Simon's Clubman Site

Simon's Ramblings

- with the benefit of hindsight

What a fantastic thing hindsight is !!!!

If you are new to the Locost concept and thinking about starting a build, let me share a few thoughts with you. There is a lot of misinformation on the net, and some of it may be right here !!

I am not an engineer of any kind. I am also not an expert so keep this in mind as you read on. But also bare in mind that I have made the journey, and have a car to prove it !

I am living proof that someone working in the IT Industry, and with no training or background in metal work, fitting/ turning, mechanical or related trades, and with only limited self taught mechanical and "backyard" skills, can build a road registered machine such as a Seven, or Clubman as we call them in Australia. And so can YOU.

I would never have started this project with the confidence that the Internet and email lists gave me. But trust me, there is a lot more information available today than I started out in 2000.

So why build a Locost ?

Two reasons really - money and satisfaction. Sure you can buy a turnkey Caterham, Westfield, Birkin/PRB or Fraser and lighten your pocket by up to A$50,000. But other than explaining to the wife, where is the challenge in that ?

Most of you still reading are here because you :

A) don't have a spare $50k+ and want a high performance sports car;

B) want a mechanical challenge and enjoy problem solving;

C) want to build a sports car that you can personalise to your tastes with an underlying assurance that your end result will be highly successful;

D) you want a fully fledged race car to drive on the streets (legally);

E) you want to build a "race only special" and get it on the track for around A$5k;

F) you've been bitten by the bug and it has taken over your life;

G) your wife / partner has already walked out so what the hell.

Read on.

How much will it cost me ?

A Seven can be built for next to nothing if you are patient enough, lucky enough, don't particularly care about the quality of finish, and are a world class scrounger !!

But for most of us we want a beast that we can legally drive on the roads and can be proud of. And if you are bit of boy racer deep down, you can drive it to the track and go racing on the week end. So let's get back to reality. Many people including myself set off on this journey with a budget (don't you just love that word) of anything between $5-6k. Forget it. I would suggest a minimum budget today of A$15k is required to complete a car of reasonable quality and finish on the road. Consider this as a starting point as I couldn't have cut many more corners. OK maybe I could have spray painted the car myself and saved A$1500, but in my book the paint and trim is what most people will judge you on.

The one thing on your side is these cars generally take years to complete, therefore the build has more of syphoning affect on your bank account, rather than a knockout punch that a one off payment would make. So if you are careful and plan ahead, funding can be quite painless.

So unfortunately it will take a little more $$$$ to achieve than the good book preaches. But if you are one of the exceptional few, yes it can be done on a shoe string.

The "book" said something about 250 pounds - that must be a misprint.

How long will it take ?

It can be done in a short time if you are unemployed or have some serious time on your hands each week (or can afford to pay for someone else's time), but for most of us it is a journey of many years. In my case 4.5 years. The quickest build that I have heard of (that has credence) was about 6 months, and I know of builds still going after 6 years. Most of us have families to attend to, along with other projects. Like remodeling the house or marching to orders of "she who must be obeyed". The other "minor" issue is having enough money at hand when needed. Skills in creative accounting are also an advantage. The beauty of a build over a couple of years is you can spread the purchases out to minimise the financial pain.

Warning - on a number of occasions you WILL lose your motivation and start questioning why the hell you started building this thing. It could be due to a lack of time, lack of funds, result of a seemingly unsolvable problem. It WILL happen. The answer for me was to go and visit a follow builder. Suck in the occasion, get motivated by what he has achieved. Discuss problems and how it was solved (usually very simply). Occasions like these were usually enough to re-fire the belly and push on.

But I can't Weld ?

Yes you can - do a short course and practice. It is surprising what you can do if really want to. Most city's have someone who teaches welding at a hobby level. It's pretty expensive to take a certification course and it's not what we really need. Most anybody can learn to MIG weld RHS tubing. It isn't that hard. Good penetration isn't as much of a problem as not blowing holes in the tubing is. Start by welding up a kart for your welder, an engine crane, a work table, a stand to build the car on so your not down on your knees working. Build a garden gate for your wife or something. It helps justify the cost of the welder and give you some practice. Just tack the chassis as you go. You'll have to remove something for some reason along the way and it will be much easier if it is just tacked. Trust me here. Also your trusty Angle Grinder will become your best friend. Also a tin a black paint will be handy. If you try to fully weld as you go the heat will distort the frame and cause all kind of problems. Tack first then go back later and fully weld, skipping all around the frame so as to not over heat any one area. If welding was a big problem we'd hear about these cars falling apart all the time, and we don't. Go for it , fear not. If all else fails, in many countries there are now individuals building chassis's for sale. Enough excuses, you can do it.

So should I build "as per the book" or go larger ?

