning machinery or the inspection facility that's assisted greatly in QUAIFE achieving ISO9001 Quality Management status. As a consequence, QUAIFE offers a unique 'one-stop' facility, comprising an integrated design, manufacture and assembly service, something few - if any - of its rivals can boast.

 These impressive capabilities combine with an expertise base that allows QUAIFE to offer not only performance gear kits, but bespoke motorsport transmissions in both two and four wheel drive formats for a huge variety of vehicles, whatever the requirements. Whether you desire straight-cut, helical cut, Group N, close-ratio, H-pattern or sequential or even a transmission set-up that allows you to utilise a motorcycle engine in a car, then QUAIFE can cater for your high performance driveline requirements.

Motorsport is QUAIFE's ultimate testing ground, where compromise isn't tolerated and only the best will suffice. Other companies may come and go from the sector, but year in, year out, QUAIFE's transmission products are successfully used in everything from GT circuit racing, rallycross and rallying, assisting teams and individuals at all levels of the sport to maximise their performance, whatever the road ahead holds.

 But that's just one facet of the QUAIFE success story, as besides offering bespoke high performance transmissions, QUAIFE has a made a global name for itself pioneering the development and manufacture of Automatic Torque Biasing differential units. Designed to optimise traction irrespective of conditions, QUAIFE's patented ATB differential units offer unrivalled control and performance without the drawbacks of traditional performance differentials. As a consequence they have proved massively popular in motorsport, the performance aftermarket and the important OE manufacturer sector, where the ATB's combination of performance and low maintenance has proven a particularly attractive proposition.

So much so that the acclaimed Focus RS used a QUAIFE ATB differential straight from the Ford factory. As does the 352 bhp Noble M12 supercar, as does the new Chrysler Neon RT sports saloon, which packs a 240bhp punch, which the QUAIFE ATB unit handles easily. Indeed such is the demand for this product that a bespoke engineering facility was acquired at the end of 2003 in Cornwall solely to produce ATB units, which boasts some 65,000 sq ft of production capacity. This was timely because at the end of 2004, it was confirmed the QUAIFE would act as official supplier of performance differentials to General Motors, allowing the company to boast that it's an OEM supplier to the 'big three,' car manufacturers.

 On the commercial front, QUAIFE has developed an innovative 'On-Board-Power' system, which dispenses with the need for a bulky, noisy compressor. This has proved highly successful, with QUAIFE supplying its 'On-Board-Power' package to public utilities and road side tyre replacement companies amongst others.

In recent times QUAIFE has been quick to adopt new technology to promote its brand and product range, using a constantly updated website that have proved highly successful. This has brought the QUAIFE brand to a new global audience, assisting the company in its quest to seek out new customers, clients and commercial partners, whilst investment in information technology allows for easy communication and maintenance of long-standing business relationships.

 Many of those attracted to the product come in person to QUAIFE's HQ, situated in Sevenoaks in Kent, just ten minutes from the Brands Hatch motor racing circuit. The company always welcomes visitors to its factory, with tours of QUAIFE's advanced facilities possible for trade and retail customers, as well as individuals, clubs and schools.

So what can you expect from QUAIFE in the future? In its fortieth year, the pace of development and innovation shows no sign of slowing, in fact the opposite is true.

 Exciting developments are planned at all levels, but one project - which combines QUAIFE's unique knowledge of bike and car transmissions - is sure to attract attention, because QUAIFE is producing its own, bespoke, high performance road car. Designed around QUAIFE's latest Qtek sequential gearbox, the car has been developed to take either car or a motorcycle engine, depending on the customer's wishes. Bold, daring and innovative, it's totally in tune with the company's philosophy of excellence in both the two and four wheel arenas, so we're certain that Rod Quaife would have approved.