The story of Alfaholics’ research and development (R&D) begins in 1963. This was the year that the Italian auto-manufacturer Alfa Romeo released its iconic 105 models. The coupés were produced until 1977, but have enjoyed a second life among passionate hobbyists.
What Alfaholics is perhaps best known for is its exhaustive, period-correct restorations of these classic Alfa 105s. The firm also builds its own bespoke, updated version of the 105: the GTA-R. This model is built around the classic Alfa engine (although the Alfaholics team bore and stroke the engine for added oomph).
The car is highly respected among auto fanatics. A recent Top Gear appearance trialling the GTA-R effusively labelled Alfaholics as “without doubt, the world’s leading 105-Series Alfa Romeo specialist”.
Each GTA-R takes 3000 man-hours to complete, according to Andrew Banks, one of the two brothers who run the business. No detail or expense is spared. The 105’s famous silhouette is maintained, but its chassis is transformed with carbon doors, bonnet and boot lid dramatically reducing its weight. The end result is something quite sublime.
“These carbon composite panels are huge projects for us because we place a lot of emphasis on retaining the original character of the cars,” Andrew explains. “So not only must the carbon panels fit on the outside of these old cars, but it also requires a paint scheme to make the panels indistinguishable from the original steel ones.”
Automotive R&D tax relief
Alfaholics’ headline-grabbing ‘restomods’ (a portmanteau of the restoration and modification) are just one part of the business. Its mail-order enterprise has customers in almost every corner of the world. The mail-order side is run by Andrew, while the restomods are handled by his brother Maxim.
This separation of duties, Andrew explains, is somewhat blurry. Asked for his job title, Andrew will tell you he doesn’t really have one. “Finance director would be a fair assumption,” he says. “Max runs the workshop and I tend to look at the finances and the mail order side.”
It’s a fluid structure that’s quite typical for family enterprises. But as Andrew mainly handles the finances, R&D tax relief fell under his remit. “We probably submitted our first claim in 2008. We did it off our own back,” Andrew explains. “In the very early days, it was a real challenge. I have a legal background, so I was able to read up on the criteria but it was laborious.”
The company only “started claiming in earnest”, Andrew says, when it started working with ForrestBrown. “We realised we were doing far more R&D than we thought we were. ForrestBrown spotted qualifying R&D activities that weren’t immediately obvious to us. Some of the critical R&D elements were passing us by.” Altogether, Alfaholics’ claim values roughly tripled by working with ForrestBrown.
Sector specialism provides the edge
As for what unlocked the added value in Alfaholics’s R&D tax relief, Andrew’s answer is emphatic. “It was thanks to the sector-specific knowledge ForrestBrown has. We can discuss our work in great depth.”
It was thanks to the sector-specific knowledge ForrestBrown has. We can discuss our work in great depth.
No matter what type of R&D Alfaholics is doing, ForrestBrown has the sector expertise to match. “There is always someone who speaks our language and identifies what we’re doing.” Not all of the company’s R&D is automotive. Alfaholics do some software R&D, too.
“For two or three years now, we’ve done a lot of website-related work. The mail-order side of our business is extremely important so we put a lot of effort and time into our site.” One of the key innovations has been interactive exploded diagrams.
Listing parts is a real challenge. Buyers are from all over the world and don’t necessarily have full fluency in English. The interactive diagrams allow users to search visually for what they need. “We use original drawings and overlay the products we offer for sale. So a user can look at the diagram of a door and easily see, ‘Aha, I need one of those’.”
ForrestBrown thinks: Partnership into the future
The restomod space is booming. And according to Andrew, Alfaholics has the next ten years already mapped out. “We’ve got a huge order booked for GTA-Rs and restorations, and the parts business is flourishing.”
The iterative journey of innovation will continue. Each new car or product developed, refines Alfaholics’s knowledge and tech further. “The cars we produce in two to three years will have enhancements over and above the cars we produce,” Andrew says. “And we’re able to pass the benefits to our mail order customers with our R&D.”
Alfaholics will keep pushing the boundaries of R&D – and ForrestBrown will be supporting it the entire way.
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