Looking into the Future: The Pursuit of Cheap Speed

In my previous post, I had eluded to the difficult pursuit of cheap speed. (Read it here.)

Briefly stated, it’s really challenging to get high performance on a budget. For the most part, if you want a fast car, plan on forking out some money for it.

So What Am I Trying to Do?

I’m trying to figure out a way to get a “fun to drive” car at a relatively low price. While this is difficult, it’s not necessarily impossible.

Basically, you build your own car. This can also be considered the “kit car” approach, however in my case, I’m not looking to make a replica of a Ferrari, or Lamborghini, or any kind of high performance car out there. The amount it would cost to make a comparable replica of one of these cars, you’re almost better just to buy an actual brand name car and save the time putting it together.

The real trade off is the monumental amount of time you will spend building and customizing the car. For a lot of people, the amount of time spent building this kind of car is not worth the difference in terms of buying a car that already performs to your hearts desire.

Note: If you’re looking for very high performance in terms of top speed, very high horsepower, and sub 3 second 0-60 mph times, a great alternative to a $300,000 Lamborghini is the Factory Five GTM. While it’s technically a kit car, sourcing some high performance Chevrolet Corvette Drivetrain Parts and using a donor Corvette C5 can get you a Supercar that costs less than $100,000. But I digress, that’s not the point of the discussion.

What I would like to Build?

After a lot of research, my plan is to try and take on building a kit car that is commonly known on the internet as the “Locost 7”. This is a design that’s based on the Lotus 7 designed by Colin Chapman back in 1957 as a basic, lightweight race car. It was designed to race on the Formula 2 circuit. As always, there’s way more info on the original Lotus 7 here.

1970 Lotus 7

The reason I’m looking into this car is it’s relatively simple design. It was designed to be a basic sports car, one that hardly packs any weight. When looking at performance, if you can’t increase your engine performance, you can decrease your weight.

A “Locost 7” is a replica design of the Lotus 7, jokingly named “Lo cost” because it can be built for a relatively small amount of money. Many people have managed to build these for well under $10,000. A book by Ron Champion is called “Build Your Own Sports Car For As Little As £250 and Race it!“. The main premise of the book is finding a suitable donor car and selling the components you don’t use from your donor to offset the project car. I think £250 in today’s terms is unrealistic. By the sounds of it he’s coming out with an updated version that sets the limit at £1,000. While this sounds challenging, it seems a little bit more realistic.

The frame is a simple space frame made of steel square tube, which is relatively cheap. Then if you can pull a lot of the parts out of an inexpensive donor car, the overall cost becomes fairly reasonable. From the LocostUSA forum, most builders indicate that their costs can be from about $5,000 to $9,000, depending on how you source your parts. If you can keep the design as basic as possible, you can end up with a fun car to drive that is fairly unique.

The Plan

A few things need to happen before this project goes forward:

I need more workshop space.

Typically a project like this requires a garage that can house not only the kit car as it’s being built, but also the donor car being used. This means at least a two car garage is required. As much as I’d like to start right away, I simply don’t have the space.

I need more tools.

To take on a project like this you need a serious assortment of tools to complete the build. Tools are a key part and like so many things in life, you get what you pay for. If you want good tools that don’t wear out, you’re going to have to pay higher prices. I have yet to build any kind of major tool collection. Tools = $$$.

I need more workshop skills.

While I’ve turned a couple of wrenches in my life, a project like this requires a lot of workshop skills. A lot of people who didn’t have much for workshop skills have completed these kinds of projects and treated the project as a learning experience, building the skills as they go. I’m certainly ok with that approach, I just need to budget for the inevitable set backs from making mistakes from not having the best workshop skill set.

I need to figure out exactly what I want.

If I start something like this, I want to have a good vision of at least what I want the end result to be. I understand there are always inevitable changes that occur throughout a project like this, but I still want a good vision of the end result so I’m not changing what I’m working on halfway through. A lack of vision is usually a recipe for failure, since you end up abandoning a project when you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve.

I need to set a financial target.

