While many classic sports cars are, by nature, special, few can offer the raw, purposeful feel delivered by an uncompromising replica of the Lotus Seven and its variants. Even though the last Lotus Seven rolled out of the workshop in 1972, another manufacturer, Caterham Cars of Surrey, England, purchased the rights to build the car, and continues to this day to improve upon the featherweight two-seat roadster.
Given its innate simplicity, what has been dubbed the “Locost” Super Seven remains a perfect car to build from a kit, or from scratch in your own garage. The process is not as daunting as it might seem, especially if several of the more complicated systems are bought in the form of a kit.
Things You'll Need
- Donor car (engine, transmission, shifter, driveshaft, differential and potentially much more) Service manual
- MIG or TIG welder and consumables
- Typical automotive tools (including full set of sockets, wrenches, keys, screwdrivers)
- Drill and assorted drill bits
- Angle grinder
- Brake line flaring tool
- Multimeter, wire stripper and crimper
- Bearing press
- Rivet tool, rivets
- Clecos, Cleco pliers
- Metal snips
- Permanent marker
- Masking tape
- Brake fluid
- Engine oil
- Differential oil
Decide which car will be used as a donor. Start searching locally at salvage yards, used and repairable car dealers, auctions and also by word of mouth. Find a superficially damaged vehicle, since it will be a fraction of the cost of a drivable one. Due to front-engine, rear-drive layouts as well as cheap, plentiful parts supplies, both Ford Escorts and Sierras are popular donor car choices in the U.K. In the U.S., there are many suitable options such as the Mazda Miata, Mazda RX-7, and Toyota Corolla.
The best donor cars balance several key traits such as low initial cost, above-average reliability, ubiquitous parts supply, and a lightweight powertrain. Save the donor car’s engine, transmission, shifter, driveshaft, axles, brakes, differential, pedal cluster, fuel tank, seats, instrument cluster, mirrors, radiator, steering rack, seatbelts, wiring harness, hubs and wheels, since they all have a potential to be reused. Sell the leftover parts and donor car chassis to a scrap metal yard.
Obtain plans for, and build, your own frame and suspension links, or simply purchase the components finished in the form of a kit from one of many specialized kit car vendors. Make sure the donor car powertrain will fit within the chassis by taking external measurements of the engine and transmission and comparing to your chassis plans. Options exist for engine bay length and passenger compartment length and width, so make certain that both you and your co-driver will fit comfortably within the car.
Modify all necessary donor car components after mounting the engine, transmission, differential, and seats within the chassis. Convert power steering racks to manual by disassembling, removing the power seal, cleaning and replacing the fluid with heavy-duty grease, reassembling, and plugging all hose connections to prevent the grease from escaping. Sit in the car and decide the best location and angle for the steering wheel and pedals.
Cut and re-size the steering column based on whatever position suits you, and hang the pedals on the firewall using Grade 8 hardware. Even if you have purchased a frame, a welder, grinder, and drill will most likely be necessary to create and securely attach brackets for mounting the engine, differential, seats, and for supporting the steering column in the proper position. Rivet the aluminum floor and body panels to the chassis once all of these key components have successfully been test-fit to the frame.
Identify and purchase all other necessary components to complete the car. New tires are required, and typically more appropriate wheels befitting a custom sports car are chosen at the same time. Some kits require an electric engine cooling fan, new radiator and hoses, brake lines, and assorted wire and switches. Most “Locost” Super Sevens will require new headlights, tail lights, turn signals, and license plate lights. Lay out and weld together an exhaust system starting with the factory header and an aftermarket muffler. Paint the car, and attach the exterior trim, windshield and mirrors.
Solve all of the unavoidable issues one at a time once the car is built. Verify that the fuel system is properly assembled and electrical systems is properly grounded and routed so as to avoid both heat and abrasion or other damage. Double check engine oil and coolant level before starting the engine. While the engine warms up for the first time, closely monitor the cooling and exhaust systems for leaks.
Check for proper operation of all lights and gauges. Verify proper operation of the safety-critical steering and brake systems, and make sure that all fasteners are adequately tight. Consult with your local Department of Motor Vehicles to determine if you car must be inspected by a police officer, a specific licensing branch office, or by a private shop that has been specially authorized by your state. Have the official inspection performed, and register and license your new custom-tailored sports car according to your state’s regulations before driving it on a public road.
Tips & Warnings
- Enlist the help of a friend for more difficult steps and especially when heavy components must be moved.
- Become an active member of one or more of the online "Locost" builder discussion forums to both learn from other's successes and mistakes and share your own stories.
- Be realistic about your skills, workspace, tools, and your desires for the finished car. While a home-made or kit "Locost" Seven may cost a fraction of similar cars purchased complete, a significant amount of time and energy will be invested to make up the difference.
- Always use appropriate personal protective equipment such as goggles, gloves, hearing protection and respirators as dictated by the task at hand.
- Always fully plan out the next step before taking action - the old adage "measure twice, cut once" certainly applies here.
- Since you will be modifying or building all of the safety-related components of a motor vehicle, this outlined procedure should only be attempted by individuals with the proper experience and equipment required to ensure the safe fabrication and assembly of a motor vehicle.
- "How to Build a Cheap Sports Car"; Keith Tanner; 2005
- "Build Your Own Sports Car for as Little as £250-And Race it!"; Ron Champion; 1996
- Photo Credit Lo cost car image by Rob Duffy from Fotolia.com
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