Wednesday, May 27, 2020

So why a kit car?

This blog is to document the build of a my kit car. I have a Factory Five 818S on its way to me, and this should give me an easy way to keep people informed of my progress as I go to building it. Maybe I will learn something along the way, or maybe someone else will, by reading about my mistakes and frustrations. Or maybe I'll get frustrated and pack up the blog here before the car is done. If my past performance is any indication, that's the more probably outcome. So hey, welcome, for as long as it lasts.

But why a kit car in the first place? There are all kinds of good cars out there, and these days, they are more powerful, more reliable, and safer than they have ever been before. I mean, it just blows my freaking mind that anyone with a decent credit score or piles of illicit cash can just walk onto a dealer lot and drive away with 400, 500, even 700 horsepower. And that's not even the exotic marques. Freaking Dodge will sell you a 700HP car, with a factory warranty, just for having a pulse and knowing how to sign your name. That's just nuts.

So clearly, there's something out there for everyone. Or you would think so, anyway. But I looked high and low, and test drove a few things, too. I looked at trucks, Corvettes (C5s and C6s are dead cheap), muscle cars, old cars, JDM cars, quirky cars, mainstream cars... Probably my favorite of all of them was the current MX-5 Miata, though; it's just the distillation of perfect to drive. Not a ton of power, but you just don't care because it's so good.

But I slowly came to realize that I wanted something a little unusual in some way. Fast would be nice, but there are lots of other dimensions of "unusual" I thought about. One of the cars I looked into was a Chevy SS. That's a Holden Commodore, imported from Australia, and with the lion badges swapped for bowties. It's a completely bland-looking midsize family sedan, which they happen to have put a 6.2L V-8 in. And they made it with a manual gearbox, too. But they are rare in the US, and they are priced to reflect that.

I wanted something which maximized the fun of actually driving. I don't have kids, so I really only need two seats at the most. My commute, when I started this whole process and actually had one, was only eight miles, so I don't need a high degree of creature comforts, and fuel economy doesn't mean much. If I need big things, I already have a pickup truck. If I need four seats, my wife's car works fine. And I am keeping my current daily, an Acura RSX-S, as a standby.

So despite a boatload of good choice, I just couldn't find anything that really sang to me. Nothing gave me the gotta-have-its. Nothing was the right kind of bonkers. And the Miata was a little too practical.

So, I ended up choosing the 818. Factory Five calls it the 818 because that was the design weight - 818 kilograms, or about 1800 pounds. It uses a 2002-2007 Subaru WRX as a donor. As a donor, it makes 227HP and weighs about 3200 pounds. And despite the tight emissions laws here in California, I expect to be able to turn it up to 275HP or so, depending on a variety of things. And it ought to corner quite nicely. Some people have reported that their 818s corner in the vicinity of 1.4g of lateral acceleration - but that was the race variant. I'm still expecting well over 1g.

It's definitely bonkers. And it's definitely not practical. It's going to be amazing.