Many gearheads share a common dream. It usually started with Legos, or maybe an Erector set when we were knee-high to a grasshopper, and then it graduated to plastic model kits in our teens. We would sit there for hours, painstakingly painting details and gluing parts together to build a model car. However the process began or culminated into the dream, that dream on many gearheads’ bucket list is to build a kit car in our own garage.
Kit cars actually go back to more than a century ago, but in the 1970s when they were more popular here in the U.S. a kit car typically involved a VW chassis and a fiberglass resin body that bolted onto the floorpan. These kit cars were often sports cars and they were relatively inexpensive to purchase, with the builder providing the rolling chassis. These kit cars were easy to work with, but they were typically limited to the air-cooled four banger, suspension, and drivetrain from a VW.
As the concept of kit cars progressed, so did the platform and body kits for the Pontiac Fiero made the scene. We saw everything from Ferraris to Lamborghinis, but let’s face it: you can put a Bugatti Veyron body kit on a Fiero, but at the end of the day you still have a Fiero.
Thankfully, there are alternatives to the donor chassis kits, and complete kit cars can be purchased from companies like Factory Five Racing (FFR). FFR provides the enthusiast the ability to build a complete kit car with a crate engine V8, or even a V8 from a donor vehicle, to install in an FFR chassis. One of the most popular kit cars in the country is still going strong after several decades: the Shelby Cobra.
When Cobras first rolled out from Carroll Shelby in the 1960s, they were costly and many people couldn’t afford them. Today, a real Shelby Cobra will set you back the cost of a small house in Southern California. FFR makes ownership of a Cobra replica much more affordable, and their Mk4 Challenge Car is the basis for building our own dream: Project FFR Cobra Jet Challenge.
The name “Cobra” is owned by Ford, and as such it is not typically found on many kit cars – they’re called something other than a “Cobra replica”. Factory Five Racing builds the Mk4 as close to the original Shelby Cobra with regards to length, width, and wheelbase, but in an agreement with Ford they don’t use the Cobra name. It’s a minor detail, and one that most enthusiasts both understand and respect.
Building The Dream
Factory Five offers complete or partial kits with the chassis, less the engine and transmission, with several options to choose from. For us, building the dream means just that: building it. The dream we share with other gearheads reaches more and more garages every year because kits like this are affordable.
We attended the 7th Annual Huntington Beach Cruise-In last year and there were dozens of beautiful kit cars filling in a four-block area just off the Huntington Beach Pier. If you ever thought about getting a Cobra replica and you want ideas from other builders – Huntington Beach is the place to be, and the 8th Annual Cruise-In just concluded so you have a whole year to plan for it.
Project FFR Cobra Jet Challenge is being built in a home garage instead of our own Power Automedia shop. Having the car built in the shop is, in a way, cheating the dream. Having someone else build the car takes all of the fun out of it; the pride and satisfaction of building your own kit car is something few of us get to experience and we will be bringing it all to you through our build page. In this entry, we’ll focus on building the chassis and delivering our kit car to us.
Before you can build the dream, however, the components have to be put together and packaged for delivery, and that takes us to the computer where the design was first laid out in SolidWorks. With the design finalized, each tube to be welded is pre-cut to length and shipped to FFR and stocked in the warehouse with all other kit components. Each aisle in the warehouse is laid out for the specific model, and the staff gets a packing list and starts shopping for the car ordered.
The chassis begins with 1020 DOM mild steel tubing with a .120 wall thickness. Because this is a Challenge car, a cage is added to the Mk4 kit to add safety and strength. In addition to the cage, the fuel cell is a bit larger and therefore there is additional supports to protect the fuel cell and also to support the additional weight. When the chassis parts are pulled, the tubes are bent and shaped, then welded into position on a jig. We asked Jim Schenck at Factory Five Racing to tell us a little about the chassis and how they’re built.
“All of the chassis are built on a jig and we do check them from time to time. Since we’re using laser-cut aluminum panels, all of our test fitting helps to assure that the chassis is true and the jigs haven’t been moved,” Schenck said. There are two or three people who work on each car, with one or two of them working on the main frame.
Each kit takes up to eight weeks from the time it is ordered until it’s put on the truck for delivery, turning out about three cars each day. During that time frame, each team will assemble the kit and performs the MIG welding. This method is quicker than TIG welding, and allows the teams to work quicker, which keeps the cost of the kits down.
FFR takes into consideration that attaching flat aluminum panels to a round tube might be a bit cumbersome and it makes panel alignment difficult. To make panel fitment easier, they use square and rectangular tubing where panels are mounted; primarily the floor and the rear bulkhead. Once the chassis has been welded, it spends up to ten hours on a rotisserie where the panels and other components can be lined up and test fit for accuracy.
The aluminum inner panels are laser cut by a CNC machine, but all of the bends are done on the sheet metal brake and are test fit to the chassis. Any panel that doesn’t fit perfectly is trimmed or modified to fit before it’s sent to the customer. This is a car that you build – not fabricate – so FFR spends dozens of man hours making sure that when you get your kit you won’t have to break out the shears and modify the thick aluminum panels.
