In the 1960s and 70s, a new style of humble homegrown hero began to rapidly infiltrate the imagination of countless motoring enthusiasts. The kit car craze gave the world some truly interesting machines, and while the traditional style of build isn’t as popular today, all have a place in the British motoring history books.
The rise of the kit car was partly down to the way new cars were being built. In the days before galvanised bodywork and 7-year warranties, it was common for a vehicle’s drivetrain to outlast its sheet metal. Manufacturers began to emerge, offering home-build kits that could integrate with common donor vehicles, featuring rust-resistant GRP fibreglass body panels. Suddenly, that MOT-failure Cortina looked less like a problem child, and more like a blank canvas.
The idea that you could transform a family saloon into a two-seater sports car, equipped with little more than some tubular steel, fibreglass panels and a set of instructions, was quite inspirational. Hundreds of small companies such as Banham, Dutton and Rickman began to bring their own ideas to the table.
The Volkswagen Beetle became a common donor, thanks perhaps to its simplicity, popularity, and pear-like propensity to rot in period. The Sterling Nova launched in 1971 and was perhaps the most memorable example of Beetle-based kit, available to buy off the shelf for an incredible 26-year period. Externally the Nova looked worlds apart from its humble underpinnings, its striking, futuristic body demonstrating the versatility of fibreglass. Then there was the Covin, which made use of the Beetle’s rear engine, rear drive layout, in a bodyshell that emulated the original Porsche 911 Turbo.
Another hugely popular kit car was the Robin Hood, a budget Lotus Seven replica from a Ford Sierra donor. Shifting 500 units each year by the late 1990s, the Robin Hood kit contained almost everything you’d need to build your own lightweight sports car – with all other parts contained within one of the nation’s best-selling and widely-available saloon cars.
Other companies followed suit, and the ‘locost’ was born – a nickname you may seen given to myriad Seven-style kits. A book around the same period titled ‘Build your own sports car for as little as £250’ further captured imaginations, encapsulating the true spirit of the home-built special.
If you’re in the market for a kit car today, you’ll still find a range of companies offering all manner of recreations and racers. You may want to save yourself the trouble and find one pre-built – if so, be careful of who did the heavy lifting. Look for one with a detailed build history, and information about the donor car if applicable.
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