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 
expensive.

     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 
into limbo.

     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.

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