Nailing a couple of pieces of wood together is easy. So is basic servicing on a car. Even sewing is simple, if you have all the tools! But building a motor from scratch is a different matter.
I used to think making kit cars was for people who liked spending a lot of time in their garden shed. But then I saw how much pride some owners got from their projects, and decided to take one on myself.
After doing some homework, I set my sights on an MEV Rocket, which is manufactured by Mills Extreme Vehicles of Mansfield, Notts. It’s an imposing-looking thing with its jagged jaws and open chassis. But it’s also fairly simple to build – I thought I could handle it with my enthusiastic mechanical knowledge.
It’s said around 80 per cent of kit cars are never finished – but as soon as I got started, I was loving it! MEV recommends Ford’s original Focus as a donor car for the Rocket’s engine and drivetrain, so I started sniffing around online. While the MkI Focus is cheap as chips now, I only wanted solid components – so I scoured auction site eBay.
After a few minutes, I found a 1.8 Zetec for £800. Its paintwork was damaged, but otherwise it was sound as a pound. Perfect!
Separating the engine and drivetrain from the car proved tricky, though – not a job I could do in my workshop. So I called on the services of Nationwide Autocentre in my home town of Banbury, Oxon, to help out.
Chief mechanic Andy Rose came round to my gaff, and after his usual cup of tea, he started disembowelling the Focus. The engine and drivetrain were out in a jiffy, and he even helped to drop the unit into the Rocket.
With the engine in place, my car was on course. The floor was riveted on, the radiator plumbed in and the suspension fitted.
My run of good luck wasn’t to last, though – even a confident grease monkey like me can’t do everything! The trouble started when the wheel bearings needed pressing into the hubs. A club hammer and pliers just don’t get the job done. Not even my TV mechanic mate Edd China could help, as he’s up to his neck in restoration projects for our latest series of Wheeler Dealers. So back I went to Nationwide.
Chief mechanic Andy got back on the case and pushed the bearings into the hubs within minutes! I was so impressed that I got his team to fit the steering column and route the electrical system, too.
Several more trips to the garage made me realise even the most complete of home workshops aren’t always up to the job. So I loaded the project on to the shoulders of Andy and his crew at Nationwide, who took to it like ducks to water.
But not everyone can rely on such a supportive team – and this is why so many projects aren’t finished. There must be hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of kit car components gathering dust in garages across the country.
Still, I was determined not to be beaten, so every chance I got to visit the mechanics and my Rocket, I went armed with packets of biscuits and pizza (bribery really helps!). Within weeks, it was resembling a proper car. The biggest appeal is the Ariel Atom looks without the price – an MEV kit starts at £3,500, before you count the cost of the Ford Focus donor!
With the car nearly ready, I browsed through component catalogues to settle on the lights, indicators and so on to finish it off. This is the best bit.
Only the wiring loom was left. Now, I’m good at wiring a plug – I can even change a light switch! But the miles of spaghetti that spewed out of the Focus terrified me. The Rocket has no electric windows, power-steering, air-con, sensors, heater fan or central locking, so most of the loom is redundant. I thought we’d need a Harvard mathematician to sort this lot out – until Andy started to chop away with his pliers!
A week later, Nationwide rang to tell me the Rocket was up and running. I was ecstatic. But the whole thing has taught me a valuable lesson: unless you’re handy with a spanner and you’ve got the time to devote to a kit car build, you’re best leaving it to the experts.