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Build Your Own Kit Car

Build Your Own Kit Car

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Build Your Own Kit Car

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Lançado em:
Aug 31, 2013


In Build Your Own Kit Car, renowned kit car expert Steve Hole presents a comprehensive guide to planning, managing and executing a kit car build. The first part of the book covers the history of kit cars; detailing the innovations the kit car industry has made in car building technology, and how companies like Westfield and Caterham have become household names. The second half of the book takes you through a full build project, from chassis, brakes, suspension and engine through to trimming and interiors. Other topics include: Types of kit cars, including the differences between kits, replicas and one-off builds; Choosing the right car for you; Budgeting for your build; Setting up your workspace, tools needed and workshop safety; Building techniques; List of useful contacts to help find the best resources for your kit car build. Whether you are planning on building a blisteringly quick trackday car, classic roadster or eccentric road car, Build Your Own Kit Car has all the resources and information you need to build and enjoy your own unique automotive creation. A comprehensive and instructional guide to planning, managing and executing a kit car build, superbly illustrated with 300 colour photographs. Steve Hole is one of the UK's leading authorities on the world of kit cars and is editor of tkc magazine.
Lançado em:
Aug 31, 2013

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Build Your Own Kit Car - Steve Hole




Since the turn of the twentieth century, people in sheds and garages all over the country have been dismantling and rebuilding cars, creating home-brewed ‘specials’ from all manner of components. The earliest attempts at rebuilds, new builds and odd builds frequently used Austin Sevens, old Ford 8s or even Bentleys as a platform on which to create the car of the builder’s dreams.

The first inspiration for ‘kit cars’ in the UK can probably be attributed to a design created by engineer Thomas Hyler-White (1871–1930), in 1896. It later appeared in a magazine called English Mechanic and World Of Science and Art in January 1900. The series of part-works entitled ‘A Small Car and How to Build it’, based on a Benz Velo, appeared in fifty-six instalments.

Interest in self-building unique cars accelerated in Britain after the Second World War, when any new cars that were being produced post-war were destined for export to provide the government with much-needed funds. De-mob happy young men up and down the country were starved of motorsport and petrol was still rationed. Bowed but undaunted, the motoring enthusiast adopted a ‘make do and mend’ approach and did the best job they could to turn old bangers into objects of desire. Soon, intrepid engineers, many of whom were motorsport participants, came up with a range of solutions to the challenge.

The forerunner of the specials movement, and the man who should be considered as the father of the kit car industry in the UK, was Derek Buckler, who ran an engineering company in Berkshire. When motorsport started to make a re-appearance after the war, Buckler created his own special, which quickly brought him success in hill-climbs and sprints. Before long his car began to attract attention from other drivers, who asked him to create a similar car for them.

Suitably encouraged, Derek Buckler set up his eponymous car company at his base in Reading. In keeping with the somewhat eccentric nature of the early cars, his working practices were known to be unusual; he would not give out the finishing touch of a bonnet badge until he had personally seen and inspected the customer’s car. He did not supply bodies for the chassis he produced, instead sending customers to his in-house panel beater, giving them a number of proprietary – and preferred – bodies from which to choose. The panel beater was self-employed and would issue a separate invoice for the work done.

Derek Buckler is widely regarded as the founding father of the UK kit car industry. His MkV (shown here) was not his fifth design, but his first; he chose the designation because he did not want potential customers to think that he was a newcomer. He did not offer bodies for his cars, but pre-glassfibre he had an in-house franchise that could craft a bodyshell for one of his chassis. With the advent of glassfibre he had arrangements with leading ’shell makers of the day such as Microplas. His bonnet badges were awarded only when he had personally seen a customer’s car and it had passed muster.


In the early 1950s, a whole string of companies sprang up to satisfy the demands of the specials builder. Glassfibre (also known as GRP, fibreglass, fiberglass, glass reinforced plastic, and glasfaserverstärker kunststoff, among other names) soon emerged as the perfect medium for use for a car body. No other material is more suitable for the production of car bodies in low volume and its introduction was crucial to the advent and development of the kit car industry. Aluminium, which forms part of the more ‘exotic’ composites such as carbonfibre and Kevlar, is usable, but its use is more labour-intensive and much more expensive.

The advent of glassfibre offered all manner of possibilities to budding new car manufacturers. Soon, many small operations were enticing motorists with swooping, rakish designs, which exploited the fact that glassfibre could be moulded into shapes that were hard to achieve and/or too expensive to produce in aluminium.

