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…

New Zealand Classic Car - - CONTENTS -

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.

Item 1

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.

Item 2

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.

Item 3

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

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