The club for local kitcar enthusiasts.

Kitcar Frequently Asked Questions

What is a kitcar?
A 'kit-conversion', to use its proper name, is an amateur-built vehicle - that's right a car you can build yourself. By combining a kit of parts from a specialist kit manufacturer with parts from a production car, you create a whole new car.

Why build a kitcar?
In today's comfy-seated, air-conditioned, multiple cup-holdered cars, kitcars aim to recover the pure joy of motoring. A wide range of vehicles are available depending on what enthuses you about cars - sports coupes, lightweight sportscars with superb performance and handling, traditional roadsters that recapture a bygone era of motoring, or just simply fun cars that prove that 'less is more'. Let's not forget that many builders gain satisfaction from the challenge of assembling their own car, and the knowledge that it was built with their own two hands.

What is supplied in the kit?
This depends on which manufacturer's kit you decide to build, and their option list. Some manufacturers supply a basic kit of parts you need from them, such as a chassis, fibre-glass body panels and some special suspension components or brackets, and let you source the rest yourself. Most manufacturers also have a list of optional parts, some of which you will have to buy from them. The list consists mostly of parts you could buy elsewhere, but buying from the manufacturer makes things easier if you don't want to spend time hunting around for smaller items. Other manufacturers may offer only a comprehensive kit package that contains just about everything you need to build the car that doesn't come from your donor car. Check this out with the manufacturer of your intended kit, or you can usually find it in their brochure.

What parts are used from the production car?
Again this depends on the kit. Some use just the engine and gearbox, and some suspension and brake components. These may all come from one particular model of car, or may be from a selection of models. Other kits use a single 'donor', taking almost all the parts right down to the lights, interior, door handles and such from the donor. As with the kit, it's best to refer to the manufacturer of the kit for more detail.

So what production cars are used?
Each kitcar model is designed to use parts from particular production, or 'donor' cars. Ford donors are popular, especially the Mk2 Escort and Sierra for their rear wheel drive drivetrains, with the Mini, Metro, 2CV, Jaguars and others being used. Other kitcar models which don't use so much of the donor still mostly use Ford engines, though Vauxhall, Lancia and Fiat twin-cam units, Rover A and K series, and the Rover V8 are all common choices depending on the model. A relatively new phenomenon is the use of superbike engines, such as the Honda Fireblade and Suzuki Hayabusa in lightweight sportscars.

Do you need to be a mechanic to build one?
Not necessarily. While the UKCC includes mechanics and engineers, most members are not professional mechanics. Our membership includes graphic designers, computer technicians, civil servants, self-employed businessmen, a retired company director, and a professional orchestra musician. True, experience of tinkering with cars is helpful, but common sense and an appreciation of DIY will get you off to a good start. Most manufacturers supply a build manual, and there are Haynes manuals available fro your chosen donor car. Don't forget, the UKCC is here to help its members with the previous experience of the rest of the membership, so there's plenty of help available during your build-up.

So how much does it cost to build a kitcar?
Comprehensive, budget based kits of the mostly fun car variety can be completed for as little as £2500. If you're feeling particularly flush, you could lavish all manner of bespoke hardware on a £40,000 Ultima to go baiting Ferraris. Most of the popular models can be completed for between £6000 and £10000, depending on specification.

But aren't they expensive to insure?
On the contrary. Insurance companies who specialise in kitcar insurance recognize that kitcars are subject to relatively few claims. After all, if you've built your own car, you're not going to go out and wrap it around the first tree you find! In addition, most kitcars aren't used day-in,day-out. By choosing a limited mileage policy, as with classic car insurance, premiums for even high-performance kitcars are rather less than an average production car.

Are they safe?
If you're asking that, I'll assume that you'd be taking all necessary care in assembling the car safely, and that you have carried out any necessary refurbishment or replacement of suspension, brake and steering components. Few kitcars have undergone official crash testing, but those that have, performed well. Kitcar designers and manufacturers are enthusiasts themselves, so see little point in designing and marketing a shoddy or unsafe car. In fact, the nature of kitcar construction usually results in kitcars being safer and stronger than production cars. The evidence of real life kitcar crashes is encouraging. The introduction of the SVA test, which every newly completed kitcar undergoes, ensures that it has been properly designed by the manufacturer, and properly assembled by the builder. Following on from the insurance question, kitcars seem to be subject to fewer claims, which suggests they're safer than other cars.

