Westfield Sports Cars

Introduction

Westfield Sportscars manufactures a range of 3 broad model types within the current factory-built and kit versions of their two-seater, open top sportscars, made for road and race track use and produced from their Dudley based factory in the West Midlands. “In essence we have three types of cars,” explains Julian Turner, “the Lotus Seven inspired Westfield Sport, the Westfield XI – more like an E-Type Jag and the Westfield XTR.  All our derivatives are rooted in these three core types.”

Launched in 1982 by vintage racing car enthusiast, Chris Smith, with numerous European and British Racing Championships to his credit, the company is now the second largest British owned and family-run Niche Vehicle Manufacturer, employing 15 people, producing around 400 kits and cars and delivering £2m turnover a year, having sold over 14000 cars worldwide since 1983.

Westfield has a simple ethos: Passion and Innovation – this is what the company started on, is embedded in every employee today, and is delivered to every customer,” says Turner.

Prior to the recession we were turning over about £3m with 52 members of staff, making all our own metal work, glass fibre bodies, seats, interiors, trim and dashboards. When I first came to the business in 2006 we had 3 different factories. But the downturn and European legislation necessitated greater focus. We decided we wanted to design and create great road and race cars– both fully built and in kit form – complying with the latest European Legislation. This meant creating a whole new supply chain and outsourcing all non-core elements. We couldn’t compete with a supplier producing 600 seats a week when we were only producing 20 or so. However, the glass fibre bodies are now produced 500 yards away from our factory, the cockpit 6-7 miles down the road and many of our former staff have joined these businesses having been TUPE’d over – so they’re still working with us in that sense.”

In the late 1980’s Caterham Cars, which had acquired the rights to the Lotus Seven, took legal action against Chris Smith, in light of similarities between his original Westfield and the Lotus. However this was settled out of court, and Westfield were able to move on, improving and changing the design of their cars.  “Caterham were of the view that our Lotus Seven inspired Westfield was the same as their car. They were not the same. We were using different technologies, materials and designs” says Turner. Westfield has long preferred the glass fibre bodies that Lotus traditionally used on the Elise, Esprit, and Elan, with recent innovations focussed around advanced polymers, innovative materials, such as dyneema, reputedly the world’s strongest fibre, Reynolds Tubing, Carbon fibre and Kevlar, as opposed to the aluminium body used by Caterham.

Expansion

Westfield was the first Niche Vehicle Manufacturer to obtain European Small Series Type Approval in 2007, for their Westfield Sport Turbo, featuring a VXR 1.6 GM Engine and lightweight design chassis “This was relevant in enabling the development of a new platform that could be sold easily across Europe without having to undergo individual vehicle tests,” says Turner. “Orders flooded in for this over the next few years and Europe, having been a small market became our largest, specifically Germany and France. However it was not without its challenges requiring considerable change as we professionalized to meet the demands of moving from being predominantly a kit car manufacturer to a type-approved vehicle manufacturer and distributor.

The experience has since highlighted the need to me for greater collaboration between specialist niche producers and in general within automotive. I couldn’t help asking myself and colleagues in the sector why we were each spending  hundreds of thousands of pounds to gain European Approval, developing electric power trains when we could have worked together and achieved this outcome for a third of the price and pooling the best brains in the industry. But we have no culture of collaboration, rather one of seeing each other as competitors, something which i intend to change

Origins
In the spring of 1982 Grand Prix competitor and engineer, Chris Smith built a replica of one of his all-time favourite race cars, the 1956 Lotus XI Le Mans car. Such was the accuracy and beauty of the car he produced in his home garage at Westfield House, Armitage, there was an immediate demand for it from motorsport enthusiasts.

By the following year. 1983, the company Westfield Sportscars had been created. Further demand for the new Westfield XI replica kit meant bigger premises and staff with the emerging sportscar company underway.After the introduction of a further new car, the equally well received Westfield 7SE, the company continued expanding rapidly to cope with ever-growing demand. A bodywork redesign and modernization led to further demand with the company becoming firmly established.In 1991, Westfield expanded again moving to the impressive factory and office block in Kingswinford where they are still manufacturing today. The V8-powered SEiGHT , referred to by Autocar as “the barmy SEiGHT, which featured a Rover V8 beneath its engorged bonnet,”was created as Westfield’s fastest machine reaching 0-60mph in 3.6 seconds, being widely acclaimed by enthusiasts and in the motoring press. Westfield has pioneered technical innovations such as independent rear suspension and a wider chassis, which other manufacturers have since adopted. The company has recently introduced a version of its SEi kit using donor parts from the Mazda Mx5 Miata in a single donor kit.
Westfield went on to become one of the first sportscar manufacturers to harness bike power designing small, but very powerful, high revving machines resulting in great speed, agility and performance at an accessible price.

In 2004 the Westfield XI kit was re-introduced and is still manufactured today.  In December 2006 ownership of Westfield Sportscars transferred to Potenza Sports Cars, a family company with a strong vision to be the first choice sportscar provider and one of the world’s most admired niche vehicle manufacturers.  Potenza have continued to invest in and develop the expansion of the business and products into new markets. In 2007 Potenza continued their product development strategy and purchased GTM Cars, integrating the GTM into the Westfield production system in almost two months. Then, six months later, they acquired a controlling stake in Roadster Bil AB, a Swedish car manufacturer.

