KITS AND PIECES
THERE’ S NOTHING QUITE LIKE BUILDING YOUR OWN CAR FROM SCRATCH, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU KNOW ALMOST NOTHING ABOUT CAR CONSTRUCTION TO BEGIN WITH…
Once upon a time, Invercargill born and bred Stewart decided he would like to build a kit car. After moving to Wellington in the early 2000s, he still had not started it, so he made himself a to-do list: 1. choose a project kit car 2. get wife’s approval 3. build car 4. get it certified for the road 5. take teenage son to his school ball in it 6. take wife on holiday. Quite straightforward, really. It was 2003; his son had just started college. There was plenty of time.
Stewart, an economist by profession, knew almost nothing about building a car. Thus, the first priority was to do some research. This involved joining the Constructors Car Club and getting information on kit cars available in New Zealand. That was the easy bit. His car of choice was one in a Lotus 7 style — an Invercargill Leitch — as it appeared to be a relatively straightforward build. It even came with most of the parts in a box, ready to assemble. Just a big Meccano model. Item 1, check.
When Anne, his wife, saw it, she was not impressed, stating that it looked too much like a racing car. So much for Item 1. Deciding it would be much easier to get Anne’s approval first, he showed her a selection of cars while avoiding use of the word ‘racing’. Anne quite liked another favourite of Stewart’s, a Porsche RS60. Elated, Stewart ticked off Items 1 and 2.
Sadly, even though his wife’s approval had been attained, Stewart discovered that nobody in the world was building a kitset RS60 at a reasonable price. However, this setback only lasted for a short while, as he decided that if he could not buy a kit, he would build one from scratch. Shouldn’t be too hard?
For inspiration, he went and bought some Audi A6 wheels, as they looked pretty cool. Once the wheels were in his shed, his project was officially under way.
The next step was to design the body. To give him a starting point, Stewart purchased a plastic 1∕43 scale model of the car. Having the basic dimensions, photographs, and a few drawings from various Porsche books, he was good to go.
Item 3A: Learn how to use a CAD program to design the body
He taught himself how to use the 3D CAD program and constructed a digital interpretation of the body. After spending about a year altering and refining it, he believed that he was ready to construct a full-size buck, which would eventually become the finished body. With the 3D model finished, the next
step was to cut several 25mm thick profiles in polystyrene. Once cut, these would be glued together to form the final shape. Using his computer CAD program, he could generate the profiles quite easily as a CNC file. All he needed was a CNC machine to cut them.
Item 3B: Learn how to build a CNC profilecutter that can talk to the computer
Most would have given up at this point, but as nobody bothered to tell Stewart how big a mountain he was about to climb, he set off with no idea where the summit was. In case you haven’t guessed by now, Stewart absolutely reeks of positivity — there is not a negative bone in his body.
By the end of 2004, he had designed and built a profile-cutter. Ingeniously he had decided to use pistol drills and router bits to do the cutting. Stewart describes it as a Black and Decker pushed around by lead screws driven by three 12V motors, all told what to do by some home-brewed electronics and a computer. Once a profile was loaded, Stewart would start the cutter and leave his cobbled-together machine to do its business, as it was too noisy in the workshop. Several hours and cups of tea later, he would return to a completed profile.
Apart from good-natured complaints from his neighbours about the noise he was making and the burning out of several drills (replaced under warranty), the profiles were eventually all cut out and stacked against the wall, a process that took just over 400 hours.
Once the main buck was complete, it was split into three separate components — main body, rear clamshell, and engine hatch. Work continued on each individual piece, but it would be many years before they were all reunited.
After gluing and shaping each component, they were painted with house paint to ensure the polystyrene would not melt when Stewart applied the litres and litres of body filler to make the hard shell. Hundreds of hours were spent shaping the body. Several cans of body filler were carried into his shed and applied to the car, with most of it later swept up with a brush and shovel as the dust from all the sanding and shaping that settled on his shed floor.
Stewart was determined that the car would pay homage to a Porsche RS60, so the curves had to look right, and there were plenty on this car. By 2007, the body was done, but time was ticking by. As his son had now left college, Item 5 had been amended to, “take youngest daughter to the school ball in the car”.
