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Learning how to build Lotus Seven replicas...together!
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 23, 2012 11:04 pm 
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I've been lurking on this forum for years and thinking about how I'd like to get cracking on a Locost project of my own. Over that time, I've been deliberately focusing my time, energy and any spare $ on the 'big' stuff (wife, house, job, awesome new baby boy, etc.) Recently though I'm wondering if maybe it's time to, ahem, shift gears.

Here's what's changed: my wife's 02 Mazda Protege5 recently failed an inspection due to rust through the wheel wells and into the unibody. My mechanic says that this isn't uncommon in Mazdas where we live in rural New England, The Land of Bountiful Road Salt. (Although, yeah, I still feel like a horse's arse for not washing the car more in the winter time.) So now I've got a 10 year old Mazda with just under 120k miles on the clock, fully paid off and worth very little just sitting in my garage.

I don't have much experience with automotive work, but I'm very comfortable with disassembling and reassembling complex machines. I've got a decent if rudimentary set of tools. I'm handy and relatively fearless when it comes to fixing broken things, remodeling the house, etc. I have a good sense of my own limitations, and I'm willing to learn what I don't know but need to. With all that in mind, below are the questions I'm asking myself. I have so much respect for all of the regulars here, I would really like to hear your honest insights. Thanks in advance!

    *Would it be worthwhile for me to start parting this car out and selling parts, keeping what I could for the Locost and using whatever is sold to finance the bits I need to buy?
    *Does my lack of experience mean that the challenge of disassembling and parting out a car would be so frustrating that I'd be better off just seeing what I could get for it down at the wrecker's yard?
    *How much of the mechanical components might I be able to keep and use? (I've been doing my homework and it looks like my FS engine is not going to mate up to a Miata transmission...and while the car is in good shape, it's FWD and I haven't read anything about ANY RWD transmission that'd mount to it...so this idea is probably a non-starter, I'm thinking.)

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2012 2:18 am 
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How are your welding skills? That kept me out of the game for years. After I took a welding course and got a welder, I started buying steel and cutting up tubes. Even then I wasn't sure I was building a Locost, and it wasn't until I got a donor that I started to feel like I was really going to do this.

Building a Locost is a huge commitment. How much of a commitment is probably different for everyone, but you won't know until you get started. That said, I think you'll be at a real disadvantage if you try to use the Protege as a donor. At least for your first Locost.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2012 5:06 am 
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You might want to take a look at http://www.grabercars.com. While the build community is small, the car is designed around a FWD setup moved to a mid engine configuration. I believe the plans are based first generation MR2 suspension components, but you may be able to adapt the plans to use the bits from your Mazda. You would be off the beaten path with new challenges to work through (and probably limited support), but the end result might be a very fun car.

Alternately, if I was really after a locost and looking for the easiest and most direct path to success, I'd probably sell off the Protege and look for a Miata to build from. The reduction in complexity and available support would probably be well worth any financial difference.

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2012 5:17 am 
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Kurt's Midlana is a little more of a universal fit for fwd drivetrains... He's a regular contributor here, even a build log: viewtopic.php?f=4&t=3740 or swing by www.midlana.com, a forum started up for builders using his plans. The body is more 7ish, if that's what you were going for.

Kartracer47 has a nice, detailed build log on here of a monocoque(?), 7ish mid engine car using the MR2 drivetrain. Plenty of helpful folks here to assist at any time if you have questions...


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2012 6:10 am 
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I've thought about going the mid-engine route, but it seems to me that the 'traditional' Locost route is much more well-traveled. I've got Ron and Keith's books and those are the designs I've put the most effort into learning about, so I definitely feel more comfortable following a chassis design that's been built and tested many times over rather than striking out on my own on my first attempt.

My welding skills are...let's just call them "rusty." Taking a course and building up some more experience are definitely in order for me before I start cutting tubes for the car. I've always wanted a trailer for my riding lawnmower, that and a build table seem like decent practice projects... :D

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2012 8:01 am 
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Good morning Jober-
Sorry to hear of the demise of the Mazda... But it seems to have kick-started your Locost ambitions, so maybe some good will come of it. (Or some really fun "Eee-ville"!!! :twisted: )

There's a valid argument for both sides of your coin, I think. (Uh-oh, here he goes again... :mrgreen: )

Side one is, take what you've got, in this case a FWD Mazda drivetrain that's paid for, and build around it. That's a big part of the "Locost Philosophy" after all. You can figure out how to build a middie using those components while you practice your welding.

