Porsche's first production car, the 356 was launched way back in 1948 and remained in production until 1965. Lightweight, nimble and exciting to drive, this iconic rear-engined air-cooled marvel began a cult that continues to this day, winning the hearts of generations of driving enthusiasts who revere the blend of speed, style and wayward engineering genius that is uniquely Porsche. Designed by Ferry Porsche and styled by Erwin Komenda, it began life with an air-cooled flat-four 1100cc Volkswagen engine producing just 40bhp and was effectively little more than a VW Beetle in a party frock. However, by a process of continual engineering refinement and improvement, it quickly grew into a world-class sports car and achieved success in such top events as Le Mans, the Mille Miglia, Targa Florio and Carrera Panamericana, as well as countless other races and rallies at local level.
The 356 developed over the years and depending on the specification, provenance and perceived desirability they are on offer in today's market at anything from £50k to £1m. Naturally, in much the same way as the AC Cobra and the D-Type Jaguar, these high prices have spawned an industry of small manufacturers building replicas to cater for the many people who would love to own a genuine 356 but simply can't afford to.
One of the most respected is Dorset based Chesil, a company who have built a reputation for providing one of the best 356 re-creations on the market. Available as a complete factory build, or as a home-build kit, they can be tailored to the customer's requirements using whatever size of VW engine that's available and a quality GRP body, meaning that, effectively, no two are the same.
The Chesil 356 Speedster here is a very well presented 1800 based on a 1969 donor Beetle and professionally finished in Metallic Silver with blue leather seats and matching blue carpets. The wheels are silver with chrome hub caps and the effect is enhanced by the optional luggage rack and period suitcase. Inside is pure nostalgia with a painted dashboard, chrome grab handle, aluminium gear knob and 3-spoke woodrim wheel. Registered as a 1969 Chesil, it benefits from free Road Tax and is accompanied by a large history file with old MoTs, the current MoT, bills for engine and gearbox rebuilds and some spare keys.
Having spent some time as a passenger in a hugely expensive, genuine Shelby Cobra the most annoying and frequently asked question is "Which Kit-car is this?". This is not going to happen in a Chesil Speedster, partly because not many people would recognise a 356 if they have ever seen one, but mainly because it just looks like a great way of enjoying a sunny day. This is a soundly engineered little sports car that seems so perfectly 'Fifties' and would look at home shopping in Stow-on-the-Wold or boulevarding gently down the Promenade des Anglais in Nice.