Titch Cormack: ‘maintaining something is better for the environment’
The Speedshop returns to BBC Two this weekend. We catch up with presenter Titch
For a man who spends his days in a shop building custom cars and bikes, the biggest surprise isn’t the intricacy or nature of each build, it’s what he drives on a regular basis. “A Renault Trafic van,” ex-special forces man Titch Cormack concedes to TG.
No crazy restomodded classic or iron-blocked V8 muscle car. No, a humble French van. One that’s he’s had for years. But the presenter of The Speedshop – which kicks off on BBC Two this Sunday – could have lined up something much more exotic alongside that Renault.
“I’d always wanted a 964 Porsche 911, the Bad Boys one. Turbo,” he says. “Back then they weren’t that pricey. I spoke to my mum and said ‘I’ve found my dream car’. It was like £32k at the time. She said ‘don’t be so daft, invest your money in an ISA, it’s safe’. Like an idiot, I put all my money in an ISA.”
A pause. “Gutted,” he laughs. “If I’d had that Porsche, I would have tripled or quadrupled my money.” TG politely tells Titch that he’d probably have got more than that. The Porsche 964 from Bad Boys recently sold at auction for a whopping $1.3m. “Gutted,” comes the reply. “Yeah, cheers for that mum.”
The Speedshop returns for a new series that sees Titch – a former commando and later, the SBS’s chief mobility instructor – and his crew build custom machines in his very own hangout. “I started the shop as my own man cave,” he said, “and I built an environment I wanted to hang around in. I had no idea people would like it, as it happened people did. I was building all sorts of stuff – like custom bikes – and then Billy and John joined.
“We’d built a few things for people with disabilities – we’d certainly done work for Billy who hasn’t got the use of his right arm. Then we got the opportunity to do the bike for Chris [in 2020]. Chris had lost his leg. We’d never done something for someone minus a leg. That was a great experience, to see what sort of freedom that gave him and what he could do afterwards.” (Titch tells us Chris is riding for the True Heroes British superbikes team.)
The first episode kicks off with something equally as challenging – building a bike and sidecar for his friend Toby who was sadly injured while on duty in Afghanistan. The incident left him paralysed and on a ventilator. “The difficulty was because it had never been done before, there were a lot of powers-to-be up top saying ‘you couldn’t do it’.”
Which of course only spurred Titch and the crew on even more. “The whole process of designing it around Toby and his disability and getting him back out there was no mean feat. I think we made a really nice job of it.”
Never one to back down from a challenge, Titch. TG asks him about tricky builds that he just can’t manage. “From an engineering and physical aspect, I’ll take anything on,” he laughs. “I’m not afraid of failure.” It’s normally the finances that kibosh some of the more extreme projects, but nothing else.
Evidence of which crops up throughout the series. Titch and the team adapt some buggies for a pair of disabled veterans who drive it through Morocco. “Not only drive, but drive very quickly through Morocco, with three working limbs between them,” Titch says. “And for me personally, one of the highlights was completing the Weston beach race on a 1974 bike, which had always been one of my bucket list things to do.”
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Bikes. He’s got a few. “Where do I start? I ride and race a Husqvarna 350, I’ve got an old 2000 CR250, an iconic motocross bike, the old two-stroke which is an absolute animal. I have a 1982 Armstrong twinshock vintage bike, a 1974 Honda XL350, which I raced Weston beach on, and my Triumph Bonneville which is my go-to everyday machine. 2003, carburetted, none of this fuel-injected business.”
Lot of classic stuff in there, you’ll notice. “For me, the most eco-friendly thing is to do something with an old vehicle,” he says. “Maintain those old vehicles, keep them going. The best thing for the environment is maintaining something that exists.”
He talks about the Hillman Super Minx featured in the first series of The Speedshop. “That had a cast iron block. Never wears out. We started talking to owners’ groups, and there were people there who’d had their cars upwards of 300,000 miles. The manual was even written so that you could repair it yourself.
“Something you repair on your drive. That’s what all those old machines were like.” Certainly explains the van.
Catch the new series of The Speedshop this Sunday at 8pm on BBC Two.