Why build my own clubman style sports car?

Well it all started when I read Ron Champions book Build your own sports car and I thought “well that doesn’t seem too difficult”!  I later found that this was the Bible for enthusiasts who want to build their own Lotus Clubman style sports car and it’s respectfully referred to in hushed tones as “the book”.  It has a cult following around the world with untold numbers of cars being home built by dedicated enthusiasts.  It was first published in 1996 with a second edition published by Haynes in 2000.

I was intrigued by the concept and the more I read the book the more interested I became.  I didn’t start out wanting to own a clubman sports car, as I think they are rather impractical, but I was more attracted by the concept of building my own car from scratch and having the satisfaction of being able to say “I built that car at home”.

I had restored a couple of Jaguars in (1976 XJC V12 and 1972 V12 E-Type), and really didn’t want to undertake another restoration.  But building my own car appealed to me, so I researched the concept, made contact with other Locost builders, went for a ride in a couple (fantastic first experience - scared the shit out of me) and after a few months excitedly began my new project.

What is a Locost?

A Locost is an economical, home built “clubman” style sports car based on the concept of the original Lotus 7 from the 1950’s. You construct a Locost by following Ron Champion’s book "Build your own sports car for as little as 250 pound", first published in the UK in 1996.  Although a more appropriate name for the car today would be Hicost, because of the increased cost of components and meeting government regulations, especially in Australia where our registration requirements are rather tough when compared to the UK.

A Locost is definitely not a kit car, as you build it from scratch and alter the design to suit yourself.  Of course you have to buy some ready made components and you utilise existing parts from donor vehicles, but it is very much an individual project, unlike a kit car which is a bit like a model car that comes in a box and you assemble it by following instructions.

In Australia the Locost is considered to be a new vehicle and must comply with most ADR’s (Australian Design Rules) and emission regulations which govern new vehicle registrations.  The Locost is exempt from some items, such as crash testing, fitting of airbags and side impact protection and is built under specific guidelines for “Individually Constructed Vehicles” (ICV).

Before it can be registered, each vehicle must be inspected by an approved engineer whose job it is to ensure that it meets all regulations.  One of the major items is for the chassis to pass torsional & beam testing and after the car has been completed a full range of further tests must be passed before gaining approval for registration. Adding to the challenges are varied interpretations of the regulations by engineers and state registration authorities having differing opinions on what should be allowed.

Helpful publications

The publications mentioned on this page are worthwhile additions to your library as each one improves knowledge and provides alternative designs, ideas and construction methods etc.   Ron Champion’s book was my first inspiration to undertake this journey, however Chris Gibb’s book is a big improvement and I found it to be very helpful.

“Build your own Sports Car on a budget” by Chris Gibbs (UK)

This is a Haynes publication and was first released in 2007.  It follows on from the original Ron Champion book and there are a number of refinements and improvements to the chassis, suspension and mechanicals, including using Ford Sierra components and incorporating an independent rear suspension.  The Sierra was not sold in Australia so alternative vehicles need to be sourced for parts, but the design and engineering principles still apply.

If Ron Champion’s book is “the Bible” then Chris Gibbs effort is the “New Testament”.  It remains true to Ron Champion’s original concept but the car is called a Haynes Roadster rather than a Locost, which could be for legal reasons or cynical people may suggest it’s to further promote the Haynes brand.  An excellent publication with lots of quality detailed plans, drawings and full colour photos.  There are a number of errors in this first edition but the book is still a valuable asset.

“How to build a cheap sports car” by Keith Tanner (USA)

An informative publication that follows on from Ron Champion’s original concept. It adds a bit more sophistication to the project by using more modern mechanicals.  Keith purchased a professionally built chassis and utilised early Mazda MX5 (Miata in the USA) components to build his car, so there is no information on building the chassis.  However it steps you through the process of assembling the car and modifying some of the parts.  Keith Tanner supports the book with an interesting and comprehensive web site (here) that also contains some updates and corrections to his book.  Recommended reading as it describes yet another approach to building your own sports car, however in my opinion, Keith misses the mark by not building his own chassis and the project is more like assembling a kit car.

“How to build your own Tiger Avon sports car for road & track” by Jim Dudley (UK)

An interesting book that provides very good information on constructing fibreglass panels.  Apart from that chapter the rest of the book lacks detail and while its a worthwhile read the original Ron Champion book or the newer Chris Gibbs book offer much better information for a new builder.  The Tiger frame is more sophisticated than Ron Champion’s Locost and the plans provided are detailed but there is no step by step guide to construction. If you are after a book that guides you through the build then the Ron Champion and Chris Gibbs publications are the better choices.

“The sports car & kit car suspension and brakes high performance manual” by Des Hammill

provides a great guide to suspensions for the Locost builder.  If you are like me and have never studied the black art of suspension design - and ackerman angle, king pin inclination, bump steer, camber and castor have you scratching your head, then this book is for you.  It helps understand the technical issues in designing and building a suspension for a Locost in plain English, with very basic and easy to follow diagrams.  There are more detailed and comprehensive publications on suspension design, however for the novice suspension engineer it’s hard to go past this one.