But after 100 years, this is beginning to change: in the late Nineties, the Gen2 Audi A8 featured an aluminium monocoque, as did the 2003 Jaguar XJ, both tipping the scales at around 200kg less than their steel equivalents.
Despite the higher production costs, the pressure on car companies to achieve mpg and CO2 targets meant that other top end manufacturers would eventually follow. In the last few years, they have: the 991S achieves its 1,395kg and 35+ mpg thanks to aluminium chassis members and body panels, and the 981 Boxster and Cayman have followed suit.
But repairing aluminium is a specialism few bodyshops can claim to have. Aluminium requires different handling from steel, and has to be welded in laboratory conditions of supreme cleanliness, which means it can’t share a workshop with other dust-generating activity.
It also can’t be reheated, so is only useful in non-stress roles. This is where repairers Fastlane Paint and Body excel.
Run by partners Alex Andrea and Peter Weil, Fastlane started in 2006 and has three sites at St Albans, Ascot and Guildford. With substantial combined repair industry experience, the two decided there was an opportunity in aluminium.
“We took the view that if we could find appropriate premises at the right price, we would invest in the technology,” says Alex. A site in St Albans became available and Fastlane moved in, where they now specialise in Porsche and come approved by Porsche Centre Hatfield and Porsche Centre West London.
The Ascot site, which is of a similar size, duly followed in 2010, with chief customers including Land Rovers, Jaguars, Audis and Bentleys. “We haven’t sought expansion,” explains Alex, referring to the company’s extra branch.
“Rather, we’ve grown by default.” However, it shows that the partners’ basic philosophy was right: “Customers these days rightly demand more. Particularly with top brands they expect total service – that’s what Fastlane does,” confirms Alex.
Alex makes it clear that Fastlane isn’t a restorer. The company does work on classic Porsches, but is set up to work with recent models: “We purchase only Porsche parts and the water-based Glasurit paint that Porsche uses,” he says.
As a Porsche-approved repairer, Fastlane are also permitted to handle Tequipment (Porsche aftermarket accessories) though body add-ons are less common. Says Alex: “The clean, smooth look is in now for Europeans; it’s Middle East customers who are the biggest consumers of wings and body kits.”
The company has around 80 employees, and besides the skilled craftsmen, other members of the team include Fastlane’s 15 estimators. “If you have the misfortune of an accident, the last thing you want is your pride and joy sitting outside reminding you of the experience, so when we get the phone call we generally get the truck over within the hour,” Alex says.
“We then assign one estimator, and he takes charge of the whole operation so the customer has a point of contact he can rely on.” A premium car deserves a premium service, and Fastlane has found that working closely with customers pays dividends for repeat business.
One reason the aluminium A8 and Jaguar XJ did not sell in the anticipated numbers was in part related to high repair costs. But nothing stands still, and Alex and Peter could see that the new wave of models with aluminium chassis components would need repair back up, and the pair point proudly to their dedicated two-bay aluminium body shop.
The jig and contact evo equipment alone costs £50,000, and the shop itself three times that, but the lighter metal demands far greater precision and part of that is complete absence of contaminants.
“Though steel will remain important, the ability to work with aluminium is a large part of the future in our business,” Alex points out. The impromptu arrival of the local Jaguar Land Rover dealer during our visit underlines the managing director’s point.
Until now, few could offer this facility, and Fastlane remains a pioneer. So important has liaison with dealers become that Fastlane employ a coordinator based at the Hatfield and West London OPCs.
Strong corporate branding, as exemplified by the smart business suits worn by all staff members not involved in the workshop, and a careful understanding of both its market and customers’ expectations, make Fastlane Paint and Body stand out for quality 911 aluminium repairs.
|Telephone:||01727 852 147|