Kit Cars Offer Affordable Exclusivity
If you’re reading Autowise, you probably love supercars. But few of us can afford to actually buy (and run) such ultra-exclusive über-rides. So the every man’s answer to unrequited supercar love could be a kit car. Building kit cars from the ground up gives you a sense of achievement like you wouldn’t believe. So if you’re thinking of joining the kit car club, we’ve got some inspiration for you! The car of your dreams awaits!
Building your own car is a lot of work. Like car restoration, it’s a big job that can be overwhelming. Fortunately, there are plenty of car kits available to help make the job go as smoothly as possible. If you want to build a kit car, whether it’s a replica car of your favorite muscle car, one of those Superlite cars, a modern racing car, or even a dune buggy, there’s a replica kit/component car out there for you.
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 a fraction of the price a genuine exotic, while offering the lower running costs and reliability that mainstream contemporary engineering provides.
Broadly speaking, kit car designs fall into two categories. “Replicas” is the first, which emulates famous supercars such as Lamborghinis, Ford GT40s and Shelby Cobras. “Originals” is the second, which offers a truly unique look and feel.
Buying A Kit Car
Buyer beware! Many kit car companies are long-established international car builders, with substantial full-time staff. Others, however, are one-man backyard body-kit operations with patchy reputations. Be sure to do your research before dropping the coin on one of these homemade beauties.
The top kits listed below can be completed for $50,000 or less, according to each manufacturer. The total cost to build can be far, far less for most of these vehicles.
Most kit cars rely on a “donor” car for at least the engine and running gear. Many times buying a crashed vehicle with a totaled body will work and save you a lot of money, providing that the essential mechanical components you need are left undamaged.
You can also spread out your investment in the build over time, as most kit cars can be built in stages. If you want big power but can’t afford the performance upgrades today, you can start with a stock motor and upgrade later as finances allow. Almost all kit car manufacturers will provide or sell you an assembly manual. This allows you to know what you’re getting into before you write them a big check.
Here are a few kit cars to build -from reputable manufacturers- worth considering. The pricing listed represents the lowest price we think you could realistically build one of these kit cars for.
Which Kit Car Do You Want in Your Garage?
- Exomotive Eco-Exo R: $7,000
- DF Goblin: $11,000
- Exomotive Exocet: $12,000
- Aldino K/O: $12,000
- MEV Replicar DBR1: $14,000
- Meyers Manx Kick-Out SS: $14,000
- Bauer Catfish: $15,000
- MNR Sportscars Lotus 7 Replica: $15,000
- Speedway Motors 1927 Track-T Roadster: $18,000
- Factory Five Shelby Cobra Replica: $23,000
- Tornado Ford GT40 Replica: $25,000
- Factory Five 818S: $27,000
- LB Specialist Cars Lancia Stratos Replicar: $35,000
- Ultima RS: $50,000
- The Car Factory ETV: $A Lot
LB Specialist Cars Lancia Stratos Replicar: $35,000
The Lancia Stratos, which dominated the World Rally Championships in the mid-1970s, is among the most gorgeously aggressive auto designs of all time. It’s rarer than an honest politician though, with only 492 examples made. Today the original Stratos fetches half a million dollars plus.
For a less-stress Stratos, try the mechanical and aesthetically-convincing British-made LB Specialist Cars STR. The STR is available as a built car, but can only be imported into the United States as a kit, or as a “turn-key minus,” sans engine and transmission. If you built the STR yourself, the kit and needed components will cost your around $35,000. A ready-built STR, for those who don’t want to build the car themselves, will set you back around $65,000.
The STR offers better interior space and dependability than the original, while still being plenty peppy. An Alfa Romeo V6 under the hood and light weight competent this thing isn’t slow. Though not the cheapest of the cheap replica cars out there, this one is definitely worth its weight in gold if you want a good car replica from the golden age of Rally Racing.
Exomotive Exocet: $12,000
The Excocet is a complete, lightweight sports car chassis and body designed to use 1990 – 2005 Mazda Miata running gear. This keeps costs down and offers a huge amount of aftermarket upgrade options. Exomotive has eliminated weak points, improved stiffness, and reduced weight through the use of the latest CAD software and extensive Finite Element Analysis (FEA). Each Exocet includes hand-laid composite body panels available in 188 gelcoat colors, which don’t require paint and provide a high gloss finish. Those looking for an exciting and inexpensive kit car will get a kick out of one of these. There are three Exomotive Exocet models on offer -base, sport, and race- with prices ranging from $6,999 to $8,299, excluding the Miata donor car.
