The first thing to know about building kit cars is that you can purchase anything from a set of plans only to just about all the components you need. Kit cars are also referred to as component cars.
There are also some differences in definition between replica cars and kit cars. Some insurance companies might consider a replica car as being built by an actual auto company. Some view kit cars as those having been built by an individual or car club. Check with your insurance company to make certain how they would classify your automobile. It's not a case of whether their perception is right or wrong but it is something you'll want to know.
The Time Required
The time required to complete a kit car project can vary from between a month and many months.Your level of experience is key. If you're an engineer and perhaps have experience as a machinist, mechanic, engine builder, tuner, suspension and exhaust tech, that will make your job much easier and faster. A lot of fabrication is required for most car kits and then the car must be plumbed, wired, trimmed and painted. Again, experience is key.
Nobody really considers a kit car project as a race against time. Doing a quality job is what is important. The time will vary upon your level of experience. Have you completed a car kit project before? Have you assisted someone else in a car kit project? If the answer is yes to both of these questions then you'll probably complete it faster than someone who hasn't.
Some who purchase car kits perform some of the work themselves and farm out more difficult aspects of the job to professional auto shops. A lot here depends on your budget. If you have access to professional support from either friends or from the kit supplier itself then you'll most likely save time. One rule of thumb is that expect the project to take longer than the advertised time. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Your goal is to build a quality vehicle that you'll enjoy driving so don't look at it as a race against time. One good thing to know is that it's generally accepted that today's car kits are easier to build than those of a few decades ago.
Complying to Regulations
Some issues that must be addressed include having your vehicle comply to present day safety and emission standards. States have certain regulations in place on how to register kit cars.
Here is an idea of how the EPA regards kit cars. "Fully-assembled kit cars are "motor vehicles" under the Clean Air Act. Complete kit car packages are also "motor vehicles" under the Clean Air Act. These are packages which contain all of the major components needed for assembly (i.e., body, chassis, engine and transmission). As "motor vehicles" they are subject to all applicable emission regulations. If an assembled kit car or complete kit car package is offered for importation and the kit is not covered by an EPA certificate of conformity issued to an original equipment manufacturer." For detailed requirements see website www.epa.gov.
Finding the Right Kit
Like with all products, car kits can differ in quality. To build a good kit car you'll need to purchase a good kit. If you have never built a “Kit Car” you really need to do plenty of research.
It's important to obtain a car kit from a company that will offer support help. Just about all of them do. You want to inquire about the level of support they offer. You may want a kit that offers a video showing the steps required. A video can often be much more effective than just printed instructions. Having both is ideal.
Many car kits today are replicas of well known and expensive classics. They supposedly are designed so that someone with average technical skill can build them. Body parts are typically fiberglass as opposed to sheet metal.
Some buyers purchase car kits that they simply turn over to a professional shop for construction. In this case the instruction video, etc might not be of prime importance. What is important here is the quality of the car parts.
Why a Car Kit?
The short answer to this is that you'll get much more bang for your buck versus buying a finely restored vehicle. Another equally if not more important aspect is whether you'll have fun. Many people enjoy the experience of building a kit car. If you have fun working on the project then that may be all the reward you'll need. If your car building endeavor isn't fun to do then a car kit may not be for you.
It's often been said that almost one half of car kit projects never get completed. I'm not sure if that figure is accurate but to really enjoy the experience you'll want to take on a project you know you'll finish.
Car kit manufacturers are located around the world. In the United States some of the popular ones include Factory Five, Frese Motorcars, Local Motors, Superformance, Meyers Manx and DDR Motorsport. There are others. Know that most companies specialize in one car model or possibly a few. In other words they are specialized. Some specialize in classic cars and others in muscle cars and sports cars.
In summary, ascertain the level of experience you have and choose the car kit project that fits your talents the best. Research the kits offered and ascertain what type of support you expect to receive. Pick a project that you feel confident will be completed.and that you have the necessary space required. Don't look at your car kit project as a race against time. Expect that it will take longer than advertised to complete and that doing a good job is of primary importance. Only plan a project that you know will be fun to undertake.
(Article copyright AutoMuseumOnline. VW photo from authors collection. Remaining photos from the public domain)