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Philip Maynard: Locost plans and donor hunt.
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Locost plans and donor hunt. · Nov 14, 12:15 PM by Philip Maynard

This is a Lotus 7 clone:

Colin Chapman made the 7 at Lotus back in the sixties. It was a front-engined, rear wheel drive sports car. Since Chapman made it, it was very minimalist and light weight. The design is so good they are still being made (by Caterham, who now owns the rights to the 7), and are widely copied. Companies like Brunton and Westfield make pre-fabbed kits that bolt together with some donor parts, like a Factory Five kit. Prices are comparable to the Five as well – pricey.

The origin of the 7 clone is the Locost. Ron Champion wrote a book entitled “How to Build a Sports Car for £250.” Obviously published in the UK, this book told how to scrimp and save on your way to building a 7 clone from an old rwd Ford Escort. £250 is a hard target today, mostly since the WWII surplus Champion used has dried up. Most builders end up at least $5,000 in the hole at the completion of a street-legal Locost. I am convinced that a sub $1000 Locost is possible, but that’s largely from buying parts as a donor car and parting it out, recovering more than was spent.

Coveland Motorsports makes a frame (not really a kit at all) that saves the time and effort of building your own. For under $3000 they make one that is specially designed to work with a Mazda Miata donor. Since the whole point of the Locost is bolting a light drivetrain to a very light tube frame, the Miata is a great choice. 130hp is nothing special in a 2200lb Miata, but in a 1200lb Locost it’s quite a rush.

The Coveland frame has brackets for all sorts of Miata parts, such as engine mounts, differential, e-brake, and more. This bracketry work is a real pain, since it has to be very precise. Using a jig, Coveland is able to use economies of scale to make a frame that sell for about twice what it would cost me to make, but is of better build quality, and available anytime. It also saves me hundreds of hours of labor and means the Locost will be ready to drive many months sooner. It certainly goes against the grain of the Locost idea, and pushes the total cost towards $7500.

The donor is key. There are millions of Miatae (Miata-geek plural of Miata) out there, and many are the first-gen 1990-1997 models. From 1990 to 1993, Mazda used a 1.6L engine with ~115hp. From 1994 to 1997 they went to a 1.8L mill with 130hp, as well as a stronger rear diff with optional Torsen LSD, bigger brakes, wider wheels, and a couple other nice things. Early cars can be found with around 150,000 miles and in generally drivable shape for $1500 with some hunting around. 1.8L models are hard to find under $3000, even if you’re willing to drive. Miata parts are quite valuable, and wrecked cars are tough to find.

A 1.6L Locost will be palpably slower than a 1.8L model, and has a rear diff that does not handle abuse well. For these reasons I’m hunting for a 1.8L donor car, preferably with Torsen. Finding one is proving to be a real challenge, and I may jump on a 1.6L model if I find a good donor.

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