KIT CAR HOBBY ALIVE AND WELL
By Bob Hagin
Every month for the past two decades, I've received a monthly
publication called the NCKCC News, the monthly newsletter of the
Northern California Kit Car Club. The NCKCC is a social club that is
comprised of owners of handcrafted autos (commonly known as kit cars)
who have joined together to enjoy the company of each other and take
outings to places of general interest. The cars are as diverse as
Volkswagen rolling chassis that carry body work that resembles vintage
Jaguars all the way to from-scratch, pavement-burning AC Cobra replicas
that are usually better than the originals - but not nearly so
Every time I receive the NCKCC News, I'm reminded of the social
sports car clubs that I belonged to in the mid-'50s. They too were
"touring" clubs dedicated to sports car camaraderie and simply driving
around the countryside on weekends on preplanned excursions.
The home-built auto genre had its originates in the '50s when many
mechanically astute sports car aficionados came to the conclusion that
European and British sports cars were either to slow or too expensive
for inventive Americans enthusiasts. Power boat builders were happy to
fill the need with two-seater fiberglass bodies that were easily put
together in a raw form. Glasspar, Mavrick, Devin, Navaho and half a
dozen others produced sporty bodies to be mounted on modified Ford,
Henry J, Chevrolet and assorted other chassis gleaned from wrecking
yards. None were well-finished and most have long since disappeared
The Meyers Manx dune buggy craze of the '60s reinvented the kit
car business with simple two-piece bodies that could be mounted on
shortened VW Beetle platforms during a long weekend. They were fun but
crude, uncomfortable and limited in their usefulness.
Then in the '70s came a much more sophisticated form of the
home-built sportster. Replicas of contemporary Ferraris, Lamborghinis,
Porsches, Jaguars and, of course, Carroll Shelby's original Cobra were
sold as complete packages along with an equal number of kits that for
lack of a better description were labeled "retro" cars. These looked a
lot, but not exactly, like vintage Bugattis, Mercedes 500 Ks,'30s-era
Bentleys, Auburn Speedsters and several other classics.
These kits included full-frames, in some cases, as well as upholstery, wiring and whatever else it took to complete the project. All the buyer needed was a doner vehicle, usually a Beetle, Ford Pinto, Chevrolet Chevette or some other fairly simple vehicle whose body could be scrapped after the required organs were salvaged. Often the result was an unfinished kit that took up space in the home garage when the constructor either ran out of time or talent or both to finish the job.
This era spawned a wild-and-woolly industry that often saw
companies fold overnight, leaving buyers with unfulfilled orders and
sometimes taking prepaid orders and deposits with them. I was involved
in one such transaction which left me with a frame but none of the
hardware to put it together.
As the industry and the movement matured, the cars and the
companies that made them became more refined and reliable. Most of the
"vintage" '32 Ford "high-boy" street rods seen at events like the
nationwide Good Guys get-togethers are built from kits and bodied by
fiberglass replicas of Ford's famous Model B, since originals are nearly impossible to find.
And strictly speaking, the single-seater formula cars raced by
amateurs in Sports Car Club of America road racing competition are kit
cars bought by their owners and assembled either by themselves or by a
professional race car shop.
But the heart of the business and of the hobby is the weekender
who has put the vehicle together as a family venture and uses it in
family-oriented ventures and tours. The recent NCKCC newsletter I
received listed a full calender of 19 of these get-togethers from
February to December.
My hometown club is by no means a unique organization. I went on
the internet and came up with kit car clubs in towns in Arizona, New
York, Texas, Kansas, Illinois, Minnesota and many other states, as well
as in Great Britain, Germany New Zealand, Scotland, and Australia. I'm
sure that there's many more in existence that haven't been listed.
The members in these clubs have always been friendly and anxious
to explain their cars and the trials and tribulation they went through
to complete their projects. Next time a kit car event is listed in your
local newspaper, set the day aside and go by to see what's going on.
You just might get hooked on the kit car concept yourself.
But before you start one, clean out your garage and get your tools
in order. A kit car construction may take you a while.