The Weird World of Kit Cars


The idea of assembling an object sent over in the post might work with something like a closet organizer or a dresser but it’s a bit different with a car. For a start, there are more parts!

The first question you might ask is, why build a car? Why not just buy one from a showroom?

Well, there are a number of reasons you might build a car; one is if the car is used in a competitive activity such as hill climbing or road racing. Shows like Junkyard Challenge show how you mix and match different cars to make them better suited for specific occupations. Or you just might want a unique kind of car that different from anything else on the road.

Technically custom-built cars, those built for racing or climbing mountains, are not the same thing as a kit car per se. A kit car is a definite commercial item; it just comes in a form different from other cars.

Then What is a Kit Car?

With a kit car, you will find the more important components such as the engine and the transmission system come from donor vehicles which of course you need to buy elsewhere. So, far from keeping costs down, you might be creating expense. It is hardly the cheapest option and it can become an expensive hobby.

How much of a car is included in a kit car? Surprisingly it might be none at all; you might just have bought a list of instructions. Alternatively, you might obtain every single component a car might need; all you have to do is fit them together. Sound simple?

History of Kits?

There is a long history of kit cars, going back to 1896. Before Ford’s assembly line, car makers experimented with several ways to make them affordable. The opportunity to own one seemed to interest the magazine called The English Mechanic which showed how to build a car of your own. The first US kit car went by the macho name of “Lad’s Car”, costing about $160 in 1926, which translates as $2,200 today. It did take a bit of time to get going, not quite reaching its stride until the 1950s. Since so much went wrong with the cars of the day, people preferred to own the car showroom models.

What About Cost?

One technological advance that made the kit car more viable was the introduction of fiberglass into automaking. This brought the prices of the cars right down because the parts were cheaper to manufacture and lighter, and therefore cheaper, to ship.

Kit cars do offer potential cost savings of prebuilt models. If you are willing to accept a car that looks like a fancy custom vehicle but isn’t actually that vehicle with it’s brand name price, you could get most of the experience of owning such a car. For example, some cars are rare and collectible. Why pay collector rates when you just want to drive around is something cool. Taxes are another potential savings. If you pay sales tax on a junk car with good bones and then use a kit to cherry it out, you aren’t paying sales tax on the cost of all your labor.

The most famous kit car…

The most famous kit car is probably the Lotus but the AC Cobra is still being made. Many current models are replicas of older models – it seems that the designs of the cars haven’t changed for decades.

Possibly there could be a market for a new style of kit car, one that takes on the latest ideas of what cars are. It seems that we need to get over the idea that home assembly is too difficult for the novice, experimenting with new ideas and forms might be what it’s all about.


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