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Phil Manship's Locust

Q133 KKL - Build report by Phil Manship

I first had the idea of building a kit car about ten years ago, after reading all the magazines on the subject I decided that the Lotus seven style was the car for me. I sent for some information to several manufacturers, the one that caught my eye was the Locust, Why the Locust? because it was the only one that I had a hope in hell of affording. Well that's not entirely true, the idea of a home made wooden body tub rather than a moulded glass body appealed to me, the Locust seemed more of a challenge. However all things considered (money mostly) I decided not to go ahead at that time. Any idea of building a kit was put very much on the back burner, indeed I abandoned all idea of kitcar construction for the foreseeable future.
My interest was re-awakened back in April 1995 when I heard of a kit car show held locally at Chatham dockyard but unfortunately I was unable to attend due to prior arrangements and forgot about it again until the local paper reports of the event the following week, there was a short write up on it and a picture of a Locust. Even then I didn't consider getting started again until over a drink with some friends I mentioned that the show had been on and wouldn't it be nice to build a car? "Why don't you?" was the reply from all present, including my wife Debbie. The seed was sown and over the next couple of days I bought a few magazines and started reading up all over again, I did my sums and decided that if I could go ahead it would have to be on a tight budget, no Caterham for me!
It was only six months or so previous that I'd had a clear out and threw out all the old brochures I had received all those years ago, so I started to ring around to ask for information, looking at the adverts for the Locust I noticed that the company was no longer based in Yorkshire but was now in Gillingham, just a couple of miles from my house, I spoke to White Rose Vehicles who sent the information and invited me to contact a Locust builder who both live very close, in order to arrange to see his car, a couple of days later my good friend John Bardoe (who is also now Locust owner) and I turned up at Dave Chalks house as arranged and we were delighted to find that Peter Lathrope was also there with his car, we were both very impressed with these fine examples, one hour and a white knuckle ride in Dave's car later and I was hooked.
At that time I didn't have the luxury of a garage on my property, just a lockup in a block round the corner, no electricity and just big enough to squeeze in a family car. It was for this reason that I decided to build my car at my mums place, she had an empty garage with power laid on and was glad of the extra company. True mums garage is no larger than mine and she does live about four miles away which means that I couldn't just pop into the garage and fiddle when there's nothing on the box for half an hour, but I didn't want to rush the build, this was meant to be a long term project. At the outset I decided that if after a couple of years I had achieved something that looked something like a car, I would be well pleased. Another advantage of "building at mums" is that I was almost guaranteed a cup of coffee on the hour every hour.
I finally got started back in May 1995, I collected the plans and manual from White Rose and studied them carefully, ordered three sheets of 18mm ply and started to paste the plans to them as per instructions. With all the patterns eventually glued as flat as possible to the plywood the next step was to start cutting them out. I visited the local tool hire shop and bought a weekends worth of use of a very tasty looking "industrial" jigsaw, the man said that it would easily cut through the required thickness of wood and furnished me with the appropriate blades, I took them home confident that the weekend of work ahead would be all the easier as a result of spending a few extra pounds on the right equipment.
Sunday morning turned out to be fine and sunny, just as well as the only place with enough room to handle the 8' x 4' sheets was my back garden, John, who had volunteered to give moral and physical support had arrived nice and early, wives and children were banished to sell some clutter at a boot fair and John and I had the place to ourselves, we set up a pair of B & D workmates to support the 8' x 4' sheets of ply and began to wield the jigsaw, it soon became apparent that for straight cuts a hand saw was far superior to the jigsaw as it was far more controllable and produced a straighter cut, the jigsaw was the obvious choice for the curved bits and a small B & D circular saw with a tungsten carbide tipped blade was very handy for the angled cuts (undercuts), it was when I was using this that I neatly sliced the top of one of my workmates almost in half, (including steel inserts). As I mentioned earlier the build manual suggests that when cutting out duplicate panels you should cut through two thicknesses of wood to achieve identical panels, I'm sorry but this didn't work for me, even using the "super dooper" jigsaw, the blade wandered all over the place and the two panels came out anything but identical, a far better method was to cut out the first panel as accurately as possible using the paper template and then to use this first panel as a template to mark out the second panel directly on the wood, then cut out the second panel , clamp both together and clean both up at the same time, result, two identical panels, sorted! At the end of that eventful and satisfying day we had reduced the three sheets of ply to a neat pile of what looked like very expensive fire wood. Whilst clearing up the mess in the garden I couldn't help noticing a huge amount of empty beer cans amongst the off cuts and sawdust, well it had turned out to be a very warm day!
Over the weeks that followed I continued construction of the body, the rough cut panels were cleaned up and trial fitted to together, most were o.k. after cleaning up but a couple needed to be remade, this posed a problem as I didn't have enough ply left to remake them. The solution was to order another 8' x 4' sheet this may seem extravagant but I also needed a flat, smooth surface on which to build the body, I found that if I laid the extra sheet across my two B & D workmates with a four foot length of 4" x 2" timber clamped in the jaws of each, I could obtain a perfectly level and flat surface on which to work, any panels which needed to be remade were simply cut off the building board, which is now only 6' x 4' but is still as adequate size for building. I plan to use this board later when skinning the body as I will need somewhere flat to mark out and cut the aluminium sheets.

