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Exhaust Notes

Building a Kit Car: If You Build it, Be Prepared to Give Rides

By Charles Plueddeman

By Joshua Condon Mar 19, 2012 11:18AM

Photo courtesy Wes Schwartz.(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.”

Photo courtesy Wes Schwartz. 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.”

Photo courtesy Wes Schwartz. 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.

Photo courtesy Wes Schwartz. “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. 

Photo courtesy Wes Schwartz.

Mar 19, 2012 6:53PM

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

Mar 20, 2012 3:58AM
Great story about a true gearhead. Building your own car, very cool. You can "retire" but never stop working.
Mar 27, 2012 8:07AM
What people who never have tried to build their own dream machine do not understand, is that building the vehicle YOUR way (instead of a manufacturer's way) is a lot of the fun. You can build/customize it any way you want from the beginning. And you get to decide your budget while building it, not the company. Anyone stating that building it is too much of a hazzle, or not worth it, have never felt the pride you get from the completed product. Companies such as Superformance, build their vehicles their way, and you pay a premium. Yet, you don't see a dedicated race car, running on a sanctioning body from these companies; but Factory Five does. That's how well they design and engineer their products. For the price you pay for the kit, and the cost of completing the FFR cars, you still end up saving money and have great quality, compared to the other "turn-key" companies. Oh, and FFR makes complete kits now, which means that you can by-pass the donor option, if you choose to. The best of both worlds. What other kit company can say that?
Mar 21, 2012 8:02AM
Nice article and congrats to Wes, the car looks great!  I built an F5 roadster and had just as much fun building as driving it. I hope to build another in the not too distant future.   Being retired & building is a great combination.  If you think the time & money aren't worth the experience, you just don't get it...
Apr 26, 2012 5:38AM

i've built several "kit cars" and there is not many that are just "bolt together"

but their kooool

Jun 27, 2012 10:02AM
That looks awesome!  Im very much jealous, and impressed.  It looks like it turned out great, and i love your color choice!  Im a hands on kinda person myself, and would LOVE to have the funds to do a project like this.  Im still kind of young so who knows, when i retire maybe I'll get the privilege you had!  Again, that car looks amazing and i bet it was a blast to build!
Oct 26, 2012 8:48AM
"If you build it they will come". Priceless.  How many hours did it take for you to do create this piece of STREET AMERICANA.
Mar 20, 2012 4:18AM
Factory Five kits are for those that want to do a lot of the work themselves, including paint, and requires more donor car pieces.  Superformance sells complete, painted, rolling chassis that you add an engine and transmission of your choice to.  Either way you can find completed kits on the market between $35,000 and $50,000 depending on drive train choice including.
Mar 19, 2012 4:49PM
good work, i think I'd try to buy a completed car though as the hours and money don't seem to be worth it.
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