THE OLD BOY IN THE TEA-ROOM can contain his excitement
no longer. He's overheard Chesil's headman, Peter Bailey,
and myself talking about the company's new demonstrator
which is parked outside. He's not picked up on the fact
that it's a replica and, as he leaves, he compliments
us on the car and recounts his own tale of being blown
away at the traffic lights by an original just after
they'd been launched. He chuckled to himself at the
memory before shuffling out for one final look…
Had he really had his wits about him, he might have
noticed that the badge on the front said 'Chesil' and
the interior, whilst classic in appearance, was far
from original. For this latest incarnation of the Chesil's
Speedster the company has introduced yet more developments
to bring the pretty roadster even closer to a nineties
sports car instead of fifties relic.
Having said that, parked up in the street of a picturesque
Dorset village, the Chesil really does look fantastic,
regardless of all the clever developments under the
skin. Perfect from just about any angle, the Speedster
is a visual delight of soft curves. What's more, the
finishing touches all add to the favourable impression.
No big alloys here, just simple steel wheels with wonderfully
bowled chrome hubcaps and sensibly sized footwear. The
purpose made wing mirrors offer an exquisite slice of
fifties are nouveau while the interior is perfectly
balanced with mature colours and leather opulence.
Cast your eye over the whole package that there's not
an aggressive line on it, which might well explain why
the car is such a winner with the ladies. Yet its upmarket
heritage and historical sporting prowess mean the boys
needn't feel left out either. The Speedster can be all
things to all men and, it seems, to all women. No wonder
the company is currently building fully built Chesil's
at the rate of one every two weeks!
New seats are a major feature of this latest car and
they simply ooze production car levels of fit and finish.
It's terribly difficult to get an after market seat
that doesn't look like an after market seat and Chesil
ha actually sourced and production seat and modified
it to suit the company's requirements. The result is
a leather-trimmed chair with adjustable tilting back,
adjustable lumbar support and height adjustment to lift
the whole thing up or down on its runners. The latter
facility is almost unique in the kit car world and should
ensure that just about anyone can find a comfortable
In front of the driver are the instruments which, in
this car, are cream faced with black markings. Previous
offerings included black faces with green markings but
most people said that they would rather have something
with a more classic feel…without realising that what
they were looking at was an exact replica of the original!
So Chesil went away and had these specially made up.
The layout of the numbers and overall design is, yet
again, as per the original, only now people think the
colouring is more in keeping with the Speedster image,
even if it isn't!
Elsewhere in the interior everything is pretty much
as we've seen it before. The standard of trimming is
faultless and the green carpeting of the test car simply
oozes classic appear. Not that such things come cheap.
The carpet set may be £165 + VAT but the vinyl trim
set adds £820 + VAT (including the standard bucket seats).
Head for the leather option and you can add a further
£712 + VAT while if you fancy the new seats in leather
then you'll be looking for an additional £550. But then
again, this level of finish has never come cheap. There's
nothing to say you cannot trim the car yourself, perhaps
simply buying the bucket seats from Chesil or even sourcing
your own aftermarket items. With care and attention
it is quite easy to produce a clean finish, but you'll
struggle to match the standards being set here.
Another area of real appeal for the Chesil comes when
you look behind the front seats and realise there's
a rear bench for the kids. There may not be bucket loads
of space back here but it's certainly an option. The
company can offer either simple lap belts or more convincing
four-point harnesses back here and it all helps to justify
the expense of such a car if you can also throw in the
kids for the odd weekend away.
For all the Chesil's supposed mod-cons, it's often difficult
to get away from the fact that underneath all the fancy
curves is nothing more adventurous than an ageing VW
Beetle. With Chesil building a complete Speedster every
two weeks, it should come as no surprise that the company
has the refurbishment side of the process down to a
fine art. And for the kit car builder doing the job
at home it's always worth remembering that the finished
article will only ever be as good as the donor components
you've put underneath it. Get it right here and the
battle is already three-quarters won.
As standard, Chesil discards the original floors and,
quite often, the framehead at the front which supports
the front suspension. What you're left with is essentially
the spine of the original Beetle floorpan which then
receives new floors and framehead. This, along with
all the major suspension components, is then sent away
for shotblasting before being returned and comprehensively
primed and painted. All braking components, bearings
and any other wearing parts are replaced with new for
the company's full builds - all of which leaves as little
as possible to chance.
