4 Of The Worst Kit Cars Ever Relied On Beetle Guts, Fiero Dreams, and Thunderbird Facelifts
Kit cars have a checkered reputation at best. For every faithful Shelby Cobra tribute blasting a big block symphony through its sidepipes, or open-air Lotus 7 recreation kicking cones at autocross, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of poorly executed fake exotics, fiberglass abominations, and strangely-proportioned 'sports cars' that dip a little too far into the uncanny valley to ever really be called attractive.
Making matters worse is that the traditional budget-focused attitude of most kit builders lead to only the most affordable, and usually, least-advanced vehicle platforms being used as the basis for these questionably-styled machines. The logic being if you can't afford the real thing, you probably aren’t willing to pay much for the bargain bin knock-off, either.
Enter now our house of kit car horrors, where we examine (for as long as our eyes can take it) four of the most unpleasant, ill-conceived, and genuinely monstrous do-it-yourself automobiles.
Any Fiero-Based Ferrari or Lamborghini Kit
The Pontiac Fiero was an inexpensive mid-engine sports car that deserved better than it got, having been let down by cost cuts at General Motors and safety concerns that weren't ironed out until it was too late to save the model.
The Fiero has also become the go-to basis for the vast majority of Ferrari replicas dating back almost until the day it was released. For most kit car designers, it was like manna from heaven: a small, cheap platform with the engine in the right place that could, if you squinted from a distance or maybe didn't turn the lights on in the garage, kind of resemble one of Maranello's finest.
The one thing that sinks even the most detailed Fiero-Ferrari kit is that the proportions are always wrong. The Pontiac never had the wheelbase to properly mimic the sleek shape of the F355, the 348, the F40, or the Enzo that it was frequently tagged in to emulate. Not even the chunkier Lamborghini Countach, another Fiero favorite, can survive being truncated by the Pontiac's platform. This means your local Craigslist is virtually guaranteed to hold at least a handful of funhouse mirror-style 'Ferraris' and 'Lambos' being sold by those whose champagne dreams have finally succumbed to their Diet Coke budgets.
EasyRods Ford Thunderbird to '49-51 Shoebox Ford Kit
The EasyRods 'Shoebox' Ford kit is one of the most bizarre offerings to have had an enduring impact on the kit car world. At its core, it grafts the front end styling of a 1949-51 Ford onto the body of a 1989-1997 Ford Thunderbird or Cougar. Then, as your eyes track down the completely unchanged, smooth sides of the FoMoCo coupe, they eventually land on what appear to be vestigial fins taped to the rear fenders. If you're brave enough to keep looking, you'll discover that the rear of the T-Bird/Cougar 'donor' has been given a new trunk and roll pan, along with oval taillights. It's a no-weld design intended to take advantage of stock mounting points for the hood and the trunk, as well as lots and lots of body panel adhesive.
All-in-all, it's one of the best examples of a half-baked idea somehow finding a market. While this is clearly aimed at nostalgic Thunderbird owners dreaming of classic looks without having to deal with restoring an older car, the end result is a car that is neither modern Ford not vintage Shoebox, but rather something that should be immediately killed with fire.
In case you're not horrified enough, Easy Rods also makes a Chevy version of this kit called the 'Belaro' that attempts to transform a fourth-gen Camaro into a tail-finned 1957 Bel Air, but only succeeds in making children cry.
Bradley GT II
One of the reasons many kit cars from the 1960s and 1970s fiberglass boom are so terrible to drive is that they had very humble origins. Specifically, cars like the Bradley GT II were built around the original Volkswagen Beetle, a car that was fine and fun as basic, inexpensive transportation, but never intended to fulfill the performance promise made by this kit's gull-wing wedge styling.
From the front, the Bradley GT II has a fighting chance, if you ignore the jutting rubber bumper and focused instead on its plunging hood and praying mantis-like doors. The back of the car, however, is a total mess, with a square engine compartment access door cut out of a flat trunk and an ugly targa-like rear window and side glass arrangement that brings to mind the worst do-it-yourself AMT model kits.
It's almost like Bradley had unlimited access to the scraps of what had been left behind by talented designers working in genuine automotive studios, and elected to cut-and-paste a faint echo of the era's styling trends. The disappointment of ownership is likely only amplified every time the key is turned on that tiny air-cooled Beetle motor. Somehow, this kit cost a million dollars to develop in 1975.
As popular as Shelby Cobra clones might be, for a time in the 1970s and 80s there was real competition from the slew of kit companies dedicated to churning out versions of the Mercedes-Benz SSK. Also known as the 'Gazelle,' the intent was to mimic the elegant looks of the late-20s and early 30s Silver Star roadster, but what ended up happening 99 percent of the time was a caricature of classic automotive design as seen through a coke-fueled modern lens.
Thousands of these kits were sold to nouveau riche party people intent on projecting a cultured image, not realizing of course that to fake it once you've already made it is perhaps the tackiest motoring move of all. To top it all off, most of these fauxsters were constructed using either Volkswagen Beetle or even Ford Pinto platforms, imparting on them all the driving pleasure of an overburdened econo-car that could barely get out of its own way before it was loaded up with endless chrome accessories.
Bad kit cars and terrible car mods have a lot in common. Check out the worst upgrades you could ever install on your vehicle.