Good morning, Autopians! It’s Friday the 13th, traditionally an unlucky day, but I have never put much stock in such ideas. My wife and I have three black cats, and I used to work as a house painter, so I have walked under a bunch of ladders. I figure if you just stay away from summer camps, you’ll be fine. For today’s Showdown, I’ve found one car that will take some luck to finally put on the road, and one you’d be lucky to keep on the road. But first, let’s see whether you chose the yellow Bird or the blue monster yesterday:
Chalk one up for the Sin Bin! Yeah, all that blue velour has probably seen some things, but it’s actually not in bad condition, all things considered. And I agree with the commenters who said that the custom van craze needs to make a comeback. Can you imagine an Odyssey or a Pacifica decked out like this? It might just be what the world needs.
Now then: I’m sure you’ve all heard that silly catchy “Dumb Ways To Die” song, which, believe it or not, started out as part of a public safety campaign in Australia. Driving a car built in someone’s shed isn’t mentioned anywhere in that song, but maybe it should be. I’ve found two such cars, one recent build with way too much power and nowhere near enough structure, and one from the ’50s that was never finished. Either one could be deadly if you’re not careful, but they could also be a glorious ride to Valhalla, all shiny and chrome. Or just fun cars to tinker with in your garage on the weekends. Let’s check them out.
Engine/drivetrain: Turbocharged 1.8 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, RWD
Location: El Cajon, CA
Odometer reading: unknown
The Lotus Seven, a bare-bones sports car designed by fabled automotive minimalist Colin Chapman, was such a perfect design that it is still in production sixty-six years later, albeit no longer a Lotus. Like many other classic purist sports cars – Porsche’s 356, say, or the Cobra – it has spawned any number of copies and kit cars based on its design. An enthusiast named Ron Champion took it one step further, and wrote a book detailing how to build a Lotus Seven-like car from scratch, for cheap, hence the name “Locost” (low cost). Brave and resourceful sports car lovers all over have taken the idea and run with it, resulting in vehicles like the one you see here.
Unlike typical kit cars that are built on an existing chassis, a Locost is a true scratch build, with a steel tube frame constructed from plans. Suppliers of pre-made frames have come and gone over the years, but if you can weld, you can do it yourself, and that appears to have been the route taken by the builder of this car. Champion’s original book suggested a British Ford Escort as a suspension and drivetrain donor, but since those Escorts are now collector’s items in their own right, they’re far too valuable to hack up to build something like this. This car uses Ford Mustang II front spindles and brakes, a Mazda RX-7 independent rear end, and a Japanese-market Nissan CA18DET four-cylinder engine – overkill for this featherweight car.
The engine runs well, and the car is drivable, but it does need some work yet. The seller has an air-to-air intercooler ready to install, as well as a new wiring harness. These sound like improvements rather than necessary repairs; I think you can enjoy this car as-is and tinker with it at your leisure.
The reason I put the year 1958 in quotes above is that that’s apparently what it says on this car’s title. The Lotus Seven came out in 1957, but the Locost concept didn’t come around until the mid 1990s. No idea how they got it titled as a ’58. Maybe better not to ask, and just roll with it.
Engine/drivetrain: Ford Y-block V8 of unknown displacement, three-speed manual, RWD
Location: Garden Grove, CA
Odometer reading: unknown
Runs/drives? Engine runs, not drivable
One of the best things about writing this feature is finding a car I’ve never heard of, and learning about it. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I end up falling down a research rabbit hole and taking twice as long to write it. Such is the case with LaDawri, a kit car manufacturer I had never heard of until now. The brainchild of Les Dawes and Don Wright, LaDawri started out in British Columbia but moved to Long Beach, California in 1957, right down the road from where this unfinished Conquest roadster was found.
Information on LaDawri online is pretty scarce, but from what I gather, LaDawri kits were designed to be able to fit on a number of chassis. This one rides on a 1954 Ford sedan chassis, and is powered by a Ford “Y-block” overhead valve V8. The size isn’t given, but if it’s the original ’54 engine, it displaces 239 cubic inches and puts out 130 horsepower. If this doesn’t sound exotic enough for the Conquest’s swoopy body lines, remember that the Corvette of the same age rode on a basic Chevy sedan chassis and was powered by a “Stovebolt” inline six and a two-speed Powerglide automatic. At least this car has a three-speed manual. The engine runs, and it sounds like the car moves under its own power, but obviously you can’t drive it quite yet.
This kit car was never finished. Its body is still raw unfinished fiberglass, and its interior is pretty much nonexistent. From the photos, it looks like someone has been tinkering around with it recently, trying out different wheels, though the ad states it will be sold with plain steelies. It’s also missing a windshield, and I don’t know what car the windshield was supposed to come from. It might be hard to find the right one. The seller appears to have two of these cars – there’s a green one in the background in some photos – so they might be able to help.
I have to say, I really like the styling of this car. It has a sort of Batmobile vibe to it that’s really cool. It’s a hell of a project, but when it’s done, you can drive it just about anywhere and be virtually guaranteed to have the only one around.
It takes a certain special type of person to want to build a kit car, or scratch-build one. It’s always more work and more money than you think it will be, and despite the various ecosystems that have grown up around such cars over the years, you’re still very much on your own when something goes wrong, or needs finishing. If you are not that sort of person, you can just vote based on which one you think looks cooler, or something. If you have always wanted to build a kit car, however, here are two good starts for you. Which one will it be?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)