by Jim Kerr
Have you ever had the urge to build a kit car? I have. If I was smart, the kit would be one of those little plastic models but it is still wonderful to dream of owning an exotic car with superb performance and stunning looks. Imagine a replica Ferrari Testarossa or Lamborghini Countach or Lotus Super 7 or Shelby Cobra or even a Mercedes SSK. Some of these kits are so close to the original cars that enthusiasts even have trouble telling them apart.
Not all kits are replicas. Some are original designs that can be as simple as a dune buggy or as sleek as a GT sports car. There are kits based on VW Beetle powertrains and kits that use mid engine high horsepower V8’s with racing transaxles. Some kits can be assembled in only a few weeks and some kits never get assembled. If you have dreamed of building your own car, here are a few tips to help with those dreams.
The first decision is usually the easiest – what do you want to build? Build your dream. Putting any kit together has enough difficulties that trying to assemble one that you don’t have your heart into makes the odds of finishing it much lower. There are really three motivating factors for building a kit. First, there is the desire to own and drive a unique vehicle. Secondly, there is the satisfaction of being able to do build it yourself, and finally there is satisfaction of actually working on the vehicle. You may be motivated by all three, which really helps get the car completed.
Then you have to evaluate your abilities? Can you weld? Paint? Could you build a wiring harness? Can you upholster a door panel? Have you worked with fiberglass? Very few of us are skilled in all areas, but if you want to spend the time and effort, it is possible to learn many of the skills necessary to build a complex kit. Some kit manufacturers do all the difficult tasks for you, so now it is time to do your research on what is available on the market.
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The Internet is a great method of researching kit cars. The listings go on forever and many owners put up their own web sites with pictures of the assembly process. Kit car magazines are another good source of information. Select a few kit manufacturers and send for their promotional materials. Most kit car manufacturers offer kits in stages of completion. You need a list of materials and parts provided with each kit stage, and more importantly, a list of what is needed from you to complete the kit. The best manufacturers will have this readily available.
Price lists are also necessary so you can prepare your budget. You will need one, trust me! Some items such as radiators may seem expensive but can be such an important part of the overall fit and quality of the kit that their cost is worth it. If you are not building a replica, you may wish to save money by supplying your own upholstery or instruments, but usually the manufacturer can supply the parts that fit correctly at a very competitive cost.
Next, order an assembly manual. This book shows how to put the car together. Most manufacturers sell the assembly manual separately and by studying it you can tell better how difficult it will be to complete the kit. Don’t order the kit yet! Contact kit owners and talk to them about difficulties they had and the level of support provided by the manufacturer. This step is often overlooked but is crucial to making an informed purchase. Finally, if possible, plan your travel so you can visit the manufacturer’s facility or at least where a completed car can be seen. There are many things a picture does not show, so inspecting a kit in person is best.
Some kits are very basic. They supply a fiberglass body and you have to build everything else. These kits are only for the most talented builders. You want a kit that has the body complete, with all doors and panels already installed. Also select a kit that includes a complete frame or uses an existing frame from another car. A quality frame is critical for handling, ride, body fit and ease of assembly. Don’t skimp here.
Other kits are almost complete. You just add wheels, tires, engine and transmission. Of course, this costs much more. Cobra Kits from Factory Five use a Mustang donor car for suspension, powertrain and many other parts. This one stop acquisition of additional parts makes assembling the kit much easier.
Selecting the correct kit depends largely on evaluating your abilities, determining what is required to assemble the car, and knowing where to find all the necessary parts. For first time kit builders, I would recommend selecting a kit that has much of the work done for you.
The requirements for registering your kit car vary across Canada so check your local regulations for equipment required on the car before you start acquiring parts. Lights must meet standards. You may need seat belts. Emission equipment may be required. Finally, the vehicle will likely need a final safety inspection by the licensing bureau before the vehicle can be registered. These regulations are for your safety and for everyone else around you. Please don’t try to avoid them. You will get caught and it can be costly to make the corrections.
Building a kit car can be a lot of fun. Be prepared to spend much longer than the manufacturer says it takes to complete the assembly and hire a specialist to complete tasks that you can’t or don’t want to do. The satisfaction of completing a kit is wonderful but it is the research done before ever purchasing one that will determine your level of satisfaction with the whole project.