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What is a Kit Car?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 December 2016
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    2003-2016
    Conjecture Corporation
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Kit cars are automobiles that are built by hobbyists from automobile kits. Dating back to the earliest years of the automobile industry, the kit car normally makes use of a package or kit of prefabricated components that can be assembled by using the proper tools. Generally, people who choose to assemble a car from an automobile kit will find everything included, with the exception of the engine and the transmission. However, many enthusiasts simple choose to pick up the few components not included in the kit at salvage yards or at garages that offer quality rebuilt automobile parts.

One of the first designs for a kit car is thought to hail from the United Kingdom. In 1896, Thomas Hyler White created a design for a basic automobile that could be assembled in any home garage. This helped to spur the idea of creating kits that would include most of the basic components required. In some cases, even such parts as the transmission and engine were included in the earliest kits, although enthusiasts usually found it easier and cheaper to purchase those components locally.

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As mass production of vehicles became common, the concept of making a car from a kit became less attractive to people who could obtain a well built car for a relatively small amount of money. For several decades, the kit car received little to no attention. However, that began to change during the 1950’s, when the idea of designer kit cars began to come into vogue.

This resurgence in the interest for kit cars had to do with a new approach to the whole idea of home assembly of a vehicle. Instead of focusing on the concept of saving money by making a car from a kit, the newer kits were marketed as a means of allowing hobbyists to create a replica of a classic or well known vehicle design. In some cases, the design would no longer be in production, which helped to attract the attention of people who wanted a vehicle that was outside the norm for contemporary car designs that were becoming increasingly uniform. There was still an element of cost savings involved, since the kits could still be used to produce a functional vehicle at a reasonable price.

The introduction of fiberglass components in place of sheet metal helped to make the process of assembly even easier for hobbyists. There are examples of kit cars that could be assembled in as little as one weekend without a great deal of trouble. For people who wanted a particular design for a vehicle but could not afford an original, the kit car offered the chance to live out a dream.

Kit cars are still around today. Several manufacturers continue to offer the kits for sale. However, some would-be kit car drivers wonder about the safety and stability of a vehicle that is not assembled by professionals. While kit cars generally come with everything required to meet safety regulations, the kits remain more of a niche market item rather than a viable alternative to purchasing a higher priced and factory assembled vehicle.

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