To restore the structural integrity to the car, the
new GRP bodyshell (which incorporates a high temperature
distortion point resin to reduce rippling) has a substantial
sub-chassis bonded in place before the whole lot is
bolted down onto the floorpan using the original fixing
points. The end result is a remarkably stiff structure
that feels considerably more rigid than any Beetle I've
been in. There's not a squeak or rattle from any part
of the car over even the roughest of back roads.
On the suspension side there's also a tendency to view
the Beetle underpinnings with a certain degree of derision.
At the front there's the old trailing arm, torsion bar
set-up while at the back you've the option of VW's swing
axle or IRS arrangement. Chesil modifies the front torsion
bar to allow for a certain degree of ride-height adjustment
but otherwise things are left remarkably standard.
The test car features the IRS rear end and comes with
disc brakes on the front and drums at the rear. The
ride is immediately surprising, being amazingly supple
yet encouragingly supportive. With a lower centre of
gravity, there's minimal roll to speak of and you very
quickly begin to relax with the car confident that there
are no nasty surprises waiting for you over the next
One suspects that more spirited driving may highlight
any limitations in the suspension, but the reality appears
to be that you drive according to the car's image. It
isn't an aggressive machine and you've certainly nothing
to prove by behaving like a hooligan. All the while
the gearshift is precise and positive, while the floor
mounted pedals take a little longer to get used to.
On this car the standard pedals felt a little tall,
pushing the pads just a bit higher on the ball of my
foot than I might otherwise have wanted. Still, if it
really bothered you it would be easy to put extra padding
under the carpet to push your feet up a little further
The engine in this demo car is an 1800cc version of
the standard 1600cc air-cooled flat four. It offers
a healthy bump up in performance from the standard unit's
60bhp to 90bhp. Alternatively, there's also a 2-litre
version which delivers 110bhp, but it's the 1800cc unit
which appears to be the most popular. As well as the
extra power, it provides a useful extra shove in the
torque department and the end result is a Speedster
that hustles along very respectably, if still a little
mundane by modern sports car standards. Particularly
encouraging is Chesil's fitment of an aftermarket exhaust
system which banishes the Beetle's horribly asthmatic
splutters for a for more convincing sportster burble.
In Chesil's desire to offer more and more options for
the Speedster, the extras list can become somewhat bewildering.
There's a new removable hardtop for all-year-round practicality
while the wiring loom can now accommodate a Thatcham
approved immobiliser system for those of a nervous disposition.
If you want to can leave the filter cap under the bonnet
or, as on this demo car, opt for an externally positioned
one. The more you look, the more you'll find and, whilst
they may not be quite in the spirit of the original
car, they'll certainly make your life easier in the
real world. Alternatively, it's important to remember
that you can make this car as authentic as you like
- the original bucket seats look excellent, those green
faced dials are still available while some even skinnier
tyres will probably complete the deception.
A standard factory-built Chesil with 1600cc engine will
currently set you back £16,950 inclusive. Order one
to the spec of the current demo car (brand new components
throughout) and you can kiss goodbye to just under £21,500
but Chesil estimates that the private builder could
compete a similar car using reconditioned donor parts
for substantially less. Most Chesil customers building
their cars at home will typically spend nearer £10,000
- £12,000 while Peter Bailey has heard of people hitting
the road for as little as £8,500.
The current kit options start with the Base Kit and
a Full Body Kit. In reality, Chesil steers most customers
to the latter option, since just about everything
offered in the Full Body Kit must be bought from Chesil
anyway and the company goes on to hang the doors,
bonnet, boot and windscreen for you.
Producing a fully-built car every two weeks as well
as one kit every two weeks takes some organisation and
the set-up at Chesil doesn't disappoint. There's nothing
fancy here, no modern unit and no hoards of staff but
there is a general sense of confidence - confidence
in the product, confidence in the way it's put together
and the way in which it's presented to the customer.
From the initial contact via a brochure to the final
driving experience, it appears most eventualities have
been thought of and dealt with.
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