Home » Choose Your Own Misadventure: 1958 Locost 7 vs 1954 LaDawri Conquest

Choose Your Own Misadventure: 1958 Locost 7 vs 1954 LaDawri Conquest

Sbsd 10 13 2023
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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:

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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.

“1958” Locost 7 – $10,500

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Engine/drivetrain: Turbocharged 1.8 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, RWD

Location: El Cajon, CA

Odometer reading: unknown

Runs/drives? Yep!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

1954 Ford/LaDawri Conquest – $9,500

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Engine/drivetrain: Ford Y-block V8 of unknown displacement, three-speed manual, RWD

Location: Garden Grove, CA

Odometer reading: unknown

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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67 Oldsmobile
67 Oldsmobile
9 months ago

I really like the ladawri thing. Sure it’s a lot of work,but if everything is there it might actually we worth something one day. And it will look awesome with a body-colored dash and tan interior.

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
9 months ago

Oooooh, that LaDawri is my kind of weird. Look at how swoopy it is! How can you not love that cool little design?

Austin Vail
Austin Vail
9 months ago

I voted for the LaDawri because it’s just interesting, I like it. Could easily build that into a fun street rod, though I think I’d go for something that looks like it could’ve been a production car at the time… but featuring more modern suspension so I could get away with tossing it around corners. Basically a Miata that looks and sounds like a 50s concept car.

Last edited 9 months ago by Austin Vail
Anoos
Anoos
9 months ago

I’m pretty sure I have a CA18ET at my parents’ house if someone buys the locost and is looking for parts. No guaranteeing anything, but also not charging anything. My S12 enthusiast years were about 25 years ago at this point.

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
9 months ago

LoCost!

Inthemikelane
Inthemikelane
9 months ago

Both would be a lot of work, but if you have the money, the time, and the space, it would be an adventure. I’d go with the LaDawri. I too had never heard of them, looked it up, and the restored versions I saw were attractive. I’d have to see if there was a different power plant for it, maybe electric would be interesting.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
9 months ago

Both really a win for either or both. But I love heritage so the old Ford pulled my vote.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
9 months ago

One of the rare cases where “both” would be a reasonable choice.

The LaDawri is a really cool looking car but so much work is needed and the parts may be difficult to impossible to source, particularly that windscreen.

On the other hand the Locost is a known quantity and can be enjoyed immediately and as-is. A very good friend of mine has a Locost he built from scratch per the famed book and using a 2.3 Pinto engine. It’s a lot of fun and because of the low weight much pleasure can be had with relatively low horsepower. The example here looks like a more advanced build than my friend’s, but still a tractable situation for DIY work.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
9 months ago
Reply to  OrigamiSensei

My bet is that locust kept costlo by using a preexisting windshield. Finding out what may be harder than finding one.

Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
9 months ago
Reply to  OrigamiSensei

A friend of my dad had one she’d built out of a Triumph Dolomite Sprint. It was hilariously fast, so I shudder to think how quick this thing is

Drive By Commenter
Drive By Commenter
9 months ago

Locost. Little car, big engine and no nannies. What could go wrong?

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
9 months ago

Aside from DEATH, nothing… nothing at all…

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
9 months ago

Death is slightly less scary when accompanied by delighted chortling

Hoonicus
Hoonicus
9 months ago

Bah, just be comfortable with the fact that you are piloting a four wheeled motorcycle. Got to take a spin in one, and boy howdy are they fun! Definitely disconcerting when a truck tire towers above in traffic though.

Nic Periton
Nic Periton
9 months ago

The LaDawri, please. The Locost looks nice but I have a Caterham already (if I can prize it loose from the relative who borrowed it for a weekend, she failed miserably to tell me which weekend, and now wants me to ‘lend’ here the money for a 620R) the swoopy thing would be fun to make into a sort of cartoon version of itself.

JDE
JDE
9 months ago
Reply to  Nic Periton

I wonder if the plastic fantastic body work could be cut to fit that caterham. that would be something I suppose

Nic Periton
Nic Periton
9 months ago
Reply to  JDE

I suspect that it is quite a bit bigger, Caterhams are really really small.
I was thinking more sort of early hot wheels, impracticably big V8 with velocity stacks. Purple mirror-flake with orange flames, jacked up rear and stupidly big tyres at the back. A parachute where the licence plate should be and chrome wheelie bars way out back. My inner ten year old would love it.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
9 months ago

I’ll take the Locost for obvious reasons.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
9 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

But the Locost is actually the more expensive option here…

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
9 months ago

But, but Locost!!

Looking at that Conquest I’m sure that when all the needed work is done the Locost will be the locost option in more than just name only.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
9 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

But a real Cheap Bastard would be able to fix that Conquest with some baling wire and duct tape!

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
9 months ago

A real Cheap Bastard is drawn to the siren call of locost like a moth to a flame.

Sklooner
Sklooner
9 months ago

The Ladawri sold 2 years ago for around 3k and looks like some work has been done to it, they use a GM truck windshield turned upside down so that isnt a big problem, the issue is the fit and finish on that septic tank quality body

Austin Vail
Austin Vail
9 months ago
Reply to  Sklooner

Nothing a little large quantity of bondo and a few many hours of sanding can’t solve!

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
9 months ago

I’m going Locost. I’ve always been a fan of them, and this one is actually a pretty decent build using parts that are still attainable with the RX7 rear suspension and Nissan motor rather than harder-to-source-parts setups like a Jag suspension or some MG/Triumph motor setup.

