When most of us think of kit cars, I think we tend to think of someone’s dad in 1979 trying to bolt a fiberglass MG TD replica onto a Volkswagen Beetle pan in a backyard, possibly with lots of swearing. But there were other options! Well, not many, but a few other cars had some interesting kit car options, like the Mini Marcos. These were interesting little cars, made from 1965 to 1970, and used the running gear and plenty of parts from a normal BMC Mini. Let’s start the week by just taking a moment to contemplate these novel kit cars, why not?
The Mini Marcos got its start when a British test pilot named Dizzy Addicott bought a five-pound damaged Mini van (like a Mini, but with a slightly longer wheelbase) and put a more aerodynamic body on it, with the intent to take it racing.
Dizzy called his creation the DART, which stood for Dizzy Addicott Racing Team, and this formed the basis for what would become the Mini Marcos. These little GT cars were quite attractive, I think, even if the rear quarter was a bit awkward, though that just adds to the charm, at least to me. It’s interesting how little they actually looked like the sacrificial Mini, too.
The Marcos kit swapped steel for fiberglass, since it was a kit car, and because the Mini was a unibody car, the method of construction differed from the air-cooled VW-style kit cars. Where a VW kit car would involve removing a Beetle’s body and plopping a fiberglass one in its place, the Mini-based kits involved removing front and rear subframes from the Mini, the front of which contained the while drivetrain, and slotting those into the fiberglass body. You can see what I mean here, from a Mini Marcos brochure:
Of course, not all the dimensions were the same as the original donor Mini, so Marcos helpfully provided a conversion kit, so all of your cables and wires were long enough to reach what they needed to reach:
I bet that was really helpful to have. Why didn’t they just include it with the kit though, and jack up the price eight pounds? Were there really people out there who thought it’d be more fun to have to figure out how to get longer speedo cables or all of those “pip rivets?” That seems like a colossal ass-pain.
My tired eyes got my brain wondering if it was John, Paul, Ringo or George who drove a kit car.
But is the Mini Marcos related to the Marcos GT, which used Volvo I-6 and Ford V-6 for power?
Great write-up, Jason!
Now you need to look up other kits as well. I suggest:
*Brubaker Box (VW donor)
*EMPI Sportster (VW donor; this predated the Manx by at least five years, and was seen as a DIY Jeep. The body is metal, not plastic or fiberglass.)
*Kelmark GT (VW donor)
*Bradley GT (VW donor)
*Spex Elf (Gen 1 Honda Civic donor, and it’s actually a cute mini-roadster. And it’s from Canada!)
Also consider the K1 Attack, using a Honda Accord as a donor.
Also: Herb Adams VSE Jackrabbit (VW Rabbit donor)
An Australian option was the Bolwell Ikara – Holden /Isuzu Gemini front suspension and VW Golf drivetrain/front suspension fitted out back.
Aerodynamically, the Marcos GT was a massive improvement over the OG Mini. Drag was cut by at least 1/3.
If I had the money and resources, I’d love to design my own kit car. But the focus wouldn’t be copying some supercar or on creating some silly hypercar aesthetic. I’d be seeking to build the most aerodynamically slippery sports car I could. A CdA value of under 0.25 m^2 and keeping the finished vehicle weight under 1,500 lbs could allow you to get a whole lot of performance with very little horsepower. And then there’s the potential for 100+ mpg fuel economy depending upon engine selection. Imagine competing with modern Ferraris, Corvettes, and Vipers at the track with a 1.9L TDI engine, even when it comes to top speed, and then getting 100+ mpg in normal street driving. Or only needing a $5,000 battery pack to get 200 miles range as an EV. Or being able to put a Hayabusa engine in this thing and just slay everything.
Various kits were around in the 60’s for FIAT 500’s, although they were mostly tuning kits. The most popular were Giannini and Abarth. Abarth’s kit is still available from FCA to convert a classic 500 to a 595, less the Jager speedo. From what I understand they were fairly easy to install?
I think the 2CV had a somewhat decent number, too.
I get that kit cars mostly went out of fashion due to modern unibody cars being unsuited for use as a base, but it would be kind of cool if someone were to maybe do fiberglass front clips like what Mitsuoka offers for the Miata. Make your Toyobaru look like an Alpine or something
I like many aspects of the Miata Italia kit. Get rid of the stylized front vents and make a breadvan/coupe roofline for the rear end and it would be very much to my liking.
The 2CV was a popular basis for Morgan 3 wheeler style cars since the engine was suitably motorcycle like, the base car was cheap and FWD simplified chassis construction. The 2CV was also the basis for the Afrikar
I think kit cars are the sirens of the gearhead world, luring the unsuspecting onto the rocks of frustration and disappointment. “Come closer, you too can have a (insert desirable model) for the low, low price of this kit, plus a (insert cheap model) chassis and juuuust a little sweat equity.”
Weeks/months/years later, the poor unfortunate soul has perpetually bleeding knuckles and a sad copy of what they were going for, and it drives and sounds like a Beetle or if they’re lucky, a Fiero. In the latter case, they have to look at a Fiero dash every time they get in.
I wonder if one owner ever finishes a Kit Car start to finish. When I was 12ish, early 80s, my father and I bought an unfinished Cobra Kit Car to be finished when I was 16. This was pre internet and led to many junkyard trips to find parts. Fast Forward 4 years of blood sweat, arguments and tears, and the Cobra was passed on to the next owner with stars in their eyes. One thing I always remembered is the Assembly Manual was not included with the purchase, you had to buy it separate.
It doesn’t qualify as a kit car, as it was only ever made in factory, but from the illustration, I’m getting some Manic GT vibes (which at least was an economy car platform with a pretty fibreglass body on top). Learning the whole reason for it existing was “what if Alpine A110, but cheap” does seem suitably Canadian.
