Chesil Articles - Kit Car Magazine - Peter Coxhead writes....

BUY 2 BUILD is a new kind of kitcar test, designed to give you all the information you need before buying and building a kitcar. Kit-car consultant editor Peter Coxhead will examine not just the completed car, but also the kit, the build, the company and the build literature. AND he has spoken to two owners about their own builds.

Beetles were never renowned for their handling qualities. Torsion bar front suspension has poor geometry compared to, say, unequal length wishbones and the rear suspension swing axles can cause jacking problems, which combined with a weight of a rear mounted engine can give some interesting moments if the car is driven on the limit. However, there are two things to consider here.

First, many millions of people have driven the 20,000,000 + Beetles produced to date, many, many millions of miles without any trouble at all. They are appreciated for their rugged reliability and user friendliness - not their ability to powerslide around Brands Hatch. There are significant numbers of people who want exactly these qualities in their kitcar.

Second, removing the heavy steel body and replacing it with a lightweight fibreglass job results in a lower centre of gravity which changes the handling characteristics of the car, making it more stable.

As for engine performance, the sky is the limit - 400bhp from an air-cooled Beetle engine? It's possible but not very suitable for the Speedster we suggest. However, even though the 55bhp of the stock engine may well suit a lot of people, it's possible to get a lot more for not very much money.

If you're reconditioning the engine and having it rebored, a set of oversized pistons and special barrels would be a quick and economical route to more power. Two litre engines are commonplace and although three litres cost quite a bit more they are available. Dual port heads are vastly superior to Saimesed ported ones and careful work on smoothing and enlarging the ports can give gains out of all proportion to the modest work and cost involved.

Twin carb. set-ups work very well but well designed and strong linkages are required to span the large gap between them. If a single carburettor set-up is retained it's best to keep the standard type of inlet manifold pipes coupled to the exhaust system to prevent carb. icing problems during cold weather.

However, the basic Chesil setup works fine if you drive sensibly, so don't spend time and money improving performance which you may not need. If you do wish to uprate the donor mechanical spec. talk to Chesil first - they've done it all before.

As a touring sportscar, the Chesil Speedster is relaxed and undemanding to drive. It's lighter than the donor Beetle so for a given engine size it accelerates more quickly, to the extent that it does feel much more sporty; its corners better and has a firmer ride. This is very much apparent on cars fitted with the double-jointed rear drive shafts (IRS in Chesil terms) where rear end feels more solid and less inclined to hop around under extreme cornering loads.

What is so nice about the Chesil Speedster is its level of comfort and practicality. We've driven the car in pouring rain and only the smallest amount of water crept in around the top of the window, while the heater kept the interior warm and condensation free. The wind-up window option is one we would definitely go for and the latest model option is the 'Convertible D' with its taller windscreen that allows more headroom with the hood raised.

Altogether we found the Chesil Speedster to be a thoroughly pleasant car to drive. It was stiff and rattle free. With the hood down and the windows raised there was little draught in the cockpit and it was quiet enough to carry out normal conversation without raised voices.


CONTINUAL DEVELOPMENT AND PROFESSIONAL MARKETING ARE THE KEY

THE COMPANY:

PORSCHE Speedster replicas have been around for a number of years. They enjoyed a certain popularity in the early days of kitcars but this gradually fell away until, by the mid-80's, most people in the trade thought that this particular sector of the market was a dead duck.

Certainly the people at a company called Street Beetle were of that opinion. Their Porsche replica was pretty good - Beetle-based and easy, and not too expensive, to build. However, it didn't sell in quantities that made its manufacture a viable business. Neither did other Speedster replica manufacturers attract sufficient customers and so that market gradually died.

Then along came Peter Bailey. Peter, a long time Beetle fan, bought the project lock-stock-and-barrel from Street Beetle in 1990 and renamed the company Chesil Speedsters. It seems he didn't accept that such a sweet-looking car, with so much going for it, would fail to sell if it was marketed properly.

Marketing, the Achilles heel of so many companies, is one of the main planks of Chesil's strategy. Another is the on-going development programme that is dedicated to continually improving all aspects of the business including the quality of its main product, the Speedster.