With projects like these, the sky’s the limit in terms of how much you choose to throw into this project. There are a lot of costs to consider however.

  • Donor Car Cost
  • Performance Part Costs
  • Tool Costs
  • Costs of hiring an expert for certain jobs
  • Time (not necessarily financial, but there are convoluted ways of arguing that your time is worth money…)

Of course, all these amounts differ depending on what the end result is. There are a number of questions that need to be answered:

  • When do I want this completed?
  • How well do I want the car to perform?
    • What kind of specs do I want to have?
    • How do I plan to use this car? (Race or just have fun?)
  • How much time am I willing to put in to completing it?

The Conclusion

Overall, I know this is something I want to do in the future, however for the time being there’s still a lot of questions that need to be answered. I don’t foresee myself starting the actual building for quite a while since it’s likely going to be a while before I have the dough to start. In the meantime, I can get a better sense of what I want. This will make it easier to figure out a timeline and an approximate cost of the project.

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Sports Cars: What Does Your Money Really Get You?

Cheap speed. Rarely often do you hear these two words go together in the automotive world. I could go on as to the many reasons as to why this is, however the short answer is simply that more power means more money.

Performance Cars Today

Today there’s an unprecedented offering of sports cars to anyone wanting something with a bit more pep than your average car. You can spend anywhere from $1,000 for a used sports car to upwards of $3 million for that ultra-high performance ultra-luxury machine. There’s something for everyone.

Who wouldn’t love this $4 million Lamborghini Veneno Roadster in their driveway?

Typically the motivations for buying sports cars vary from person to person, but I’ve found the predominant factors people look at when purchasing a sports car (in my opinion) are as follows:

  • Performance and Feel
    • 0-60 mph acceleration
    • top speed
    • handling
  • Luxury and Appearance
  • Exclusivity

Typically, sports cars are not practical, fuel economy friendly, or inexpensive. This means you typically have a smaller subset of people willing to fork out the money for a sports car. Remember, everyone has their reasons and I’m not claiming to be an absolute authority on why people buy cars.

For me, if I was to purchase a sports car, it’s purely for it’s performance. It’s not because it’s luxurious and happens to have these performance characteristics, it’s because it performs like a race car. So when I look at sports cars, I look for the best performance I can get for the price. While brand plays some part, my argument is for a sports car that doesn’t break the bank. What breaks the bank is subjective. $30,000 is a lot of money to me, however to others that’s a pittance. There’s multiple ways of looking at this, however for sake of argument I’m only looking at a couple of factors which I’ll indicate below.

Examining Sports Car Performance

When you examine the kinds of sports cars out there, you can see a few trends that emerge. Of the cars I’ve looked at, it’s pretty evident I’ve picked a number of cars I will most likely never be able to afford, but it’s more to illustrate the point between speed and cost.

Model Price
1998 Chevrolet Malibu $         15,670.00
2015 Ford Mustang GT $         32,000.00
2016 Chevrolet Camaro SS $         33,355.00
2014 Dodge Challenger SRT8 $         44,685.00
2016 Shelby GT350R $         63,000.00
2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 $         83,000.00
2014 BMW M6 $       118,195.00
2014 Lamborghini Huracan $       240,745.00
2014 Ferrari F458 Speciale $       291,744.00
2015 Lamborghini Aventador $       441,600.00
2012 Gumpert Apollo $       550,000.00
2012 Pagani Huayra $   1,400,000.00
2014 Koenigsegg Agera R $   1,520,000.00
2012 Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse $   1,819,961.00
2015 Ferrari FXX K $   2,369,180.00

Note: These are not absolute prices, it’s based on a quick search of Google. There’s a lot of conflicting information out there.

As you can see, I’ve tried to pick an assortment of sports cars. I know the Malibu is not a sports car by any means, I just wanted to illustrate where it fits in the performance spectrum, just to show how far off my old car was from any semblance of performance. Also you can see my bias towards Italian Sports cars.

