A brief history, 1981 – present day

G.E.A.R.S. or to give it its full title Gearbox Exchange And Repair Services, began trading as a company on the 9th of November 1981, by Peter Formby.

Peter explains: Having been working with manual transmissions as part of another company within the motor trade since 1972, the economic climate of the early 80s forced this company into receivership, and myself effectively out of a job. So I took this opportunity to be positive and venture out on my own and formed G.E.A.R.S. I could now continue my work and provide a base where the local motor trade and the DIY mechanic could send their faulty manual transmission for repair, overhaul or exchange.

I first took an interest in manual transmission engineering, when a vehicle I owned developed a noise from the gearbox and the dealership couldn’t (or on reflection, probably didn’t know how to) repair it. They had to replace my transmission with an entirely new unit from the manufactures, which was quite expensive, even in those days.

So after making several enquiries to various dealers, I realised that the majority of the mechanics or technicians at these main dealers hadn’t a clue about the internal workings of a gearbox, let alone have the confidence to open one up and repair it! Their answer was to simplify matters and fit a new unit, which saved time and expense for the dealer but in turn greater expense for the vehicle owner.

G.E.A.R.S. originally began trading from a small unit in Halsall, a rural village outside Southport, Merseyside. Over the initial 12 to 18 months the company slowly built up a steady clientele from the local garages within a 25-mile radius many of whom I had worked with at the previous company prior to its demise.

In the early 80s, the large majority of vehicles were British and rear wheel drive (RWD). Examples include the Ford Escort Mk1&2, the Cortina, Capri & Granada ranges, and of course the recently launched Sierra. The Vauxhall range included the Viva & Chevette and the Marina / Ital range from what was then British Leyland. The front wheel drive (FWD) vehicles at that time were mainly the Austin Mini, 1100 / 1300, Maxi, Allegro and Ambassador ranges from our old British Leyland, with Fords baby car, the Fiesta, really taking off since its launch in 1977. The brand new Mk3 Escort range of cars had just hit the roads in 1981 and these were now using a transaxle (a combined gearbox and final drive assembly) similar to the Fiesta. Front wheel drive was deemed to be the way forward and the Ford decision to go down this road in mass production terms was to have a significant impact in the future of driveline technology from then on.

Prior to this, the FWD influence had slowly been infiltrating from Europe from the early 70s, in the guise of Renault, Peugeot / Citroen, VW and Fiat. Strange to realise that barely a quarter of a century ago, no one would believe how dominant these European manufacturers would become, and together with the emergence of the Japanese big 4 of Honda, Toyota, Mazda and Nissan (formerly Datsun) the British manufacturers were for the first time being put on the back foot as regards volume production. Ford were obviously quick to pick up on this point, so the launch of the most popular Mk3 Escort with FWD showed that this was the way to go.

In 1984, the company moved to larger premises at 13b Cypress Road, Southport, where it remains today. Since that time dramatic changes in vehicle and transmission design has meant keeping up with technology to deal with the increasing amount of FWD 5-speed units, together with the 4WD units from the variations of off-roaders (Landrovers, Shoguns, Fourtrak, Landcruisers etc.) that have taken over since the mid 90s.

Together with these vehicles, the performance market opened up with hot hatchbacks, the likes of XR and RS Fords, GTIs and GTEs from all major manufacturers have led to another niche that needed to be filled in providing a service to rectify a problem or provide a suitable unit to do the job for a particular need. My son Andrew joined the company in 2004 and has taken on the role of specialising in the performance side of the transmission work and ensures that RS Turbo, Cosworth and Subaru units are available on stock.

Today with further advancements in transmission technology, 6-speed units are becoming more popular in an effort to provide higher ratios to give greater miles per gallon in these days of being eco friendly and protecting the environment by attempting to use less fuel.

With the changes in vehicle design over the past 20 years, as outlined earlier, the majority of these vehicles are predominantly FWD 5-speed transmissions incorporating the final drive or differential. As these units are neatly tucked away tightly under the bonnet of the vehicle, making transmission removal and refitting virtually impossible for the DIY mechanic, as too many specialist tools and equipment are required to do this work. Because of this, the majority of our work (about 90%) is now exclusively from the motor trade. The other 10% is from the performance car owners and restorers, who require a direct replacement or a special build unit for a particular vehicle they are preparing for a show or event.

We try to keep all options open as far as replacement units are concerned, but the manufacturers are constantly altering bell housing bolt configurations, mountings and bolt positions not to mention transmission type and ratio specification.

Ford are one of the biggest culprits in this respect as there are literally hundreds of the Fiesta / Escort B5 / IB5 variations if you were to study the build-set list. Unlike 20 years ago, it is now virtually impossible to have every unit available for today’s vehicle range, so we keep a large selection of gear sets and a variation of transmission casings in stock to build a particular unit without the need to have a multitude of units available for a particular make and model to address variations in transmission types.

In 2012, the company embarked on a major restructuring programme, with an additional section designated to transmission technology and innovation. It was decided to re-name the company from June 2012 and in doing so form it into a limited company. With Andrew being in charge of the new section within the existing company, “APF G.E.A.R.S. LIMITED” was born.

With the major developments in today’s engine technology, the early performance icons are now developing frightening power outputs. To enable this power to be transferred to the road wheels, the standard spec transmission was simply not built to deal with such demands, and subsequently fails.

We are constantly modifying and uprating transmissions with stronger bearings and shafts, specialist metal treating processes and ATB differentials in an effort to keep pace with these engine developments. At the same time, we are still here providing a service for the motor trade, the DIY motorist, enthusiast, performance people and restorers. Thirty four years have gone by since those first steps of uncertainty were taken and amid boom times, slow times and recessions we’re still here with the aim and commitment I started all those years ago: to provide an honest, reliable service at an economical price.

The fact that our base of customers has remained loyal throughout the years speaks volumes. I hope we can continue supporting and supplying new and existing customers for many more years to come.