Manufacturers in the USA were the world leaders in glassfibre and resin technology, with fibreglass strands and matting first appearing commercially in 1938, through Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corporation of Ohio. DuPont and Cyanamid were among the pioneers of resins in 1942, and the first car with a body made from glassfibre was Bill Tritt’s Glasspar G2. General Motors was the first manufacturer to showcase a mass-produced glassfibre body, used for its Corvette model at the Detroit Motor Show of January 1953. Another American manufacturer, Kaizer-Frazer, was not far behind, with its Henry J model.

The UK soon caught up, with a company called Microcell exhibiting a one-piece glassfibre body that it had developed for Allard in mid-1953. Singer (SMX Roadster, designed by Bill Tritt) and Jensen (541) were the first UK makers to use the material in mass production, recognizing the importance of this new substance to the car manufacturing industry.

The first glassfibre kit car body for the UK market came from RGS Automobile Components, run by Dick Shattocks. In June 1953 he used it on the re-launched, pre-war Atalanta that his company had acquired. In these early days of glassfibre kit car bodies, results were often patchy as companies had yet to master the art of consistent manufacturing quality. Inevitably, some had more success than others.

Dick Shattocks’ RGS Automotive was the first ‘specials’ manufacturer to offer a proprietary commercially available glassfibre bodyshell in the UK, in May 1953. In addition to supplying a range of ‘go-faster’ goodies, Shattocks had also acquired the defunct pre-war marque, Atalanta. The bodies were made by the snappily titled North East Coast Yacht Building and Engineering Company Ltd.

In the very early days, the benefits of using glassfibre did not include cost saving – in 1953 a glassfibre body cost the same as, if not more than, a comparable (hand-formed) aluminium shell – but, as is the case with most new technology, prices soon fell as demand rose. The first glassfibre boat hull had been produced in 1942 in the USA and the boat-building companies soon turned their hands to car bodies, in a natural crossover. Their longer experience with the material meant that were undoubtedly more adept in production methods. In the UK, North East Coast Yacht Building and Engineering Company Ltd was one of the better exponents of the new technology.

There are many stories about disasters with glassfibre in the 1950s. Operatives would often lay-up a body prior to going home in the evening, hoping that it would be set by the next morning and ready to be released from the mould for delivery to an eager customer. More often than not, however, they would arrive to find the mould had leaked, depositing the customer’s order in a molten mess on the workshop floor. In addition, protective masks and goggles were not always used and workers were finding out that they could be quickly overcome in an unventilated workshop by the smell of resin at close quarters. Fortunately for the industry, things inevitably got better and standards improved.

Often referred to as Britain’s Porsche 911, the Rochdale Olympic was a very successful early kit car, from a Lancashire manufacturer that was a leading player of the period. Originally producers of aluminium bodies, they rapidly grasped the potential of glassfibre.

By the mid-1950s, with new car bodies made from glassfibre arriving on to the market weekly, the specials builder of the day was spoilt for choice. Quality was rapidly improving while prices were becoming more reasonable. Major organizations such as Shell were heavily involved in producing and developing more sophisticated resins that were better able to resist fire and acid.

There were a number of well-known companies involved in glassfibre car-body supply in the 1950s, including Rochdale Motor Panels, Bonglass and Martin Plastics. Rochdale had started by producing aluminium bodies for its specials and was, after Buckler, probably the second company to market ‘kit cars’. It primarily produced bodies for its own cars, while Bonglass and Martin produced proprietary parts made out of glassfibre and made bodies for various manufacturers.

Micron Plastics, later known as Microplas, was another glassfibre pioneer. The business started in a small shop in Rickmansworth in 1954, selling fibreglass matting and resin. It grew quickly, gaining a reputation for quality, and started to produce replacement bodies for Ford 8s and 10s and Austin Sevens. The names of its specials, Stiletto and Mistral, became well known, with the latter being used in 1958 as the basis for the Fairthorpe Electron. For its time, this was a notable arrival – a compact sports car with its own tubular-steel ladder-frame chassis, pre-dating the Austin Healey Sprite by two years.

Almost as soon as the first glassfibre bodyshell had arrived, Micron Plastics was selling the home enthusiast tins of resin, hardener, glass-matting and associated sundry items from a shop in Rickmansworth. They soon grew to producing bodyshells under the Microplas name from a factory in the town and a second one in Mitcham, Surrey. Glassfibre gave manufacturers huge possibilities in terms of the shapes they could create and by the mid-1950s all manner of swoopy and curvy body styles began to appear.

Until 1953, and the advent of glassfibre for automotive use, manufacturers could offer bodyshells only in hand-made aluminium, which was expensive and labour-intensive.