I put down a bunch of data to show a few different points in relation to the sports cars listed above. The main points I’m going to focus on are performance based, including 0-60 MPH times and top speed. If you really want to scrutinize racing attributes, there’s also cornering abilities, such as how many g’s it can pull in a turn, handling, 1/4 mile times, etc… I’m trying to keep it somewhat simple.

Brace yourself, graphs are ahead.

Most of the following graphs are pretty trivial, however lets look at a few. Remember when looking at these is that they are meant more than anything to show general trends and relationships between different parameters, they are not meant to be absolute numbers.

Top Speed of Given Sports Cars
Top Speed of Given Sports Cars
Horsepower of Given Cars
Horsepower of Given Cars
0-60 MPH Times for Given Cars
Curb Weight of Given Cars
Curb Weight of Given Cars

These all show three pretty trivial facts. More money means higher top speed, higher horsepower, lower 0-60 MPH times, and (in general) lower curb weights.

Deeper Analysis

While these are one way of looking at it, I feel like performance parameters can be scrutinized a bit more. For example, when considering the engineering aspects of a performance car, how can acceleration times be decreased? If two engines are the same size, the engine that has less weight to propel into motion is going to reach 60 MPH faster than the engine with more weight. Try going from a standstill to 35 mph on a beefy downhill mountain bike versus a lightweight road bike. Same principle with an engine.

A good way of looking at efficient performance is to look at the weight of the sports car as a ratio to the engine horsepower. I like looking at this metric the most, because this is where you can start to uncover bargains in performance. You can tell how much weight an engine has to move on a per unit horsepower basis. Lower is obviously better.

Weight to Power Ratios for Given Cars
Weight to Power Ratios for Given Cars

Clearly, we see the same conclusion. More money equals lower power to weight ratios. One interesting point comes up though. As you can see, the 2015 Corvette Z06 has a power to weight ratio of 5.4 LBS/HP, whereas the close by Lamborghini Huracan has a power to weight ratio of 5.2 LBS/HP. The Lamborghini Huracan costs $240,745, whereas the base Z06 starts at $83,000. You get (close to) Lamborghini Performance in a Corvette at almost 1/3rd the price!

Another place we can look is at the dollar amount per horsepower of performance. Here, you get a good look at the dollar value per horsepower. It tells the same story as we’ve been seeing, higher priced cars means you pay a premium for each horse.

$/Horsepower of Given Cars
$/Horsepower of Given Cars

Again, the interesting thing to see is that the Corvette shows the same conclusion we saw before. For comparable performance, it’s almost a 1/3rd the price!

The main thing I want to start looking at is the cost versus our performance characteristics.

Cost Vs. 0-60 MPH Times for Given Cars
Cost Vs. Top Speed
Cost Vs. Top Speed

These both show that essential in the performance world, after about $100,000, you’re incremental performance gains are fairly minimal. After the $100,000 mark, you’re essential paying for the design, luxury, and exclusivity.

Remember, this is my take on it. I haven’t done an exhaustive analysis of all sports cars out there, nor have I looked at the multiple performance parameters that should be assessed when looking at sports cars.

In the end, it all comes down to what you choose to look at and what you consider important

You can see that I only chose to look at top speed and engine horsepower. I didn’t analyze a number of sports car dynamics (e.g. corner abilities), quality and manufacturing volumes of components on cars, component materials, etc… For example, the 2015 Mustang GT has a lower price point than a Ferrari FXX K, however they made over 87,000 Mustangs, whereas they’re only making 32 Ferrari FXX K’s. The Mustang is a working man’s sports car, whereas the Ferrari FXX K is a car for the super elite, a place most of us will likely never make it to. There are two completely different markets. Different markets drive different engineering decisions when it comes to cars, such as manufacturing volumes, design complexities, manufacturing approaches, and product line lifetimes. Hence, the Mustang GT starts at around $30,000, the Ferrari FXX K starts at above $2,000,000.

Where is this all going?

From my last post, I had alluded to a new project I’m doing research on at the moment. While I had been looking for some kind of sports car to have some fun with, I ended up buying a truck instead, which has temporarily put the kibosh on any other major expense. Funny how new cars have a tendency to do that.