The LaDawri is interesting, but the level of work still remaining on it requires someone with passion for it, and I’m afraid I can barely muster a “meh” for the styling and setup of it.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
9 months ago

Kit cars? Bummer, I thought you said kitch cars and got all excited. Wait, yes, yes, OK these both still qualify. I’ll take the weird one.

A. Barth
A. Barth
9 months ago

Locost, please!

Overall it is much more sorted than the mini-Batmobile (Robinmobile?), even if one of the spares is a new wiring harness from Amazon.

Also I would Plasti-dip it in Force Teal and call it Low Car.

Data
Data
9 months ago

Na na na na na na na na Batman. The Bruce Wayne special requires to much work so I went with the Locost. Maybe it’s just me, but one of the wheels on the Locost appears to be turned outward while the other one is facing straight.

Stig's Cousin
Stig's Cousin
9 months ago

I like the Locost. It looks like it would be a fun vehicle to drive. Also, I prefer a kit car built from scratch to a kit car built by adding a fiberglass body to a butchered donor car. In my experience, modifying a vehicle almost always makes it worse. Kit cars based on a modified donor chassis inevitably look cooler than they drive, and many of them don’t look particularly cool.

The price seems a little high for a rough amateur-built vehicle, though. I would be much more interested in this car if it were closer to $6,000.

Cheats McCheats
Cheats McCheats
9 months ago

What a great choice everyday this week. I got to go with the locust on this one, it’s pretty much ready to go. Just to much custom work needs to go into the batmobile.

Gubbin
Gubbin
9 months ago

The reason I put the year 1958 in quotes above is that that’s apparently what it says on this car’s title.”

DMV is like that sometimes. I knew a guy who built a scooter out of a lawn tractor and some angle-iron, named it the Scootmaster. When he went to title it as a homebuilt, the clerk said, “that’s actually kinda difficult, but if you tell me it’s a replica of something, that’s pretty easy.”

So he titled it as a replica of a 1953 Scootmaster.

A. Barth
A. Barth
9 months ago
Reply to  Gubbin

There was a helpful DMV employee??

Gubbin
Gubbin
9 months ago
Reply to  A. Barth

You’d be surprised. I’ve had good experiences with WI, OR and WA DMVs. A DC DMV employee was very helpful once by telling me, “you can actually do this without dealing with us, and you’ll be better off that way.”

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
9 months ago
Reply to  Gubbin

Arizona is a delight to work with.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
9 months ago
Reply to  A. Barth

My guess more lazy than helpful but whatever works.

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
9 months ago

Unless the Locost is a 1.2:1 scaled up version, I probably couldn’t fit in it.

I have neither the talent or the time to complete the LaDawri, but since we’re using imaginary money, I’m going to image I have enough of both to get it running.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
9 months ago

Speaking as a 6-foot / 235 guy with broad shoulders the Locost has plenty of room; more than a Miata in my experience. I wanted a Miata, didn’t fit right in an NC leg-wise or shoulder-wise (said car admittedly had been caged for track use).

ExAutoJourno
ExAutoJourno
9 months ago

Not sure I’d drive a car I fabricated all by my lonesome, and I definitely wouldn’t drive one cobbled up out of unknown parts by some anonymous human.

The La Dawri is fairly attractive — I remember seeing one of two in SoCal over the years — and the parts underneath are at least familiar. Also, they’re replaceable with other old parts. Getting this finished and on the road would be pretty straightforward.

Either would have to be totally stripped before any kind of use, if you ask me. The La Dawri to repair/replace/shine up old Detroit parts, the “Locost” to make sure the builder actually know how to weld and replace suspect pieces.

Realistically, I wouldn’t take either, but the fiberglass Swoopymobile has more upside for me.

Toecutter
Toecutter
9 months ago
Reply to  ExAutoJourno

I’d take either of these over ANY new car available today. I can actually work on them without investing in tens of thousands of dollars worth of tools. Making one of these vehicles even more reliable than a modern car would be childsplay, IMO. I say this as someone who built a 91 lb vehicle that has racked up more than 70,000 miles…

ExAutoJourno
ExAutoJourno
9 months ago
Reply to  Toecutter

My caveat is that either would take garage space, tools and money to put right. At present, I’m short of all three. Take away those constraints, and I’d be more interested.

The La Dawri could certainly be made reliable. There’d be less wiring for the whole car than a modern car has in one door, and those ’50s Ford parts are just about eternal.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
9 months ago
Reply to  Toecutter

And you WILL have to work on them, a lot more often than you would a good modern car.

Toecutter
Toecutter
9 months ago

If I only want to restore and drive as is, the LaDawri.

If I’m going to customize the crap out of it, the Locost. I’d totally build a streamliner coupe body for it, and then do an EV conversion.

JDE
JDE
9 months ago
Reply to  Toecutter

Eh, just buy a Caterham then. the glory of this little home built terror is the gas motor in this case.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
9 months ago

BIL had a Locost that was somehow titled as a 67(?) Lotus with an S2000 motor. Very quick with sharp handling: I voted Locost

Nycbjr
Nycbjr
9 months ago

Bring back the neither option lol, oye this hurt my head today, I voted the lowcost but man-o-man I’d rather have a escooter than either of these!

Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
9 months ago

Wow, the LaDawri is super cool. But its level of finish means it’ll be a lawn ornament for a while. Plus, Sevens are the biz. We’ll take the Locost.

JDE
JDE
9 months ago
Reply to  Geoff Buchholz

Kind of depends on if you have a big bank account and want a unique riddler car built I suppose….and since most of us are not that, the drivable sketchy, but titled lotus with Japanese heart seems like an especially good deal.

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