A common dilemma. It really depends on that you plan on doing with finished product. If you are building a racer you will want to keep it as compact and light as possible, with the minimum of "features". Keep it standard. If you are like most builders and want a street car with reasonable comfort that can also go racing, add 50 to 100mm down the centre line. This will give you more width in the pedal box, and will allow you to put some decent seats in and a few creature comforts. Keep in mind the final shape, as you may also want to add a little height (25mm) to keep things in perspective. For these reasons most builders in Australia are building +100mm wider and +25mm higher. I did, and I also added 200mm in length. In hindsight this was too much as 100mm extra in the engine bay would have been ample. My concern was also leg room for taller drivers, but the standard length chassis has ample length for drivers up to 6'6". If you go for the larger street car version, it will end up a bit heavier, but it will still be the best handling car you ever drove, and plenty of fun.

The "book"

The book is not a complete instruction manual on how the build a Seven. Consider it as a guide. It has as many errors of measurement and a few of technique. I would advise cutting tubes to fit as you go, and against pre-cutting material as the book suggests. Use the basic chassis measurements, but that's about it. Break the build down into systems - chassis, suspension, drive train, etc.

Don't get me wrong - you will need the "book". Apart from the chassis plans, it contains a lot of background information and good ideas on construction technique and how to solve problems. Believe me you will encounter many problems which will involve the "stool of thought".

Building a Locost is not as difficult as it might look. Don't deviate from the basic build unless you have lots of experience - if you do be warned.

Keep It Simple (stupid)

Many builders fall for the trap of trying to be too smart and deviating away from the standard build.

Trap #1 - keep the rear axle standard. Too many builders have tried to redesign the rear of the car to use IRS or De Dion suspension/axles, and adding 12 months and many more $$$ to the exercise. These cars are very light and no major purpose is served by reduced unsprung weight (unless you are building a serious race car). If you must go IRS, but consider yourself warned. Also ask yourself will there actually be an advantage at the end of the day. Having said that certainly using a LSD is preferred. Most of us want the build experience, the problem solving and figuring out how to make the thing work. By all means add your personal touches to the final look and feel, but keep the basic principals standard.

Trap #2 - avoid being influenced by "gonnas". In this game you come across people who talk big on what a car should or shouldn't be, and most of these people are all talk and no action. Some they are "gonna" make a start - yeah right. Think for yourself and do what you want to do. But by all means talk to and be educated by people in the know, but you are the one that needs to finish the build and live with the end result.

How big an engine can I squeeze in ?

No doubt with the appropriate engineering changes you could squeeze a V6 or V8 into the build, but for what reason ? They are big and heavy, and detract from what light and nimble result we are trying to achieve. Not to mention the changed looks and handling characteristics.

What you should be aiming for is a high revving engine which gets up into the power band quickly. For a road going version the 1.6 litre engine is probably entry level today, with a turbo charged 2.3 litre Durotec or rotary at the top end. Worth considering are the new generation 2.0 & 2.3 litre Durotec engines being released by Mazda(Ford), found in the late models Mazda 6, Mazda 3, Mazda MX5/Miata & Ford Focus. When prices drop and availability improves they will no doubt be the "standard".

Interestingly the 1.6 litre versions are still the most popular because of their light weight and high revving characteristics.

How much power do I need ?

120-150hp is quite enough for the car to be a lot of fun...... That being said, 200hp would be even more fun. But keep in mind that the car is supposed to be a small, quick handling sports car. Yes, a big donk can be done and yes it may be fun on a certain level, but don't be surprised if you take it to the track and a guy with a 125hp four cylinder kicks your ass.

The shed

Some people are lucky enough to have a large shed or work space before starting their build, but for most of us this will be the first challenge. Certainly some builders have had to make do with a single car garage attached to the house, but this is far from ideal. Competing with surplus junk from the house, push bikes, gardening tools and not being able to spread out is not my idea of fun. It might mean chopping up part of your garden, and it might mean a lot of crawling to "she who must be obeyed", but think of it as an investment in your future sanity.

After all every man needs a shed !!

The final word

If you have little time and money or your wife is pregnant or your building a new house, this may not be the time in your life to start a project like this. Think carefully about it. There is a reason most of us are in our 40's and 50's. Don't let anyone tell you this project will be easy, cheap and fast. That it isn't.

BUT it is the most fun and satisfaction you can have in your life outside of the small room with a rectangular pad. I suspect for some even that is surpassed.

If your thing is making a lot of noise while burning up a set of tires and wearing a hat backwards - what do they call that? drifting?, you are probably not ready for this type of excitement. Way too young minded and expensive for me, but you need to answer the question of what you want the car to be.

I also need to acknowledge Wayne Evans and his site A new American Locost, as we share many of the same thoughts and I have used a similar format to his site.

Build what you want. That's part of the beauty of the Locost.