Tornado Ford GT40 Replica: $25,000
Also British, but with a stateside sales operation, Tornado Sports Cars (TSC) has been producing stunning Ford GT40 replicas for more than 25 years. With only around 100 of the real deal ever made, survivors fetch seven figures. The TSC GT40 is quite the value, with the “basic component package” starting at around $11,000. Using a Ford or Rover V8 powerplant, TSC’s version is also available as a turn-key car built to exact customer specifications. Turn-key cars come with modern conveniences like air conditioning and a central locking system as well as safety options like a six-point roll cage (price on application).
Factory Five Shelby Cobra Replica: $23,000
The Shelby Cobra is America’s most replicated car, and a kit car favorite to build. Massachusett’s Factory Five makes one the best car Cobra replicas out there with their MK4Roadster. Factory Five claims that its MK4 Roadster is “the world’s best-selling replica,” a claim that is hard to dispute.
Real Shelby Cobra have sold for more than $5-million, but luckily for you a Factory Five MK4 Roadster is considerably more affordable. You can build your own with a $13,000 Factory Five base kit, a 1987-2004 Ford Mustang donor car and some wheels, tires, paint, patience, and elbow grease. At the time of writing, a beautifully-finished 1965 Factory Five Cobra replica, with a 302 V8 and 13,500 miles on the odometer was listed on eBay for under $33,000.
Speedway Motors 1927 Track-T Roadster: $18,000
Looking for more of a Hot Rod? The Speedway Motors 1927 Track-T Roadster kit car is a classic looking fun machine that is sure to turn heads. The basic kit includes a reproduction Ford Model T Roadster body and a rigid tube steel chassis. The chassis is built to accommodate a traditional spring-over tube axle front suspension with radius rods, and a solid rear axle with quarter-elliptic springs. Speedway Motors suggests either a Ford 2300cc four-cylinder or 60-degree Chevy V6 engine, as both have lots of aftermarket performance support. As inexpensive replica cars go, this roadster offers heaps of cool with a very affordable price tag.
Factory Five 818S: $27,000
At a minuscule finished weight of only about 1,800-pounds Factory Five’s 818S has a performance envelope like a Lotus Elise at a fraction of the cost. The car uses the tried and true running gear from a Subaru Impreza/WRX. The 818S is an ultra-light, ultra-modern, computer-designed, two-seat, mid-engine sports car. Factory Five’s top-notch engineering makes the 818S relatively easy to build in your home garage. The 818 is also about choices. With the same base chassis, you can build an affordable roadster streetcar (818S), an all-weather daily driver capable coupe (818C), or a full-on competition track day weapon (818R). Complete Factory Five 818S kits start at about $20,000, without powertrain, and go up quickly from there.
Ultima RS: $50,000
Ultima Sports Ltd. is a British brand with a strong US following. The company made a name for itself with the Ultima GTR supercar, which broke numerous world speed records when first introduced. The latest Ultima super kit car is the RS, which promises even more insane performance and just as raw a driving experience.
The Ultima RS is available as a complete car in much of the world, but just as a kit here in the US. This Chevy small-block V8 powered mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive supercar is a true head-turner in terms of looks and performance. The top-spec build will get you 1,200-horsepower, a 0-60 MPH time of 2.3-seconds and a top speed over 250 MPH. Pricing will vary wildly depending on the drivetrain chosen, other components like the level of interior refinement, and if you have someone assemble it for you. Pricing on the Ultima RS starts around $50,000, with top-spec assembled builds topping $120,000.
MNR Sportscars Lotus 7 Replica: $15,000
The MNR Sportscars VortX RT Miata kitcar is a replica of the famously sporty Lotus 7. All the running gear for the car comes from a 1990 – 1997 Mazda Miata donor car. The VortX RT Miata is a track day supercar killer that is street legal and ready for open-air motoring enjoyment. A complete kit, without required donor Miata parts, will cost you a little over $12,000. Usable donor Miatas can be had for as little as $1,000.
