I’ve always been mildly fascinated with kit cars (fancy-looking cars that are sold in pieces to be built, not self-driving, autonomous Knight Industries Two Thousand series). Without space, time, or money, I never got further than ordering a few catalogues here and there as a teen. But now the Dudeling is two, fascinated with all things transportation, and the signs that he’ll someday ask if he can build one are there.
If it comes it’ll be years away, so I’m not asking about anything specific—just general experiences and anecdotes.
Anyone here ever build (or know someone who built) a kit car? Was it cheaper than buying something new? Much more expensive? How long does it take? What about skill set—they always looked like it could be done with basic tools, a workshop, and some extra garage space. Or is this marketing fluff and putting one together is a bit beyond basic home repair and maintenance skills? Did it come out as nice as you thought it would? Most importantly, was it as fun as it seems?
I always wanted to but never had the time. A few years ago I found a kit car that had been sitting unused in a garage for 20 years that was selling cheap. It needed enough work that I feel like I actually accomplished something but at the same time it didn’t need to be built from scratch so it was actually doable, so I bought it.
I’ve taken a few bits apart and rebuilt them because I didn’t like the way it was done. Either the kit didn’t fit together properly in places or the guy that built it was an idiot (or both). Given my experience with Ikea furniture I suspect that you’ll need to do some fiddling to get one together and that it won’t go exactly according to plan.
The guy that built mine completely futzed up the electrical system. My best guess at this point is that it was mostly a 1960 Beetle with parts taken from a 72-ish or thereabouts Beetle, and he tried to convert the 1960 6 volt system to a more modern 12 volt system. I’m an electrical engineer so I was able to un-futz the electrical system but it took some creative reverse engineering and some confused staring at several years worth of Beetle wiring diagrams to figure out what they were trying to do and what I had to do to actually make it work (special thanks to the German engineers who labeled the blinker module with things like K and 40 instead of + and - and anything even close to the word “output”).
The kits and the skill sets required vary. Mine is a simple VW kit and I don’t see anything on it that couldn’t have been put together in a simple garage with basic tools. On the other hand, I’ve seen kits where one of the steps was to saw the frame in half and weld in extensions to stretch it.
When I was pricing them, the kits were fairly pricy and didn’t include the donor car. Used kit cars are fairly plentiful and are often reasonably priced.
I’ve never built a kit car, but I’ve built a couple street rods. Nothing fancy.
You’ll need to have the type of brain that loves to fiddle with stuff. A lot of things will require adjustment or re-engineering to work properly, and you have to love doing that sort of thing. You also need some sense of taste, so that your adjustments don’t look slipshod. (You may laugh, but there are far more crappy cars out there than nifty ones.)
You need the sort of mentality that doesn’t give up, that keeps its goal in sight and bulls right on through until the end. Lots of unfinished projects out there.
Cost: make your best estimate, then double it, and that’s about right. You’ll need a lot of little stuff, and it all adds up.
Paint you won’t want to do yourself, not if you want a nice job; so budget for a professional paint job.
Nor will you want to do upholstery. Again, hire a pro. Some kit cars have upholstery kits available; that might be a good investment.
Chrome, if you need it, is going to give you heart palpitations when you find out how much it costs.
My last bit of advice is to buy the best car you can afford. It’s always cheaper for you if the last owner did the work, rather than you having to do it.
One thing I forgot to mention, check with your local and state laws, etc. I registered my kit car before the Pennsylvania laws changed, and I hear they have now made it a royal pain in the backside for anyone with a custom car of any sort.
Mine is VW based, and in my experience, VWs aren’t that unreliable. They are extremely simple cars (sometimes a bit too simple) which really helps their reliability. There’s not much on them to break. Mine has never had a problem starting up or running, even after it’s been sitting for a while.
As far as heat and air circulation, I was a bit concerned about that when I first got it, but it has never overheated even when I’ve driven it for a couple of hours straight on a warm summer day. Doesn’t seem to be an issue for me.
I’ve always wanted to do it as well. But I’m a mechanical klutz with limited tools.
My plan, when I move to a larger place, have a little more dosh and time is to build one - probably some form of Cobra replica or a Caterham if I can.
I would be talking to a local self owned mechanic or rod shop, body shop or the like. make some form of arrangement with them to work on it with me - I do the simple bolt and tighten type jobs, they do anything more difficult and make sure that the parts are put on the right way up and not inside out