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A Guide to Kit Cars

Counterfeit Classics Published: 13th Dec 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

A Guide to Kit Cars
A Guide to Kit Cars
A Guide to Kit Cars
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Is there such a thing as a classic kit car? Specialist car journalist Steve Hole says YES! Here’s why…

Nowadays the term kit car is too downmarket – today they are sometimes better known as Continuations, Recreations, Replicas and Tributes – but what’s in a name? Before you choke on your coffee, we need to take a closer look at what is a buoyant sector of the specialist car market and although I’m probably biased, I’d say that some cars, be they of original design or a copy of an acknowledged classic, are defi nitely worth looking out for as a second-hand buy. Dare I say it, but even as an investment.

Sure there have been some real sheds produced, of that there is no doubt, but some have been incredibly good cars. Back in 1949 when Derek Buckler fi rst started producing sports-orientated chassis and other go-faster parts for eager owners of clapped-out Austin Sevens and Ford 8 or 10s he was starting a movement that grew rapidly and accelerated farther and faster with the ready availability of glassfibre (from 1953 in the UK automotive world).

Quite a few of the hastily created ‘specials’ from that era still exist, some in better condition than others. It has to be said though that while some are still in good nick, certainly loved by their owners, with single fi gures existing of many cars of that period, when they change hands they don’t fetch huge sums of money. Eye of the beholder probably applies here.

When we get into the sixties, though, things began to change and there are some really desirable kit cars from that era. For example, if you could find one (debatable), try fi nding a Unipower GT for less than £30,000, while others, like the earlier Marcos models, particularly the wooden chassis cars, also have their followers.

Many kit cars from the sixties and seventies were horrid, angular devices that small boys threw stones at but certain Ginettas, Gilberns, TVRs, plus oddball stuff like Dennis and Peter Adams’ Probe series and the Piper GTT are highly sought after classics. Let’s not forget either that until 1973, the products of Lotus were available in kit form, or as owners prefer to say available in ‘complete knockdown’ guise and required a certain amount of spanner wielding – and I defy anyone to dispute the fact that iconic cars such as Lotus Six, Seven, Eleven, 23, Elite, Elan and Europa aren’t genuine classics. It amuses me that people are often selective about what they class as kit cars…

Beach buggies were huge news back in the late sixties/early seventies and the remarkable Californian, Bruce Meyers, who can indisputably be said to be the father of the dune buggy, spawned a massive movement, with literally thousands of companies around the world blatantly copying or adapting his Beetlebased Manx to suit their own needs.

In the UK, the biggest player was GP Speedshop, who for an 18-month period in the early 70s was selling no fewer than 150 beach buggy kits per month! Once it became apparent that a driving a beach buggy in Hackney wasn’t half as cool as basking in sunshine on Ventura Highway, then the phenomenon started to wane somewhat. Buggies are still around and can be built affordably, although thanks to their basic, rugged mechanicals many of the old ones still exist and can be purchased for not much money. Another popular area of the UK’s specialist car scene also had its heyday in the late sixties. That of the hot rod kit, created by Geoff Jago, and he and a few others, including future GTD co-founder and professional wrestler, Ray ‘The Rodfather’ Christopher, sold thousands of kits to enthusiasts up and down the land, many of whom with eyes bigger than their car building talents, but some of these pioneer rods still exist and are extremely sought after.

Replica Rules

A large chunk of the kit car industry’s sales have been of the replica variety, and it’s often been the most talked about and controversial part of the scene, too.

If we look at the world of the Jaguar replica there’s been more clones of most pre-1970 sports-orientated Jags than anything else, certainly enough to fi ll this whole magazine and more besides. You name it; SS100, XK120, C-type, D-type, XKSS and E-type have all been replicated in numbers. They can be classed in three categories: The first contains the dirge, the turgid and rubbish, often based on Ford Cortina mechanicals. The middle ground, the biggest sector, contains good replicas that are at least Jaguar replicas based on Jaguar mechanicals, which helps considerably.

Then we have the premier league containing cars that the purist marque afi cionados accept (the products of Roger Williams’ Suffolk Jaguar operation, for example) and of course, the toolroom copies made by Bryan Wingfi eld’s Deetype operation and Peter Jaye Engineering. Highly esteemed replicas all and mega-desirable. Likewise, anything with a Lynx or Proteus badge is good news, too. You’ll be lucky to get a Peter Jaye C-type for less than £80,000.

