Sunday, January 20, 2008


I've been talking about building this car for months now, and the first question everyone seems to ask is "Why?"

This question really should be 3 questions:

1. Why build a car?

I spend most of my life hacking away at a computer. Building a locost caters to my intense desire to make something with my hands (an obsession that drove my previous blog for 2 years). I want to learn to weld, to shape sheet metal, and to work on cars. I've been tooling around with my daily drivers for several years now, and I'd love to have another project to work on.

I've spent the entirety of my engineering career working under the burdens of schedule and budget. By necessity, I've had to stop work on several projects before I felt the work was as good as it could have been. With this project, I run the schedule and budget. Here's a chance to do engineering on my own terms. That's why we have hobbies, isn't it?

I don't have a budget for this car. I'm a natural cheapskate, so I think the car will cost somewhere between $5000 and $10,000. But if it costs more, then so be it.

One of the best chunks of wisdom I've read so far came from the book Kimini, Kurt Bilinski's build guide. He said this was a hobby, and as a result he didn't feel the need to create artificial deadlines for his hobby. Sage advice!

2. Why build a Lotus Seven clone?

This question starts when I was 12. I started getting into cars and reading Road&Track regularly. The articles on various new cars came and went, but the "Side Glances" columns written by Peter Egan stuck with me. He's been my biggest automotive influence, and his love for British cars wore off on me in a big, big way.

I owned a black 1977 MGB in high school, but what I always wanted was a Lotus Seven. This was a real sports car - light, agile and dripping with British charm. I didn't care that their tops were a joke or that it was based on an ancient car. It was elemental and pure. A racer for the road.

Fast forward to now. Original Sevens are far too rare, and Caterhams are WAY too expensive for someone of my means. I don't know how, but I found Kieth Tanner's web site about a year ago and I was hooked instantly! I read his entire build diary that day which is not easy when there are over 1400 entries.

Project started out as a cheap way to get a Seven, is now a way to get my dream car. It won't be perfect, but it will be uniquely mine.

3. Why use a Miata as a donor?

There's a saying in cooking - a meal is only as good as the quality of the ingredients that go into it. This project is exactly the same.

Despite its reputation as a hairdresser's car, the Miata is a true sports car. I drive one daily, and I think it's the most wonderful car I've ever owned.

As a donor, it's nearly a one-stop shop. It's got a great engine and all the requisite rear wheel drive bits. I can pick up a beaten and abused Miata and have nearly everything I need to build the car. The parts I won't use are also still pretty valuable, so hopefully I can recoup most of the cost of the donor by selling the bodywork and interior on Ebay.

There's also a huge aftermarket community providing performance parts for the brakes, engine and transmission. That means I'll be able to increase performance as much as I'd like down the road by bolting on parts. There's also an awesome community supporting the Miata that I can go to for help.

Here's another reason to build a Seven. Few cars are awesome enough to require sub-titles during their test drive.