Side Two: It's easier to do a more basic 7-clone type of Locost, especially with a Miata donor. Lots of previous builds to draw from, lots of support for the Miata components as far as hot-rodding or just replacement bits. Conventional wisdom would dictate that this is the easiest type of build to finish, because it's such a well known path.

Sleep on the build type, think about it. Listen to the voices in your head. (If you don't have any now, you will, just start building!) If I were in your place, I think I'd go with the middie, but that is hardly a recommendation. (Nobody ever said I was bright...) It just seems like it would be more fun to use what you got in some unique fashion, totally your concept and (mostly) your design. While not every build in here will be relevant, the concepts used in building a "standard" chassis as far as material size/type and triangulation are the same. The design of the front suspension is the same, no matter where you put the engine, same is true of brakes and steering. And you're halfway there, got the engine/trans/axles/hubs/brakes/etc sitting in the garage.

Either way, I think your next step is to get a welder and do some practicing. Keep us posted on the build, I know I'll be waiting to see what comes of it... :mrgreen:

Good Luck!
:cheers:
JD Kemp

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2012 9:10 am 
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Why not get a welder, patch up the holes in the Mazda and go for another round at the inspection? If it's still running well and just a few holes... Take the money you would have spent on a new car and put that towards exactly what you really want to do. No sense going for a bad compromise just because you happen to have cheap parts.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2012 9:12 am 
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Jober, welcome to the group. MA's new SEMA-based law went into effect last year. So this is a good time for builders in MA. Whether you decide to build a traditional (is there such a thing?) Locost or a middie may have an effect on your licensing, insurance, permitted use and emissions. First, decide what car you want when you are done. Then decide if the Mazda fits that bill. The cost benefit of using the existing Mazda is somewhat negligible. Most "cheap" Locost builds come in costing around $5-10K by the time you are done. Saving a few hundred bucks at the beginning by using your donor sounds good now, but it is wasted savings if you end up with something you'd rather not have.

In MA, if you build a Locost, it would be titled as a "Custom vehicle" and be exempt from emissions testing. It would also qualify for Hagerty (or other company) specialty car insurance. A middie, not so much. Probably end up being registered as a "specially constructed vehicle" and you'd have to meet emissions requirement for the year of the engine. Do some research. Read the laws and ask some DMV people. Don't take people's first hand experience as FACT. Some things emission related just changed on April 30th 2012. Make your decision before you decide to get rid of the Mazda. If you build a Middie or the Locost, then I would recommend that you try to keep everything related to your Mazda. You will never know when you will be scrounginfg thru the wreck for the odd bolt, fuel pump, or wiring bits, or seat belt mounts, or.....

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2012 6:04 pm 
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dilbert wrote:
Why not get a welder, patch up the holes in the Mazda and go for another round at the inspection? If it's still running well and just a few holes... Take the money you would have spent on a new car and put that towards exactly what you really want to do. No sense going for a bad compromise just because you happen to have cheap parts.

Great suggestion. It may not work quite as well if the wife is already planning on a new car, though.

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2012 7:25 pm 
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erioshi wrote:
dilbert wrote:
Why not get a welder, patch up the holes in the Mazda and go for another round at the inspection? If it's still running well and just a few holes... Take the money you would have spent on a new car and put that towards exactly what you really want to do. No sense going for a bad compromise just because you happen to have cheap parts.

Great suggestion. It may not work quite as well if the wife is already planning on a new car, though.


Yeah, with the little guy here, the Protege5 just isn't big enough for us (we also have a terrier and a 91 lb. greyhound - I don't want to contemplate making the 4+ hour drive to grandma's in that little rattletrap). We're thinking perhaps something in a Ford Escape later this year. The Protege5 is just on the wrong side of old'n'busted to be of any more worth to us. The question now is the best way to get rid of it. For me, this really translates to whether or not the experience to be gained by dismantling the car and getting what I can for the components is worth the time and hassle over just selling it to the local salvage yard.

