In this PBR exclusive, HMS interviews Charles Fawcett, founder and Managing Director of the highly acclaimed automotive brand Twisted, and discovers why he’s convinced marine will be the next big step in Twisted’s iconic journey …
Your company, Twisted, is a highly successful and well-known brand within the automotive industry. Tell us, when and how did Twisted begin and why the fascination for Land Rover in particular?
I grew up around Land Rover vehicles and 4x4s generally. My family were in the motor trade and we had many of them. I loved testing their capabilities, discovering their flaws, experimenting with different drive systems, suspension technologies and so forth.
In my later teens, my family ran an off-road driving business providing off-road driver training, etc. We also took part in some off-road competitions. In essence, I’ve been submerged in the Land Rover and 4×4 market my whole life. But when the opportunity initially presented itself and I began to develop and fit products that could give these largely agricultural vehicles more power, improve their handling and reduce their noise levels to make them more suitable for general road use, there was no stopping me. At that time, all modifiers of Land Rover products were focused almost entirely on off-roading – so in a sense, they were making Defenders super-tough, but even more uncomfortable, noisier, slower and heavier than ever! Finally, after 10 years of running the off-road driving business, I decided to do the very opposite to my peers. Armed with a desire to create prestige and super-high quality coupled to mechanical excellence, my vision and aspirations for what became Twisted began to evolve. That initial hunger for power had turned into a desire to take the Land Rover concept somewhere it had never been taken before, and in so doing, my company began to create its own market.
Your appreciation for engineering excellence is clear, but what drives this passion?
I think it is fair to say that while I have a passion for engineering and for doing things ‘just so’, at the same time I have been fortunate enough to be able to surround myself with people who share these same ideals and who have the necessary practical skills to be able to apply excellence to the smallest component. More than anything, though, my forte is really in concept and ideas creation. Over time, I’ve had to learn how to translate those ideas in such a way that allows my engineers and technicians to perform to their absolute best. Personally, I would never think of myself as being an engineer in the true sense of the word: I have no formal training as such. (I was actually banned from the workshop about eight years ago along with all my tools!) But I do have a clear idea in my mind in terms of how I want something to look, how I want it to feel and what I want it to do.
The teams we have in both Automotive and Marine are people who are adept at being able to comprehend an idea and turn it into a reality. So much of the joy associated with running Twisted is the pleasure to be gained from working with folk who share that passion for seeing a great idea become a genuine reality. But of course, knowing how to bring that transformation about is essential. The reality is, if the people you are working with are better than you, it can enable you to create something really special.
When did your love of boats begin and what have been some of the standout craft you’ve owned along the way?
My family, and in particular my father, have all shared a long-standing love of boats. In fact, Dad, when he was a child, spent a lot of time on the family’s river boat, Snow Goose. But then I came along, and I recall from a very young age being taken to the Earl’s Court Boat Show and just being mesmerised by all the glamour and excitement associated with boats and the boating lifestyle. While I didn’t grow up with boats in the fullest sense, they’ve always fascinated me and, as a result, I’ve owned mirror dinghies, trailer sailers and one or two ski boats. I confess, though, that the Scarab is a breed of boat that has always been a favourite of mine, even from a very early age. Like many, I grew up with the TV show Miami Vice, but it’s astonishing that in the States, 90s powerboats like the Scarab 43 are now considered virtually ‘throwaway’ relics of the past. Nevertheless, it was the Scarab that got me thinking as to whether I could take my acquired knowledge gained from automotive and reapply it to marine.
At what point did your interest in powerboating change from being a leisure pastime to that of embarking on a serious commercial marine venture?
I looked at Scarabs in the States – the 38s and the 43s in particular – and felt there was an opportunity to bring some back here to work on. But fundamentally at that early stage it was almost a sleeper project, because what then happened very quickly was that, upon Twisted Marine being launched, I came to appreciate the synergy that RIBs held in terms of the 4×4 concept I had come to know so intimately through my history with Land Rover. So, from the spark of an idea ignited by Scarab through to formulating a valid Twisted Marine business working with RIBs, the ‘4x4s of the sea’, the concept started to become reality.
Can you tell us about the craft you’ve selected and why you’ve exclusively aligned Twisted with these brands in particular.
We had a number of conversations and opportunities, but I do believe that if we had been a normal start-up in the marine industry, we wouldn’t have attracted the same degree of interest in what we’re doing. But as a result of our exploratory processes, we settled on Cobra as our select RIB brand and Axopar as our ‘hard boat’, adventure lifestyle brand.
While we are obviously a modifier, Twisted are positioned more as an engineering business, with flair and attention to detail being our hallmark. This is how our brand earned the kudos it now commands. We’re working with partners and brands who, not surprisingly, share the same core values as ourselves. They are also open to our input and committed to making the best even better.
