Hi all. If you're checking out my site because you're new to the Locost thing and thinking about starting a build I'll take time to share a few thoughts with you.
First let me say that my experience in car building is with this one car.
I am not an engineer of any kind. I am no expert so keep this in mind as you read this. If you take exception to something I've said let me know, I may want to correct it.
Use your own head and think safety.
There is a lot of misinformation on the net and some of it may be right here.
Why build a Locost?
One of the main reasons is that a middle class guy like myself can build and own a truly high performance sports car for a budget we can afford.
Some guys build one just for the build experience, the problem solving aspect of of the thing.
Some guys build one just to race it.
Some guys just want a cool looking sports car to drive around town.
No matter what you end up with a pretty cool car for a budget price.
It's also a lot of fun, both building one and driving it.
Let me mention here that my seven is intended for the street use only. I have no intention of ever racing it.
Questions you may be asking:
Do I have the skills?
There again, only you can answer that. Some builders have lots of skill and experience building cars and already know a lot more than I ever will. I, on the other hand, had never tried to build anything like a car before.
I am a builder though. I build furniture and houses and a number of other things so I haven't found it to be all that hard to do. If you can build one thing you can build another, I suppose. just a matter of approach.
If you break it down into systems, chassis, suspension, drive train, etc. it's not as difficult as it might look. All just one system at a time.
The guys on the Internet boards are a great help. Someone out there can answer almost any question you might have, and will do so.
Welding: If you don't weld yet buy a welder and take a course. Most city's have someone who teaches welding at a hobby level. It's pretty expensive to take a certification course and it's not what we really need. Most anybody can learn to mig weld 16 gauge tubing. It isn't that hard. Good penetration isn't as much of a problem as not blowing holes in the tubing is. Start by welding up a kart for your welder, a work table, a stand to build the car on so your not down on your knees working. Build a garden gate for your wife or something. I've build several pieces of steel and wood furniture for mine. It helps justify the cost of the welder and give you some practice.
Just tack the chassis as you go. You'll have to remove something for some reason along the way and it will be much easier if it is just tacked. Trust me here.
If you try to fully weld as you go the heat will distort the frame and cause problems. tack first on the corners then go back much later and permanently weld in between, skipping all around the frame so as to not over heat any one area. This is how the pros do it.
If the welding was a big problem we'd hear about these cars falling apart all the time and we don't. Go for it , no fear.
How long does it take?
I've been working on my Locost since spring of 2002, I finally finished it in September of 2011. that's about 9 and 1/2 years. I did take a year and a half to restore a Vespa scooter and another year for remodeling on our house. So that's about 7 years building.
I certainly thought I'd be done before that but there you go.
In watching the Locost North America group for all this time I've noticed most of the guys on the list have not finished their cars yet either. It takes a good bit of time for most of us.
For me, life and lack of funds kept getting in the way of my fun. I've been told that I now belong to an elite group of individuals who have actually finished one.
Don't expect this project to be finished in a year unless you have unlimited time and funds.
It doesn't help that I keep customizing the design either.
Stuff like that just takes a lot of thought and planing time.
What is a good donor?
There are few perfect donors in the US. Certainly I would consider a Miada.
Small light duty pick ups are worth looking at. Chevy S10, Ford Ranger, and Datson.
These may require the chassis to be a bit bigger. You'll probably end up sourcing parts from several cars though. It's hard not to.
I like the Stalker V6 -S10 approach too.
I'm still happy with my choice of the Quad4 now that I have been driving it. More than enough power and a real nice deep exhaust note too. It can lite the back tires if you get on it. It's a high revving engine and gets up into the power band quickly, making it a good engine for a sports car. It also fits well with a little modification to the chassis. I like the nice neat presentation of the engine in the engine bay too. Plus 180 HP and it just looks the business. As the British say.
If I was looking today for some other engine I'd look at the Miata, the Ford Zetec, and maybe the most at the all aluminum Ford Duratech from the Ranger pick up. Even the GM Ecotech.