What am I looking for?

After the exhaustive analysis done above, I’ve figured out a few things.

  1. I want something that goes fast. That being said, do I need it to go up to 200 MPH? No. My focus is on acceleration.
  2. I will never be able to justify +$100,000 on a car. Considering you can get a Corvette Z06 that accelerates from 0-60 MPH in under three seconds for less than $100,000, I can’t justify spending more than that.
  3. To be honest, I struggle to justify spending more than $30,000 on a car that’s practical as a daily driver. A sports car performs and that’s about it. Is it practical? I would argue no, but that’s my point of view.

So accepting that I want to go fast but don’t want to spend a lot of money, where does that leave me?

Here’s where I introduce the Lotus 7.

Check out my next post as to how I plan to get past the cheap speed dilemma. I’m arguing cheap speed exists, even if I’m choosing to make it more complicated than it needs to be.

 

Changing Priorities

Once again I’ve gotten off schedule with my regular posts. That being said, a lot has happened in the last little while.

The Car Hunt

I had been on the hunt for a mid 1970s Corvette back in September. I had looked at a couple of potential candidates, however I found that of the ones I looked at, there were a couple issues that I couldn’t get past. My biggest issue was the fact that there was more rust that I was prepared to put up with. One of the things I discovered is that when ads say “no rust” that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s no rust on the car. People have different interpretations of what “no rust” means. The truth is with cars that are 40 years old, there’s bound to be some rust somewhere on the car. You just have to know how much rust you’re prepared to put up with.

I did a lot of scrutinizing over the cars that were in my price range, but based on the research I’d done, I didn’t find any that matched my expectations. I understood that it was going to take a while to find the right one, but based on my expertise at working with cars and previous restoration experience (which was essentially none) I didn’t find the car that fit my expectations.

My Daily Driver

The car I’d been using for my daily driver had started to give me issues a couple weeks back just before I went to Toronto for the weekend. I got a low coolant indicator on my dashboard. One of the things that concerned me was that I wasn’t seeing any indication of a coolant leak underneath the car. After some research I checked my rear tailpipe and had confirmed that I had a leaking head gasket. There was white wisps of smoke coming out of the exhaust, indicating that coolant was leaking through the gasket. Bad news.

After more research, I discovered that fixing a head gasket wasn’t something I could easily do myself and that it was likely to run ~$1,000 to fix. Maybe if I got multiple quotes I might have been able to get a slightly better price, but everyone I talked to had told me it was an expensive repair.

Sadly, my car was running on borrowed time. The exhaust and muffler needed to be replaced which was going to be about $200 in parts, the head gasket needed to be replaced, which was going to run about $1,000, and the climate system wasn’t working. After 15 minutes of running the AC I would lose all airflow. I wasn’t able to find a root cause as to the climate system, which meant this could have turned into a costly repair. I had already put enough money into replacing the brake calipers and rotors, replacing two wheel bearings, and replacing the rear struts. Considering the car itself wasn’t worth that much, it was starting to ramp up in maintenance costs. It was going to start costing more money than it was worth.

Next Steps

As much as I wanted to get the Corvette, I knew that I needed to get a daily driver. My car was running on borrowed time and I wasn’t sure how long it would be before other things started to break down. I also was in the unfortunate position of not being able to sell the car since I’d imported it into the US. It would have cost more money to get it to the standard required to sell it than I could have sold it for, so there was no point in trying to sell it.

So what were my options?

  1. Fork out the money to fix up my daily driver
  2. Buy a used vehicle.
  3. Buy a new vehicle.

Take a wild guess at which one I chose…

I picked the option I never thought I’d do…I opted to buy a new vehicle.

The Malibu before Mother Waddles picked her up. I was sad to see her go :(
The Malibu before Mother Waddles picked her up. I was sad to see her go 😦

Serious Contemplation

Many would argue that the purchase of a new car is a bad choice. There are so many arguments for and against purchasing a new vehicle and I’m not going to get into them here. All you have to do is search Google and you can find countless articles that can convince you one way or the other.