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Single Vehicle Approval

...(or SVA) is the examination all newly finished kitcars must undergo before they can be registered and used on public roads. The test is an extensive one and checks all manner of items for proper operation, safe use, or compliance with Construction and Use regulations. For example, seat belts will be checked to ensure they are mounted securely to the vehicle frame and in the correct position to offer the best safety for the occupants. All exterior lights will be checked to ensure they fall within specified minimum or maximum heights, and are E-marked, etc. Detailed tests, using special tools, are carried out on both the interior and exterior surfaces of the car for protrusions that could injure a pedestrian or the occupants in the event of a crash. Many potential kitcar builders are naturally concerned whether they can build a car capable of passing this new test, but in truth, the burden has fallen on the kitcar manufacturers. Most have responded well and have carried out any necessary design work to enable the amateur builder to put his new shiny toy through SVA.
SVA for kitcars replaced the MoT in July 1998…on the UK mainland at least. SVA was introduced into Northern Ireland on the 1st June 2001 - see Links Page to navigate to the Government SVA website.

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Kitcar Registration in Northern Ireland
(or The Red Tape before the Black Strip)


So you've built your kitcar. What paperwork do the authorities need to let you use it on the public road?

1. Get it insured. If you haven't been able to sleep at night thinking of the thousands of pounds worth of tasty motor sitting uninsured in the garage, you'll have organised this during the build. With no confirmed registration number for your car, the insurance company should let you use the chassis number for identification purposes. If you're not already insured, get insured for the road before….

2. Going to MoT. Apply for MoT as you would any car, again using the chassis number to identify the car. Having the car insured is necessary as it appears that you can drive the car to the MoT centre - at least we've seen nothing to the contrary. Don't blame us if Traffic Branch pull you for driving with no number plates, though…. On passing MoT (hopefully!) you'll get a slip saying the vehicle has passed the test, and is awaiting registration (you may not get a proper MoT certificate until later.)

3. Get forms V55/5 and V627/1 from VLCO. Phone Coleraine and ask nicely and they'll send you copies of each. V55/5 mostly covers the vehicle details that will appear in the tax book (colour, chassis number, owner's name and address, etc.) V627/1 details the source of all the major mechanical items (engine, transmission, brakes, etc.) and whether they're new or secondhand. If you hope to retain the donor registration, entering the registration number of the donor along with the make and model of the source of each of the items will help your case. Fill both of these in with as much detail as possible (not all sections will apply).

4. Take your Insurance certificate or cover note, your MoT pass slip, form V55/5, form V627/1, any receipts you have for the parts listed on V627/1, write a check for road tax and take it all to your local Licensing office. If you hope to retain the donor registration, you may want to include a cover note explaining your use of the majority of the mechanical items from a single donor car. If you have the tax book for the donor car, and you got it registered in your own name, this will greatly help. Within 2 or 3 days, VLCO will contact you with your registration number. (Incidentally, the VLCO can insist, at their own discretion, on examining the vehicle before they complete the registration. Don't be alarmed - they just want to take a look at the vehicle to confirm what it is and check the chassis number and engine number.)

5. Get yourself a set of number plates made up, fit them and away you go. The V5 'tax book' will arrive in about 3 weeks. If you didn't get a 'real' MoT certificate, take the car (with number plates fitted) and the tax book back to the MoT centre, and they'll make out a proper MoT certificate. You're now fully legal. Happy motoring.

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Issuance of kitcar Registration Mark

Driver & Vehicle Licensing Northern Ireland tell us that there have been changes to the registration process as of June 2001, now that SVA has been introduced. They have supplied us with this document which details the new approach to issuance of a registration number.

Kit Conversions

For kit converted vehicles the registration mark allocated can be the original, a current mark or a Q mark.

1. In order to retain the original registration mark a vehicle must use the original unmodified chassis or unaltered monocoque bodyshell and two other major components from the donor vehicle. In this case an SVA Certificate is not required but an MoT Certificate will be required if the vehicle is over four years old.