These are all nice power plants for a Seven.
How much power do I need?
I think a hundred HP is quite enough for the car to be a lot of fun......That being said........Two hundred HP would be even more fun.
Keep in mind that the car is supposed to be a small, quick handling English sports car.
Personally I'd resist the urge to install a 300 HP V8. It will no longer be light weight or quick handling. Just plain overkill, in my opinion.
Yes, it can be done and yes it may be pretty fun on a certain level but don't be surprised if you take it to the track and a guy with a 80 HP four cylinder kicks your ass.
I think you have to make a decision up front what you want the car to be. What you will be doing with it.
If it's to be a track car build it as small and light as possible all the way.
If you just want a street car you may need it to be a bit bigger for your engine or other parts. It may end up a bit heavier as well. It should still be the best handling car you ever drove, though, and plenty of fun.
If you want it to be a small hotrod go ahead and stick that blown V8 in there. What the hell?
Your thing may be making a lot of noise while burning up a set of tires. what do they call that? drifting? Way too expensive for me but you answered the question of what you wanted the car to be. Build what you want. That's part of the beauty of the Locost.
Personally I'm building mine as a basic sports car/hotrod. I want it to drive well and be pretty good looking. that's important to me, I am an artist. I live here in south Texas where it is so flat you can see the next state from your roof................... I exaggerate a bit the curve of the earth gets in the way, nothing else.
Our roads are flat and stretch out for 500 miles in a straight line. We have no mountains, not even hills for about 150 miles.
Not really Seven country but I build one anyway. I'm not all that worried about it's handling being super, just good.
Right now, 2011, I'm living in Colorado and driving it around in the mountains had been a blast.
How much does it cost?
The book says maybe as little as about $600 US. That was a misprint,........ one of many.
Look for this project to cost somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000.
You can always make it cost more if you want.
I started out thinking I could do it for about $5,000 but I'm now much more than half way and have spent about $8500 already. I then thought I could finish it for around $9,000.
Now that I have it finished I've spent around $13,000. not all that bad for a high performance sport car.
You'd have to get a lot of cheap parts to do much under that. I do admit that I have spent rather a lot on the drive train. Purchasing and rebuilding the engine and transmission, buying a custom bell housing, clutch, through bearing, short throw stick. In all, I've spent about $4,500.
There is something to be said for using a nearly new engine and trans.
Keep tools in mind too.
I count my tools as capital investment, because I'm a builder and most of my tool expenses end up covered by jobs I'll been paid for. If you don't already own the tools it will be a significant expense, however, several thousand.
If you have little time and money, your wife is pregnant, and your building a new house this may not be the time in your life to start this project. Think carefully about this. There is a reason most of us are in our 50'S. (I read that in a poll)
I'll add a little more to the idea of time. I read an article that was talking about the percentage of people who start big projects like a car, a plane, or a sailboat who just never finish. the percentage was pretty high. Life has a way of getting our way.
This is not an easy project, by any means, and like I've said earlier it's important to decide just what you want from the car in the beginning. It seems to be very easy to get caught up in all the discussion on the web boards and start to overcomplicate the project. Pride gets in there and makes us want to build the perfect car. Keep in mind that you're trying to build a car for under $10,000. It won't be perfect no matter how hard you try. You'll have to make compromises because of the dollar amount alone, not to mention your own set of skills or lack there of. There are things that I wish I had done better but many times this was the first time I had ever tried to do these things. All in All it came out pretty nice looking and drives pretty well too.
Where I've noticed this the most is in the suspension. There have been many long discussions on how to make the perfect suspension........... perfect for what?
A fun street car and a dedicated racer will want/need completely different suspension tuning. The Lotus Seven was never designed to be a F1 car, the aerodynamics alone make that impossible. While it is possible to built a better suspension for your street car I'm not sure it serves much purpose to build more than you need. Try not to get carried away.
