Kit car build advice, Inc, "So you want to build a kit car?"
This articul was originaly published on the Eagle Owners Club site and on Euro-Nova.co.uk as well as elsewhere, anyone can copy and use this article providing proper acknowledgement is given to the author.
The saddest sight in the kit car world is to come across an abandoned car, rusting and cracking, all in bits in a backyard or if it’s lucky a garage, shed or barn. Abandoned and forgotten, like the dreams of owners of exotic cars past. But 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. So in an attempt to help avoid any more of these 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 forty odd years in workshops earning a living.
After you have been to a kit car show or read a magazine and 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 so 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 done it, 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 expected and dash a dream or two but slog on anyway
Surprisingly 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?
Can I afford to put it on the road when I finish it, (insurance, IVA, testing, tax, etc)?
Will I be able to use it when finished it 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, period.
Space. 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 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, 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.
Money, 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.
Tools, 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.
Time. 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 it but then double it again.
Skill, 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.
So having satisfied yourself you are up to it and can cope, you now need to tackle the job and it is important to take things in stages and try not to be to much like a flea and hop all over the car, set you sight on one aspect of the project and see it though before tackling another part.
Strip the vehicle down as far as you can. Strip out the interior. Body off if possible. Engine and transmission out. Wheels off and brakes stripped, suspension off.
Overhaul the chassis first, never mind the scoops and seats and paint colour. Without a solid base on which to work you will be wasting your time and money, possibly having to go back to the chassis that you thought you had finished, (such as damaged seat belt mountings). Clean and de-rust totally the bare chassis whether it’s a classic VW beetle floor pan, a ladder style chassis or a shell, it needs to be clean, solid and rust free.
When you happy that nothing bad is lurking in the chassis department you can assemble the suspension and fit the overhauled brakes and the steering, then run your lines for brakes etc, always use new. If possible (as on a VW) brake, clutch and throttle pedals next and bleed the systems, finally the wheels, we now have a ‘rolling chassis’ and things start to get a bit easier. Depending on the vehicle now is a good time to install the engine and drive train and gear shift. If chassis mounted, the fuel tank/cell and electrics can be installed.
Now for the body, personally I prefer not have it sprayed before installing it on the chassis, you still have a long way to go and it will be very easy to damage the paint at this stage. If already painted or new then protect with plenty of padding, old blackest etc
Install the steering column, dash, and wiring. Now the wiring in itself would take a book to cover but suffice to say do it once, do it right, avoid old donor wiring and buy all new and make/buy new looms, it is neither difficult or expensive to do the job right the first time and you will have problems if you cobble together bits from all over the place. Companies such as Vehicle Wiring Products ( http://www.vehicle-wiring-products.eu/VWP-onlinestore/home/homepage.php) are happy to supply all you need, even if it is a couple of feet of blue with a purple trace. Many breakdowns are caused by faulty electrics as are many hours of fault finding, missed trips and shows and even the occasional fire by old components, try to use a new fuse box and relays etc and I would recommend using water proof connectors if there is a chance of getting wet such as headlight connections to the loom.
If not already done, this is a good time to repair and prepare the body and fit it to the chassis and then trundle the car into the paint shop. (Only two ways to do anything, you do it yourself or pay someone else to do it). There are many finishes possible. Traditional two part paints which require breathing masks and a proper spray booth. The new water based paints which you can paint in your garage with the minimum of protection and the latest trend, vinyl wrap.
Trim, possibly where most people give up as the money is getting tight and time, etc, running out, also folks are surprised at just how skilled a job 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.
Mirrors, roof lining, 'A' post rims, door, boot, bonnet and window seals, dash and door panels 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.
Enjoy your hard work and your car and all the very best of luck