Building a Kit Car: If You Build it, Be Prepared to Give Rides
By Charles Plueddeman
(Note: This Exhaust Notes post is a companion piece to Charles Plueddeman's feature story on kit cars, You, Too, Can Afford a Million Dollar Porsche.)
I didn’t realize my neighbor was building a kit car until I heard a rumble in the street and looked out to see Wes pulling away in a V8-powered go-kart. Turns out he’d been wrenching away in his garage on a Cobra kit. On that chilly January morning he took the chassis for its maiden drive -- without the body, to make it easier to look for leaks. He returned sporting a very big grin between very rosy cheeks. In five more months it was topped with a ruby-red body, and Wes was giving the whole neighborhood rides in his roadster.
From 28 boxes of parts and a chassis that were delivered to his doorstep, Wes had created a car. A 72-year-old retired electrical engineer, Wes kept detailed records of his Cobra project in two large ring binders, and could tell me precisely how many hours he’d worked on the car.
“It took me 870 hours over almost exactly one year,” he says. “About half of that was in the shop, and the rest was on the phone and Internet forums getting advice and information. They say it’s a 250-hour job, but that’s not going to happen unless you’ve done it a few times.”
Wes tiptoed into the project by first ordering a $50 assembly manual to gauge the scope of the job, and then attending a weekend assembly course at Mott Community College in Howell, Mich., which he called an invaluable experience. He ordered a Factory Five Racing Mk3 Roadster “complete” kit, with some options, for $21,063. A $1,000 1988 Mustang GT provided the Ford 302 engine and transmission, which was rebuilt by Fond du Lac Auto Machine & Parts for an additional $3,650. He turned to RT Restorations in Fond du Lac, Wis., to finish the fiberglass body.
“The shop knew how to align the body and doors,” Wes says. “The body required a lot of grinding and filling before paint. I think that’s a job for a pro, if you want some curb appeal.” The pros charged Wes $7,200. Factory Five says the body of its new Mk4 Roadster requires less work before painting.
Wes says a key problem during the build was a lack of space in his 20-by-20-foot shop.
“When the body is off the chassis it takes up the space of two cars,” Wes says. “And then you have all the boxes of parts. I ended up renting storage for the body while I built the chassis.”
He didn’t need any special tools, although an air rivet gun was a good investment for assembling aluminum interior panels.
“The most tension-filled part of the job was bending the brake tubing,” Wes says. “It’s delivered in straight pieces, and you have to bend it to fit, and each took me three or four tries. I had to buy more tube. It’s important to get the brakes right, of course.”
Wes was one of perhaps 3,000 dreamers who start a kit-car project each year, says Jim Youngs, editor of Kit Car Builder magazine.
“My best guess is that 70 percent of those kits are completed,” Youngs says. “The typical issues are overestimating your mechanical skill, and underestimating the space required and the real cost. And some kits are just a lot harder to build than others.”
If a builder gets in over his or her head, the kit can be finished by a pro. Chuck Siewert of Regal Roadsters in Madison, Wis., sells the Regal T-Bird kit, but a big part of his business is finishing kits others have started.
“Sometimes it’s just too complicated,” Siewert says, “but often the quality of the kit is so poor it’s going to take a lot of skill to make it look good.”
Accounting for every nut and bolt, Wes figures he has $39,000 invested in his Cobra. I asked how it felt the first time he drove the car.
“It was exciting, but also really disappointing in a funny way when the car was done,” Wes says, “because there’s no more project! The process is really a lot of fun.”
Wes does not have plans to start another car, however. His shop now holds woodworking tools, rather than the various components of a classic car dream.
This would be a dream come true! The best way to do it too; retired. Imagine waking up and thinking, what part of the car should I work on today? *drool*...those 302s are nice as well. I use to own an 85 mustang GT 5 speed posi rear end (had the 302) and man could it put you in your seat. I can't imagine having that engine rebuilt and put into a lighter car, and a Cobra at that! A dream for sure.
Kudos to the man giving out rides
i've built several "kit cars" and there is not many that are just "bolt together"
but their kooool
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