The thing I looked as is that I nee to build credit history in the US. Ever since I’ve gotten here, I’ve found that my lack of credit history has made things such as banking and obtaining credit incredibly difficult. My rational is that if I going to be here for a while, I may as well build the credit history by financing a new car. I realize that there are many other ways to build credit history as well, yet this was a personal decision, and being that I was now a part of the auto industry, I wanted to get a sense of what a new car really felt like.

Now that the Corvette was sadly going to be off the table for some time, I asked myself what I was really after. The Corvette had the allure of being the cool classic sports car with the big powerful motor. My plan had been to make it go fast. So if that was no longer an option, what was the next logical choice? Considering I work at Ford, the choice was pretty obvious…

She’s calling my name… (image source: huntleyvoice.com/2015-mustang-gt)

The 2015 Mustang GT is a beautiful car. The 5.0 L engine puts out 435 HP and 400 Ft-Lbs of torque, which would have made for a wickedly fun ride. It looked good and would have been so much fun to drive. I had seriously contemplated buying this car.

So why did I hesitate?

Because in my mind, the reason you purchase a car like this is to go FAST. You buy a Mustang GT for the performance. The thing I thought about then, is “where am I going to use this performance?” Honestly I’d probably use it to accelerate from 0-45 MPH very quickly, then list along feeling somewhat dissatisfied everywhere I go. Also, since I tend to base the majority of my thinking on Murphy’s law, I figured any time I really did push the performance of this car, I was likely to get caught. Last thing I needed after getting a new car is getting taxed due to my happily heavy foot.

Basically, if I was going to get a Mustang, I wanted to drive it, yet the problem was is I wasn’t likely going to use it for it’s intended purpose. Considering this was going to be a $30,000 daily driver, I figured I wouldn’t be super thrilled at taking it out in the snow and the rain, nor was I going to have the fun I wanted. So I ruled the Mustang out early.

After all this, I learned that all I really want is something I can go fast in without worrying about the consequences, also known as “cheap speed”.

So what were the other options?

Down to the Final Two.

While I likely wasn’t going to have the performance monster I wanted, I figured it would still be fun to have a stick shift. The next option was the Ford Focus ST.

Courtesy of Prettycarz.com

Again, another sporty option with a standard transmission. This would have been a fun car to drive, without quite the price tag of the Mustang (or so I thought). This made it down to the two cars I was looking into.

However once I started looking more into this car, I started to realize that it wasn’t going to be quite the performer I wanted. It would have been a fun car to drive, but I found that the price of the few remaining 2015’s were only about $4,000 less than the Mustang. With this small of a price difference, I may as well go with the Mustang. While it would have been fun as well, it was lacking in a few features and I found the insurance was going to be more expensive than the other vehicle I was looking at.

What did I end up getting?

Considering the incentives that were available for the last of the 2015s, the lower insurance cost, and my planned usage for the future, what could I have possibly got?

My New F150. No regrets so far :)
My New F150. No regrets so far 🙂

2015-10-27 17.54.46

Yes, I ended up going with a truck. I will admit the decision process seems a bit odd considering my wants and desires, but this ended up being the vehicle I wanted. There were terrific incentives and I got an A-plan price considering I already work at Ford, so I managed to do pretty well with the price I got.

She’s got some juice in her as well. I got the 2.7 Liter EcoBoost option, and it accelerates quite nicely. It’s only a 2WD, but I figured I didn’t need the 4X4. Others would argue 4X4 is essential if you’re getting a truck, but I don’t plan on doing much off road driving. The additional equipment required for 4×4 would have driven up the cost of the truck above what I was prepared to pay.

So in the last couples of months, I’ve changed my mind over and over about what I’ve wanted to get in terms of a vehicle. While a year ago I never would have found myself saying “I’m buying a new vehicle”, I proved myself wrong my doing just that a week and a half ago.

What about my desire for cheap speed?

In the next post, I’ll detail my plans for cheap speed going forward. There won’t be anything immediate on the horizon, but in the mean time there’s lots of possibilities to research out there.