Throughout the 1950s, some manufacturers resisted the move towards glassfibre and continued to offer aluminium bodies. Eventually, they were forced out of business and the kit car industry remains heavily reliant on glassfibre to this day, with the vast majority of manufacturers using the material for their car bodies. This is not to say that glassfibre is inexpensive – for mass production, steel is a far better proposition in terms of cost. A decent set of moulds for the production of a glassfibre bodyshell can easily cost £30,000, and will form a significant part of a fledgling car manufacturer’s start-up budget. In recent years, with an upturn in the price of resin (the price of which is dependent upon the price of crude oil) and fibreglass matting, the costs of body production are once again soaring.


In the climate of post-war austerity and economic debt, the specials builders of the 1950s did not have the luxury of exciting donor vehicles on which to build their low-slung sports models. Their choice was usually restricted to two main donor vehicles: the Austin Seven and the Ford 8 or 10. These were the Ford Models Y (1932–37), an ‘8’ with 23½bhp, or the E93A Prefect (1938–49 with 7ft 10in wheelbase) ‘10’, with the slightly bigger 30bhp version of the ubiquitous 1172cc side-valve engine. Other postwar Fords to be pressed into donor service included the E493A, 100E (1953–59) series (36bhp 7ft 6in wheelbase) and the later 105E Anglia. These looked luxurious by comparison with the early models.

Some companies, such as Buckler and Leslie Ballamy’s LMB operation, realized that fitting a modern, sporty body to an aged, creaking donor vehicle was only a part of the modification that was needed. The driving experience with the new body was still compromised by ancient leaf springs and a chassis that was rather agricultural, with no sporting ability at all. As a result, the ‘standalone chassis’ appeared on the market, often accompanied by upgraded suspension components. Derek Buckler, of course, had always supplied his own chassis.

Some of these standalone chassis cars were actually made into genuine sports cars, playing a large part in the return of motorsport to Britain. The 750 Motor Club, founded in 1939 by the late, legendary motoring journalist Bill Boddy, was right at the forefront of the introduction of the sport. A number of enthusiastic early members of the club would go on to become leading kit car manufacturers, including Colin Chapman (Lotus), Jem Marsh (Marcos) and Trevor Wilkinson (TVR).

Among the most popular of early donor vehicles was the Ford Popular, shown here in Model Y guise and …

… the big daddy of them all, the Austin 7.


By the early 1960s, things had changed as far as the specialist car enthusiast was concerned. The arrival of the Austin Healey ‘Frogeye’ Sprite and the Sir Alec Issigonis-designed Mini in 1959 changed the face of car manufacture. As a result, many of the existing specials bodyshell manufacturers, which were producing shells that were often quite crude, went out of business or were forced to adapt the way they operated.

Almost overnight, consumers decided that they wanted more for their money; they certainly did not want rough shells that had no finesse in their presentation or build process. In response, specialist car manufacturers changed their approach, and the early 1960s saw the arrival of what would now be recognized as a ‘kit car’, with makers supplying the bodyshell, chassis and sometimes even the engine in a kit package. The search for better value for money was not the only motivation behind this new approach; supplying cars in kit form also avoided the purchase tax of 33 per cent that was applied to all new cars from 1958. (It was a welcome reduction from the 50 per cent tax that was applied in 1956, but it still raised prices beyond the reach of the average car purchaser.) It was specifically this high level of tax that drove manufacturers such as Gilbern, Ginetta, Lotus and TVR to supply their models in component or kit form.

When it came to supplying cars in kit form, Colin Chapman’s Lotus operation was an early pioneer. In 1962, the Lotus Seven cost £526 as a kit of parts, offering a tax saving of £346 against buying it in completed form. In comparison, the ageing Ford Popular model cost £443 purchased new, with a Frogeye at £670. A Lotus advertisement of the day showed Chapman in stern, schoolteacher mode, with a cane pointing at a picture of his Seven and the strapline ‘He designed it; now you build it.’ It was no surprise that customers flocked to the Lotus factory in Cheshunt. The iconic Seven is still available today from Caterham Cars, some fifty-five years after its launch.

The Mini designed by Sir Alec Issigonis arrived in the UK in 1959 and was a game-changer, along with the Austin Healey Sprite that arrived in the same year. The affordability and petite dimensions of both had a significant impact on the kit car market. Unable to compete, some manufacturers fell by the wayside almost overnight while others upped their game and raised their standards. As a result, some of the better companies such as Ashley Laminates and Falcon Shells began supplying what are known today as complete kit packages, including everything needed to build a car.

