For the DIY mechanic, kit cars offer a chance to build your own classic car, track monster, or off-roader for a fraction of the price.
Kit cars are basically a packaged kit of parts and components that the intrepid DIY mechanic can piece together into a car. Some kits are conversion kits, designed specifically for converting familiar OEM models often into more track focused machines. Other kits are more involved and supply nearly everything but an engine and transmission.
Some kit cars are little more than a fiberglass tub with wheels and an oversized engine, gleefully blurring the line between fun and frightening. Indeed, shoddily built kit cars of questionable design have given the whole enterprise a giant asterisk. It’s true, the faux-Ferrari your cousin built from a kit he found on eBay and an old Pontiac Fiero ended up neither fast nor good looking. But there are lots of reputable companies that offer top quality kits that in many cases produce amazing cars, and in the case of replicas, the better, yes better, than the original.
Kit cars offer a unique and affordable portal into otherwise unobtainable performance and nostalgia. For instance, you won’t have to be a millionaire to get behind the wheel of a well-built replica of your favorite classic car, like a Porsche 356 or Shelby Cobra. If you’re after supercar performance without the supercar price tag, many kit car manufacturers will sell you pre-built examples (often sans engine, however).
For the most intrepid gearheads there’s the full DIY build. Order a kit, order a powertrain and get to wrenching. This is probably the most rewarding avenue. Most builds take a minimum of 100 hours to complete, meaning you’ll know every bolt, every spec, down to the finest of details. That’s a level of “ownership” that goes far beyond what’s written on the title.
Factory Five bills their Shelby Cobra as the best-selling kit car in the world, and that might not be purely salesman’s hyperbole, either. In fact, their replicas are mechanically identical to the original Cobra but with safety improvements like modern brakes. The base kit starts at $12,990 plus donor running gear from a ’87 to ’04 Ford Mustang.
The Mk IV isn’t the only kit Factory Five makes, though. You can also get kits for replica versions of the Shelby Daytona and 1933 Ford Hot Rod. Their supercar on a budget kit is the 818 which can be ordered in street, coupe, and race car variants.
The Lotus 7, along with the Lotus Elite, began life back in 1957 as a kit car. In 1973, Caterham bought the rights to the Lotus 7 and began evolving the car while sticking religiously to Colin Chapman’s ethos of “simplify, then add lightness.” Caterham Sevens range from the Seven 270, which starts at $37,900, to the top of the line Seven 620R which is exclusively pre-built, starts at $65,900, and can do 0-60 mph in under 3 seconds. Caterham kits come with much of the wiring complete and the company will even help you get your car approved as road legal in your state.
Want a rally car legend in your own garage? Just call up the folks at LB Specialist Cars and they’ll sell you a kit for your very own Lancia Stratos. Their STR comes with custom steering assembly, roll cage, coil overs and adjustable sway bars for supreme performance on the roughest of dirt tracks. The STR is designed for either an Alfa Romeo 2.5L V6, Toyota’s supercharged 3.5L V6, or a transverse Ferrari V6 or V8.
If you look at a NA or NB Mazda Miata and think, “that’s great, but too heavy,” then Exomotive’s Exocet is the right kit for you. You can get an Exocet for between $6,700 and $8,300 and a donor first or second gen Miata. The kit strips the Miata down to its chassis, losing some 900+ lbs. in the process. But don’t worry about losing that classic Miata look, you’ll have your choice of 188 different colors for composite body panels. The Exocet can also be ordered as an ATV kit.
Built off the bones of the Chevy Cobalt, the DF Goblin is another stripped down handling monster. But unlike the Exocet, the Goblin takes its reimagining one step further and flips the engine position to just in front of the rear wheels for the improved balance of a midengined layout. The Goblin also comes in superlight proportions at between 1,350 and 1,500 lbs. The Goblin can carry either the standard 2.2L Ecotec engine or the 2.0L turbocharged engine from the Cobalt SS. Like the Exocet, the Goblin reuses a significant amount from its donor car, making this build a little over 100 hours to complete. The Goblin can also be had in ATV form, as well.
The Ultima RS, from Ultima Sports Ltd. of England, might not seem like the “budget option” at $65,000, but for true supercar performance and supercar looks, it’s a steal. The Ultima RS is perhaps the ultimate LS V8 project. It welcomes any of the following Chevy engines: LS3, LS7, and LSA or LT1, LT4, or LT5. With a front splitter, rear wing, and super low profile, the Ultima looks the part of a supercar. And, at its most involved build, it’ll do supercar things like hit 250 mph and do 0-60 in 2.3 seconds with it’s maximum of 1,200 horsepower.
There are two big allures to building your own kit car. First is the amount of performance you can get from them. It’s no exaggeration to say you can build your own supercar, at least performance wise, for a small faction of the price. Second is the ease compared to other DIY project cars. Unlike getting a used car and refurbishing it, a kit car comes with all new components. No impactors or hacksaws needed. No need to keep questionable, old components and wait for them to need replacing.
One of the major hurdles with kits cars is getting them approved for road driving in your state. Automotive regulations vary state-to-state can as kit cars feature modified, well, nearly everything. It may take a few visits and some back-and-forth to your local DMV to get your kit car street legal.
That you’ll probably be building a kit car yourself is a double-edged sword. Sure, you’ll get the satisfaction of a job well done, but that also means you’re in charge and making all the decisions. How fast do you want to work? How tight do you want the steering? Do you want to upgrade the brakes? A kit car project is the mother of all build projects, for good or ill.
And what happens if and/or when you might what to sell your kit car? How do you price something you built in your garage? Some kit cars, like the Factory Five Mk IV, have a strong following and, if you’re wrenching has been skillful and diligent, you can probably get decent money out of your project. Like any used cars, most kit cars won’t resell for anywhere near what you spent on them.