Chesil Articles - Which Kit? Magazine - Ian Stent writes....

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 driving position.

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 pothole.

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 to compensate.

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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