If you’re an automotive enthusiast, you probably love supercars and other rare or unique models. But few of us can afford to actually buy (and run) such ultra-exclusive über-rides. The everyman’s answer to unrequited supercar love could be a kit car.
Building a kit car from the ground up is not only a satisfying project but also means you get an end result that you are stoked to drive. So if you’re thinking of joining the kit cars club, we’ve got some inspiration for you!
Kit Cars Offer Affordable Exclusivity
Building your own car is a lot of work. Like car restoration projects, 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 of your favorite muscle car, a race car, or even a dune buggy, you can find a replica kit/component car to fit your desires.
Kit cars are sold as a set of parts that 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 assembled right, kit cars can be head-turning machines for a fraction of the price of a genuine exotic. Plus, if you’re working on a budget, you’ll also appreciate the lower running costs and reliability that mainstream contemporary engineering provides.
Broadly speaking, kit cars’ designs fall into two categories. Replicas emulate famous supercars such as Lamborghinis, Ford GT40s, and Shelby Cobras. Originals, on the other hand, offer a truly unique look and feel.
Buying a Kit Car
When buying a kit car, be sure to do your homework. Many kit cars companies are long-established, international car manufacturers 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 your coin on one of these homemade beauties.
Also, remember that many kit cars rely on a “donor” car for at least the engine and running gear. Buying a crashed vehicle with a totaled body can work and save you a lot of money, providing that the essential mechanical components you need are not damaged.
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 prior to your kit car purchase. This allows you to know what you’re getting into before you write them a big check. Below are a few kit cars from reputable manufacturers that are worth considering.
Which Kit Car Do You Want in Your Garage?
- LB Specialist Cars STR: $35,000
- Exomotive Exocet: $12,000
- Tornado Sports Cars Ford GT40 Replica: $25,000
- Factory Five MK4Roadster: $23,000
- Speedway Motors 1927 Track-T Roadster: $18,000
- Factory Five 818S: $27,000
- Ultima RS: $50,000
- MNR Sportscars VortX RT Miata: $15,000
- Vetter ETV: $95,000
- RCR D-Type: $35,000
- DF Goblin: $8,000
- Meyers Manx Kick-Out SS: $14,000
- Aldino K/O: $12,000
- Caterham Seven 270: $37,900
- Backdraft Racing RT4: $46,900
- Vintage Motorcars Spyder: $19,000
- Antique & Collectible Autos 40/41 Willy’s Coupe: $8,000
- RCR 917: $48,395
- JPS Speedster: $24,950
- Smyth VW Jetta/Golf Ute: $3,490
LB Specialist Cars STR
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 vehicles made. Today, the original Stratos can easily fetch over half a million dollars.
For a less-stress Stratos, try the mechanically 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.
The STR offers better interior space and dependability than the original Stratos, while still being plenty peppy. With the Alfa Romeo V6 under the hood and the car’s light weight, this thing isn’t slow.
If you build the STR yourself, the kit and needed components will cost you around $35,000. An already-built STR will set you back around $65,000. Though not the cheapest of the replica cars out there, this one is definitely worth its weight in gold if you want a replica from the golden age of Rally Racing.
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 number 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.
Enthusiasts 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 that you’ll need to get your kit car in action.
Tornado Sports Cars Ford GT40 Replica
Also U.K.-based but with a stateside sales operation, Tornado Sports Cars (TSC) has been producing stunning Ford GT40 replicas for more than 25 years.
Only around 100 of the original Gt40 were ever made, and 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.
Factory Five MK4Roadster
The Shelby Cobra is one of America’s most replicated cars and a favorite kit car to build. Massachusett’s Factory Five makes one the best car Cobra replicas out there with their popular MK4Roadster. Factory Five claims that its MK4 Roadster is “the world’s best-selling replica,” a claim that is hard to dispute.
Real Shelby Cobras 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.
And your kit car can even be worth a good chunk of change too. At the time of this 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
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 2300 cc 4-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 customization with a very affordable price tag.
Factory Five 818S
With a minuscule finished weight of only 1,800-pounds, Factory Five’s 818S has the performance envelope of 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 coupe (818C), or a full-on competition track day weapon (818R).
The complete Factory Five 818S kit starts at about $20,000, without a powertrain, and goes up quickly from there.
Ultima Sports Ltd. is a British brand with a strong U.S. following. The company originally 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, the RS, promises even more insane performance and just as raw of a driving experience.
The Ultima RS is available as a complete car in much of the world, but just as a kit in the U.S. 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 hp, a 0-60 mph time of 2.3 seconds, and a top speed over 250 mph.
Pricing will vary wildly depending on the drivetrain and other components like the level of interior refinement, as well as if you have someone else assemble it for you. Pricing on the Ultima RS starts around $50,000, with top-spec assembled builds topping out around $120,000.
MNR Sportscars VortX RT Miata
The MNR Sportscars VortX RT Miata kit car is a replica of the famously sporty Lotus 7. For this budget-friendly option, all the running gear for the car comes from a 1990-1997 Mazda Miata donor car.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that this kit car is slow or unexciting. The VortX RT is a track day supercar killer that is street legal and ready for open-air motoring enjoyment.
The complete kit, without required donor Miata parts, will cost you a little over $12,000, and usable donor Miatas can be found for a few thousand dollars.
Vetter is a 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. Though it is not a cheap kit car option, the ETV certainly fits the bill for an out-of-this-world dream car.
