Tips, Tricks & Trends

Stuck at Home? Build a Kit Car

Usually, wrenching on your car means changing the oil or fixing the brakes. But kit cars offer a whole new meaning to the phrase. Wrenching your own car together isn’t exactly easy. But besides really getting to know your wheels, a kit car can also offer an opportunity to own a modern vintage machine for a fraction of the cost.

The quintessential kit car: the Caterham Seven

Caterham Seven 310R kit
Caterham Seven 310R kit | Road & Track via Instagram

When it comes to kit cars, there are few more iconic than the Caterham Seven. In fact, that’s how the original Lotus design started out, Road & Track explains. As with the current model, Lotus founder Colin Chapman used British tax loopholes to offer a DIY sports car at a discount.

Today, the Caterham Seven isn’t quite as much of a bargain. Even the cheapest version costs about $50,000. Building it as a kit car, though, does cut about $5000 off the price. However, as Top Gear and the Evening Standard discovered, a Caterham Seven isn’t exactly as easy to assemble as the ‘kit car’ name implies. At some point, a hammer will likely come into play. It’s also not a quick process: R&T is currently assembling its own Seven and estimates a build time of 80-100 hours.

Caterham Seven 360
Caterham Seven 360 | Hillbank Motor Corporation

But, when it’s done, the Caterham Seven is just about the purest distillation of a sports car. The cabin is so compact, R&T reports, that the transmission tunnel can almost function as a secondary heater. The windshield is removable. There’re no doors or any safety features beyond seat belts. But the steering is sharp, and the lack of bodywork or pillars makes it easy to sight your driving line. And even the heaviest model only weighs about 1345 pounds.

Factory Five Shelby Cobra Roadster

Factory Five 25th Anniversary Mk4 Roadster kit car
Factory Five 25th Anniversary Mk4 Roadster kit car | Factory Five

The original Shelby Cobra is understandably significant. It helped launch the Shelby name, and inspired many similar ‘small car, big engine’ builds, like the Cheetah and Panoz Roadster. Unfortunately, that also makes original Cobras extremely valuable—the first one ever made is still the most expensive American car ever sold at auction. Luckily, there is a way to get a Shelby Cobra for much less: Factory Five’s Roadster kit car.

Factory Five actually makes a variety of replica kit cars, including a Ford GT40 model. But its best-seller remains the Mk4 Roadster. It takes more time to build than the Caterham Seven, Automobile Magazine reports—roughly 250 hours. And, as Autoweek reports, there are still times where you’ll have to modify the components to get them to fit. But it’s actually more affordable than the Seven: a complete kit, minus the powertrain, wheels, tires, and paint costs $19,990.

Just like the Seven, the Factory Five Mk4 uses Ford running parts, albeit, from a 1987-2004 Mustang GT, R&T reports. However, BluePrint Engines offers turn-key engines and transmissions specially made for the Mk4. You can get a 350-hp, 5.0-liter fuel-injected V8 with 5-speed manual and provisions for power steering and A/C for about $15,000.

JPS Motorsports Porsche Speedster

JPS Motorsports Classic Speedster
JPS Motorsports Classic Speedster | JPS Motorsports

Air-cooled 911s aren’t the only valuable Porsche. Before the 911, there was the 356. And in the early 50s, US importer Max Hoffman convinced Porsche to build a stripped-down convertible version to compete with the best from Jaguar and Austin-Healey, Automobile Magazine explains. Although a convertible, the 356 Speedster was kind of the spiritual ancestor of today’s GT3 and RS models, Motor1 explains. And today, R&T reports, good examples can fetch around $250,000.

Luckily, JPS Motorsports’ 1957 Porsche Speedster replica kit cars are significantly more affordable. With a painted body and upholstered interior, one will set you back $24,990. You can even get heated seats and A/C. You will have to supply your own engine and transmission, though. However, while the kit car is based off a VW Beetle—like the original was—and many JPS builds use Beetle engines, you aren’t required to. One owner fitted a modern Subaru engine to his, and Jay Leno drove it.

Jay’s brother actually owned an original Speedster, and Jay reports the replica is built just as well, if not better, than the original. And the Subaru engine also makes significantly more power than the original: 200 hp vs. 70 hp.

Smyth Performance kit car utes

Subaru Impreza WRX Smyth Performance "Subarute"
Subaru Impreza WRX Smyth Performance “Subarute” | Smyth Performance

If you prefer to ease into kit car building, you may want to consider Smyth Performance’s ute kits. The company’s kits can turn a variety of different passenger cars into pickup trucks, ranging from a Jeep Grand Cherokee to a Subaru WRX. And you don’t have to source separate powertrains for them.

In addition, Smyth Performance’s ute kits require no welding, and can allegedly be done in a single weekend. And minus the cost of the donor car, they’re also fairly cheap: all cost under $4000. In addition, in case quality is a concern, Smyth Performance was co-founded by one of the co-founders of Factory Five and Local Motors.

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