Almost since the automobile came into existence people have modified, tweaked and transformed their cars. For years — noticeably the period between the 1950s and 1980s — car enthusiasts and wrench turners around the world took fairly benign cars like the Volkswagen Beetle, Austin Mini and Citroen 2CV and turned them into amazing kit car creations.
Tightening rules surrounding crash tests and emissions have put some pretty tight restrictions on what hobbyists can and can’t build. And as cars have become more complicated, it’s become harder to turn something mainstream into something special due to all those extra onboard computers, proprietary connectors and locked-down control systems.
Yet at the start of last month Volkswagen unveiled a concept build on its new MEB electric car platform. A platform with which it intends to build a whole host of electric vehicles. A platform so designed that putting any number of different vehicle bodies on top should be easy. A platform with the motors, battery and control systems built into the chassis.
Which got us thinking. Could The Volkswagen MEB toolkit make kit cars possible again? Yes… but there are some caveats.
Much of the Internet is abuzz with the news that the Delorean Motor Company is, sort of, rising from the dead. Although there were promises back in 2012 to produce a short run of 100 mile capable electric Deloreans (a promise made by a Texas branch that sadly never came to fruition), the ‘new’ Deloreans are likely conventionally fueled and only possible thanks to legislation currently in committee in the USA. H.R.2675 exempts small scale manufacturers from the challenging requirements of crash testing and some safety requirements — as long as the company is not producing more than 500 vehicles. (Keep a note of that, because it’s important later on).
There are some rather complex stipulations that surround that, one of which is the means of motive power. Although exempted from certain crash and safety regulations, the vehicles must still meet emissions requirements. In the case of Delorean, the new cars will be somewhere between the original vehicle and replicas, fitted with new engines from an as yet unnamed supplier. Sadly DMC seems intent on sticking with gasoline, at least for the time being, despite some really great all-electric Delorean conversions out there. One even drives itself.
So the DMC-12 lives again. At least, they’re hoping to build around 300 of them. But what about other cars — specifically kit cars built in limited numbers of less than 500 cars?
The legislation as it is currently worded is pretty restrictive. At present it would only allow replicas of existing types of vehicles produced at least 25 years ago. So if you wanted a replica Austin Allegro, you’d be grand. But build something new? That’s not happening. There is a push from some areas of the auto industry to expand the law, ever so slightly, to allow small volume vehicles other than replicas. And at Transport Evolved we hope that happens.
Let’s look at those kit cars of previous decades again. Most commonly a glass-fiber body with a steel ladder chassis, you’d take a sickly or accident damaged car, strip it down to the components you needed and stick them into your kit. Thus, you could take your half-dead Volkswagen Beetle and turn it into this:
It was a way for people to get something that looked sporty for not much money. Granted, cars (as a proportion of income) are much cheaper now, and that is certainly a factor that’s played into the demise of the kit built car. Another is obviously the sheer complexity of modern cars. A quick bit of googling reveals a number of LEAF based home builds, of varying quality, a result no-doubt of the easy availability of crash-damaged Nissan LEAFs. But whilst individuals are trying to build conversions, there are no Nissan LEAF based kits. But although they may be working up to be the new Beetle in terms of easy availability, Nissan’s EV platform is complex and appears difficult for aftermarket engineers to work with.
The MEB platform from Volkswagen looks different. The simplicity of the proposed structure, and Volkswagen’s desire to utilize the MEB platform in a wide variety of vehicles suggests a form factor that may be relatively easily twisted to the desires of the kit building industry.
And despite a certain wariness about poor quality kits and potential shoddy home-building standards, more variety in the availability of EVs has got to be a good thing. The kit built market has always filled niches that conventional manufacturers were unwilling or uninterested in filling. So perhaps it’s time to look forward to more obscure lumps of glass-fiber flying up the freeway.
Do you want to see a resurgence in kit cars? Or is are you concerned by the safety implications of cars that have little crash testing? Let us know in the comments below.
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