What a classic English motoring setting – a 1950’s Lotus XI sports-racer of the day, its deep British Racing Green gleaming in the early summer sun, parked on the forecourt of a 14th century manor house.
Possibly enroute to Oulton Park racing circuit, less than 100km away, or nearby Shelsley Walsh hillclimb to delight driver and spectators alike with a deft, giant-killing performance for which the marque is renowned.
Stop. Revert to reality. It might look circa 1956 but this is very much half a century on.
The lithe, little XI is no Lotus, but a dead-ringer in the form of a superbly-assembled, Westfield kit car.
Best of all, the Westy is in my custody and ahead lays an entertaining thrash around a network of Midlands A and B roads taking in the significant sights of Bridgnorth, the historic Iron Bridge and market town of Ludlow.
Half an hour earlier down the road at Kingswinford, we picked up the XI from the Westfield works.
While I completed the necessary paperwork, a mechanic delivered the Westy to front of house, hand brake applied and little four-pot engine idling sweetly.
How special it looked – so small, fragile even, but no doubt about the purity of its intended purpose.
I take time to savour the moment, noting the pair of split-lens goggles left on the dash inside the neatly-trimmed, poppy red interior; then, unlatching the tiny, sill-hinged door and supporting my weight on the head-rest, clamber into the sparingly-padded seat.
An ever-so-slight recumbent driving position and the way the steering wheel and gear-shifter fall to hand (and pedals to foot) feels instantly as it should.
Within minutes of driving off, I’m transported back to 1979-80 and the good vibes of owning a well-used MG Midget Mk III in Penang, Malaysia.
But, little wonder – the heart and soul of a Westfield XI are courtesy of a Midget/Austin-Healey Sprite donor car.
I’m told power and torque outputs are similar to a ‘Spridget’, but the minimalist XI weighs an estimated 240kg less, making for a nimbler, lighter and more responsive feel overall.
The Westy gets its Jenny Craig tick of approval from a tubular spaceframe chassis, panelled in aluminium, glass fibre body (which can be completely removed easily for maintenance) and lightweight suspension (independent front wishbone and rear trailing arm).
Some 8km down the A449 at Kinver, we take the opportunity to snap the XI outside the lych gate at historic St Peter’s. The stone tower dates to the late 14th century, but our next imposing backdrop harks back even earlier.
The grandly-named Manor House of Whittington was built in 1310 by the grand-father of, you guessed it, Dick.
There’s much to name-drop about. Lady Jane Grey spent part of her childhood there and her ghost is said to wander an upstairs corridor.
Charles II hid out in the house after the Battle of Worcester and the front door bears the royal seal of Queen Anne to denote that she also stayed there.
The manor house became a licensed inn in 1788 and these days presents as a fine-dining restaurant.
But, the open road beckons.
The Westy delivers on its promise of an engaging, enjoyable, less-is-more retro drive.
Even 80km/h feels relatively fast, thanks to the ultra-low seating position, aero screen and open cockpit that makes for a traditional, wind-in-the hair drive.
Fruity engine note from the side-mounted exhaust; direct, unassisted (and, thereby, pure) steering; short, sharp throws of the four-speed box and absence of roll or pitch heightens the experience even further.
And 48kW does not feel underdone when motor-vating just 500kg (plus driver). Evidence – 0-100km/h in a respectable 8.5 seconds and claimed top speed of 190km/h.
Despite the grippy Avon CR322 track-biased rubber, it’s relatively easy to spin the inside rear wheel under forceful cornering, but then there’s no limited slip differential.
Owners who know their Westy inside and out say that a subtle drift is only a lift of the throttle away.
Just set the car up on corner entry, get out of the power, then balance things with lock and throttle and away you glide.
Of course, driving a kit car that pays homage to yesteryear does require some compromise, primarily an acceptance that, with no crumple zones, air bags, etc, you would not want to be involved in anything resembling a crash.
It’s also worth remembering the ‘Spridget’-sourced front disc/rear drum stoppers lack the instant bite and progression of today’s braking systems.
Ah yes, the Westfield XI really is a veritable time machine.