Actually, on the subject of replicas, I’m often asked what is the next big thing as far as a car ripe for copying. Without hesitation I’d say that if someone created a decent, yet affordable E-type replica in kit form they’d have a winner on their hands, given the current prices for genuine ones.

The best E-type replica produced thus far was the Triple C Challenger even though the kits haven’t been available for at least 15-years. In the late 1980s the company was shifting the biggest volume, with the bulk of its 400-plus kits sold, you could still buy a real Series II for ten grand!

Looking slightly sideways for a moment, two of the industry’s biggest sellers, by volume, Dutton Cars and Robin Hood Engineering (8000 and 10,000 kits respectively) did a lot to encourage people to build and enjoy their own lightweight sportscar, and deserve massive respect, but neither made what could be classed as classics, although I’m a big fan of what both achieved. On the other hand, Westfi eld Sports Cars, started by Chris Smith in 1982, are regarded very highly by so-called purists, especially its glorious Lotus XI replica, made in two periods (1982-86 and 2004-2009) are collector’s items, with around 240 made in total.

Moving on to Italian exotic clones, most stuff (past and present) is sniffed at by the classic fraternity, and rightly so in some cases as there have been some atrocious attempts over the years, such as some laughable, nay hideous goes at the Lamborghini Countach (Panache or Countess, anyone?). But fi nd yourself a Prova and you’ll more than likely have a good car.

Prova reputedly sold more than 1000 Countach replica kits, with Ferrucio Lamborghini himself allegedly giving them the seal of his approval. Puzzlingly though, Prova also made a more than passable Miura clone, of which the company sold just 50 kits; strange when you consider that the original is in many classic enthusiasts top fi ve cars of all-time list.

Not the same when it comes to Ferrari however as it has traditionally been very anti anyone copying Enzo’s classic models although there are some ‘tool room’ copies of 250 GTO and the like with hand-crafted aluminium bodies, some, such as those made by the late Chris Lawrence (not the same Chris Lawrence of Deep Sandersonfame, who also sadly passed away recently, incidentally), which are very highly regarded and change hands for large sums of money. So, a 250 TR made by the right person is cool, whereas a Toyota-based 430 isn’t?

GT40 replicas are, in the main, of very high quality and while it’s common, and normal, almost, for a Cobra replica owner to fi t a Chevy V8 into his car, it’s still frowned on by the GT40 fraternity and regarded as not being the done thing. What’s the difference? Both are expensive investments, both are megaclassics in their original form, yet with one it’s OK to deviate from originality more so than the other. When it comes to cost, a GT40 replica can easily cost £100,000. The fi rst replica GT40 came from ex-Ford employee, Ken Attwell, via his KVA operation and was a copy of the less sought after MkIII, roadgoing variant. Suffi ce to say that it caused a storm when announced in 1982, which turned into a hurricane once then Motor editor, Howard Walker, published a feature on it shortly after.

Public demand forced Attwell to bring out a Mk1 replica and it was this car that fuelled (still does) the whole GT40 replica scene that spawned GTD and Tornado to name but two others. Never selling in anywhere near the numbers of the Cobra replica, I’d hazard a guess that there’s still been over 5000 such kits sold in the UK in the last thirty-odd years.

On the other hand, a decent, wellbuilt Cobra replica packing a V8 and sidepipes can be built from around £50,000, but, it has to be said that the AC Cobra Mk3 that Texan Carroll Shelby really made famous, is the king of the replica scene, both here in the UK and in America. Numbers of Cobra replica kits sold in the UK could be as high as 25,000 and if this is the car that like many car enthusiasts sets your blood on fi re you’ll fi nd a kit to build to match the depth of your pocket and the elasticity of your credit card, from a self-built Pilgrim Sumo (DIY-build from circa £15,000) right up to an aluminiumbodied Kirkham sold in the UK by Gerry Hawkridge of Hawk Cars, which will easily cost you £100,000 to do properly, right down to its Ford 427 FE big block engine. Indeed, Mr Hawkridge supplies owners of genuine Cobras with spare parts, many of which he is the only source for them in the world.

So, I’d have to say that there are some kit cars that can genuinely be regarded as classics in their own right. However, a classic kit car is not necessarily a classic car and yet many over the last 62-years have achieved that status, including, whisper this, some replicas amongst them…

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