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Thread: So, you want to build a kit car?

  1. #1

    So, you want to build a kit car?

    Edited 2019

    A very sad sight in the vehicle world, for those who care for such things, is to come across an abandoned vehicle, be it a car, bike or scooter, rusting and cracking, usually missing bits, in a backyard or if it’s lucky a garage, shed or barn. Abandoned and forgotten, like the dreams of owners of exotic vehicles past.

    But specifically why are so many kit cars in such a state? Well there are many reasons for this unfortunate states of affaires and without going into the cars that were ‘murdered’ in the cause of ‘modification’ by people who shouldn’t have been let loose with a saw and a glass fibre kit, the main ones are money, time, space and skill, or rather the lack of, a case of 'big ideas, no idea'. So in an attempt to help avoid any more of these, some irreplaceable, cars ending up as scrap I would offer these words of advice to the uninitiated based on my own work on car and bike restoration and customising and fifty odd years in workshops earning a living.

    So, you have been to a kit car show or read a magazine and been hit with the euphoria of exotic car ownership having seen your “dream car”, STOP and THINK, then think some more and go away and do some research and maths, a lot of research. Time, paper and a pen is a lot cheaper than rushing in wallet at the ready. (addendum: Since writing it has been rightly said, you don't have to rush in and buy THAT car, there will inevitably be another one sooner or later, after you have done your homework and if you still want to, go for it)

    Don’t get me wrong, building or restoring a kit car can be a very rewarding and satisfying thing with new skills learnt, new friends made and in the end a great feeling of achievement as you drive your creation for the first time knowing there is not another car the same anywhere in the world, it is truly “yours”. Just don’t expect to make a profit, no one ever has. I know a lot my friends in the kit car world will be nodding their heads as they read this, Hmm, did that, didn’t do that, he’s right ya knows. Etc. So here goes.

    If you are building a new kit from scratch where you will be following the makers instructions and have access to a help line, we won’t delve into that aspect of building but the main points are as salient as when restoring / rescuing older cars.

    You need to consider very carefully the following and see just how many boxes get ticked. Contact people who have been there and done that. There are many bulletin boards and forums about so don’t be afraid of asking daft questions, we have all been there, done that, that’s how we know the answers but be prepared for a bit of leg pulling and some times the answers may not be what you expect and dash a dream or two but slog on anyway

    Surprisingly I consider the most important is approval, apart from single, unattached people with their own property, there is no way anyone, who has parents, a girlfriend or partner of any kind, can carry on with a project without their say so and cooperation, you are just asking for trouble not too far down the line with, “are you ever going to finish that heap of junk?”, “Isn’t it about time that money pit in the garage went, your never going to drive it you know?” And “Sell the dam thing, we can use the money for some new curtains” etc, etc. So unless you are single and plan to stay that way for the foreseeable future and have a double garage adjacent to your own house, have been a mechanic for years and have all the tools and equipment, (well two out of three isn’t bad) read on.

    The project.
    Is what you are planning really possible? Be honest with yourself and really think about it. Apart from the question. “Can I/we afford it? Can you fulfil all of the below. To reiterate on what I said earlier, arriving home with a heap of work on a mate’s trailer with, “look what I’ve bought, a bargain, only take a week or two to fix up”. Will not endear you to your nearest and dearest, unless you have fully consulted with said nearest and dearest first and even then you are on thin ice from here on.
    Is the project viable? Am I still going to be able to get parts for the donor?
    Is that sexy windscreen available if I crack it, (or it is cracked) and if so how much is one, usually makes a big hole in £900?
    Can I afford to put it on the road when I finish it, (insurance, MoT, IVA, tax, etc)?
    Will I be able to use it when finished or will it just be a weekend show car and can I afford to run two cars, one for show and one for work?
    So many things that need to be considered.

    Family planning.
    If there is the remotest chance that the patter of tiny feet could be heard in the near future, then forget it. Babies have a way of taking over, demanding bigger ‘sensible’ cars as well as allowing the larger version of the misses to get in and out of even before the new addition to the family arrives and of course the ‘spare’ money dries, up not to mention your precious time, period.

    The empty garage or shed that would be home for your dream car, “ for a month of two dear”, may not be available in a years time as things inevitably drag on into year two as we are not Mark Evans (a ---- is born) with a TV budget and a handy barn/workshop. Working outside, now for me in sunny Southern Spain that wouldn’t be too big a problem if I had too, as long as I cover it up from effects of the sun and the odd few days of rain I can pretty well work 320 days a year in the yard, if I had too, If I had one but in less hospitable climates like the UK you will be amazed at just how much of your free time will be spent looking out of the window at the rain sodden or frozen car in stead of working on it. Even if you only have a tent (cheap, brown 10 man ex-WD job) or a car port you really need to consider your working environment. Even if you have a building, heating should be on the list. Noise and smell must also be considered, burning out a bushing or painting something, even a small part, can get right up a partners or neighbours nose and having to curb your activities because of noise is a pain too so always warn them in advance.

    lots of it over a period of time, buying the kit and donor or a wreck is just the start and the planed budget will run out very quickly even if you have done your homework as costs escalate and unforeseen parts and trim are needed, ‘to finish’ or replace stuff that got binned as a bad idea or you screwed up. As a rough guide, double it and then a bit.

