Top 10 Classic Kit Cars
The kit car has been around since the dawn of the 1950s. Here are ten of the more memorable DIY chariots
This hardy perennial began life as a Crosthwaite & Gardiner project, employee Rick Stevens being responsible for the car’s design. Stylistically, the Sports was meant to evoke the Frazer Nash Le Mans Rep and cycle-winged HWM, and it originally featured running gear robbed from the Jaguar S-type (plus MGB steering rack). The Cougar (soon changed to Kougar so as not to upset Ford) was officially announced in July 1977, and was initially produced under the Storcourt Wells Ltd banner with Buxted Motors of Sussex handling the marketing – although the car was still being built by Stevens during the 1980s.
AutoFact: Kougar also produced a beautiful 1950s Ferrari-esque kit but the Monza sold in tiny numbers.
Peter Pellandine was a pioneer of the kit car art. Formerly of Mulliner Park Ward, he blazed a trail at Ashley Laminates before setting up Falcon Shells at Waltham Abbey, Essex at the end of 1956. The firm offered the Competition at just £65 in bare shell form, which was remarkably cheap. Looking not unlike a scaled-down Jaguar XKSS, and closely related to an earlier Ashley product, the outline was also employed by Elva (with only the one door) and even made a Le Mans appearance atop an Austin-Healey Sprite platform in 1960.
AutoFact: The outline remains available via the highly-capable Autotune Gemini.
The Westfield Eleven was – and remains – that rarest of things: an accurate physical facsimile of a highly-regarded classic that also drives much like its inspiration. The brainchild of Lotus restorer/racer Chris Smith, the Eleven wasn’t originally intended for volume production. However, following its launch in 1983, interest in this Lotus Eleven clone was such that it soon became a relatively big hit. Nor was it particularly cheap at £3235 before you acquired the Midget/Sprite donor car. However, demand for the firm’s more mainstream Lotus Seven-esque roadsters was such that production of the Eleven ground to a halt in 1986.
AutoFact: The Eleven was revived in 2004 and is still technically available.
A leftfield choice perhaps, the Opus is here because it pioneered the concept of the hot rod in the UK. While not in the least bit accurate, the pseudo Model T outline was the work of racer-turned designer Neville Trickett. Going on sale in 1966, the body/chassis kit cost just £99 and it employed an assortment of Ford parts including front suspension from the E93A ‘Pop’. A wide variety of engines were employed, too, ranging from pre-crossflow four-bangers to Daimler V8s via Lotus twin-cams and 427cu in Ford V8s. Around 220 kits were sold, although survivors are scarce.
AutoFact: A reworked Opus appeared in Roger Moore film Crossplot.
Arguably the most famous kit car ever made, the Nova was styled by Richard Oakes and engineered by Phil Sayers. While not the first VW Beetle-based ‘exotic’ kit car, it helped establish the market for such machines (for better or worse). Launched in late 1971, its concept car styling ran to a one-piece canopy for access to the cabin. Interest was such that the design was licensed all over the world, appearing in the USA (as the Sterling), in Australia (as the Purves Eureka) and beyond. While its original makers went under in 1975, the Nova has lived on under various guises ever since.
AutoFact: A heavily-modified Nova appeared in the terrible Disney flick Condorman.
Dutton was very much at the bargain bucket end of the kit car industry. Nonetheless, marque instigator Tim Dutton-Woolley was arguably the savviest man in the business in the 1970s, having spotted a gap in the market. If you wanted a Lotus/Caterham Seven, but couldn’t afford one, there was little alternative. He came up with one, the embryonic P1 morphing into the B-type of 1971, which in-turn led to the Malaga and finally the Phaeton in 1977. Here was a cheap chassis/body kit which, while predominately Ford Escort-based, employed all manner of engines. Kit production ran into the thousands.
AutoFact: Plans to produce the Phaeton in Poland – in alliance with Polski-Fiat – died after only a few prototypes had been built.
While perhaps not the most stylish of cars, the Spartan enjoyed massive popularity during the 1970s and early ’80s. Designed by Nottingham’s Jim McIntyre, and based on Triumph Herald/Vitesse running gear (later Ford Cortina), it featured an aluminium body with glassfibre wings. Introduced in 1972, it effectively kickstarted the market segment for ‘nostalgia’ cars, with more than 500 kits being sold in five years. For reasons that were never entirely clear, McIntyre gradually distanced himself from the kit car industry but, nonetheless, production continued until 1994 by which time an alleged 4000 Spartan chassis/body packages had been sold.
AutoFact: Spartan also lent its name to an unconvincing Model T hot rod kit.
Conceived by glassfibre expert Nigel Whall, the Lomax was brilliantly simple. In essence, it comprised a Citroën 2CV/Dyane floorpan and running gear, along with a simple double-scuttle bodyshell and bonded-in plywood floor. The first model, the 224, was a four-wheeler, but the three-wheeled 223 spin-off proved to be the monster hit. It was made into a trike by the simple expedient of fitting a lightly-modified single reversed Citroën rear trailing arm to the rear end. More than 3000 were made from 1983 to 2008, along with 50 altogether prettier Lambda 3 models.
AutoFact: Lomax also built a 1543cc V-twin car, but the Supa Vee remained unique.
Engineer Nick Green had previously beavered away on a mid-engined, Rover V8-powered supercar dubbed the Tycoon before introducing the rather different NG TA in 1979. Vaguely reminiscent of pre-war Aston Martins, and equipped with MGB running gear, it proved an instant success. Other, rather sexier models followed in its wake, the TA project being taken over by the TA Motor Company in 1987, and then to Pastiche two years later before GTM in 1991 and John Hoyle from 1993 to ’95. Around 400 were made, the NG being a cut above most kits of the day in terms of build quality.
AutoFact: Green also produced a panel kit than turned chrome bumper MG Midgets into near clones of rubber bumper ones…
Renowned designer William Towns conceived what became known as the Hustler in July 1978 for JSP Engineering (formerly Jensen Special Projects), the intention being to create a car for Third World markets. He envisaged a Mini-based machine that could be assembled by seasoned mechanics with access only to hard standing and a toolkit. It was a brilliantly simple design: a chassis/perimeter frame anchored the body parts, the lower portion of which comprised a series of glassfibre ‘boxes’. The upper half consisted almost entirely of flat bronze-tinted glass, including the doors which slid back for entry to the cabin and a one-piece lift-up tailgate.
AutoFact: Endless permutations followed with four or six wheels including the mighty Jaguar XJ12-based Highlander.
Pictures courtesy of Rota Archive