It all sounds simple enough but it takes an immense amount of time and effort to identify, plan, organise an control the many strands of an ailing business that need attention. Like many small companies, Chesil Speedsters didn't have the financial resource to call on the services of outside help, but by working long hours and perfecting the trick of keeping several balls in the fair at any one time. Bailey gradually succeeded in turning the business around.

Beautifully built demonstration cars, attractively laid out stands at shows, persuasive advertisements, tidy premises, good literature, lots of publicity (some of it outside the traditional kitcar press) and a very good sales technique all contributed to a highly successful marketing policy. Along the way he found time to set up the Association of Specialist Car Manufacturers and continues to persuasively argue that to survive, the kitcar industry must widen its horizons and create new markets.

Because of an increase in the number of customers wanting fully built, turnkey cars, the company has recently opened a brand-new workshop to meet the demand. Another project that is reaching fruition is the production of a 550 Spyder replica and kits should be available sometime at the end of this year.



PERFECTLY PACKAGED: THE KIT OPTIONS

The Speedster body kit is available in right or left-hand drive and Base Kit or De Luxe form. The GRP bodyshell is hand-laminated and has 2/3 layers of gel coat to achieve a good depth of colour. There is a choice of 80+gel coat colours that provide a very acceptable finish, or the bodyshell can be spray painted. The undersides of the panels are finished in a smooth flowcoat and special matting is used in areas of particular stress. As an option, all the necessary holes for the lights, instruments, etc. can be ready cut, free of charge.

All body kits come with a substantial folded steel subframe bonded to the bodyshell and this incorporates heater channels, door hinge mounts, door latch mounts and seat belt mounts. It is powder-coated as standard, but zinc plating is an option at extra cost.

The base kit consists of: unpolished bodyshell/subframe; bumpers and fittings; bonnet with hinges and brackets; engine cover with hinges and brackets; doors (not fitted) with hinges, shims and fixings; panels to fit between VW engine and Chesil subframe, including rubber seals and battery tray; and rubber weather seals. This costs 3,265 plus VAT.

The De Luxe kit is 4.695 plus VAT and has much of the body panels and hardware fitted - part of the build that may customers find most difficult. The kit consists of: bodyshell/chassis unit in gel coat finish to customer's choice of colour; front and rear bumpers in body colour; bonnet fitted and latched with interior cable release and bonnet stay; engine cover with thumb latch and interior cable release; doors hung and latched using replica hinges, plus inner and outer door handles; windscreen fitted with frame and all rubbers; powder-coated hood frame with header rail and chrome latches all fitted; Mohair hood with beige inner face in a choice of standard or large rear window; toughened glass sidescreens with hard wood door cappings, chrome support set, security straps, weather seals (wind up windows an option). Engine sealing panels as in base kit; battery tray and weather seals.

Additional parts are supplied as packages, including all fittings, down to the smallest screw. For example, the Electric's Set includes body grommets, cable fixings, terminals and crimper, plus major items like the wiring look and switches. Lighting, body, trim, dash, heater, upholstery (above), carpet and replacement engines are all also available.


NO PROBLEMS FOR A DIY FAN: THE BUILD

The majority of people still prefer to build the Speedster themselves from one of the available kits. The process is a fairly simple one and, if you consider yourself to be a DIY type of person, you should have no problem in screwing a Speedster together.

In simple terms, it consists of buying a donor Beetle, removing its bodyshell to expose the floorpan and mechanical items, refurbishing any worn parts, shortening the chassis by 10.5 inches, bolting on the new body/sub chassis unit and trimming the interior. In practice, of course, there is a little more to it than that.

Chesil's construction manual is well illustrated and clearly written, but it only refers to items related to the kit itself, so a VW Beetle workshop manual will be required when working on donor car parts. In fact, all of the company literature is well produced and information. Lets look at the build in a little more detail.

Step one is to remove the donor car body shell. Simply disconnect the steering column, remove the wiring loom, remove the 32 or so bolts from around the periphery of the floorpan and, with couple of strong men, lift of the steel bodyshell.

Using the workshop manual as a guide, remove the engine, transaxle, front and rear suspension, brake and fuel lines, so the chassis is completely stripped ready for shortening. At this stage you may decide to carry out the chassis modifications yourself or you could get Chesil to do it for you. The floorpans may need replacing if they are corroded and the company will carry out this work.

