Some money, time, and scrape resistant knuckles are all you need.
If you want to drive something unique, affordable, and to your own specifications and gain the satisfaction of building a car from the ground up, you may just need a kit car in your life. There's no hiding the fact that committing to building a kit car, as in a vehicle that arrives unassembled and ready for you to build, is a big undertaking not to be taken lightly. Most kits come without part or all of the drivetrain, leaving the builder room to make their own choices and control the cost. That means that by choosing the right kit and drivetrain, a dedicated builder can create a head-turning automobile with high-end sports car performance for the price of a new sedan.
The kit car market is broadly split into two sections, replicas and originals. Replicas can recreate lost or rare cars such as classic supercars or muscle cars. Originals bring a designer's vision to life without the high cost of production and giving the customer extensive customization options. Either way, there's a lot of choices, so we're going to cover some of our favorites available now from established carmakers with reputations for support during the building process.
Caterham is the most well-known kit car company in the world. The British company started making a kit car version of the Lotus Seven in 1973, based on the iconic lightweight sports car developed by Colin Chapman (as a kit car). Caterham has continually advanced development the chassis and suspension, and, over the years, many different engines have been put into Caterham 7 builds. Currently, the company favors Ford Duratec engines for its pre-built cars, but a little creativity can go a long way with a Caterham.
The Caterham 7 is first on the list as it's the perfect car for a first time builder. The body arrives painted in the chosen colors, and core elements, such as wiring loom, brakes plumbing, and dashboard gauges, already fitted. A detailed assembly guide is provided, and Caterham's technical team is available to help with any questions through the build. Caterham then has service locations available in the US to help with detailed checks to ensure its road legal. Caterham can assist in getting the paperwork squared away to make the finished car road legal in other countries. The base model is the Caterham 270, and, ready-built, costs $37,900, but you need to contact a dealer for kit car pricing.
If you've ever known someone that's driven a real Shelby Cobra on the road, they will have complained that the first thing anyone asks them is, "Is it real?" The reason that question is asked so much is because of Factory Five and its excellent replicas of the rare car. The base kit comes complete with laser-cut body panels, and Mustang-based suspension with Koni shocks. It is set up to accept the running gear (engine, rear axle, transmission, radiator, steering rack, etc.) from any 1987 to 2004 Mustang. For a better suspension setup, you can also use the independent rear suspension from a modern Mustang. If you want to go nuts, Factory Five also offers blueprint engines that will just drop into your nearly finished project. With a starting price of $12,900, they're also remarkably affordable.
If you want a supercar at "around the same ballpark price as a mundane new BMW M3," all you need to do is build it, then add a Chevy LS (LS3/LS7/LSA) or LT (LT1/LT4/LT5) V8 engine. Even just a base LS3 crate engine will give you over 400 hp in an ultra-lightweight car built to smoke Italian supercars on the track. According to Ultima, the RS is also comfortable enough to use as a grand tourer. The British company has a long track record of building performance cars, and this one is a mid-engined Group C Le Mans inspired beast you can build in your garage. Priced at circa $65,000, it's one of the more expensive cars on this list - but the exotic styling and stellar performance more than justify the cost.
An extremely inexpensive way to get some mid-engined fun on the road using typical garage tools and basic shop skills is the DF Kit Car company's Goblin. All you need is $6,800 and a Chevy Cobalt donor car. DF Kit Car stresses that it's an easy build in the garage using the supplied space-frame tube chassis. It's small, agile, and weighs from 1,350 to 1,550 lbs depending on final specs. Depending on the donor engine, from base to Cobalt SS, you can have 145 - 260 hp mounted behind you. It's also available as an ATV, and, either way, the company website has a useful build cost estimator.
CAV's replica's of the GT40 are so good that the South African company boasts that it sells the only authorized Gulf Oil GT40 replica. Builders start with a replica monocoque chassis built out of stainless steel and end up with a comfortable replica powered by either a Ford Racing racing small block V8 making 450 hp and 405 lb-ft of torque, or a Ford Performance V8 making 410 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque. It can be ordered in a range of classic Ford colors and features a full leather interior. Other features include adjustable lightweight dampers, Wilwood brakes, and period-inspired wheels. It's a case of POA (price on asking) here, though, as depending on your spec and exchange rates the cost can vary.
If you're going to build a replica race car, then Porsche's iconic and bonkers crazy 917 is as good as any of the Race Car Replicas offerings, even if it starts at $48,395. The RCR 917 uses a fiberglass body like the original, but instead of what RCR calls a "fragile small-tube frame, the chassis you'll be delivered has an aluminum monocoque center with a similar tube-frame front and rear. It can be made street legal as it comes with a DOT-legal windshield, headlights, and taillights, but you need to supply your own Porsche flat-six or Chevrolet LS V8 engine. Don't be fooled by the ancient-looking website and blurry pictures, RCR is the real deal.
Formerly known as Lister Bell, LB Specialist Cars delivers a modern reincarnation of one of rally racing's most iconic cars for $65,000. The company calls it a "reimagination" of the Lancia Stratos, but it retains the striking Bertone designed styling and wedge-type body shape. The modern interpretation starts with a modern space frame chassis design with a full integral roll cage and extends to a coilover based suspension system using progressive springs and adjustable sway bars. The steering system is all custom, and the pedal box is a dual circuit bias adjustable system because this is a real-deal race car that can also hit the road. For power, LB Specialist Cars recommends using one of the Alfa Romeo "Busso" V6 engines, the Toyota V6 found in Lotus cars, or any transverse V6 or V8 Ferrari engine. It comes from the UK, but US customers can import the car ready-built minus the drivetrain and put in a US-sourced engine that fits federal and state regulations.