Kit cars are sold as a set of parts which the buyer assembles (or has the manufacturer or a third-party assemble) into a functioning vehicle. They’re usually built around a “donor” engine, transmission and sometimes a chassis from a regular production vehicle. When done right, a kit car can become a curvy head-turner for the fraction of the price a genuine exotic – and with the lower running costs and reliability of mainstream contemporary engineering.
Broadly speaking, kit car designs fall into two categories: “replicas”, which emulate famous supercars (such as Lamborghinis, Ford GT40s and Shelby Cobras); and “originals”, which offer unique, self-penned body styling.
But beware: while many kit car companies are long-established international businesses with substantial full-time staffs, others are one-man backyard body-kit operations with patchy reputations.
Here are a few kits (from reputable manufacturers) worth considering.
The Lancia Stratos, which dominated the World Rally Championships in the mid-1970s, is among the most gorgeously aggressive auto designs of all time. But it’s rarer than an honest politician, with a 1974 example fetching $660k in California last year. For a less-stress Stratos, try the aesthetically-convincing, British-made Lister Bell STR. The STR is available as a built car, but can only be imported into the U.S. as a kit (or as a “turn-key minus”, sans engine and transmission). At around $65,000, a ready-built STR offers better interior space and dependability than the original, while still being plenty peppy (designed for Alfa Romeo or Toyota V6 engines).
Also British, but with a stateside sales operation, Tornado Sports Cars (TSC) has been producing stunning Ford GT40 replicas for more than 25 years (the originals were also designed and built in England). With only around 100 of the real deal ever made, and survivors fetching seven figures, the TSC GT40’s “basic component package”, which starts at around $11,000, is a seductive compromise solution. Using Ford or Rover V8 powerplants, TSC’s version is also available as a turn-key car built to exact customer specifications, with modern conveniences and safety options including air conditioning, six-point roll cage and central locking (price on application).
3. Factory Five
|Factory Five (Shelby Cobra Replica)|
The Shelby Cobra is America’s most replicated car, but Massachusetts’ Factory Five is one of the most experienced Cobra kit makers (established in 1995, with full-time crew of 30) and claims that its MK4 Roadster is “the world’s best-selling replica”. Whereas real Cobras have sold for more than $5 million, with a $13k Factory Five base kit plus a 1987-2004 Ford Mustang donor car (and some wheels, tires, paint, patience and effort) you can have yourself a really convincing copy. At the time of writing, a beautifully-finished 1965 Factory Five Cobra replica, with a 302 V8 and 13,500 miles, was listed on EBay for under $33k.
Ultima Sports Ltd. is a British brand with a strong U.S. following. Its Ultima GTR supercar broke numerous speed records (including 0 – 60 mph in 2.6 seconds and lapping the Top Gear track in 1-minute 9.9-seconds) before being replaced by the Evolution earlier this year. Available as a complete car or kit (which Ultima claims requires only “basic automotive knowledge and an elementary tool kit” to build), the Evolution is a mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive coupe or convertible stunner. This retro Le Mans-y rarity ships with a Chevy V8 and Porsche transaxle, but individual kit builders can get creative with their own combinations.
2.The Car Factory
|The Car Factory ETV|
Approaching its 30th anniversary, Florida’s The Car Factory not only makes Porsche body kits (the Boxster GT and Gemballa GT), but also the outlandish Dimensia Custom Car (starting at $85k) and the aptly-named ETV (“Extra Terrestrial Vehicle”). The sci-fi-esque ETV can be built around a number of Chevrolet, Toyota, Honda, Porsche or electric drivetrains and, belying its movie-prop looks, is fully street-legal with DOT glass and lights. The Car Factory now also builds, under license, the super-exotic, Infiniti G35-based Vaydor designed by Matt McEntegart. If you have (at least) $125,000 to spare, they can even create a unique, factory-looking concept vehicle to your personal specs.
Blurring the line between the “replicas” and “originals” categories, Pittsburgh-based Sterling Sports Cars makes assembly kit copies of a classic kit car. Sterling’s kits replicate the wonderfully futuristic two-seater Nova kit car first produced in England in the early 1970s and later under license in numerous countries and under various names – from Austria (“Ledl”) to Zimbabwe (“Tarantula”). With its dramatic lift-up roof/doors canopy, an up-and-running Sterling is truly something to behold – one of the most arresting cars on the road by any standard. Originally designed for a VW Beetle floor pan, Sterling currently offers over 45 adapter options for everything from Subaru to Porsche donors and even an electric version.