2. If a new monocoque bodyshell or chassis from a specialist kit manufacturer (or an altered chassis/bodyshell from the donor vehicle) together with two major components from the donor vehicle has been used a current series mark should be allocated. However, for MoT purposes, the year of manufacture will be recorded, to prevent the vehicle being exempt from MoT testing if it is over four years old. An SVA Certificate will be required to register the vehicle. An MoT Certificate will also be required if the date of registration indicates that the vehicle is over four years old. The date of registration will be determined from the date of registration of the donor vehicle as indicated on the V5 registration book. In cases where the registration book is not produced the date of registration will be the current date and the date of the oldest component as shown on the receipt will determine the year of manufacture.
Kit converted vehicles are the only category allowed the use of an altered chassis/bodyshell from the donor vehicle without registering under an automatic Q mark. This has been introduced as a concession to the specialist kit manufacturers.

3. Where there are insufficient parts from the donor vehicle or the donor vehicle is unknown a Q mark should be allocated. An SVA and MoT Certificate will be required.

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Questionnaire Results

What boasts 61,617cc, costs £171,250 to build, travels 99,300 miles each year and costs £7442.79 to insure?
The Ulster Kit Car Club!
A recent survey among club members revealed the following.

With engines ranging from 918cc Honda Fireblade to 4200cc Jaguar, the average engine is 1781cc. 1600 and 2000 Ford Pintos seem to be the most popular. With projects varying in cost between £600 and £25,000, the average build cost is £7784.

The average mileage (based on insurance policy limits) is 3203 miles per year, with 1500 and 3000 mile limited mileage policies being the most popular, although a few members have unlimited mileage policies. Insurance premiums average out at £240, with the lowest premium being £77. Interestingly, of those who indicated with which company they were insured, 16 were with E.A. Davies in Glengormley, 8 were with Osborne & Sons, 3 with Adrian Flux and 3 with Graham Sykes. This shows quite a change from a few years ago when most of were insured through Osbornes.

Replies to the most ingenious or unusual component used during the build included expected items like 20 litre jerry cans for Locost fuel tanks and coffee tables / bathroom door veneers for dashboards. I also remember one of you using catches as used on containers for Apache helicopter gunship missiles to secure a Westfield bonnet. However this question brought out the comedians, with nominations for common sense, the cheque book, your own brain (would that be ingenious...or unusual...), and other members who helped you. One member was prepared to commit to paper that his ingenuity centred on finding the extra £2000 to complete his project without the wife knowing.

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Technical Tips

Cortina suspension - Hunting around the scrapyards in vain for Cortina front 'uprights' for your project? Don't forget to check for the old Hyundai Stellar. The Stellar was based on Cortina suspension, so this is another source of oft-needed uprights, discs and calipers, and they'll be a lot fresher than 20 year old 'tina bits. As the whole car is based on Cortina suspension it could be used to donate suspension for a Cortina based kit. Does that make the Stellar a Cortina based kitcar?

Ford front brake upgrade -The Mk2 Escort, Cortina and Capri all used what is known as the M16 front brake caliper. The 2.8 V6 Capri (and possibly the older 3.0 V6 Capri?) had vented discs and calipers. These are a straight swap for the standard M16 setup, though may require the caliper to be spaced out from the original mounting point. These may not be much more powerful, but will resist fade better. This mightn't be a concern with lightweight roadsters, but may help with larger kitcars based on the older Fords. Another old trick here is to use the four-pot calipers as found on the old Austin Princess if you can find one. Some modification is required I believe.

Ford rear brake upgrade - this usually involves a swap from drums to discs. Westfield executed the conversion using Mk3 Escort discs combined with Sierra rear calipers (which provide the handbrake mechanism). The calipers mount on a plate which bolts to the axle at the brake back plate (now redundant) mounting points. It's the kind of thing you can design and have machined up yourself. This was also a recognised conversion on V6 Capris. Bear in mind that the hubs may need to be turned down by a few millilmetres to allow the disc to fit. I'm not aware of any problems with this setup, but there's always a danger of 'over-braking' the rear when you upgrade. Most Fiestas,Escorts, Sierras,etc. and I believe the Mini, are fitted with a rear-brake limiting device which limits the pressure that can be applied to the rear wheels, hence preventing rear wheel lock-up. The device seems to be nothing more than a chamber, mounted at an angle, through which fluid flows.The chamber contains a large ball-bearing, which under deceleration rolls forward and uphill within the chamber to close off the rear brake line, preventing further fluid pressure increase. Using one of these devices carried on an adjustable plate, you could fashion an economical brake-bias device. The adjustability in the plate allows for fine-tuning of the device's angle, so controlling brake line pressure to the rear brakes. Short brake hoses connecting the device to the solid brake lines allow for adjustment of the device's angle. There are those who say that drum brakes are adequate at the rear of a lightweight sportscar, but even here you can upgrade. Sierra drums come larger on the 2-litre model than the 1.6, and I recently read that Mondeo 2.0 drums are a bit of an item.

