By Spencer Hart
Why pay someone else to build you a gleaming, refined and reliable new car, when you can knock up a shoddy, chintzy and possibly lethal lash up on your own dime? Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of kit cars.
Actually, that isn't entirely fair. While a kit car will only be as good as the man that built it, the main attraction of doing it yourself, other than saving some cash of course, is the sheer variety and chutzpah of many of the kit cars your can buy. And there are some very well engineered kit cars out there.
Fancy a classic Cobra, something that looks like a refuge from the Le Mans 24h race, a million bucks' worth of classic Aston Martin or a dead ringer for that iconic supercar from your youth? All of this and more can be yours and often for the price of a family hatchback. For many, there really is no other way of getting into something seriously dramatic other than going the kit car route.
What's more, thanks to the latest aftermarket clobber, your jury-rigged DIY special can match and sometimes beat the big boys for in-car tech. Hooking up sat nav or fitting a tablet-based touchscreen is relatively straightforward, for instance.
Interested in building yourself a kit car but haven't the foggiest where to start? Here are some top tips from the Chief Motorsport and Technical Officer of Caterham, Simon Lambert:
- Know what you are buying
A Caterham is a complete car in kit form – just add fluids. Most other 'kits' need the buyer to source some parts from somewhere else or even make them, hence so many unfinished projects hidden away in garages.
- What goes up, must come down
It's all very well lifting a bare chassis up onto some high stands to make it easy to build, but how do you plan to get it down afterwards? Even Caterham customers forget this and have to find a clever way of getting their newly finished car of stands much higher than their jack can reach.
- Be generous with your deadline
Best will in the world, your car may be short of a part or two and the IVA/registration process can take longer than expected. Don't plan to get it and have it on the road a week later because you've booked a trackday.
- Let the professionals take care of IVA
The IVA test is no fun. Allowing Caterham (or other manufacturer) to prepare your finished car for IVA and get it through the process will be worth every penny and ensure your memories are of an enjoyable build only.
- Love your garage
Why would you want to spend any time in a cold, dark place full of spiders? If you garage isn't a bright and pleasant place to be, you'll find yourself rushing or working in inadequate light. A garage should be clean, well lit and insulated if you're going to be in it when it is cold (the ten months between September and June). But why stop there? Specialist garage floor tiles mean you can walk around in socks and sit on it to do jobs without getting filthy. A decent sound system, TV and beer fridge are top of the essentials list. Having WiFi and something to access it with in the garage are very handy, as the internet will be your friend when you are stuck.
- The quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten
Buying something that needs assembling is essentially an excuse gateway for buying more tools. Quality tools last a lifetime and having the right tool for the job will make all the difference and ensure skin remains on your fingers and nuts and screws can be undone again in the future.
- Did I torque that up?
Putting a mark across a nut or bolt with a sharpie is a good way of reminding yourself which fixings are torqued tight and which still need doing.
Caterham Seven 160
Going back to basics seems like a redundant notion for one of the simplest, purest sports cars you can buy. But that's exactly the thinking behind the entry-level Caterham Seven 160. The interesting bit is that they've achieved it with some surprisingly modern tech. The engine is a teeny three-pot 660cc turbo affair borrowed from Suzuki. It only knocks out 80hp. But then the 160 only weighs 490kg. So it's good enough to hit 60mph in just 6.91 seconds.
Price: £14,995 | Caterham
Factory Five '33 Hot Rod
Hot Rods have always been beautiful machines with dissapointing performance and handling, Factory Five have tried to design a car that drives as good as it looks. The '33 Hot Rod looks like something out of a film, and blends the retro and modern to create something truly stunning. Everything is designed and built in the USA, but there are European dealers for UK petrol heads as well.
Price: $19,990 | Factory Five
Factory Five Type 65
Fancy driving an iconic race car to pick up the kids after school? The Type 65 Coupe was designed to be an acurate replica of the original 1965 World Championship coupe - capturing the look and feel of original 200mph GT cars, but using modern engineering to make it more reliable and comfortable.
