On this page you will find:
What tools, skills and resources will I need?
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 to myself - “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 and the second edition was 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 have restored a couple of Jaguars in recent years (a 1976 XJC V12 and a 1972 V12 E-Type), and I 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) 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. 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 control 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 first major items during construction is for the chassis to undergo 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 with differing opinions on what should be allowed.
Each book mentioned on this page is a worthwhile addition to your library, as each one improves your 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. 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 is very informative and 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 is 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 you 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.
What tools, skills and resources will I need?
I provide some basic information in this section in response to emails from potential Locost clubman builders who are finding the project a bit daunting. Based on my experience, a competent home handyman with reasonable mechanical knowledge and an aptitude for this type of project could build a Locost Clubman at home. Naturally the more experience, knowledge and skill that you possess then the more realistic the home based build becomes and the less you will need to rely on outside help which can add extra cost.
Building the chassis can be a challenge for someone with little or no welding experience and either you learn this skill or consider taking the “Kit Car” option which provides a ready made Clubman Kit, including a chassis, and you can build one from there. The welding required on a Locost Clubman chassis is rather basic and it should be relatively easy for a new welder to learn to produce welds of sufficient quality for this project. I would recommend investing in at least a reasonable quality MIG welder as the cheap units are just not good enough for consistent quality welding - I would avoid the gasless type MIG. A good quality auto darkening welding helmet is also essential. I believe its a good idea to use 2mm wall thickness tube on the chassis rather than the standard 1.6mm as it’s easier to weld. The best way for new welders to gain confidence is to practice on scrap material, cut it open and try to break the welds. Practice makes perfect and it shouldn't take long to gain confidence.
Garage space is an issue for some people. I have heard of projects being built in small single car garages or carports, and even a couple in an open area, but I consider a good size work and storage area an important asset for building a Locost. A suitable workbench is invaluable as is enough space around the car to let you work without bumping into things. As the Locost grows so will your need for storage space. When the components are not in the car (eg engine, gearbox, wheels, seats, bonnet, nosecone etc) where will you store them?
While you don’t require a shed full of exotic and expensive tools and machinery to build a Locost it's quite obvious that the better equipped you are the easier the project will be. Basic mechanics hand tools (spanners, screwdrivers, pliers, hammers, hacksaw, files, clamps etc) are essential and tools can be purchased as you progress. A small angle grinder (115mm or 125mm), air compressor, spray gun, welder (MIG), drill, hydraulic floor jack & stands and an engineers bench vice are all essential. Some tools can be quite inexpensive to buy and I have found that some of the cheap tools are of satisfactory quality for these small projects, so there is no need to buy the best quality tools if budget is a concern, however don’t expect them to last as long or perform as well as the more expensive items. EBay, Supercheap Auto, Mitre 10, Bunnings and many other similar stores are a good source of economical hand and electrical tools.
I found a metal cut off saw to be really helpful (they can be purchased for around $200). You can cut your steel tubing with a hacksaw or angle grinder but there are a LOT of cuts to be made and the cut-off saw makes it so much easier, especially when cutting angles. I purchased a couple of inexpensive 115mm angle grinders (less than $30 each) and I used them extensively when building the chassis, I had one fitted with a cut off wheel and the other fitted for grinding/sanding. Thin metal cut off discs (1mm thin) are great for cutting and trimming and “Zirconia Flap Disks” are excellent for sanding/grinding.
This is just a guide based on my personal experience and obviously requirements will vary greatly between builders. However, I can confirm that you will not need to own a lathe, plasma cutter, milling machine or other expensive specialist equipment to build your own Locost and if you do require these specialist services then they are readily available.