Build your own classic car kit
The roadster version of MAX is a joy to drive, but you can also add a top.
Photo By Doug Snodgrass
What started in the summer of 2008 as an ambitious project to create a do-it-yourself, 100 miles-per-gallon sports car within a budget of $10, 000 has come full circle. MAX (Mother’s Automotive eXperiment) now has more than 100, 000 miles in its logbook and consistently achieves 100 mpg at speeds from 45 to 55 mph.
The project proves triple-digit fuel efficiency is feasible — even on a tight budget, and especially if you build your own car. If I can make a 100-mpg car in my Oregon garage, what could the major automakers be giving us?
That said, it’s important to understand upfront that MAX is not comparable to a modern sedan, with all of the creature comforts most drivers expect. But it doesn’t need to be.
MAX is marvelously practical as a second car, or as a primary car for those who rarely need more space than a two-seater provides. You can use MAX to get groceries or go to work. It won’t replace the minivan when you need to get your kid’s soccer team to practice, but you likely don’t need a minivan for most of your drives.
MAX is ideal for somebody like me. I live 30 miles from town and put in a lot of miles on extended business trips. I rarely need to take more than one person with me. MAX suits me well, and it can also meet the everyday driving needs of many people.
The biggest thing you lose when you drive MAX is your anonymity. It’s a conversation starter. Car enthusiasts love its resemblance to a classic race car, so expect to field questions from curious strangers any time you stop at a gas station. Fortunately, you won’t have to stop at gas stations often. This 100-mpg car can run on diesel, biodiesel or straight vegetable oil. The engine is a 32-horsepower turbocharged diesel — specifically, a Kubota D1105T, which normally powers anything from RV generators to heavy-duty lawn mowers.
Is MAX Legal? Is It Safe?
Every state’s department of motor vehicles (DMV) has its own rules for custom-made DIY cars. I reviewed all 50 states’ vehicle codes and found that most have relaxed registration rules for antique and classic car replicas. In many states, a replica has to meet only the equipment and emissions standards of the year it replicates. This encouraged me to style MAX after antique and classic cars. To register your own MAX, tell your local DMV clerk that it’s a replica of a 1958 Lola Mark 1 or a 1960 Lotus Seven (depending on the body style you choose).
As for safety, MAX is built to road racing standards more so than federal government standards. MAX has superior safety equipment, such as tubular steel impact barriers on its sides and rear (covered by the fiberglass body), roll bars and headrests behind the seats, racing safety harnesses, and a removable roll bar (and deer deflector) behind the windshield.
My DIY car doesn’t have air bags for the same reason an Indy 500 race car doesn’t: The driver wears a five-point safety harness that crosses the lap and both shoulders. Buckling up like a racer takes a few extra seconds, but if MAX is ever in an accident, I’ll stay where I’m safest — in my seat, surrounded by the impact-absorbent frame.
Time and Tools
Wondering how to build a car for yourself, but don’t know where to start? The basic plans for my DIY car came out of a book, Build Your Own Sports Car (now out of print) written by English auto shop teacher Ron Champion. British students have built these by the hundreds using the simple, Lotus-like body and engines from Ford Cortinas. It’s called a “Locost” in that form because it’s reminiscent of the Lotus Seven and is “low-cost.”