Price: $20,990 | Factory Five
Ultima Evolution Coupe
None other than McLaren used an Ultima GTR as a development mule when they were knocking up the legendary F1 supercar. In many ways, that's all you need to know about the Ultima cars. It's a pukka bit of kit. Today, it remains one of the very fastest cars money can buy. It'll just cost you a lot less money than the likes of a million-dollar Bugatti Veyron or any of the new hybrid hypercar brigade from Porsche, Ferrari and, yes, McLaren.
Price: POA | Ultima
Sinuous British bodywork. Brutish power from a Yankee V8. That's the classic Cobra combo. And Dax is perhaps the best known purveyor of Cobra kits. Engine options are extensive. You can have classic Ford and Chevy pushrod V8s. Or maybe something more modern and multi-valve like a Jaguar lump. Either way, the performance levels are going to be utterly terrifying. Our pricing here is just for the basic body and chassis, finished cars cost tens of thousands.
Price: £4,420 | DAX
Thought kit cars were a bit uncouth? Then you obviously haven't heard of the positively aristocratic Ronart W152. The period bodywork hides high quality Jaguar components, including straight-six and V8 engines. There's even a terrifying 500hp Jaguar V12 option. Either, as you sail past all those ghastly oiks in their modern motors, the very last thing they'll be thinking as they get a taste of your tailpipes is there goes a shoddy kit car.
Price: £62,950 | Ronart
Piper GTR Race Car
If you fancy something that looks like it took a wrong turn out of the Le Mans 24h pit lane, the Piper GT is probably for you. The design is based on a genuine 60's Le Mans racer, but the modern kit gets an enhanced space-frame chassis with added aluminium honeycomb extras. In-line engine installations up to 450bhp are supported and the body has had some aero tweaking in the wind tunnel at Kingston University to give it more stability.
Price: £42,000 | Piper
Spiritually related to Caterham's Seven 160, the Westfield SDV is the more intensively DIY option. The idea here is to combine the kit with a single donor vehicle (hence 'SDV') to produce the home-spun sportster of your dreams. In this case, we're talking gen one Mazda MX-5 giving up its soul so that you might drive something seriously exciting. The Mazda's 1.6-litre lump knocks out over 100hp, which is serious power something as flyweight as a Westfield.
Price: £8,445 | Westfield
One of the big pleasures in building a kit car is taking something mundane and possibly only fit for the scrap heap and turning it into something special. That's pretty much the recipe for the Midas Gold sports car. It's based on ye olde Austin Rover Metro mechanicals. Doesn't sound promising? The Metro actually offers innovative hydragas suspension and a wide range of engines to choose from which have no problem slinging the titchy Midas down the road.
It's definitely not as sexy or thrilling as they other cars on this list, buy it's cheap and accessible, which we love.
Price: £4,500 | Midas
No kit car list is complete without a replica of a mighty Lamborghini, quite literally the poster car for an entire generation of spotty, frustrated adolescents. If you're never going to earn enough for a real Lambo, it's probably best to build one instead. Parallel have made painstaking efforts to ensure the Torero is as close to the real deal as possible. Prices start at a very reasonable £6,000 for a rolling chassis, but that doesn't include an engine or other important parts.
Price: £5,595 | Parallel Designs
Caterham Seven 620 R
Mention kit cars and one brand comes to mind - Caterham. The Caterham Seven is almost legendary, and its ultimate form is the 620 R. It features a mind-boggling 310bhp, has a top speed of 155 mph and can accelerate to 60 in 2.79 seconds - that's roughly on par with a McLaren P1 and Nissan GT-R! At the heart of the 620 R is a supercharged 2.0-litre Ford Duratec engine, as Caterham put it, "we have done the automotive equivalent of attaching a rocket to a missile" - sounds fun (and slightly terrifying).
The 620 R is actually the only car from Caterham you can't buy in kit form, but it still represents back to basics (yet extreme) motoring.
Price: £49,995 (pre-built) | Caterham