Considering the 2000 or so Corvette drive train being relatively reliable long term even with miles, and the shear number with front end damage at Copart, I am kind of surprised there are not complete kit cars that utilize the base.
I dunno, does a lift kit with offroad rims and tires count as a “kit car”? BYO sawzall.
Thanks to Hardcastle and McCormick, I did kind of lust after a Mantra Montage kit car. But the Fierri’s and Lambero’s of the time made me think otherwise.
Ha! We were talking about this in the Slack this morning, mainly because I posited the coolest eighties action/adventure series car was the Coyote X. I would love to build one to out Radwood the Radwood wankers.
I’ve been on this Coyote kick for a few weeks (partly because of my recent column on the other website), the proper kits seem VERY rare, but I found this which went to auction a couple of years back and didn’t sell:
Oh hell yes. I’m all for it. Daily that shit!
Avery Shoaf built one with a 5.3 FWD LS out back. I would want to remove the AFM and use a tuner setup to make it a bit better, but it was still kind of rad.
At the risk of having Toecutter agree with me (an act which will surely bring about the end of times) that feels like too much of a lump of an engine for a lightweight kit car. It would cock up the balance.
I read somewhere the Montage weighs only about 1900lbs, so it won’t need a lot to move it smartly. I’m thinking Rover/Buick V8 which is what the listing I posted has. That engine is all alloy and is very light.
What ten year-old me wanted was a Lotus Seven kit. I seem to recall them being advertised in a U.S. car magazine or two, but never heard of anyone actually buying one. I’m sure one or two people did….
In the U.K., the OG Lotus Elite was also offered in kit form. I read an article in a Brit magazine about some guy who assembled one. Didn’t seem to take all that long or require any special tools beyond an engine hoist. It was suggested that the complete car be taken to the factory for a check-over after completion.
My parents said “no,” logically enough.
Current day me wants a Seven kit. Wife said no, need a new furnace. Sometimes it sucks to be an “adult”.
Can you compromise on the furnace situation by offering to build the kit in the basement with the understanding that at some point it may very well catch on fire?
Let me guess. Wifey also demanded an expensive status-symbol SUV or crossover as part of your vehicle fleet instead of settling for a used minivan? If so, that difference in cost would likely exceed the cost of the 7 kit AND the new furnace combined!
Buy the furnace and install it yourself. That should run 1500 bucks max. A heat pump (large room sized, not whole house) would cost the same, and be cheaper to run.) Then get the Seven kit. Both of you have the right to be happy. You can tell her that the Seven kit came included in the box with the furnace.
The UK had an enormous kit car scene, being blessed with fairly liberal regulations, and a steady supply of poorly-rustproofed donor cars thanks to the damp weather and salted roads.
The real backbone was Ford -starting just after the war with specials using the “Popular” chassis and mechanicals, then the Anglia, then in the 70s, the Escort.
Mark 1 / 2 Escorts, a rotten example of which could be had for very cheap, could be combined with kits would let you turn in to a Lotus Seven-alike, an SUV, or almost anything inbetween.
A Mini Marcos was raced (and finished) at Le Mans in 1967. It must have been interesting (or terrifying) to be going down the Mulsanne straight at night doing 100-120mph while being passed by Ford Mk IV’s and Ferrari 330P4’s doing around 200mph.!
Edit it didn’t finish gearbox failure caused a Dnf.
I have vague memories of these, but there were lots of manufacturers of kits in the 1950’s & 60’s in England. IIRC there were sizable tax saving in a kit vs. a complete car and various manufacturers offered kit versions or actually got their start producing kits and went on to whole cars. Life was simpler and safety regulations were rudimentary. (-:
There were a fair number in the US, too. Most were of the “here’s a sweet body, go find yourself a chassis” variety, like the Devin SS.
I know someone who owns a Devin SS. I’ve always wanted one since discovering them as a kid in 2000. Smallblock V8 in a lightweight package. Just can’t go wrong with that… It’s like a miniature Shelby Cobra, years before the Cobra existed.
Is it that much smaller than the Cobra? Actually looking at Supercars.net the Cobra was shorter overall and in wheelbase, the Cobra was taller, which in my opinion makes the Devin better proportioned/better looking.
I was thinking more in terms of mass, not volume.
The mini Marcos was cool but the GTM kit was awesome. It took the front subframe and stuck it out back so it was mid engine.
I wondered what that mid engined mini Marcos looking thing I saw one time was. I just assumed some magnificent bastard had looked at a mini Marcos kit, said, ‘Right! Not good enough!’ and set to work.
Having looked at the GTM, it turns out I DID see a Mini Marcos someone had fettled to be mid engine. This was in Cowley in Oxford in the 90s, so it could well have been some mad Rover engineer who built it.
I’m not sure which I like better:
Today’s culture of “full send” driving
Yesterday’s culture of “full send” aftermarket engineering.
I think yesterday’s culture of “full send” aftermarket engineering was primarily a scenario involving British cars. They are very much Rube Goldberg machines.
People did a lot of odd things with VWs, Jeeps, Mustangs and Pintos, just for starters.
Conversion kit is for people that don’t need a speedo? Doing something different? More racecar?
I pulled the front subframe out of a classic mini once. It was 8 or 10 bolts, then 2 other guys picked up the body by the wheel arches and walked it away like a wheelbarrow. That left the entire drivetrain sitting there, from wheels mounted on the suspension to the stick.
I never dropped my subframe completely out, but I did once lift the engine of mine, just enough, with a strap around my shoulders and some anger so my wife could tack my cracked motor Mount back together. I’ve moved a body shell before and would say the body almost felt lighter than that engine, so I can totally see the benefit of lifting off instead of lifting out.