Yes, IRS is better than a live axle.
Everybody who is anybody is using it today, even Caterham has IRS on the new model. But the seven was designed with a live axle and it's worked pretty well for 50 years.
I doubt most of us would even notice the improvement for street use and it adds another layer of complication to an already complicated build. My point here is that it may add six months to a year to the build. Plenty of time for life to interfere with our plans of finishing the project, sometime in this lifetime, not to mention the extra cost of another set of a-arms. Think hard about this. Maybe if my donor had it and it was easy to do? the Miatas come to mind., but still???
Is the book front suspension bad?....... no, not really, but it could use a bit of improvement, since we can't get Cortina hubs here anyway and we'll have to use something else, we may also have to do some redesign to the front suspension to get:
A: the caster and camber right for our chosen spindles which will be different than the Cortina. and
B: get the front track to match the rear.
There are some guys on the English Locost Builders site, right now,(November 2005) talking about doing a redesign of the front suspension to use more world wide available parts and provide new drawings. This may soon be a good option. There are several books on suspension tuning that are worth a read for the help with modifying the front suspension, for your own needs or parts.
I found the book to be mostly general information and not very "seven specific" so don't expect them to tell you exactly how to do it.
Bump steer................. wow, is this a subject.
Lots of discussion on the forums and a good bit of it totally wrong. The problem is that several published articles and the books on the subject often seem to contradict each other. my feeling is that the writers are involved in different types of racing and the cars that go with them and that they don't exactly match a seven suspension set up. The whole thing is about getting the steering rack the right length, mounted at the right height, and the tie rods the right length and at the right angle as to not produce bumpsteer as the suspension travels.......... Whoo, that sounds easy.
So, do you need to lose a lot of sleep over bumpsteer?........I don't think so.
Most of the Sevens built to date have bumpsteer to some degree, (After all, Uncle Ron doesn't even mention it.) and it seems most of the drivers don't notice and don't care.
Just an observation, but I haven't seen any posts on the boards form anyone with a finished car who says they have a big bumpsteer problem and need to know what to do about it, not one that I recall. this seemed strange to me so I posed these questions on both the Locost North America board and the Locost USA board.
If you have a finished drivable car, have you noticed having bumpsteer?
Did you do try to design any bumpsteer out.
Is it bad enough to want to fix it?
Did you fix it and what did you do?
Of the responses I got,( only a few,) the guys had not addressed bump steer at all in the planning stages. Not one of them claimed to notice it at all. Hummmm. I don't know?
Although lots of guys said they were planning/designing to have no bumpsteer and thought they would have much better handeling cars when completed. Again, I don't know.
Collin Chapman made a design decision on this. He decided that to be able to buy a rack off the shelf, so to speak, far out weighed a small bit of bump steer. The cost of custom steering parts to completely fix the bumpsteer would be quite high. Up toward $1000 for parts maybe, new.
To have much bumpsteer you have to have suspension travel and a Seven with 300# springs just doesn't have that much travel. I see this as one of your smaller problems along the way to a finished car.
Personally, I've followed all the forum chatter and read the books and have shortened my rack to what I think is close to the right length and positioned it to minimize bumpster,.............. I think.
I now have it tuned down to about 3/8" of toe in at two inches of bump. I think that will prove to be a small amount and hardly noticeable, to me at least. (Pictures of how I went about this on the suspension page.)
I guess , after all this rambling, my advice is: Keep the car simple, get out in the garage and build it, don't over plan, keep things moving. drive the car when your done, then fix the things that need it.
Even if you were going to race, learn to drive the car to it's limits, as is, before doing much to "improve it" Most of the problem may well be your driving skills. Take lessons.
Even race cars aren't perfect, the driver learns to use what he has. That's what makes
winners. Remember, no one ever said the Lotus Seven had perfect suspension.