Steering column - Often a kitcar requires an extended steering column to feed the input to the rack. Ford and Austin/Rover have at times shared the same 32 point spline connections of these parts. The Allegro and easier to locate Maestro and Montego have a neat little lower-column, which consists of a short shaft with a compact universal joint on either end. These can be cut and lengthened to the correct size to connect a Ford rack to a Ford 'upper' steering column, or in Westfield's case, A Montego column. Please note that this is a safety critical item. Don't butt weld your extension, make sure to sleeve it and if you're not convinced of what you're doing, get it done by someone who does.

Heaters - if you're going upmarket with your summer fun and fitting a heater, size, as they say, matters. Often there's not much room under the scuttle for your average donor heater box. Before spending £150 with Europa for their heater kit, there are some donor heaters you could try. Mini boxes have been popular but are a little limited. The Land Rover Series 2 (I think) unit is compact and can easily be bought new from Landie mail order specialists. I've seen the Renault 5 series 1 and VW Polo units suggested as they're nice and small.

I read a good one the other day about soaking fittings in neat vinegar to dissolve rust off them. I don't know if it works, but let us know if you try it.

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Ford Pinto ignition upgrade

Are you running a Ford Pinto engine, and would like to update your ignition system ?
Those of us whose cars use a Pinto engine from the Cortina/Capri era will be familiar with the "contact points" system of ignition. However, since the Sierra was launched in 1982, a variety of electronic-based systems have been employed in those models which use the same basic Pinto engine. These vary in complexity, the later, more advanced systems having at least some element of control over the carburettor or the fuel injection system.

However, this feature is concerned with the simplest of the Pinto's electronic systems, the Inductive Discharge System, and how you can fit it to your own car to improve your ignition. The Inductive Discharge System comprises a distributor, an electronic "black box", and, as always, a coil. Although the distributor is special to this system, you will find that it's nothing more than an ordinary unit, complete with mechanical and vacuum timing advance/retard devices, but with an electronic trigger in place of all the fiddly points gear. The black box therefore does little more than amplify the signal it receives from the distributor. This system really offers the best of both worlds to the car builder. It offers reliability and freedom from maintenance to those (eg. me) who dislike points ("Set 2 bits of bendy tin with a third bit of bendy tin. Precision is essential."), where points suffer from a degradation of performance over time. It also offers minimal involvement of electronics for those (eg. me again) who mistrust the electrickery which goes on in the black box (ie. the average kit car builder can't fix it if it does go wrong.) In addition, there is very little wiring to the system - this makes it very easy to retro-fit, either to update an existing points system or to simplify any one of the more advanced electronic systems fitted to the Pinto (for instance if the original carburettor or injection system is not being used.)

So here's how to perform the conversion. Find a donor Sierra fitted with a carburetored 1600 or 2000 Pinto engine. There are a couple of different ignition systems fitted to these. On the nearside inner guard in the engine bay you will find the black box. One type is about 6" square and about an inch deep the other is about 3" X 1.5", much shallower and mounted on a slightly larger metal base plate. We're interested in the smaller box. (The larger box is the electronic module for the over-complex ESC II ignition system). Take the black box (complete with plug and a fair length of the wiring), the distributor (with plug and wiring again), and the coil. It is possible to remove the three units from the donor car, while keeping all the wiring between them fully intact. This will make the installation in your own car all the simpler.