A Sportiva model from Ashley Laminates, one of the new wave of early 1960s manufacturers.

Gilbern GT, from one of the leading manufacturers of the 1960s, Gilbern Cars, run by butcher Giles Smith and ex-German prisoner of war Bernard Friese. This was the Welsh company’s first model, launched in 1960 and one of the first kit cars to use Austin Healey Sprite mechanicals.

Ginetta G4 launched in 1961, one of a succession of well-made, capable and pretty models offered by Suffolk-, later Essex-based, Ginetta Cars.

A range of fine models such as the Elite, Elan, Europa and the iconic Seven was produced by one of the most famous of all kit car manufacturers, Lotus, founded by the legendary, late A.C.B. (‘Colin’) Chapman.


In 1961, Car Mechanics magazine estimated that there were over 22,000 specials on the road in the UK, none of which had been subjected to any professional scrutiny or standards testing. People were building them and driving them on the public highway at will and the number of road accidents was increasing all the time. The government became more and more concerned about how many unregulated, poorly maintained vehicles were at large on Britain’s roads.

Something had to be done and, in May 1960, Transport Minister Ernest Marples introduced the ‘10-Year Test’, the forerunner to the modern-day MoT. It was intended to check the roadworthiness of the one million oldest cars on the UK roads and, of course, the majority of the ancient donors of the specials failed it miserably. As a result, the companies offering new chassis to car builders rushed to promote their wares and many, such as the field-leading Buckler, Buroche, Littabourne, EB, Victory, Mercury, Bowden, Convair, Conquest (CRS), Watling, LMB, Belford (Nickri Laminates) and Halifax, did very well for a time. All were offering chassis that were suitable for their own bodies as well as for the bodies of other manufacturers.

Through the 1960s, the kit car industry continued to evolve, from single bodyshells, to body/chassis builds, to comprehensive kit packages. The introduction of the full-blown MoT test in 1962 ensured that cars over three years old were checked for roadworthiness, although newly built kit cars were free to take to the road without passing the test. They did, however, fall under the MoT scheme after three years.

The next change to hit the industry, almost stopping it in its tracks, was the cut in purchase tax, from 1963, from a whopping 33 per cent to nil. There was suddenly no financial benefit to building a car – indeed, it was possible to purchase a car fully built for the same price, so that was exactly what many people did. With purchase tax gone, the Austin Healey ‘Frogeye’ Sprite, at £631 in 1963, was now within reach for many more potential sports car buyers, who would not save any money by building a car themselves.


The introduction of the Mini in 1959 had quite an impact on the kit car world. Once its potential had been realized for specialist car use, a stream of kit cars based on its mechanicals was launched, starting with the short-lived Butterfield Musketeer of 1961. The humble Mini would, in time, become as important a donor vehicle as the VW Beetle.

The Volkswagen Beetle was not only the biggest-selling vehicle of all time, but also the most popular donor vehicle (in terms of volume). From the 1970s onwards, wannabe kit car designers would use the Beetle’s floorpan, rear-mounted air-cooled engine and rugged mechanicals for a multitude of kit models. Although the 40-odd horsepower was a bit too timid for some in original guise, when it was paired with a lightweight glassfibre body, the car could be made to perform quite well. The huge numbers used mean that it will be some while before another donor gets near to it in terms of numbers, although these days its use is primarily restricted to powering beach buggies, trikes and air-cooled Porsche replicas such as 356 Speedsters and 550 Spyders.

There were an estimated 22,000 home-built ‘specials’ on the road in 1961, many of them unfit for the public highway, so the UK government introduced the ‘10-Year Test’ (with vehicles over 10 years old being subject to testing). This quickly became the MoT.

The Volkswagen Beetle is possibly the most frequently used kit car donor vehicle of all time. Even the most forlorn example is an ideal candidate for transforming into a Porsche 356, 550 Spyder replica or beach buggy.

The VW Beetle lent itself perfectly as the basis for a selection of replicas such as Porsche 356 Speedster …

… or a rather cheeky air-cooled Porsche 911 replica, a kit that sold well for Covin Performance Mouldings in the 1980s.

Manufacturers liked the Beetle because, with DNA linked to Porsche and the 911, its configuration gave them the opportunity for some rakish, swoopy designs, if not sparkling performance. As a donor vehicle, the Beetle was cheap and about as basic as vehicle mechanicals got. Tuning and upgrade parts were plentiful and easily available, and the VW body could be simply and easily un-bolted from the floorpan.

In addition to the beach buggy

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