Thank you all for your thoughts, it's very helpful!

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"To build may have to be the slow and laborious task of years. To destroy can be the thoughtless act of a single day." ~ Winston Churchill
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PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2012 7:42 pm 
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I'd put an ad in Craigslist disclosing that the car won't pass inspection and why, and then probably ask 2/3 of going rate for a basic driver in so-so condition. Any buyer then knows the situation and will probably be buying it for parts, or to move it out of state. At any rate you've made a full disclosure and may get a few more dollars than you expected.

While parting a car may ultimately net you a bit more cash, it takes time, and you have to deal with lots of different people asking about the condition of things like the ash tray, door panels and seats - hoping that they will be perfect. And then you get to store all of those parts somewhere in the garage until you find just the right buyer for everything you're not willing to send off to the recycler with what is left of the shell. Speaking of recyclers, they tend to be direct competition for every part you are planning on selling. While you can make some money off parting a car, it tends to be work as opposed to easy cash, unless the car has a strong community around it and parts are becoming harder to find.

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2012 8:16 pm 
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Thanks again, I think that's exactly what I needed to hear. I can guess the reaction I'd get if I told my wife that I would be storing car parts and a shell in half the garage for an indeterminate period of time....

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"To build may have to be the slow and laborious task of years. To destroy can be the thoughtless act of a single day." ~ Winston Churchill
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 25, 2012 12:54 am 
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Jober wrote:
I've been lurking on this forum for years and thinking about how I'd like to get cracking on a Locost project of my own. [/list]


To start building Locost, first thing to do
is to have a place to build the thing,
a garage , in case it rains or snows, and
one has some spare time to spend on
the project.

Here's example of a decent clean garage
to use, by building our own dream car.

http://www.egmcartech.com/2012/04/13/vi ... -elevator/

Cheers, and welcome to the club

Ewhen (not to be taken seriously)


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PostPosted: Wed Apr 25, 2012 9:25 am 
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The escape isn't that big. It's a small SUV, so you're going to have maybe a slightly larger amount of room with a kick in the pants MPG difference.

What about selling your car, and YOU drive the Mazda. Then the wife gets whatever car she's lusting after and she's happy, and you can use the excuse of driving an older car and spending money on your locost project. :D

Don't forget to read this thread also:
viewtopic.php?f=2&t=1035


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PostPosted: Mon Jul 30, 2012 11:07 pm 
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Three months later, still no progress to report. But...I think I'm closer to starting...!

A good friend of mine at work is a fellow gearhead, and he and his buddies have a garage where they work on modifying their Subarus and a 280Z hillclimb/auto-x toy. They are willing to let me into their little club, and are also interested in building a Locost of their own. So I've probably got the space and tool issues more or less sorted. The Protege5 is still taking up space in the garage but will be gone soon, and I've got a line on a...let's just say "well-loved" '91 Miata. I'm going to try to talk the seller down tomorrow from his $1500/obo ask (which includes the hardtop...please, nobody tell him how much that's worth!) If that all works out as I hope it to, I'll buy the car from him this weekend, sell the hardtop to my friend from work, and will have the donor for about $250 or so. Which, hey, can't beat that with a stick.

So I've just about ticked off all the boxes for starting my build: space*, (more) tools, donor (or donors, if the P5 counts for anything), some guidance from folks with more experience than me. My last question mark is about parting out the Miata. I thought I'd invest in a shop manual for help in dismantling the donor, but the relevant Haynes manual has lousy reviews on Amazon.com. Do any of you have a better suggestion for a Miata reference that you found useful during the teardown phase?

Thanks in advance. I'm itching to finally start a thread in the 'Builder's Log' forum!

*I'm a little concerned about not having everything here at my house, but I'm thinking now that after I get the frame largely welded I can take the time to move it from the garage to my place. I've got a decent-sized garage here and an accessible basement shop, so a lot of the non-fabrication, assembly-type work can be done here. That's the plan, anyway....

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I'm an English major. You do the math.


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