So you want to build your own car from the ground up… I can’t blame you, that’s an admirable goal and an exciting proposition. But I have to warn that it’s very difficult. I did Formula SAE for 3 years, building a very barebones racecar with a motorcycle engine. Those cars required about 5000 hours of fabrication time to complete, that’s not including design time. Our budget was around $60k but we already had all the tools, that’s just materials and consumables. It’s also a very complex engineering challenge, and even with the experience I’ve had with it I would be intimidated to start a project like that.
However, there are some ways to get a lot of the same gratification without putting yourself through the hell of a truly ground-up car. The best way is a kit car, which is a pre-fabricated car, usually using a drivetrain from a popular vehicle and designed to be easily built.
The Locost kits are homebuilt Lotus Sevens. These projects can be building everything yourself, welding the frame, etc, or you can purchase one of the prefabbed kits and assemble it. The Lotus Seven might be the most legendary entry-level racecar in history so you’ll get plenty of fun out of the final product. Check the bottom of the wiki page for links to the major Locost forums.
A bit more established than the Locosts, Westfield is a manufacturer in the UK that makes replicas of various famous British cars, including the Lotus Seven. Flyin’ Miata also distributes the FM Westfield, a Lotus Seven kit designed to have Miata underpinnings.
I would describe Exocet as the Ariel Atom version of the FM Westfield. The chassis is that same tube trellis design as the Atom but it’s also designed for Miata running gear. The kits cost $6500-8000 and you supply the Miata donor car. But you’ll get an amazing amount of performance for the $10-15k you’ll probably have into the car when all is said and done.
Factory Five is a very established kit car manufacturer, known especially for their Cobra replicas. They have a few models of classic cars, as well as their GTM (a prototype style racecar) and the 818R (a Subaru powered racecar). The 818R is being built by a member of this subreddit, search it here for his updates.
Entry-level Prototype Racecars
‘Prototype’ refers to a racecar that’s not at all based on a stock car. An F1 car is a prototype, but a Grand Am car is based on a stock car. I always half-seriously said that it’s the difference between a ‘race car’ and a ‘racecar’. For many years there have been low cost prototype series run by SCCA and other similar organizations and buying one of these to restore, modify, and race will give you a taste of prototype racecars. Look for cars from these classes:
- Formula Vee: Started many years ago, FV is based on the VW Bug drivetrain and chassis. But despite their humble origins they’re quite quick, still lots of them racing, and quite quick for what they are.
- Formula 500: F500 is built around 500cc Rotax engines from snowmobiles with a CVT. The rulebook is carefully designed to prevent spiraling costs, though they still achieve high speeds. There’s a possibility that this class will move up to Formula 600 to take advantage of all the FSAE cars and 600cc motorcycle engines.
- D Sports Racer: One of the coolest prototype amateur series around, DSR look like mini Le Mans prototypes and are very very fast. They own more than one track record at the smaller road circuits throughout the US. They’re usually powered by a 1000cc engine from a motorcycle. Unfortunately, the cost and competition is much steeper than the other series I’ve mentioned.