The Geneva Motor Show 2010 marked the launch of the iRacer and saw Westfield move into the Electric vehicle market using advanced materials in vehicle components. One month following the show the world’s first Electric Vehicle Drift reliability trials took place and Westfield successfully demonstrated its new design and development capabilities. These were further extended into the hybrid market with the successful demonstration and trials of the Sport Turbo (hybrid) at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.  2013 saw the launch of the very successful MegaS2000 incorporating the Honda S2000 engine and gearbox.

Racing

Westfield made their Racing success with the creation of the Top Gear Cup in 2008. The Westfield AeroRace (Track-only petrol race car), was designed to be raced in its own series with every car being exactly the same – the driver being the only difference on the race track. This model was rolled out on a global basis and in 2009 Germany was signed up and in 2011 Malaysia was signed up – again all using the same car.  The model continues to grow worldwide.

Road Cars and Kits

The company has been very successful in the kit market – like a giant airfix model – and is the leader in this market for the UK and in Europe.  The kit market hasn’t declined due to the recession as more people want to be part of the build experience of Westfield than ever before.  In fact, so much so, as 2012 was a first for the business with more kits being sold than cars, representing quite a transformation.”

westfield kit car

Innovations

Pure Electric and Hybrid Racing Vehicles
Developing the pure electric car has been our most substantial innovation.

We recognised that we needed to be at the forefront of design and invested in pure electric and hybrid powered cars. Three vehicles – an Electric Road Car, Hybrid and Electric Race Car – were designed and manufactured in eleven weeks from scratch – each vehicle had to be tested to the limits (+/- 4G the same forces when piloting a Red Bull Stunt Aircraft), in order to demonstrate the new technology could withstand the Spike Effect, (sharp acceleration and decceleration), that is required for Sports Cars.

“The development project was very tight, requiring 24 hours working shifts sometimes to meet strict deadlines set out by the management.  The technology can be incorporated within our vehicle designs and both electric road and race cars have been a major milestone in the company’s history as no other Niche Vehicle Manufacturer has been able to demonstrate the sucessful technology in such a small packaging constraint.

The Westfield IRACER was made available as a kit for colleges, schools and individuals to build at home.   The kit can be purchased for £13,999, not including motor, controller or batteries, which are purchased separately providing the car with a top speed of 131mph. It can race around a track for approximately 20 minutes and can be recharged in one hour (or the batteries can be swapped).  It incorporates flexibility and space for different powertrain and battery configurations.  The vehicle has been a huge success in terms of its performance and reliability enabled Westfield to have the technology available for its other petrol cars – moving to Hybrid.

“Birmingham City University, amongst others, acquired an electric racing car kit so it could work on upskilling students with hands-on experience, with a view to preparing them to work at Westfield and other local auto companies. We have five BCU graduates working here and these kinds of practical relationship are very useful for companies like ours – we look to embed the staff in the company and involve them heavily in future design – at the same time they gain valuable hands-on experience in industry.

westfield vehicles“Westfield now uses Reynolds Tubing in its chassis and the wishbones adding extra strength and at the same time reducing weight. We are continuing to use new materials (carbon fibre, Kevlar and dyneema) to take further weight out of the car whilst maximising driving experience. With a very stringent repeatable design process, audited by the Government, we continue to develop vehicles for both motorsport and the road using new powertrains and new designs, to keep differentiating our product from Caterham and other companies.

“In an age of manufacturing imports Westfield are proud to boast high quality British craftsmanship in every aspect of production,” Turner says. “78% of our components and materials are sourced from within the Midlands, 22% from the rest of the UK, with just 1% imported from overseas.”

Positive Policy developments

Whilst coordination across government departments of the industrial policy has been weak, the funds made available to priorities that have been determined within the strategies focussing on low carbon, lightweight, high tech hybrids and autonomous vehicles, has been very positive. The Green Bridge Programme, managed by Birmingham City Council has been working well for us, as has the Business Innovation Programme administered as an open competition so any business is able to enter.”

Future Developments

Turner is focussed on the sector’s need for even greater collaboration in order to develop clearer vision and strategic direction.

There are some very big challenges facing us around technologies, platforms and energy sources,” he observes. “We should be looking out 20 years ahead and thinking about the game changers and where we as a country could really be taking the lead, not just in development terms, but commercially. What about putting cars in the air? The development by google of the autonomous car is very interesting and takes us one step closer to this but we need advancements in power plants – perhaps gas or hydrogen fuel cell. We need to digitise the air space and of course decide what platform is going to be used.

“In terms of connectivity we don’t have a platform other than google and the like, but not one we have developed. We do need to take some fundamental and strategic decisions, but we don’t have a great track record on this.

“We have taken years over the connectors for electric and hybrid vehicles, then there is the issue of payment systems – an Oyster card equivalent for hybrids – the infrastructure needs sorting. Meantime google has developed and built a new autonomous car which it says it will be building itself rather than working with an existing OEM. 

“ If we are to seize elements of the market we need to collaborate and develop a much greater facility in our capacity to work together. We have some of the greatest minds in the industry today, but we are not pulling together to take on the rest of the world and some fierce competition.