If you’re looking for a little piece of motoring history along with your kit car, RCR’s D-Type kit car hearkens back to Jaguar’s golden age of 1950s Le Mans victories.
Like the original, the RCR D-Type has an aluminum monocoque chassis with bolt-on steel subframes and a fiberglass body. The original XK-series engine is an inexpensive and authentic drive-train option that you can find to finish out your replica.
And you can choose from three different designs for your right-hand-drive kit car: a plain version, a version with rounded headrests, or a version with an iconic fin behind the driver.
The DF Goblin is a high-performance, mid-engine car you build yourself, using minimal tools, in your home garage. It has a full tube chassis, minimal bodywork, and the running gear and accessories come from a 2005-2010 Chevrolet Cobalt donor car.
The Goblin is relatively easy to assemble because DF has engineered the car to use as much of the donor as possible. DF claims that in less than 100 hours, with a basic set of home garage tools and basic mechanical skills, anyone can turn a pile of parts into a mid-engine fun machine.
And if playing in the dirt is more your speed, DF also offers the Goblin A/T which it claims is the modern version of the old VW buggies. With an equally easy build and a starting base price of $8,000, this kit car could be your ticket to hours of off-road fun.
Meyers Manx Kick-Out SS
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, the brand 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” oriented — as the SS in the name indicates. The Kick-Out SS 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. And all you’ll need to find is a classic VW to modify for your chassis and running gear along with this kit from Manx.
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 or kits that start at about $10,000. It will take you from 70 to 150 hours to build one of these, depending on your mechanical knowledge.
Caterham Seven 270
This entry-level Caterham kit car is anything but basic. If you’re looking for a lightweight model that delivers a spirited ride, the Seven 270 delivers a fun, compact package.
This agile little kit car is great on the road or on the track, with a satisfyingly quick 0-60 mph time of around 5 seconds. Though not a flashy as some of the other replica models on the market, the 270 is an understated sleeper that is decidedly exhilarating to drive.
And if you have the money to burn, there are four other Seven models to choose from. The top-of-the-line supercharged Seven 620 should give horsepower fiends plenty to grin about.
If you’re in the market for a race-proven, high-performance sports car, look no further than this sleek roadster kit car from Backdraft Racing. Its eye-catching 60s styling is matched with modern suspension for a fabulous on-road driving experience.
The kit comes as a turnkey minus rolling chassis so you can build your personal dream car with the power train of your choice. When mated with a modern engine, the compact and lightweight RT4 is sure to become your go-to daily driver.
Vintage Motorcars Spyder
This kit car from Vintage Motorcars is available as either a stage I kit or a deluxe kit (you can also opt for a turnkey model if you don’t really feel like putting in the elbow grease to build it yourself).
The stage I kit gets you a hand-laid fiberglass body and powder-coated tubular chassis compatible with either a VW type 1, VW type IV, or Subaru drive train along with some other odds and ends. The Delux kit adds in all the vital extras like wiring harnesses, gauges, and leather seats.
Regardless of whether you opt to track down the parts yourself or get the decked-out kit, you’ll be happy with the end result as Vintage Motorcars is focused on quality, not quantity.
Antique & Collectible Autos 40/41 Willy’s Coupe
Antique & Collectible Autos specializes in classic Ford, Chevy, and Willys kit cars and trucks, offering some of the more unique old-school classic kit cars on the market. This 40/41 Willy’s Coupe replica will certainly turn heads.
The body is made from hand-laid layers of fiberglass and is covered in a durable gel coat surface for high strength and superior surface quality. As no fiberglassing is required, the high-quality kit is easy to assemble and you can choose from a couple of body, frame, and suspension options to get your hot rod set up just the way you want it.
If you’ve always wanted to add an iconic Porsche race car to your stable, but you don’t have the dough to drop on an original, this 917 replica from RCR should more than fit the bill. You can even finish it out in the eye-catching Gulf or Martini racing livery for added street cred.
And unlike the original 917 which was notorious for being a bit unpredictable at speed, with this RCR kit car you get an aluminum monocoque center with tube-frame front and rear. Or you can order a complete tube frame chassis with a 6-point race cage if you’re planning to take it to the track.
Plus, with its DOT-legal windshield and working headlights and taillights, you can legally take this 917 on the street. Though you can outfit it with a Porsche flat 12 or flat 6, if you’re working on a budget, the chassis is also compatible with a Chevy LS-series engine – which gives you even more ponies than the original 917.
These classic JPS speedster kits come with two different kit options — unpainted or painted and upholstered. Depending on the amount of work you want to do, you can also add on a variety of other packages ranging from trim and wheels to lighting and brakes.
You can opt to install your own engine or choose from the list of engine/drive trains recommended by JPS. All the little touches are what take this speedster from good to great with options to choose your paint and leather color as well as to accessorize the car for the classic look you’ve always dreamed of.
Smyth VW Jetta/Golf Ute
Though not a from-scratch kit car build, these DIY car to truck conversion kits from Smyth are a fun way to take a run-of-the-mill ride and make it into something unique. Their best-selling kit converts a 1999.5-1010 VW Jetta or Golf into the perfect little pick-up. What flair you add from there is up to you.
Smyth claims that their conversion kit is simple enough that even amateurs can make the conversion with a few weekends of elbow grease. With kit options ranging from Jeeps to Audis, if you’re looking for an easy project that will transform your vehicle into something unique, one of these conversion kits could be your ticket to small pick-up stardom.