Item 3C: Build chassis
One step forward and two steps back! This item really became ‘Learn how to design a chassis’. With the assistance of several books and a lot of help from Brian Worboys and other Constructors Car Club members who had done it already, the principles of the space-frame chassis design were mastered. To keep the design simple, the car would not have opening doors, giving more stiffness to the chassis and reducing the complexity of the build.
Next step, an engine. Initially, the car was to use VW Beetle components only, but the aircooled VW motor was deemed underpowered. VW factory motors made a heady 45kw (60hp) in the 1970s, but, back in the ’60s, the Porsche RS60 quad-cam air-cooled Fuhrmann motor was producing up to 134kw (180hp). Stewart decided to use a 2.0-litre Subaru boxer engine and five-speed manual gearbox. With the turbo in place, it could produce 148kw (199hp), and he thought it shouldn’t be too hard to convert it to a mid-engined layout. Once again, Stewart had cheerfully starting climbing another mountain, which, unbeknown to him, would prove to have a very high summit.
To help design the chassis, the engine, front
suspension, and seat were placed on boxes in his workshop, and then shuffled about to replicate the RS60 wheelbase. As per the original RS60, VW front torsion bars and steering box were used at the front, and a fabricated double-wishbone arrangement was employed at the rear.
Several measurements were taken and plugged into his CAD program. While working on measuring, to be on the safe side, his workshop door was again measured to ensure that the finished car could eventually be taken outside without having to do serious house renovations.
Stewart remained positive, even when he discovered that the wheels he’d bought so many years ago would not fit on either the VW or Subaru hubs. But, compared with the problems he had already solved, this was just a minor hiccup. After only a little bit of head-scratching, Mercedes 190 hubs were used at the rear, and the VW front hubs were adapted to suit.
Finally, with the chassis designed, the drawings were checked by the Constructors Car Club scrutineers, and steel was cut. Stewart then tack-welded the tubes together before taking it along to John Mines, a race-car builder in Wellington, to get it fully welded — Stewart was confident in his welding skills, but not confident enough to stake his life on it. Best to get it done by an expert.
With the two biggest mountains now conquered, Stewart could see the end in sight. However, his daughter would not be going to the ball in it, or even her university graduation. The car didn’t make it to his son’s wedding either. But he still has a swag of family events to look forward to, so Item 5 was amended once more, this time to “take one family member to something important”. As the years passed, he was not impressed by comments tossed at him by family members about the lack of space in the car for his impending need of a Zimmer frame.
By 2009, the rolling chassis and body were joined together, and the car attended its first show, outside Te Papa. It was a momentous occasion.
More years passed. The wiring loom was made and fitted, and, during 2011, the car was driven for the first time. The body was now the right shape but still required a lot of finishing. After spending many, many hours trying to complete it, Stewart finally subbed it out to a professional panel beater, who had the machinery; tools; and, more important, the skills to do it properly. Stewart ranks this as one of his best decisions — the painted car that came back no longer looked homebuilt. Finally, all it needed was the brightwork to be added. Naturally, each component had to be carefully built from scratch.
Finally, the countless evenings spent in his shed, all the heckling from family members, and the difficulties of certification paled into insignificance when the number plates were attached to the car and it was road legal. The excitement and satisfaction of taking a car that you have built in your shed out on its first proper drive is something very few will experience. Even now, Stewart still goes out into his garage and looks at the car in disbelief. Did he really do that?
The good news is that he will soon have a grandchild who he can take to the school ball, even if the grandchild is not yet aware of the RS60’S existence, and the grandchild’s partner will, well, just have to take a taxi.
The next thing on the do list is item six — remember? The one about Stewart taking his wife on holiday in the car! The trouble is now that Anne has ridden in a vehicle which lets the passenger experience true open-air motoring, it will require a little more negotiation. Needless to say, Stewart has put it on his to-do list.
The build story starts with a CAD drawing in 2003. Build a replica in the comfort of your own living room. Take it for a virtual drive
Create a simple computer-controlled cutter that understands the CAD file, cuts up polystyrene, and keeps the neighbours awake
Cut 144 slices until it sorta looks like the real thing. Just 44 slices to go
She never made it to the school ball in the car, but at least her dad took her for an imaginary drive around the block in it