Building a Kit Car in these Troubling Economic Times

Focus on the Vehicle

Obama predicts a coming Depressing. News readers scream “The End is Near!” Well, not exactly, but as this is being written in March of 09 it's impossible to watch TV with out someone forecasting doom.

While it's certainly true that millions of Americans have seen the paper assets of their 401K retirement accounts and their stocks lose value, no loss is actually incurred until those accounts and those stocks are converted from paper or bytes into real cash.

Those of you who still have a job may be worried about losing it. Those of you who are retired and living off your own investments may be worried about your future income too. Those of you on an old fashioned pension may fell a lot safer. But what ever your finical situation, you're probably not as bad off as you think.

Perhaps you have been laid off or have been given an “opportunity” to retire early. Besides sending out resumes, what are you going to do? Drive the spouse crazy? Sleep more? Drink?

How about building that car you've always dreamed about? You know the one. The one that will turn heads. The one that will use your idea for instrument placement. The one where you'll be able to reach the radio and the gearshift lever. The one that will blow away the kid in the Honda with the grapefruit shooter and the rich guy with his Porch Boxer imitation sports car.

I have no money! My wife (or Significant Other) will kill me!

Possibly true. But, you do have time. You do have energy. You do need to be doing something creative and productive. Building you own car will definitely take time. It will definitely get those creative juices working. And, if will be productive. It may even help you land the next job.

“So, what have you been doing since Huge Corp?”

“Well, I designed and built my own car. I learned a lot about strength of materials, electronics, sewing, metal working, fiberglassing, steering systems, hydraulics, ergonomics, LED lighting, internal combustion engines, new water based painting, and drafting. I also learned about writing specifications, contracts, managing subcontractors, and negotiating prices. I worked with state agencies. I managed a project budget under demanding circumstances. And, I created a one-of-a-kind vehicle that passed state inspection. Here's a photo. It gets 35 MPG and does 0-60 in under 4 seconds.”

Just about any job someone else is going to pay you for involves one or more of the above skills you'll learn or hone building your own vehicle.

Perhaps of equal importance, or more importance for those with secure jobs, now is a good time economically to build a car. Here are the reasons:

The dollars you've got are going a lot farther today than they did just a year ago.

At the same time you've probably got “stuff” to trade (usually a better deal these days) or cautiously sell or best of all re-purpose. Those replacement bulbs for the family car will work great in the swap meet head lamps with just a bit of work with a Dremel tool.

First Step

Clarify the Dream.

Most folks call this step planning. What do you want in a vehicle? If you're like most of us car nuts you've been thinking about building your own car for years.

Now's the time to put pen to paper. Sharpen the pencil. Write down what you want. Be very explicit. Make a list of all the parts you'll need. Where you can, place a realistic price on each item.

Total up the cost. Have a beverage of your choice – or some chocolate – what ever your vice.

Trust me, it's not going to be that bad. Likely, it will be worse.

But, if you apply as much creativity to the acquisition process as you do the the design (and yes they are inter-related!), you can build that Dream car for less.

Second Step

Take inventory

Make a list of the parts you have. Every part you have. Remember creativity in acquisition also applies to your own basement and garage. You don't really have to have that $2500 custom suspension. Rebuilding the VW beam front axle behind the barber shop will give you amazing road performance for $150. You're looking not only for parts you can use in your vehicle but also for parts to sell or swap. Ancient, pitted aluminum valve covers are hardly worth the cost of taking to the recycling center to you. But they're worth  $400 to the Ford collector in Pittsburgh. Ebay or Craig's List can be your friend.

You daughter's old '96 Neon still runs good but the paint pealed off in '99. Couldn't even trade it in – at least not for the $600 they'd give you. With a MEKK Autoworks frame and a few hundred in go fast goodies, you have the makings of a sub 4 second screamer.

Make a list of the stuff near by. Is that awful looking dune buggy that's been sitting behind the filling station for ten years unappealing” Closer inspection might  disclose a Myers badge. I've heard stories of offers of “I'll haul it away for 25 bucks” meeting with a quick “Here's 30 if you'll take the old Corvair engine too.” Take inventory of you friends, neighbors, and relatives garages and storage barns.  The exact part you need may be available for free – or for a nice family dinner at your house.

Remember be creative! Keep your eyes open. Think free.

The part you take home may make someone's wife very happy – although probably not yours.

Third Step

Compare lists

Take the list of things you need and the list of stuff you have plus the stuff nearby. Apply another dash of creativity. Substitute what you have for what you need where you can. Generate a list of stuff you still need.

Put this list in you car. Put a copy in your pocket. Share the list with friends. Give one to your teenage son or the kid next door.

Start cruising eBay and Craig's list. Post want to buy items, post fliers at swap meets, chat up your favorite parts counter man or woman (they hear everything - better t han a bartender!).

Fourth Step

Parts procurement

Assemble the parts you need to complete the vehicle build in the following order:

  1. Parts you need to get started

    1. Tools

    2. Donor vehicle

    3. Frame

    4. Suspension

  2. Parts you'll need to complete the frame

  3. Parts you'll need to power the vehicle

  4. Parts you'll need to attach the body to the frame

  5. Parts you'll need to complete the interior

  6. Parts you'll need to complete the exterior


Articles describing each of the Parts Procurement sub-steps will be posted over the next few months.

If you have any comments on this, or future articles, drop the author an email:


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