If you want adrenaline-rush immediacy and driver reward from £4000 up, head for a Westfield
“If you want to get back to real driving, buy a Westfield.” Not our words, or indeed Westfield’s, but those of Westfield enthusiast and workshop specialist Mark Glasswell.
We’d agree, of course. We’d also say the same about Caterhams, which are more expensive – your money buying an aluminium rather than glassfibre body, a generally better finish, a more track-tuned set-up out of the box and a direct association with the original Lotus Seven.
Not that the Westfield is a poor relation, as many owners will attest. In fairness to Glasswell, he’s not dewy eyed about the cars, being equally passionate about Caterhams.
The staple Westfield is the SE. Early ones from the 1980s have a five-link, solid rear axle from the Ford Escort. It suits track use. Towards the end of the decade, the SEi emerged with an independent set-up at the back featuring double wishbones and an Escort differential in a Westfield housing. It’s better suited to road use. So-called wide-body versions of both types (they’re also longer) appeared in around 1990. The following year, the narrow body was dropped.
Next came SEiGHT versions powered by a Rover V8. The first cars had an Escort diff but it was deemed too weak for the torque and was replaced by one from the Sierra. Although the SEiGHT is bit nose heavy in corners, the 3.9 V8 is a grunty thing that can power the car around a track on a whisper of throttle. Talking of torque, there are diesel-powered Westfields, too.
Back to petrols, and early engines included Ford Kents, Pintos and CVHs, as well as very screamy Fiat twin-cams. They were followed by Rover K-series and Vauxhall Red Top twin-cam units, Toyota 1.6 and Honda S2000 engines, and Ford Zetec and Sigma units. Ford Ecoboost engines are popular today. As for gearboxes, early Westfields are likely to have the four-speed Escort ‘rocket’ gearbox and later ones the Type 9 ’box from the Sierra or its successor, the MT75.
The range of engines and ’boxes makes navigating the world of Westfield far from straightforward. More of the cars are home-built from kits, too, whereas Caterhams tend to be bought whole, so there are huge differences in build quality.
For example, one leading owners’ forum features photos of crudely built Westfields, their rear wheels not centralised in the arches – a common fault. A near-perfect relationship of wheels to body, carefully routed pipes, a lovingly trimmed interior, well- lubricated suspension, an updated cooling system and a photographic record of the car’s assembly are the hallmarks of a well-built Westie. Unless you can put your hand through one, don’t fret unduly over panel gaps, especially on early cars.
If you’re on the large side but charmed by a narrow-bodied SE, you might find a change of seat liberates a few extra precious centimetres. It would be a shame to be separated from a Westie by so small a margin.
An expert’s view – Mark Glasswell, founder, MKG Automotive
“I wanted a Lotus Seven when I was 17 and then, when I realised I couldn’t afford one, a Caterham. When I realised I couldn’t afford one of them either, I bought a Westfield in kit form. That was in 1990 when I was 18 and I still have it. It’s a narrow-body SEi powered by a 2.0-litre Ford Pinto engine that is perfectly adequate for such a lightweight car. I’d still have a Caterham. I love the whole concept and don’t understand the rivalry between Caterham and Westfield owners, but the Westfield is what I could afford and what I’ve become a specialist in. Being more expensive, Caterhams are of a higher quality but a Westfield gives you the same buzz. You get out after a drive and think: ‘I’ve just survived something really special.’”
Engine: There are many types out there so it’s a question of listening for odd noises, looking for leaks and checking the colour of the exhaust smoke. Many later engines have a timing belt so find out when it was last changed.
Gearbox: Ford gearboxes are very oil-grade sensitive but all should be checked for smoothness of operation and oil tightness. Check for clutch slip and that the biting point is to spec.
Brakes, steering and suspension: If the suspension hasn’t been refurbished, expect bushes to be tired. Check for scored and corroded discs and, on rear-drum-brake cars, that the shoes aren’t seized through lack of use. Ask a mate to shake the steering wheel while you check there’s no free play in the top and bottom ball joints.
Body: Inspect panels for cracks, stone chips and parking shunts. Mouldings weren’t the best and getting doors and the rear end to line up was fiddly, so don’t expect perfection. However, do expect the rear wheels to sit centrally in their arches. Likewise, windscreen, bonnet and front wheels should line up properly. Make sure you know what roll hoop it has (see ‘Also worth knowing’).
Interior: A removable steering wheel is good to have. Check the condition of the inertia reel belts or, if fitted, racing harness.
Also worth knowing
The standard rollover hoop doesn’t offer the greatest protection. You would be advised to replace it with the far stronger rollover bars offered by the RAC and MSA. Both offer little space between your head and the ground but should save your skull. The RAC bar is effective but enthusiasts claim the MSA X-tube item is stronger.
How much to spend
£4000-£4999: Project SEs and runners needing TLC.
£5000-£6000: Some very nice SEs and SEiWs, a few of them dealer cars with warranties. Great value for money.
£8500-£9999: Proper cars with full-race specs but likely to have been tracked regularly
£10,000-£15,000: Concours and later cars up to 2015-reg
One we found
Westfield SE, 1998, 3500 miles, £6350: Good toe-in-the-water car for a first- timer. This privately offered example has a rebuilt Kent crossflow 1.6 engine producing 106bhp, a new clutch, updated cooling system and new electronics. It comes with side doors, aero screen and soft garage cover.