Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Your locost library

Nearly every person who builds a locost starts in the same place. Ron Champion's book Build a Sports Car for £250...and Race It! is the read for the aspiring locost builder. Back in the day, it was the only book available. Thankfully, that is no longer the case.

Several books have come about to update or expand upon the classic locost builder's manual. Through my obsessive research (and using my ample free time), I've acquired and read most of them. Keep in mind that nothing is wrong with Champion's book. It's a really good place to start, if nothing else to learn the origin of the design. Besides, the book makes building a car sound so simple that even I can make one.

Build Your Own Sports Car on a Budget by Chris Gibbs - This book gets my pick for best overall. The chassis drawings are top-notch (the chassis and drawings were all modeled in Solidworks CAD software), and in my opinion the chassis design strikes the right balance between the "awe-shucks" garage tech of Champion's book and the impossible-to-build-at-home Caterham frame.

Of course, the biggest deal with this book (for me) is that it incorporates an independent rear suspension, and makes a few nods to incorporating Miata guts. In any case, if there was one "must get" book I think this one takes the cake.

How to Build a Cheap Sports Car by Keith Tanner - You should get this book if for no other reason that it was written with the North American builder in mind. Keith, a major guru of everything Miata, bought his frame and then turned it into the poster child for American locosters.

While Tanner didn't construct his own chassis, his book covers a lot of detail not mentioned in the other two books. This is especially true with regards to suspension setup, bodywork and exhaust header construction.

The Car Builder's Manual by Lionel Baxter - I tore through the previous three books, but this book didn't drive me so nuts. It's a good reference to have on hand, but the information is so general that it is more of a top-level book than a dedicated locost manual. If you started getting into cars late in life (like me), this will be a good overview of the process. Still, 30% of the references in the book are of the Lotus 7/locost variety, so there is some targeted info if you know what to look for.

There are a whole host of other books that look like valuable reads (Engineer to Win, Competition Car Suspension and the Kimini book all look awesome), but I haven't gotten to those yet. In the end no book is perfect, but a collection of books (complimented by the internet) should cover nearly every aspect of car design from start to finish.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

2007 Petit Le Mans

This last weekend I traveled up to Road Atlanta to catch the 2007 Petit Le Mans endurance race. What an experience!

The ALMS is my favorite racing series. The cars are very cool (and totally gorgeous), the racing is always tight and the venues are some of the best in the country. I'm fortunate that I live a scant hour from this marque venue.

From a locost perspective, none of the fabulous machines on display are anywhere near my future two-seater. There's nothing locost about them! Still, it's pretty cool to see what hardware should look like for a serious racing car.

This event also just gets me really pumped up for designing and building my own car. There was so much awesome engineering on display. That, and there were a lot of louvers, winglets and cool details.

What I need is access to carbon fiber bits for my car. When the top teams use CF to make brackets and fairings for antennae, you know that their composites budget is pretty big.

On a more casual note, races like this one are a blast to photo. There's so much to see, it's like your camera can't possibly take a bad picture. I took tons, and they're up on my Flickr site.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Locost Personality

So the second order of business is to start to define what my car is and isn't. Here's a brief summary of what I view my locost to be:

It's a cliche to say that locosts are like bikes, but the analogy is perfect. They're light, fun, powerful and generally not used for any kind of serious daily use. I'll be a little more specific.

This is a BMW F800 ST, Bimmer's most "sporting" sport-tourer. It's a sport bike with a few concessions to long trips and the occasional slog through traffic. My car will share the same purpose and spirit.

First off, it means the car has to be as lean as possible. It's a Seven after all! In my case I'll certainly forgo a stereo, power steering and power brakes.

I expect my car to be a sunny-day only car. If it's going to rain, it's either in the garage or under a tarp. That allows me to ditch the roof and side curtains. Ditto the AC and heater (I'll drive faster or bundle up).

I want to be able to drive my car to work. The car will be street legal and registered in my home state. That means turn signals, headlights, a windshield, exhaust stuff and all that jazz. This requirement also calls for a radiator big enough to cool the engine when stopped, some kind of reverse gear (no motorcycle engines), springs soft enough to handle open road faults, and it has to have a pretty loud horn.

I want to be able to take the car on the annual long trip to somewhere. This means it'll have to have some storage space and a spare tire and jack (just say no to fix-a-flat). It'll be an interesting challenge to get both without losing too much sporting character. A glove box would be nice, too.

This car will definitely be autocrossed, but not raced wheel-to-wheel. This means adjustable camber and toe, but I'll only have a roll bar and not a full cage. I also intend to fit 4 point harnesses in both positions. As an added concession to my vanity, want a camera mount on the roll bar for the occasional race video. I'm still debating adjustable brake bias...

Anyway, this seems to be a good start. When you start making decisions like this, things seem to fall into place quickly.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

First things first...

So I find myself sitting here with a blank slate. My locost only exists in my head, and I'm finally ready to start the research, concepting and design process. It's only logical that I start with the most important details, namely, what colors to paint the car.

Sure, things like engine and suspension details are important. But this is what really matters. Casual onlookers, curious friends and ambivalent wives only care about how the car looks.

Lotus/Caterham Sevens often sport a "lipstick" and stripe paint scheme as shown on this Caterham Classic. I love this look, and I think that's the direction I'm going in. As far as the actual color scheme is concerned, I've got other ideas...

You can't swing your arms nowadays without hitting a Red Bull sponsored race car. They're everywhere. And as much as I'd rather drink gasoline than a Red Bull, I think that they're the coolest looking cars in the racing world.

I don't think it's the graphics so much as it is the basic color palette that makes the scheme work over a variety of cars. Doing some web research, I've found that the colors break down like this:

On a locost, he dark blue would make a great base color, the mustard-gold-yellow is a great stripe color, and that crimson red is perfect for accents or additional striping.

I don't know exactly how these translate into real colors, but for right now this seems like a pretty good plan of attack. Perhaps when I get better at Photoshop, I can do a cool rendering of the final product.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Start me up!

Starting this blog to save info for my eventual locost build, as well as to chronicle the design and build of my car.

For now I'm calling my locost the MX-7 (ripped off from Mark Rivera's build). It's going to be a scratch-made frame with IRS and will run with Mazda Miata guts.

I've got plenty of time to engineer and design the car, as I don't have a garage to start the build. Let's just call this a constructive outlet for my automotive fantasies.