I know I've over simplified a bit on this. There's nothing wrong with planning just don't let it paralyze you. After all, it only goes so far in the real world usually.
If tinkering with suspension models and design on your computer makes you happy, then by all means, carry on. Design the car "you" want.
You owe it to no one to build more or less than you want or need.
If it's your first car it will not be perfect. Except this and your own limits and you have a chance of finishing the project. If not, it's sure to end up a pile of unfinished scrap taking up half your garage.
Again, just my humble thoughts. who knows, I may have to recant all this when my car rolls under it's own power, should I ever be able to finish it.
Simon borrowed some of my thoughts and format, (we seem to think a bit alike) added his own to in and has the extra credibility of having a finished car. And a very nice one at that.
His "ramblings" section is worth a read too..
Thoughts on my now finished car.
Well I do have the car finished as I write this. I have had it licensed for a year now and I've put about 3000 miles on it this year, mostly on mountain roads here in Colorado. What a blast! the Quad 4 is a beast and can really move the car along, and it sounds cool too, Maybe a bit loud though.
In the beginning the handling was a bit twitchy and it took me almost all year to get around to doing the alignment, I found a shop that does a lot of hotrods and got it tuned up. What a difference, wow, the handling is so much better now. The car is still, after all, very light so it is fairly bouncy on the road, meaning it hops around a good bit over bumps, seems to sort of, get air born in the rear.
One thing I'll say is it is very windy, I bought a leather helmet and goggles which helps, epically in the cold. Anything over about 60 gets uncomfortable with that much wind. The noise level is a bit much too. Talking is almost out of the question with the exhaust note and the wind in my ears. Still taking it around the curves is such a treat, just so cool.
Another thing is that it really draws a crowd. When I stop for gas or something I almost always get several people asking questions about the build and saying how cool it looks. People honk and give thumbs up from other cars and the sidewalk, people take pictures and say that it
looks like so much fun. I'm just amazed, even women seem to like it.
On handling, it is so light that if bounces around a bit too much over bumps. I have the tire pressure down to about 20lbs and that helped. I may have to get softer springs. I'm running 300lb on the front and bout 180lb on the rear. Still seems a bit harsh. It is fairly rattely too. there is quite a bit of body part vibration and squeaky type noises. One should take better care to isolate things from squeaking a bit more that I did. My front fiberglass fenders squawk when ever I hit a big enough bump too and that gets a bit annoying. I'm still working on these things and hope to get it better soon. It's good to be finished and driving around though.
In the year and 3000 miles of driving I had the alternator body break, and it through the belt which caused it to run on the battery until that gave out. that in turn damaged the computer (low voltage) and it was very hard to find the trouble. A number of small things have come loose from vibration so I check things often. Last month I lost the nut on one lower ball joint, fortunately I was in the parking garage going very slow. I have no idea why it came loose. My universal joint rubbed a tiny hole in a fuel line in the rear, I had them routed a bit close it seems, had to fix that. For some reason my new, Wilwood clutch master failed and I had to replace that. Today upon returning form a great blat in the mountains, (even though it was about 30 degrees up at 8000 ft),
The new alternator body broke too so I guess my tensionier, which I fabricated, is putting a strain on the body and will have to be corrected.
Just after Thanksgiving we'll make the move back to Houston for good, So no more mountain runs. I never did get the chance to drive up pikes peak, I'm very dissapointed. I was out of town when the Lotus club did the drive, and a weekend when I planed to do it alone the clutch went out.
I've had nothing but bad luck this summer on the drive front. But I still got in 3000 miles.
The flat lands of south Texas just won't be as much fun, I suspect. but I did have a fun drive today. I was pushing it some, trying the new alignment and there was no traffic at all. I drove way further than I intended, even though it was so cold. I took coal creek canyon out of Broomfield all the way to Neterland then Boulder canyon out of Neterland back to boulder then 36 back to Broomfield. Not that many miles but a lot of curves and altitude changes.
Way too much fun.