A kit car is a car that is available in the form of a kit. Instead of purchasing an assembled car, you purchase a kit with all or most of the parts and do the assembling yourself. It is naturally also possible to purchase a kit car and hire someone else, such as a professional kit builder, to do the assembling.
Some kits contain virtually all necessary components, while other contains only a smaller number of selected parts of the car. Most kits will not contain major mechanical parts, e.g. engine and transmission. Kit car builders will instead pick these parts from another car. This car is commonly referred to as the donor car. It is naturally very important to investigate the exact contents of a kit before you purchase a kit car.
The kit car industry is used as old as the automobile industry itself. In 1896, a British car enthusiast named Thomas Hyler White developed a car that prospective car owners could assemble at home. Simultaneously, technical designs for kit cars could be found in The English Mechanic magazine. On the other side of Atlantic, United States residents could purchase a kit car known as the Lad's Car. This car entered the market in 1912 and the price was no more than US$140. If you wanted the Lad's Car fully assembled, it would instead cost US$160.
After World War II the car production rose dramatically. The life-span for these cars was often fairly short, partly due to the fact that rust proofing was still not commonly utilized. When the bodywork of a car could no longer be repaired due to excessive rust, the car would end up in a breaker yard. People soon realised that the components from these cars could be re-used if placed in a new body and chassis. An industry developed that specialised in supplying the market with bodies and chassis, especially for people who wanted to convert old cars into sports cars. This development is an important part of the kit car history.
The situation for kit cars was special in the UK until the mid 1970s, since fully assembled vehicles were subjected to much higher taxes than car components. This created a situation were even normal production cars were sold as only partially assembled to avoid the higher car tax. Since this type of kit car was already partly assembled it was not uncommon for buyers to have their car ready for use in as little as a weekend. UK residents could for instance purchase the famous Lotus Elan in the form of a partly assembled kit car to get the tax down. Both the Lotus Company and TVR actually started out as kit car producing companies. (They are today famous sports car producers.)
During the 1960s and 1970s the Volkswagen based dune buggy kit car was produced in huge numbers and this vehicle is still one of the most famous and well-known kit cars. Today, the kit car market has shifted and a majority of the kit cars are now affordable replicas of celebrated and really expensive cars, such as the classical AC Cobra. The replicas look similar to the original cars, but they are naturally made from less expensive materials. It is for instance popular to substitute expensive sheet metal with fibreglass mats soaked in polyester resin. Kit cars are no longer sold as a way of evading taxes; they are instead primarily a way for car enthusiasts to be able to drive a replica of a car that they can not afford. In some cases, the kit car is the only feasible option even for prospective car owners with fairly deep pockets since the original car is no longer in production and only a handful of specimens have survived into our days. A kit car is also a way of combining classical design with modern technology.