Building Your Own Race Car or High-Performance Vehicle

Building Your Own Race Car or High-Performance Vehicle

Automobiles first began with the DIY (Do-it-yourself) car builder. The first designers and builders had experience with mechanical devices and machines, but the art and science of car design had yet to develop. The first road cars and race cars, as can be seen from the photo below, were evolutions of horse-drawn carriages. Although the automobile’s initial purpose was horse-less transportation, the competitive urge soon took over.

First American auto race, circa 1895 in Chicago

First American auto race, circa 1895 in Chicago

Would-be race car drivers and budding automobile enthusiasts had the desire to build these new “Horseless carriages” and to race them and win. They wanted to build the fastest machine to do it. They used the body of mechanical knowledge and the latest technologies of their time and began to innovate to find a speed advantage–better handling, better braking, more power!

Fast forward to today, and almost everything you need to know about designing and constructing a car, even to the level of a Formula One race car, has been written or documented somewhere.

You therefore have the knowledge within your grasp to design and construct your own car, whether it be for racing or for personal pleasure. With time, dedication and hands-on experience, you can make your own home-built car dreams happen!

Why do people build their own car?

There are some great reasons to build your own car:
 

  1. You want to improve on an existing car design – Cars are a constantly evolving breed. New technology, new materials, new ideas come along all the time and they create genuine opportunities to make a better car by modifying it.
     
  2. You want to build a prototype of a whole new type of car – Sometimes you have a dream to make a whole new type of racing car or sports car or off-road machine or hybrid go-kart.
     
  3. You want to learn about car engineering – Studying a subject gives us the knowledge and confidence to try it. Often the journey to building a car begins with you just wanting to learn.
     
  4. You want to be a race car driver – The world’s greatest race car drivers have been noted for their engineering prowess. Bruce McLaren, Junior Johnson, and Jack Brabham all knew how to put together a car and their cars and championships prove that point.
     
  5. You’re on a budget – Sometimes the car you’d like to build is just way beyond your budget. A strong knowledge in car design and a willingness to do the construction work yourself can save a lot of money over purchasing even a modest purpose-built race car. When we talk about the price and uniqueness of Supercars, the DIY approach is probably the only way most people will step into a car capable of compressing their eyeballs. The bonus is that in the end you’re smarter and you own the tools to do the job.
     

Is building a car difficult?

There are many different types of race and custom, high-performance cars, each with its own build difficulty level. As a general rule, the level of challenge increases the further you get from a stock production automobile.

The most basic racing or performance car can be had by modifying your own personal car. When raced, this type of race car is often referred to as an “Autocross/Solo race car” because only one car is allowed on track at a time. The competitors race in similar cars but against the stopwatch instead of on-track at the same time. This minimizes the danger of damage and injury.

SCCA Autocross car (top) and Stohr F1000 formula car (bottom)

SCCA Autocross car (top) and Stohr F1000 formula car (bottom)

For a reasonably low investment, Autocross racing enables you to learn mechanics, hone your driving skills and have a great time. The design and construction includes modifying your car within the rules to have optimum performance so it is a great place to start as an aspiring car designer. Plus you can still drive it on the road assuming you don’t make illegal modifications.

At the other end of the spectrum is the scratch built car. Examples include formula cars, supercars, drag racers, off-road trucks, sprint cars and stock cars. For an amateur builder, this type of car typically uses a custom fabricated steel tube-type chassis covered with custom metal or fiberglass bodywork. The challenge level of design and construction is usually much greater than customizing a production automobile, but the performance that you can achieve is amazing as well.

There are also what might be called “kit cars”, which blend do-it-yourself assembly with pre-fabricated chassis and components.

 

The keys

Here are some keys points to remember if you want to be successful at building your own car:
 

  1. Learn – The more you understand about vehicle physics, about car components, about materials, and about the options available to you, the better the car you’ll build. Ask questions–the knowledge of others can be just as helpful as that found in books.
     
  2. Keep Organized – Keep good design notes and keep a tidy workspace. The hours you save searching can be used for building!
     
  3. Be Patient – No personal imperfection has lost more battles than impatience. Persevere and you will succeed. Quit and you fail.
     
  4. Grow – Always view setbacks or difficulties as opportunities for growth. You’re smarter after.
     
  5. Enjoy yourself – Involve your family, kids and friends and make the project a part of your life–not the whole of it.
     

Good luck to you on your project! Building your own race or high-performance vehicle is indeed a special accomplishment to be proud of!

750Racecars

Amateur built 750 Racers from the UK (Photo from 750 Racer: Everything You Need to Know About Building and Racing a Low-Cost Sports-Racing Car book by Peter Herbert/Dick Harvey)

P.S. If you need help, we’ve put together a new forum, where like-minded amateur designers can come to post questions and answers.

Post your questions and we’ll try to help out. Sign up and join in today!

Continue to “Learning About Cars”…

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