Okay, so you've decided to let Chesil take the strain and carry out the chassis modifications. Meanwhile, you can begin refurbishing the mechanical components. This is an ideal opportunity to replace worn items and clean and paint hardware - wheel bearings, oil seals, track rod ends, shock absorbers and so on are all easy and cheap to replace.

Also, you could now modify the springing to give a soft, supple ride to your Speedster, which will be considerably lighter then the original Beetle. The VeeDub uses horizontal torsion bars that run in tubes across the front of the car. To soften the ride and lower the ride height you could remove two leaves from the top torsion bar and fit a Sway-A-Way unit to the lower one. An easier, more effective option would be to use a completely rebuilt front-end (100) with all the necessary modifications built-in.

If you purchase the Full Body Kit the handles, release mechanisms, windscreen and hood frames will all be fitted for you but you will have to carry out these task next if you are working with a Base kit. The keys to success here are careful measurement, adherence to the instructions and patience to achieve a good fit.

Chesil offer a free hole cutting service and this is one option that would be on our priority list providing that a standard car is being built. If you decide to fit different instruments or lights than those recommended, the necessary holes can now be cut.

Now comes the interesting bit. With the rebuilt modified chassis repainted and on its wheels, the bodyshell/subframe can be fitted and suddenly a Speedster is born - and it all happens very quickly. After applying sealing, the bodyshell unit is placed over the floorpan and bolted down using the original fixing holes. A couple of hours' work completes this transformation - a day's work could see the body fitted and engine installed.

It seems that one of the bug-bears of kit building is the electric's. Chesil's loom is tailor-made for the job, with terminals fitted and identified, but still people seem to get hung up. The construction manual gives pretty clear instructions, so it really is a case of taking your time and working carefully.

You are now on the home run of the build. The steering column location might be a big tricky to work out (make a small hole in the suggeste3d position on the bulkhead and use a thin rod to establish the correct line to the steering box), but fitting out the underbonnet area is simply a matter of closely following the directions in the manual.

The trim panels are accurately cut to size and upholstered - this is one of the most outstanding features of the Chesil and a very professional finish is easy to achieve. The carpet set is cut to size and edged and only needs screws or glue to fix into place.

Sidescreens, door seals, seats and trim items are all straightforward to fit but completing the wiring and fitting instruments could cause the nervous amateur electrician some worrying moments.

The Full Body Kit has the hood frame already fitted but there appears to be no instructions how to do this in the manual, so again you could leave this job to Chesil. Heart-stopping moments abound during this operation but once again care and attention to detail will ensure a good fit.

That is just a brief outline of the build procedure for the Chesil Speedster. You don't need to be a trained craftsman to put a car together, but you do need to think about what you are doing and pay attention to the detail. Take your time, do a good job and you'll have a car to be proud of.


THE MOTHER OF ALL DONORS: THE DONOR

The mother of all donors, the VW Beetle is perfectly suited to provide the mechanical components for the Chesil Speedster. Dr Ferdinand Porsche designed both cars and many features were common between the earlier Beetle and the Speedster. So while the Chesil's version of the Speedster is not an exact copy of the original the mechanical components beneath the accurate GRP bodyshell do have a very good pedigree.

Not only does the VeeDub supply all the major mechanical and electrical components but also it gives up its internal organs without a struggle. The steel bodyshell simply unbolts from the sturdy steel floor pan, leaving the complete suspension, engine and drivetrain exposed for easy refurbishing.

There has lately been a surge of interest in Beetle-based cars. Why? Clearly, recent changes in legislation have made it more attractive to own a kitcar, which uses the majority of components from a single donor. This way the car can be registered as a rebodied VW and retain its registration number and avoid the SVA test. It may even be exempt from road tax if the donor is old enough; insurance premiums and other running costs are usually low. As it happens, the Chesil Motor Company was one of the first manufacturers to comply with the SVA test so, if any changes occur in the law, or if the idea of an original registration number does not appear, it is perfectly possible to have the car tested and licensed in the usual manner.

But there are more, practical reasons for choosing the Beetle as a donor. There are millions of cars available. Despite the ridiculously high prices now being paid for cars in good condition, there are thousands of MOT failures to be had that sell for a dime a dozen. Spare parts are very cheap, so you can completely recondition the running gear at negligible cost and the early '40s technology is so simple you don't need to be a mechanical wizard to carry out all the work yourself.