All of the chassis are built on a jig, and we do check them from time to time. Since we’re using laser-cut aluminum panels, all of our test fitting helps to assure that the chassis is true and the jigs haven’t been moved. -Jim Schenck
There are typically four or five people working on the body panels and many of the panels have three layers of fiberglass. To add strength where needed, as many as five layers of fiberglass is used on the molds. Each panel is laid separately, and when the panel is ready for trimming a robot is used to cut each panel out.
The bodies receive a red gelcoat for all of the cars except the 33 Hot Rod, which gets a black gelcoat. The quality of the gelcoat is not a finish coat, but there have been some who simply polish it up and put their car together. Schenck recommends that the bodies are treated like any other vehicle and that they’re primed and painted.
Fitting the bodies to each kit takes up to four hours; each body is carefully lowered over the chassis by two or more people and the fit is tight. Anything that creates a hindrance is trimmed to make sure that when the kit and the body are delivered to the customer they’re not going to have any problems taking the body off to build the car, or putting the body back on. It should only take a couple of people to remove or install the body onto the chassis.
When the car is ready to ship, Factory Five relies on Stewart Transport to deliver the complete kit to the customer. Schenck told us that they wrapped the trailers because they want the customer to know that the kits are being delivered by an authorized Factory Five transportation company. Based on customer orders, Stewart Transport can fit as many as 14 complete kits on each trailer, and deliveries are coordinated by region to deliver the kits.
If a customer is within 300-500 miles, we sometimes don’t have to ship the kit because they’ll come out and get the kit themselves.
About ten percent of their orders are delivered to Canada, however, kits have been shipped all over the world, including the Middle East, New Zealand, Australia, and Asia, to name a few. In the continental United States, orders are arranged with Stewart Transport to deliver to each specific region so that the same truck isn’t delivering all over the country – prolonging the delivery to customers who are further away.
The enclosed transport has a built-in winch that is used to lift the car from inside the trailer and set it down on a dolly to deliver to the customer, and each kit is delivered in its entirety with the exception of occasional back ordered parts. All of the kits are marked with the customer’s name and all additional components, such as the wiring, suspension, interior, and hardware are boxed up and marked to go with each body/chassis.
When FFR tells you that your kit is delivered door-to-door, they aren’t kidding. The kit is unloaded by the driver at Stewart Transport, and rather than leaving your car at the curb all parts are brought to your garage and stacked inside for you. The body/chassis is wheeled into your garage on the dolly; once there we were assisted by the driver to load the car onto our Bendpak QuickJack lift.
Let The Building Of The Dream Commence
The first thing to do is to go through your packing list and make sure all parts and boxes are there. Each box will have a number on it and it will coincide with the packing list. You won’t have to inventory every nut, bolt, and washer, but all parts are accounted for in each box and you want to make sure you have them all before you start. If anything is back ordered, it will say so on your shipping document.
The packing list is extensive and the instructions are a short book, providing the customer with all of the information and a step-by-step process to build their kit. As soon as all of the items are delivered and signed off, they belong to the customer and all that remains is to get busy building the dream. Like building a model kit, start at the beginning and work your way through – don’t get ahead of yourself, there’s a reason for the instructions. When the body is removed, make note of where the body bolts and spacers are located and mark them accordingly – the spacers on each bolt are for a proper fit.
Most of the aluminum panels are attached to the chassis with a couple of screws to hold them in place. The aluminum panels are fitted to each chassis, but the final installation is done by the builder. The reason these panels are held in place temporarily is so they can be removed for easy access to the suspension and other parts of the car during the build process. Being able to remove them helps with the build, and once that section is completed the panels can be attached using Cleco fasteners to hold them in place.
It’s also important to mark each panel as you remove it, and use some of that packing material to help store your panels while you build your car. We marked each panel with an arrow and location so that when we’re ready to reattach them we won’t have to spend extra time guessing which panel goes where – and which side faces out. The more effort that is made to organize the build, the smoother the build will be.
Final riveting should not be done until you’re ready to put the body back on the car, this is in case you need access to sections of the car that are covered by those panels. Included with each kit is a template that helps you mark where the holes should be drilled to rivet the panels in place. After attaching the panel with the first few Cleco fasteners, an additional fastener can be installed after each hole is drilled to keep the panel secure. The fasteners are temporary rivets that can be installed and removed easily, but hold the panels firmly in place.
The BendPak QuickJack lift is a blessing; it keeps the chassis off the ground and at a height where the car can be worked on from a shop stool. It also makes installing the suspension a little easier without worrying about unstable jack stands while the weight of the car shifts with each added component. It helps to have a double car garage, at least, to allow plenty of room to get around the car and to install components without having to fight for space.
Our build is underway, and there’s a Coyote engine sitting in the corner getting ITBs (individual throttle bodies) with plenty of ponies just waiting for the chassis and suspension to be completed. To see that part of the build, you’ll have to check out our next installment of the Factory Five Racing Project Cobra Jet Challenge Car.
Interested in building your own dream? Factory Five Racing has several kits to choose from, whether you’re into street rods, roadsters, coupes, or exotics there’s something for everyone. Check out the dream in the huge photo gallery below; it’s like building model kits again – but life size!