On your own car, fit the coil and distributor as before, and mount the black box somewhere in the engine bay away from excessive heat, potential fluid leaks, etc. All that remains to complete the fitment is to connect a few wires. These are described below, but first there are a few points to consider depending on which ignition system you are replacing. Where you are replacing a traditional contact points system, the connections detailed below complete the conversion, but remember to cut back and insulate the (now redundant) low tension lead which previously went to the points distributor. Where you are replacing your donor's ESC II system, the mass of sensors, relays, multi-plugs and their wiring must be removed. In reality, this is a simple process due to the fact that the system is very much self-contained, with the minimum of external connections to the rest of the loom. Cut out everything in the system to leave a brown wire and a green wire to connect to the plug of the replacement system as shown.

Brown - Earth
Green - to coil negative terminal, or if your car is fitted with a tachometer, you can connect this wire to the wire that runs between the tacho and the coil.
Black/Green - common cranking feed. Connect into the circuit between the ignition switch and the starter or connect to the appropriate terminal on the starter.
Black - common ignition feed. Connected, toghether with the coil positive terminal to any point that is live when the ignition is switched on.
Black/Red & Green/Yellow both connect to the multiplug on the distributor.

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Electric Cooling Fan Conversion

Is your car's engine cooled by an engine-driven fan? If it is, there are a number of reasons why you should consider changing to an electric fan.
Firstly, you are reducing your engine's efficiency. The fan is usually fitted to the front of the water pump, and is driven, along with the pump, by the fan belt. There is an element of drag created by the fan's rotation in air, the degree of drag increasing with engine speed. This drag must be overcome by drawing power from the engine. Although the water pump must still be driven, it has been claimed that the removal of the fan can release as much as 4 or 5 bhp to do what it should be doing - moving your car along the road ! O.K., so you're not into bhp figures. The constant operation of the fan means that it may be over-cooling your engine. At times when your engine is below normal operating temperature, i.e. after starting and during the winter, the fan's operation hinders the engine from reaching operating temperature. This results in prolonged use of the choke (increasing fuel consumption) and the possibility of increased engine wear due to the lubricant taking longer to reach its optimum temperature. Consider the case of cruising at high revs in top gear. The engine fan is rotating at great speed trying to draw in air, when the vehicle's forward motion through the air should be sufficient to cool the water in the radiator !
Not least of our considerations is one of space - many kit cars simply don't have room in the engine bay to accommodate the engine fan.
So, assuming you have decided to fit an electric fan, how do you go about it? There are aftermarket kits available (such as those from Kenlowe) but, as always with kitcars, there is a cheaper way to do it. All you need to carry out the conversion is an electric fan, a thermostatic switch, to tell the fan when to switch on (and off), and some wiring along with a relay. The breakers yards are full of cars with electric fans as standard, but do try to find one that will be reasonably powerful, as many of them look rather weedy. The 6-blade fan fitted to 1.6 Fiestas, Escorts and Orions, and those fitted to some Peugouts seem very capable. If your radiator is wide rather than tall you could consider fitting 2 smaller fans from something like a Fiat Uno / Panda. Also, consider the space available for fitting the fan in your car, and whether the fan 'blows' or 'sucks' (i.e. sits in front of or behind the radiator). Spin the fan by hand to check the bearings in the motor, and if possible try the fan on a battery if one is available. As far as fitting a thermostatic switch goes, there are three options you could consider :
1. Fit a switch from the cooling system of a production car into a short length of pipe which can then be fitted into the radiator hose. These switches are threaded to fit into the radiator or a thermostat housing, so you will need to find a fitting to accept the switch and weld this into the pipe. It may be difficult to find matching parts, so this is maybe not the easiest option.
2. From your local plumber spend £10 on a thermostatic pipe switch which can be strapped either directly to the radiator core or the radiator top hose (this has a slower reaction time because the heat has to penetrate through the hose). These switches sense the temperature through a base plate and also have the benefit of adjustment, via a dial, for the desired temperature setting.
3. If you run a Ford crossflow engine, you can take the thermostat housing from one of the later, front-wheel drive crossflow-derived engines (HCS series) as fitted to Fiestas, Escorts and Orions. This housing has the thermostatic fan switch fitted to it and can be fitted in place of the original item. However, the outlet to the radiator is at a different angle, so you may need to modify the existing hose or find a more suitable one. The electrical connections for the conversion are as shown on the next page. Be careful to connect the fan motor connections the right way round, otherwise the fan will blow air forward, away from the radiator. It is recommended to use a relay to switch the fan along with fuses for protection. Remember to use cable suitable for the application - most electric fans draw a considerable current.

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