    An item often overlooked and a small badly equipped workshop is a bad start to any job, make sure you have a good quality and comprehensive set of basic hand tools and garage equipment. Jacks, stands, a strong bench, vice, crawler, lamps and a welder if possible plus a set of suitable sockets and spanners that will not split or round off at the first attempt, pliers, hammers, hacksaw, screwdrivers (not forgetting the various types of cross head, Pozi, Philips, JIS, etc) Special tools like bearing pullers. Big stuff like engine hoists and stands etc are best hired for a week or two when needed.

    Although you will have considered yourself as having a fair amount of ‘free’ time it is amazing how many other things come along to mess up your plans, none less than, ’family’. It’s surprising just how many unfinished projects “with just a bit needed to finish”, come onto the market. Quite often it will the result of nagging from ‘er in doors, loosing a job, illness, babies, house repair, etc, etc but many things can change in a year so be prepared to be flexible and for the car to take a back burner for a while. As with money, double time but then double it again.

    Now this is one of the biggies. So many people’s ideas are bigger than their abilities. If you are ham fisted or not mechanically minded it might be worth thinking again as although, ‘learning on the job’, is a wonderful concept, it rarely works in practice with many disheartened souls giving up having wrecked their dream car and flogging it on the next deluded person for a few quid. Consider taking an evening college course in mechanics and or welding, not only will you learn a new skill but it’s great fun too.

    Enjoy your hard work and your car and all the very best of luck

    Addendum in latter post.

    Copyright Peter G. Lee

    Last edited by Peter; 16-06-2019 at 03:25 PM. Reason: update

  2. #2

    Re: So, you want to build a kit car?

    My $0.02 to add:

    Before purchasing a car, when you're in the "searching for the right one" stage, DO NOT RUSH INTO THINGS! You may miss out on "the opportunity of a lifetime" on a deal on a certain car, but keep your head on straight. Don't decide that you absolutely MUST have the next car that comes up for sale, no matter the condition. Don't overlook the tiny details and convince yourself that red flags or major issues are "just a few little things that you can fix later". If the car is a basket case and you're not looking for a basket case, keep looking - even if the price is "too good to pass up". You'll be happier in the long run if you buy a car that requires work that you're willing to do and not a mountain of work that will overwhelm you and burn you out.

    Yes, I speak this from experience. In February 2006, I missed out on a VIRGIN Sterling kit here in the States by 10 minutes and about $300 on eBay. So, what did I do? I bought one of the next Sterlings to hit ebay...even though it was a total basket case. I convinced myself that I could "fix the little things". Well, those little things add up fast...and now I'm in the "honey, are you EVER going to finish that car?" category...
    1975 Sterling
    215 ci Buick V8
    Sterling in Garage! Back to work!

  3. #3

    Re: So, you want to build a kit car?

    Good post. Should be required reading on a lot of kit forums.

  4. #4
    ***Euro-Nova Supporter*** Spacenut's Avatar
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    Jul 2007
    Hampshire, UK

    Re: So, you want to build a kit car?

    Yup. Very good post. Been there and done it - all completely wrong!

    Bought the first car I saw, in the dark.

    Decided I could go one better than Dr Porsche and designed my own chassis.

    Spent years agonising over whether to finish it or just cut my losses (fortunately ebay hadn't been invented yet).

    I absolutely and wholeheartedly agree with everything Peter has said. But I would add that sometimes enthusiasm and determination can overcome a complete lack of heat, tools and (in some major areas) a lack of skill. If you are prepared to dig deep enough, anything is possible, even if you can't tick all the boxes.

    I salute you all, intrepid kit car builders!

    only Pythagoras can save me now!

  5. #5

    Re: So, you want to build a kit car?

    Not so sure about the painting the car early, a newly painted body is just asking to be scratched, have fluid poured on it, spanners dropped on it etc. Surely this can wait till later? It was the last thing I did on the Spartan, all MOT'd and legal, and then I stripped it down and took it to the paint shop, had it painted, then brought it back for refitting followed by a great drive somewhere with big shop windows
    I have to admit that I havent got the space or tools to remove the body from the chassis, ideally I'd like to do this, but its just not going to be possible. I've had to treat it like a monococque for repairs which hasnt been ideal, but it shouldnt really put people off doing a kit.
    The main problem is people dreaming of how the car is going to look, and not having either a plan, or the capability, or the money, to make it look like they want it. I think you've laid it out pretty well there Peter, especially the approval thing! Mind you, my wife looked in horror when the Spartan arrived, but she loved working on it ! I was lucky!
    Follow my Avante Build - Target = Stoneleigh 2012 Definitely!!

