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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