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Chesterton Shows its alloyed skills - Specialist Review from Classic & Sports Car Magazine

John Williams' bodywork outfit is unusual in that as well as carrying out traditional aluminium body skinning, he will also tackle steel shells. "if you can work with steel," says the former Pressed Steel experimental sheet metal worker, "the transition to aluminium is easy. The only peculiarity is the welding."

Williams, apprenticed at Pressed Steel Fisher in Cowley, on the site of the new BMW Mini factory, went to work for Oxfordshire-based Mallalieu Cars when it was in its prime in the late 70s, making vintage lookalike specials from Bentley Mk VIs and carrying out general restoration. Although these cars sometimes have unhappy proportions their workmanship is beyond question and several are still about today.

"I cut me teeth on the Maxi & Allegro," he says, "but I threw in the towel when the Metro came along and I had to make about 20 bonnets from scratch. I thought, I'm off, I'll spread my wings." About 20 other staff jumped ship too, leading to a vacuum in BL's skills dept.

After a year or two, Williams went out on his own, working from a cluttered barn in nearby Chesterton: "People said 'that's the way cars should be restored', but really it was a bit of a hole, although I did lots of interesting cars from there, including Derrick Moores Siddlely special."

After almost 25 years, last August he moved premises in rural Oxfordshire, on a canalside setting next door to the famous Rock of Gibraltar pub, which made room for an assistant in the shape of Martin, who's ex-Aston Martin. Currently the work is split 60:40 between aluminium and steel.

A Talbot single-seater replica was the first complete body John made at the new workshop, and that will appear later this year. A Simca-Abarth Zagato was being rebodied from photographs, wrapping new panels around the fragile steel structure, but keeping some of the crucial original bits that will identify it, while an AC Greyhound is next, to be fitted with a four-seat touring body - when John and its owner can agree on the shape. After that, a Crossley, a giant of a car, is coming in for a new body - but this time John las the luxury of drawings to work from.

Nearer the door were two Porsche 911s. Chesterton has been doing bodywork repair and restoration for specialists for many years and sill repairs are a common job on older cars. The lower halves of the rear wings have to be sliced off, and skilfully welded back again afterwards. The luxury with later cars like this is that the panels can still be bought rather than made - but the complete job, with proper closing panels and kidney bowl reinforcement behind the door, still costs nearly £3000 a side. Total basket-case reconstructions can be handled too, on our jig.

On welding, John says: "All our stuff is gas-welded, which raises a few eyebrows, but it's the proper way to do it. With Gas, the joint squashes down into a seamless, shiny piece of metal. With TIG, the metal hardens up and it doesn't run through the wheel as well - but it is useful for repairs when there's an ash frame behind."

Chesterton will tackle fabrications such as fuel tanks and silencers too, although ash framing and painting are jobs that Williams sends out to other companies, usually small outfits like his own: "the framing goes out to some people who normally make models for the GP lot - it's amazing really, it's all spawned from Pressed Steel.

"W've all got our own little businesses, we've known each other for years, and we often trade work. We had every trade going at Mallalieu - but I don;t think they really knew what they had."

Although John restored and then sold a Triumph Spitfire in the 80s, having formerly owned a Morris Commercial, he's not active in the old-car scene - there isn't the time: "I'm not in any car clubs - I spend too much time fixing them. And I'd rather be out there doing it than sitting in the office - I tend to take the paperwork home."

Paul Hardiman

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