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Articles Index > New to kit cars?
New to kit cars?
By Mark Sansby
20th December 2003
Links: Build cost estimator

Buying a Kit Car is not the same as buying a ‘normal’ car.  You can’t just go to a showroom, look around a few makes and models then test drive one or two.  When buying a kit these stages are a little different. 


The first stage is similar to how many of us buy a ‘normal’ car.  Such as reading a magazine or two and searching the net.  There are only 2 magazines to choose from.  They are ‘Kit Car’ and ‘Which Kit?’, although many books are available.  Websites are very helpful.  Ones like will give you amongst other things, lots of information about various companies, what they manufacture and feedback from builders.


Now everything you normally do when buying a car changes, forget the showroom with different makes and models under one roof.  There are a few companies around that specialise in selling kit cars, but they are not that common, many only sell top end cars, they have no links to the manufacturers and you cannot buy your car in kit form from them.  There is only one way to see lots of different makes and models under one ‘roof’, and that is to go to a show.  The main shows held throughout the year are Stafford, Stoneleigh, Newark and Donnington, with a few other smaller ones at Maidstone, Harrogate and Exeter, so there should be one fairly close to you.

Kit car dealer Hallmark Car

When it comes to getting a test drive you may be lucky and attend a show where tests are available.  Donnington is a good example of this, as the track is used for demo rides.   You’ll notice I said ‘rides’, I will explain this later.  The favoured method of testing the car is to visit the factory.  This serves a few purposes.  It enables you to meet the people making your car (or should I say kit), where they are able to offer you more time and therefore better customer service.  You are also able to gain more information (for example, you may ask a question about the chassis and they can show you the answer on one they are finishing).  Most manufacturers only have one test vehicle of any given model so you couldn’t compare different engines etc.  It is for this reason and insurance costs that they prefer to give passenger rides.  

A word of warning:  I recommend that you do not buy a kit car without at least talking to the manufacturer and having a passenger ride.  Never buy a kit without seeing a completed car.  There are some less than honest manufacturers out there who will ‘take you for a ride’ using customers as guinea pigs while designing their car and putting it into production. 

So buying a kit car takes a fair bit more commitment than buying the family car.  But why shouldn’t there be.  This is no ordinary car.  You are going to build your very own car.  You need to know every nut and bolt and need to understand how and why everything works the way it does.  You are not buying a car; you are buying into a hobby, a lifestyle and an adventure!

Cobra club gathering at Duxford

Kit cars are cheap,  aren’t they? 

Now one thing you may of heard is that kit cars are reasonably cheap to build.  This may have been the case a few years ago, but on the whole nowadays kit cars are manufactured using modern engineering techniques to tolerances that can shame some production cars.  Add to this low volume production costs and your cheap car starts looking more and more out of reach. 

You may have started thinking about a kit car because your old car looks in a worse state than the winner of ‘Scrap Heap Challenge’ and, as it’s still a good runner you don’t really want to lose it.  Otherwise you may be looking for a cheap way into racing.  Either way, budget will be important.  If budget is particularly important, I recommend you know the kit you want to build before you decide on your donor.  You might have that ideal ‘scrap heap’ Cavalier, but finding a kit that can utilise it as a donor could be much harder than you think and the modifications that might be required will add £hundreds or even thousands to the overall cost. 

So what do you get for your money?  Forget the idea you are going to build a car for less than £1,000.  You may be lucky and pick up a part built car that someone wants to get rid of, or build a locost, as described in the Haynes manual ‘Build your own sports car for as little as £250’.  There are possible problems with the part build.  Why does the owner want to sell?  Can you be sure that he/she has built it up to the same quality that you expect?  This often means you end up stripping it down to start it all over again.  As for the Locost, you may need to make a lot of parts up yourself and so means a longer and harder build than a kit costing little more.  These are still the cheapest options to enter into the kit car lifestyle. 

Between £1,000 and £5,000 various companies sell some very successful kits.  Nearly all are ‘7’ type vehicles from companies such as Robin Hood, MK and Luego.  These being based on the classic Lotus ‘7’ designAlternatives come from companies such as NCF Motors or JAS who both make buggy type on-off roaders. 


So it is a fact, you can build a kit car for reasonable money.  Your choices are severely limited and you need to be very cautious of what is and isn’t included in your purchase. 

When looking for your new kit you will see a lot of apparently misleading advertising.  Many manufacturers will advertise ‘base’ kits and ‘comprehensive’ kits that look very reasonable.  I advise you to look into the complete costing very closely.  Even comprehensive kits may not include a windscreen, lighting and sometimes even bodywork.  You may also find that some parts need modifying by the manufacturer such as steering racks and propshafts.  Again an extra cost. 

A good example of true costs can be seen with the RS Jigtec ‘Trackstar’.  They advertise the kit at £2,995 + VAT, yet they estimate a completed car will cost around £5,000.  In many cases the difference is much higher. You may see Ferrari 355 kits advertised at £3-4,000.  This is just for the panels.  Add the cost of the MR2 donor, painting the car, adding wheels, sorting the interior, buying lights and getting hold of the obligatory badges.  Reckon you’ll get any change from £10,000? The 'Madabout build cost estimator' is a good starting point when trying to work out how much different kits may cost to build and will give you a good insight into exactly what items are needed to complete a kit car.

The difficulty comes when you start looking at the magazines and going to the shows.  When you compare the cheap, affordable kit you thought you wanted with the rest of the vehicles on show.  Vehicles that range from the budget kits to smart looking classics and sports cars right through to exotica.  Exotica can mean two things.  You can get yourself a Ferrari, Ford GT40 or Lamborghini replica, or something unique like an Ultima.  A car that is so fast and handles so well that it is only really comparable to a McLaren F1. 

Now your idea of getting a cheap kit car starts slipping into a void and you are taken back to the dream car posters on your bedroom wall as a young child. 

I would like to finish by saying that what is written here are my own thoughts and experiences.  It is designed to help (not scare) newcomers to the Kit Car world and that buying a kit car is a different experience for everyone.  Enjoy your passion and pass on your experience.  



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