Any Type 1 VW Beetle can be used as a donor for the Chesil Speedster. There are various models that come under the Type 1 heading. The first of which is the 000cc, which has drum brakes, torsion bar front suspension and swing axle rear suspension. Continuous improvements saw the introduction of bigger engines, disc brakes and the swing axle, which was prone to jacking, was fitted with a Z-bar and the torsion bars were softened. Double-jointed rear driveshafts with diagonal links were introduced - again aimed at reducing jacking when cornering hard.

An important modification was the replacement of swing arm front suspension by tall McPherson front to accept torsion bars and Chesil can carry out this modification for you.

With the Beetle's steel bodyshell removed, the chassis is not very torsionally stiff and The Chesil Motor Company supply a steel frame to replace the loss of stiffness. They also offer a chassis shortening service.

All Beetle engines are pretty reliable. They are noisy on starting - air-cooled engines require bigger clearances than water-cooled motors because they run hotter, but they quieten down after a few minutes running.

Torsion bar suspension is as tough as old Harry and gives very little trouble. The front suspension bushes can seize-up if not lubricated properly and these give the car a stiff, twitchy feel. Wobbly steering will probably be down to wear in the front kingpins or balljoints and the kingpins of pre-'67 cars are far more likely to suffer from this due to poor lubrication. Double-jointed drive shafts can sometimes become noisy due to wear in the CV joints.


IMPRESSED BY THEIR SERVICE: THE OWNER 1

Tony Birder, 52, works in the construction industry and for some years has had a hankering to build a sportscar purely for leisure use. He fancied a Caterham Seven but decided it was too much of a struggle to get in and out of, and was not practical enough. He saw a Chesil at Stoneleigh Show and decided a Speedster was the car for him. After some research of the market he purchased a Full Body Kit from Chesil.

Two years ago he bought a second-hand Beetle chassis that had been shortened by Chesil but the initial owner had to abandon the project to move overseas. Working slowly because of other calls on his spare time, Tony is part-way through the project and has a loose target date of next spring. He has rebuilt the chassis, converting the drum brakes to discs at the process. Chesil spayed the bodyshell, which has been fitted to the car and the engine is ready to install - for now a stock 1200cc motor from the donor car is being fitted with an upgrade planned for later. Tony expects to spend about 14K on the car which he concedes is not much less than the purchase price of a factory built model, but he is getting a lot of satisfaction from building the Speedster himself.

To date he has experienced no problem that hasn't been sorted out by a 'phone call to the factory. He did have a hiccup when wiring in hazard warning lights - the instruction manual was not clear on this point - but that was soon fixed. He is impressed by the backup and service. He said: "I really can't speak highly enough of the company."


THE OWNER 2

Having built a Westfield Lotus 11 replica, Roger Thomas, a 60 year old property developer, is familiar with the industry and its products. He chose to build a Speedster because his wife like the shape of the car and settled on Chesil to supply the kit because, after a good deal of research, he felt it was the company that could "deliver all that it promised in terms of quality and service".

The car took about a year to build but completion was delayed due to the engine supplier falling behind schedule. A local firm shortened the chassis and fitted the suspension (IRS rear, torsion bar front), but apart from the engine build, Roger carried out the rest of the work himself. He had a few problems when wiring the car but Roger admits that electric's is not his strong point; however, he managed to sort it all out in the end. Also, he didn't realise that the steering column required shortening - it's not mentioned in the manual.

Fitting the wind-up windows was quite a fiddle and if he'd realised this earlier he would have had them installed by the factory.

He didn't set a budget and after a while he stopped counting the cost but he reckons he spent about 12/14K - although he said the build could have been completed for a lot less.

Roger is delighted with the performance of the car, which is fitted with a 1800cc engine running on twin Webers. He says that it is quick and sporty to drive. It looks good to: "I could sell the car about four times a day. People can't believe it's a replica and that it's a gel coat finish, not an expensive paint job", he says.

Footman James insures the car for a premium of 150 and it's economical to run. He says that Chesil is an excellent company to seal with and was quick to put right any small problems that occurred.

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