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Clone Wars

Clone Wars Published: 22nd Jan 2015 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Clone Wars
Clone Wars
Clone Wars
Clone Wars
Clone Wars
Clone Wars
Clone Wars
Clone Wars
Clone Wars
Clone Wars
Clone Wars
Clone Wars
Clone Wars
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Got a rusty modern sports car that’s fit for scrapping? Don’t – give it a classic look and a new lease of life instead with a dedicated kit, Totalkitcar/TKC Mag editor, Steve Hole, rounds-up the scene...

Just lately the kit car industry, already one built on shifting sands, has evolved once more. Please, allow me to explain. Body conversions, kits using an un-modified floorpan of a production car, are coming to the fore. Why is this? Well, one obvious reason is that they avoid the requirement to undergo a ‘Basic IVA’ the test that all kits using a separate chassis must pass to become road-legal, resulting in a saving of around £500.

If a car uses an un-modified floorpan it evades the test, requiring just a change of description on a V52 form. Makers of such kits take the view that a carmaker has spent a huge amount of money on getting the underpinnings of their cars right (hopefully!), so why re-invent the wheel?

These aren’t a new phenomenon, of course, as back in the industry’s early days in the early fifties, budding car enthusiasts would get hold of a clapped out pre-war Austin 7 or Ford 8 or 10, chuck the body over the nearest hedge and fitted in its stead a low-slung, rakish replacement – and don’t forget the Beach Buggy, of course.

Some of these fitted where they touched, while some of the companies weren’t exactly respectable. The new-fangled glassfibre of the day was quite a new material, for car use anyway, and skills were often in short supply, if enthusiasm wasn’t.

The late 1990s saw the American Pontiac Fiero used for conversion into vehicles intended to replicate Ferraris of some flavour, some were better than others. Understandably, this was initiated by American kit car companies although they soon had UK agents as interest grew.

The customers who had drooled over the eighties’ phenomenon of the Lamborghini Countach replica ordering kits from – in the main – scary backstreet operations had almost inevitably given up trying to put these incredibly hard-to-build kits, disillusioned and heavily out of pocket. However, the lure of the Italian exotic is hard to resist for many enthusiasts and the arrival of a variety of Ferrari-inspired body conversions proved hard to resist.

Anyway, back to the early 1990s and over an 18-month period, wannabe Ferrari owners were busy importing all the Fieros they could find in America and would visit companies such as Fiero Factory and order one of their array of body conversions.


As you’d expect, other UK companies began searching for possible donors to use. A mainstream sports car that was readily- available here, was reliable and offering the prospect of affordable parts. A ‘Eureka’ moment came in the form of the humble Toyota MR2 Mk2 (although a few companies did use the Mk1 version for its kits). The Japanese roadster became the conversion subject of choice, spawning a raft of replicas such 246 Dino, F355, F360 and F430. Some were completely ghastly, while others were pretty convincing and as a result sold in strong numbers. One company used a Peugeot 406 Coupé (well, it was designed by Pininfarina) for its F360 pastiche. Quite a solid and dependable front-engined French car that could be bought for shirt buttons almost. Ideal for use as the donor of a mid-engined, Italian two-seater…

Actually, it was pretty good, a cleverly thought out conversion and lots of them were sold. The manufacturer even went to the trouble of creating a glassfibre Faux Ferrari rocker cover in crackle-paint finish, which fitted over the back seat area, under the glass tailgate as per the original car.

A company called DNA Automotive currently use the un-loved Ford Cougar (a Mondeo coupé) for it’s 4Thirty and 5Scudo models and they are both popular kits that works well on the Ford’s mechanicals.

It’s the MR2 in all versions that was the big daddy of the body conversion scene. John Barlow, more familiar with creating wedding cars, was the first to show that you didn’t have to base an Italian super car on the MR2, with his Veranti project in 2002, which after several years away, is now back on the market again.

A new MR2-based arrival is the Gemballa-inspired Turismo Avalanche GT, with the original based on Carrera GT it’s a limited edition uber exotic. However, TurismoUK, who evolved out of the ‘Max Power’ modified scene (unusual for a kit car company), use a humble MR2 Mk3 (2230), which although scaled down, is pretty effective.

The underrated MGF is also about to find favour as a donor for body conversion use and several manufacturers are developing kits based around it, while the Toyota Celica Mk5 is used by the same company producing the revived Veranti as the basis for the F430 replica.

Undoubtedly, though, 2014’s big hits as far as body conversion donor use go are the Mazda MX5 and BMW Z3. The German two-seater has only come to prominence this year with the Tribute Kobra (their spelling!), Tribute 250S and Bertini GT25 already using it. Even if your view is that the car looks a bit dated, there’s no doubting that mechanically it makes great sense, especially given the wide variety of engines it came fitted with, from mild to wild.

Meanwhile, the MX-5 has taken over from the Ford Sierra as the kit car manufacturer’s donor of choice for conventional chassis kits and latterly as a subject for body conversion use. Actually, the Italian exotic body conversion market is nothing new, as Nissan (Datsun) 240Zs had regularly been used as a basis for a plastic 250 GTO. Pretty convincing they were too, although it was the model that Ferrari were particularly protective about and inevitably jumped on transgressors almost immediately.

The Beach Buggy was nothing more than a conversion as you used the Beetle floorpan (un-modified if long wheelbase buggy), dumped the body and fitted a buggy body. 1970-1971 was when the buggy boom occurred in the UK and companies like Volksrod and GP Projects couldn’t make them fast enough. The latter would regularly shift 100 kits per month.

So there you have it. The age of the body conversion is here. Not all are replicas, while even those that are offer more of a pastiche rather than intended to be a nut-for-nut copy, which for the many people buying them is what it’s all about. An affordable, fun evocation of a car they could ever hope to own in original form.

You may scoff and turn up your nose at the prospect of a Mazda-based DBR1 ‘replica’, well that’s fine, go and buy a real one then if you could find one. For those that get it there really is plenty of choice out there. Kit cars? They really are great fun.

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