  6. #6
    Senior Member
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    Aug 2009
    Hilton, Derby

    Re: So, you want to build a kit car?

    If not already done, this is a good time to trundle the car into the paint shop.

    Trim, possible where most people give up as the money is getting tight and time etc running out as well as folks are surprised at how skilled a jog it is. Carpet first over the tubes, wiring etc taking care to note where the aforementioned are for when it come to bolting in seats etc.

    Roof lining, A post rims, door and window seals, dash panel and centre consul if fitted, sound system. Security and finally the seats

    You should now be in a position to fine tune the car, test it and get the necessary inspections done and get it road legal
    Pretty much my todo list adm, looks like a lot..... hopefully the hard stuff is behind me now.

    I would add to any young owners that getting a project during school/uni can work, certainly a nice way to take your mind off studies. Plus if you're lucky you get the advantages of free garage/tools from the old man And an optimistic time-plan should always be viewed as just that, for me I wasted a lot of time over the summer waiting on parts.

    I would also like to add, I brought my car without seeing it on a lucky ebay search, admittedly I did my homework, researched my little booty off and studied the pics/talked with the owner on the phone etc, but couldnt have brought a better project if i tried....a little luck me thinks...
    Eagle SS - VW MK2 Economy - Body No.7

  7. #7
    ***Euro-Nova Supporter*** Spacenut's Avatar
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    Hampshire, UK

    Re: So, you want to build a kit car?

    Quote Originally Posted by JemP
    The main problem is people dreaming of how the car is going to look, and not having either a plan, or the capability, or the money, to make it look like they want it.
    I think this is the essential difference between the "kit car exotics" and the more commonplace 7evens (now apparently referred to by the generic descriptor of "Locaterfields") and 30s-style roadsters. Builders of the latter are usually not so concerned about the looks, preferring instead to rise to the engineering challenge of building their own car. Such people tend to come from engineering backgrounds and/or have the necessary resources to finish the car.

    Exotics on the other hand, are all about the looks. The engineering is secondary to the visual appeal, which tends to attract a different sort of customer, not necessarily with the necessary engineering or project management skills that define the Locaterfield demographic. Dreamers, if you like...

    I freely admit to being one of the latter group - the only difference in my case is that I happen to possess a modicum of engieering knowledge as well. But I was swayed by the looks, not the engineering, and that's a fact.

    It's true I'm a dreamer!

    only Pythagoras can save me now!

  8. #8

    Re: So, you want to build a kit car?

    Agree with everyone else, a very excellent, very wise post.

    Like many others here I failed epically on most points:

    Approval: Nope. Spouse hates the Nova with a passion. Loves the Spartan though... and interestingly so did JemP's other half.

    Money to finish it: Nope, all gone.

    Money to run it: Nope, see above.

    Useability: Nope, weekends only in the right weather - the requisite years have to be spent spent fixing all the problems like others here have done.

    Space: Nope, it's round my Parents' under a cover, who want rid of it - see point one. SORNd now so can't leave it on the street.

    Free time: Nope - my life is a tissue of unending house and garden maintenance jobs (because I have no money to pay others to do it).

    Family planning: No sprogs, no possibility (hoorah).

    Tools: No problem (despite replacing the lot a few years ago when my garage was broken into).

    Ability: Better than your average Joe, but never did learn to weld properly (having a rubbish "go" at my exhaust with a MIG doesn't count).

    A bit of a sad list, but at least I'm not giving up, I know it looks bad but I have no intention of letting mine become another sad and cracked failure waiting to be towed away.

    On the paint thing I think it just depends on how much space you have, if you can keep your freshly painted body away from danger then great, go for it whenever you want, it will certainly help with motivation. Personally I did the same as JemP on my Spartan - finished it first, MOT included, then took it apart and painted it with kit borrowed from a friend. Before painting I ran it for quite a while with many of the aluminium panels still covered in their protective film. I too was always looking out for big shop windows ! I still look left when going by the Railway model shop in Eastbourne Old Town..... By the way, after painting it was exactly two hours before someone damaged it...

    Lastly - yes absolutely, looks first, always. Each and every one of us here is an unrepentant dreamer.... and will never be a "number".

  9. #9

    Re: So, you want to build a kit car?

    Locaterfields!! Lauren thats genius, the biggest last I've had all day!
    Follow my Avante Build - Target = Stoneleigh 2012 Definitely!!

  10. #10
    ***Euro-Nova Supporter*** Spacenut's Avatar
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    Hampshire, UK

    Re: So, you want to build a kit car?

    Quote Originally Posted by JemP
    Locaterfields!! Lauren thats genius, the biggest last I've had all day!
    Genius it may be, but it isn't mine!
    only Pythagoras can save me now!

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