April 14, 2005 One of the stars of the recent Melbourne International Auto Show was a new automobile with a distinctly recognisable shape – the “James Dean” Porsche Speedster reincarnated with a turbocharged 2 litre WRX motor. The Chetcuti is powered by a 160 kilowatt Subaru EJ20 motor and is available in three versions, all based on a 1957 Porsche Speedster: the rear-engined “traditional” shape, a wide-bodied version and a wide-bodied mid-engined version. All three weigh in at around 1000 kg, and offer spectacular performance at around US$55,000.
Best known as the car associated with screen legend James Dean, the Speedster is one of the most loved and sought-after Porsche models. The Porsche Speedster of its day came in three versions – a 1582cc 70 bhp standard model, a super 88 bhp model and a race-ready quad cam, dual ignition 128 bhp Carrera. The Chetcuti comes with a standard 160kw (215 bhp) WRX motor but once you’re rolled it off the showroom floor, the WRX has so many performance parts available that you could easily extract 500 horses from the engine and build a roadster offering stellar performance.
“In every other aspect of the car, the owner can have what they want,” says Reno Chetcuti, the originator of the marque. “We work closely with the people who order our cars to ensure they get a car that is exactly what they want, down to the type of leather, but I’m prevented by law from providing anything but a standard motor as the cars have to meet Australian design Rules.
“After you’ve purchased the car, quite obviously, the Subaru engine has tremendous potential and you can squeeze as much horsepower into it as you wish. I’ve seen WRX motors producing 400 kilowatts.
“Because the car weighs just 1000 kilograms, it is very fast with a standard EJ20 engine and it is completely reliable. That’s the most important part – you can race it or drive it on the road and it’s like the modern day version of the original in that it can hold its own with anything available in either environment and perform reliably in both.
Chetcuti had dreamed of building his own car all his life, embarking on the development of the traditional model four years ago. The first car was the original speedster copy, and after that came the wide-bodied version, which was run in the 2003 Australian Grand Prix Rally – a five day road event with many closed-road special stages – the ideal test for a racer roadster.
“That was an early stage of the development and we learned a lot, though most importantly we found there weren’t any achilles heels hidden anywhere – it was mainly refinement and a lot of work in the suspension area. We knew we had a quick car, but the Rally also put the performance in perspective. The field was comprised of expensive sports cars and several times we had top ten finishes in the special stages in a field of 140 cars. My best result was seventh in a special stage, one tenth of a second behind a GT2 Porsche and one tenth ahead of a GT3 – as I said, the car is plenty quick enough with the standard Subaru WRX motor.
“Indeed, after I’d sorted out all the things I wanted to fix in the design of the rear-engined wide-bodied Speedster, it was the experiences of the Grand Prix Rally that crystallised the mid-engined Speedster in my mind.
“Once again we fabricated our own steel chassis and the interesting thing is that it feels just like the wide-bodied Speedster until you get to racetrack speeds and cornering loads, and then you can feel the neutral balance of the mid-engine. It doesn’t have any oversteer and is incredibly well mannered under racetrack conditions.
The cost of the car varies depending on the specification, but will usually come in at around AUD$80,000 or 10% cheaper for overseas customers due to Australian taxes. All cars are quoted individually as are overseas delivery costs and Chetcuti can be contacted via the RC Speedster web site.
“The one thing I learned from our first public outing at the Melbourne Motor Show is that people love the traditional model much more than the others. I was really surprised by the public focus on the traditional car – it was overwhelming.
“I guess it’s seen as much closer to the famous original and people look at it and see a car that looks like a Speedster, has three times the original’s horsepower and costs half as much.
“They look at the widebody and see it as a hybrid that sits visually somewhere between the 911 turbo and the 356 and it becomes just another wickedly fast show car – but the public response to the traditional car was incredibly encouraging. People were really impressed with the quality and finish and we’re now talking with several international distributors and are looking at a whole new set of problems – how to make enough of them.
“They’re nice problems to have,” he smiles.