The Car Factory ETV: $A Lot
The Car Factory is a Florida based custom car fabrication shop most known for its custom Porsche body kits. They have also snagged headlines with their outlandish Dimensia custom car and the aptly-named ETV. The ETV, or “Extra-Terrestrial Vehicle” is a sci-fi-esque kit car that can be built around a number of Chevrolet, Toyota, Honda, Porsche, or even electric vehicle donors. It is mostly a styling exercise built atop a donor chassis. Belying its movie-prop looks, it is a fully street-legal vehicle with custom DOT approved glass and lighting. Is The Car Factory ETV the out of this world car of your dreams?
Exomotive Eco-Exo R: $7,000
The Exomotive Eco-Exo R is a stylish exoskeletal tandem-seat reverse trike that is as economical as it is fun to drive. Designed with a small frontal area for high efficiency and low center of gravity for excellent road holding this machine is light, nimble, and fast. The Eco-Exo R can go 100 MPH and get you 60+ MPG. The Eco-Exo R kit uses a 2003-2006 Suzuki Burgman 400 scooter as the donor to provide the vast majority of parts needed in the build. The kit will set you back $4,699 and a quality donor scooter can be found for $2,000-$3,000. Reverse trike kit cars don’t get better than this! Surely something like this should be at the top of any car enthusiast’s kit cars to build list?
Bauer Catfish: $15,000
The Bauer Limited Production Catfish is a beautiful roadster built with 1990-2005 Miata parts. It features a composite body and a custom frame. Miata performance parts are inexpensive and plentiful, so the sky is the limit when upgrading the Catfish’s performance. The basic Catfish kit will run you about $13,900, with many upgrades your probably going to want driving the price up considerably from there. Luckily inexpensive Miata donor cars are plentiful.
Sadly the production of the Bauer Catfish ended in late 2019. Rumors about this kit being available through a new supplier soon are swirling. For now Bauer has turned their attention to the new CFR Catfish model.
DF Goblin: $11,000
The DF Kit Car Goblin is a high-performance mid-engine car you build yourself, using minimal tools, in your garage. It has a full tube chassis, minimal bodywork, and the running gear and accessories from a 2005 – 2010 Chevrolet Cobalt donor car. The Goblin is very easy to assemble because DF Kit Car has designed the car to re-use as much from the donor as possible. DF says that in less than 100 hours, with a basic set of home garage tools and basic wrenching skills, anyone can turn a pile of parts into a mid-engine fun machine.
MEV Replicar DBR1: $14,000
If you’re looking for more classic styling, perhaps you should consider the MEV Replicar DBR-1. This classic looking replicar is modeled after the famous Aston Martin DBR1 that Carroll Shelby and Roy Salvadori drove to victory at the 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans. The fiberglass body has been faithfully duplicated from drawings, pictures, and measurements of the original. Underneath, the DBR1 replica has a lightweight triangulated space frame chassis. MEV Replicar’s engineers have designed a chassis that is lighter, yet stiffer than the original. This helps give the Replicar DBR1 a weight of just over 1,700 pounds. An MEV Replicar DBR1 basic kit starts at $12,999. At a minimum you’ll also need the running gear out of a 1990-2005 Mazda Miata to complete the project.
Meyers Manx Kick-Out SS: $14,000
You didn’t think we’d create a list of home-assembled cars and not include at least one based on a Type 1 VW floorpan did you? The Meyers Manx is a classic among dune buggies, one that really established the category in the 1960s. The latest “scoot buggy” from Manx is the Kick-Out SS. This little buggy is “strictly street” -the SS in the name- oriented, and possibly Bruce Meyers’s last design. The Kick-Out S.S. Manx body is fitted to a classic VW chassis that needs to be shortened by 14.5-inches. Features include an opening hood with inset headlights, allowing easy access to wiring, fueling, and added storage. You’ll need to find a classic VW to modify for your chassis and running gear and a kit from Manx. A basic Meyers Manx Kick-Out SS kit will set you back $5,885.
Aldino K/O: $12,000
No kit car list would be complete without a Pontiac Fiero based vehicle. Adino Car Company has managed to combine inspired designs from such legendary vehicles as the Ferrari Testarossa, Lamborgini Countach and Muira to create the Aldino K/O kit car. Love it or hate it, it is a looker! Aldino offers completed car builds, with prices starting at about $36,000, and offers kits that start at about $10,000. It will take you from 70 to 150 hours to build one of these, depending on your wrenching skills.