Though the Tuthill name is synonymous with Porsche rally cars, Francis Tuthill began his rally career driving Volkswagen Beetles. In 1977, Tuthill and co-driver Anthony Showell finished the legendary London to Sydney Rally 36th overall in a VW Beetle. Still the longest competitive driving event ever held, the London to Sydney covered more than 30,000 kilometres: more than enough time to assess the Beetle’s inherent suitability for endurance rallying. Now Francis is back in a Beetle, rally prepared by his own fair hands at a workshop in the grounds of the family business, which he took a step back from some time ago.
“I’ve had this idea for a simple, affordable endurance rally car for a while,” says Francis. “People are now rallying all over the world, in search of great experiences. The question that so many of these adventure seekers ask is, what car can they use for rallying that does not cost a lot of money relatively speaking, but is reliable and enjoyable to cover thousands of miles in? There is only one answer for me: it has to be a Beetle.”
While Francis still owns his original London to Sydney rally car, much has been learned in the forty years since that car was built. Tuthill’s latest build is a fresh take on a contemporary Beetle rally car, incorporating many lessons learned on the London to Sydney, but also from the knowledge gained by owning hundreds of Volkswagens over the years, including a rare “Salzburg” works rally car.
“The concept here is to offer a turn-key endurance rally car for roughly the same price as the donor Porsche 911 required to build a top-flight Tuthill endurance rally car. The Beetle may not be as quick as the Porsche, but these are tough little rally cars. Beetles have featured strongly in the Safari Rally down through the years, and remain highly regarded in African rallying. They are reliable cars and good fun to drive.”
Tuthill’s new Beetle is built to FIA Group 2 spec, using the 60bhp 1600cc air-cooled engine proven on the London to Sydney Rally, with a four-speed transmission and some Tuthill tweaks to chassis and suspension. Future cars may feature the homologated 125 horsepower Salzburg-spec engine with five-speed transmission, as used to great effect in Tuthill VWs on British championship rallies many moons ago. This configuration would give the Beetle a great turn of speed, and allow it to compete on any FIA event.
The upcoming Rift Valley 1000 Rally in Kenya was chosen as the Beetle’s debut outing. Running from December 9th to 12th in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley, a thousand kilometres of rallying through typical East African terrain will test the Beetle to the limit. “The aim is just to reach the flag,” says Francis, who has yet to decide on a co-driver. “This project has to start somewhere, and what better place than Kenya in December, on a beautiful rally with great rally people? I am very excited to see how the Beetle performs.”