I hope that the offering we shall ultimately make will not only include RIBs and sports boats but a series of electric water toys too. It’s my view that our marine offerings will likely have strong appeal with our automotive customer base. The reality is, the Twisted Defender is not what you would likely buy to run simply as a day-to-day utility vehicle – it’s a vehicle someone buys because they’re absolutely passionate about it. This is the same thinking that exists in the boating world. A boat represents a person’s pleasure, their means of escape, as opposed to being a purely functional item.
In terms of the customising challenges involved, what are the similarities and differences between automotive and marine?
In reality, the process is very similar – we take the product, we live with it, we get to know it and understand it, down to the last nut and bolt. We find its weaknesses; we find its flaws and hopefully its strengths too! We change what we can improve, but if we can’t, we leave well alone. But our focus ultimately is always centred around the driving experience. People love our vehicles because they react and respond to the individual behind the wheel in a genuinely organic way. If a person wants to buy something that does everything semi-autonomously, then of course, there are plenty of products out there. But if you really want to feel engaged, the Twisted products enable that to happen.
With our Twisted RIBs and sports craft, our aim is to replicate this same type of experience. It’s the same degree of engagement you’d derive from driving a Twisted Defender. The vessel’s handling, practicality and performance all need to reflect Twisted’s core ideals, which are a result of Twisted’s own approach to modifications and customisation – many of which, of course, may not be blatantly obvious or even seen.
In terms of our Twisted RIBs, for instance, we’ve spent over 400 rigging hours completely redefining the concept. These boats benefit from heavier duty sponsons, weight distribution and a custom engine set-up, improved bilge pumps, bespoke Twisted CNC lifters, racing props, billet engine components, dual Simrad displays with bespoke Twisted interface. These refinements and the degree of technical know-how we’re implementing are, we believe, unique within the wider leisure market.
When it comes to your ‘Twistifying’ work, would you say that marine is more challenging than automotive, and if so, why?
I think the challenges for both are quite similar in many ways. Clearly they involve different skill sets, especially when it comes to understanding the individual product and the environment it’s designed to perform within, but for us, we work on the basis of securing the very best experts out there, who not only possess all the right credentials in terms of their experience but who also have the ability to affect that ‘application of knowledge’ in a commercial setting.
From the perspective of the boat-buying public, what are the unique benefits associated with taking up the Twisted option?
Marine and automotive are, of course, very different markets. But there is absolutely a crossover between the two. At its core, I believe, is the desire for adventure. We don’t operate in the mass market; we don’t have any interest in producing hundreds of the same thing. Producing what we do is time-consuming; it can even be laboursome. It’s certainly highly detailed work that necessitates a constant striving for excellence in everything we produce and do.
When can we expect to see the first Twisted custom craft hitting the market, and what benefits are afforded Twisted owners?
The first RIB product, the Twisted T450, has been in testing and development over the course of the last 12 months and is now available for demonstration. There are two other sizes of RIB, which will follow at the back of summer/early autumn, the largest of which will be just under 9 metres in length. The first sports boat, being produced in association with Axopar, will then be launched and available for viewing at the Southampton Boat Show. As part of our fundamental approach to marketing and customer service, our sales centres will also have designated demonstrator craft on hand at all times for interested parties to sea-trial.
As Twisted owners, boat customers, like their automotive counterparts, become part of the ‘Twisted Alumni’. This means they are invited to a series of special events each year, exclusive to the Twisted family. Each Twisted craft is fitted with our coveted custom build plaque. Each one is unique and is numbered according to its build completion. Commissioning a Twisted boat is just as special an experience for the buyer as it is within our automotive side, each element tailored to their exacting needs. The whole process is an extremely enjoyable one from the original sit down with the designers and our paint and upholstery team, to the final excitement of taking delivery.
Through our various sites across the UK and beyond, we also intend to offer storage and launch facilities. Currently, we have bases in Salcombe, Brighton, Silverstone and North Yorkshire, any of which can be used for storage, servicing and launching – so it’s more than just buying a boat or just selling a boat to a client and that being the end of the relationship. We want to build long-term relationships; this is all part of our ‘family’ ethic. But in terms of how we present the Twisted craft, I see no reason why these should not be displayed alongside our automotive offerings within our Twisted car showrooms.
What are your long-term aspirations for the Twisted marine brand, and do you anticipate expanding its operation beyond the shores of the UK?
Yes, absolutely. Just like Twisted Automotive, while we do have a large UK contingent of customers, we ship our vehicles all over the world – we have customers in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the USA, Malaysia, Singapore, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, the whole MENA region and Africa.
In our own small way, we are bringing our automotive mindset to the marine industry. I feel very luck to have found credible and highly experienced colleagues to steer Twisted Marine in the right direction. Jake Cronk, who is an F1 and Formula E engineer heads up the marine business and overseas operations in a very professional manner, along with an ex-powerboat champion whose vast on-water experience lends itself to the design and development side of the business.
So I think, just like our Automotive business, Marine will evolve and become an international brand. Watch this space!