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QWest – a new breed of coachbuilder for a new millennium
Need more space in a Tesla Model S?
There’s something familiar about the roads leading to QWest’s HQ.
Nestled in a part of Norfolk that is neither flat, city, nor Broadland, these are the roads upon which some incredible cars have been honed to perfection over the last century. And it’s along these winding rural slithers you find QWest, a company which has taken a different stance to performance vehicle design than the locals’ previous efforts.
QWest aren’t obsessing about lap times and minimalism – but that does not mean they aren’t obsessed with keeping weight low and performance high, because they are. They’re just doing so in a much more practical package, and one which should look after the world in which it’s been created. They’re making an estate version of the incredibly popular and effective Tesla Model S. And they’re already getting order enquiries from across Europe and beyond.
As with all great ideas, it happened in a pub – where a Tesla Model S owner happened to mention there was no room for their dogs in the back of the car. To the team who went on to become Qwest – this sounded like a gauntlet being thrown down.
With a network of contacts including the illustrious Jim Router, who had previously worked with McLaren on the F1, TWR on a few Le Mans cars, Colin Chapman on the Delorean and many other incredible projects including alt-fuel trailblazers Riversimple, the Qwest team began the task of converting a Model S.
Starting as they meant to go on by using cutting edge CAD programming to ensure minimal tolerances, using carbon fibre to add more body, and Pilkington to create and homologise the necessary glazing and ensure its availability worldwide, the designs started to take shape.
“We wanted the design to look like a flying scarf,” advised Jim Router, “and so created a unique flow across the roofline.”
This design certainly adds a sense of speed to the overall look, as confirmed by their 1:10 scale design model.
“What we didn’t anticipate,” Jim continued, “was there being slight differences in each of two the donor cars we used.”
This minor flaw in the Tesla Model S design (or build quality for these examples, maybe) was a small hiccup and easily overcome by the designs for the QWest, and showed that the accuracy the QWest team is working toward is even greater than Tesla itself.
“The roof spoiler will be fitted too, as per the model,” Jim explained, “and that will include the antenna. We’ll also be removing the chrome strips you see around the windows and making them black.”
It had became clear by this point that this was a cool car, designed to look super slick, and no stone had been left unturned.
“We’ve had enquires from Norway, Sweden, Spain, the UK of course,” advised Dorian Hindmarsh, who is managing the project, “and we’ll be aiming to build around 25 per year. We won’t be building from scratch, but can turn around a customer’s existing Model S in as little as 10 weeks. At the moment the only thing stopping us finishing this particular one is getting the first batch of glass in from Pilkington, and getting the paintwork done. It’s not a very long process, really.”
And that’s going to be crucial – Dorian and the team know people won’t want to be without their cars for long, and even for such a unique vehicle, modern life means time is of the essence.
“We’ll be aiming for three distinct lifestyles to begin with,” he continued, “there’s the Urban version, for a Model S owner who either just needs the extra space, or simply prefers the looks and feel of a ‘shooting brake’. Next there’s the Surf version for a mariner/water focused-lifestyle market, for which we could produce a vehicle befitting their hobby. Next, the Forest – muddy boots and venturing off the tarmac. But anything is possible – these are really just examples. It’ll all be bespoke and what a customer wants and needs.”
“Options are endless,” he happily added, “performance should not be affected as we’re using lightweight carbon parts to replace the metal.”
These are cars designed to go fast anyway, and knowing that Jim has history with so many sports cars, including Audi’s 1999 Le Mans challenger and the Panoz Le Mans entries, he’s fully aware of the need for stability at high speed, and the designs will make sure the Qwest feels every bit as stable – or even more so – than the Model S it was created from.
“We’re pleased to be the first to do this,” Dorian added, “and with the moulds in place for the carbon – which is produced locally by CODEM Composites Ltd in Huntingdon – we are setting our sights on becoming the preferred coachbuilder on EV platforms.”
I asked about converting the upcoming Model 3 – but Dorian was not so sure the market was there.
“It can be done, certainly,” he said, “but as the Model 3 is set to be so much cheaper than the Model S, we’re not sure many people would want to pay to have QWest convert it. That said, we are taking delivery of one soon for a study exercise.”
This is clearly a very high-quality conversion, and although Dorian wouldn’t be pushed to give me a cost for the Model S conversion (they’re still doing the sums themselves), it’s clear you get what you pay for. They simply wouldn’t be willing to cut corners to get the cost down to make a lowcost Model 3 viable – and that’s reassuring.
I’m looking forward to seeing where the project will take them, and as I drove back from my visit along those familiar Norfolk roads I wondered how many years it would be before the sound of sports car exhausts echoing around these parts would be replaced by the silent waft of much faster, much more efficient, and much more cosseting vehicles.
It also occurred to me that maybe this is not just the start of converting EVs to suit customers’ needs, but a re-emergence of cool shooting brake coachbuilders, too.
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