I decided to join my body panels by gluing and screwing direct into the edges of the plywood using 2" x No.8 chipboard screws (twinfast) every 3.5", I found that if the correct size pilot hole was drilled there was no danger of splitting or delamination of the ply, whilst the glue was still wet, to ensure the joints were square I fixed lengths of 25mm x 25mm x 3mm aluminium angle using 15mm x No.8 chipboard screws countersunk into the aluminium every 3.5". This method appears to be quite strong as, when a few weeks later I decided to remove some of this angle to do a modification I found it had stuck fast due to the white glue oozing from the joint, it proved totally impossible to remove the angle so it stayed put. The vertical angled joints between the flanks and the valances however are a different story, with my limited carpentry skills I found it very difficult to achieve a close fitting joint here and temporarily fitted an aluminium strap to support the joint whilst the glue set, I plan to reinforce this area on the inside with glass fiber resin, glass cloth and kevlar tape.

When the tub was almost complete a couple of ideas came my way courtesy of Peter Lathrope and Dave Chalk, Peters idea which he has subsequently published in this newsletter was to cut away part of the drivers side tunnel panel to stop the rear end of the propshaft from fouling the woodwork, so out came the jigsaw, the offending area was removed and plated over on the inside with a galvanised steel plate. Dave's idea was to make the drivers side gearbox cover from 6mm ply rather than 18mm to give a valuable 12mm extra foot room around the pedals, again this advice was really too late for me as this area was already finished, however a large portion of the side panel was removed with the jigsaw and plated on the outside with a similar steel plate giving a full 18mm extra room in the footwell. Both of these mods are obviously worthwhile but I would recommend that they are built in originally rather than added as afterthoughts.
It was now September 1995 and the body was all but ready for skinning, before I did that I wanted to trial fit it on the chassis which was over at Johns place having just been converted ready for fitting the "new" front wishbone setup. This involved removing most of the original spring pans to make room for the upper wishbone, I had also decided to mount the upper end of the shock absorber in the centre of the long bolt on which the wishbone pivots, this needed more modifications including beefing up the top tubes to take the extra load, I didn't know if this would work but I thought it would look neater than the original.

Any thought of a single donor for the engine and running gear was out of the question, as I have mentioned, space was at a premium, so I had to resort to sourcing my donor parts wherever I could, this was obviously a lot more expensive, I'd heard tell of complete donor Mk II 1600 Escorts being bought for less than 100, but even if I had been able to find one of these I wouldn't have had the room to store it whilst it was reduced a kit of parts.
Due to the cold weather, progress over the winter was slow, when I got the chassis back the priority was to get it "rolling" so that I could move it in and out of the garage, this would make more room to get the body finished. As I had decided to mount the top of the front shock absorbers on the "long bolt" it became obvious that the originally specified "Mini" coil overs were going to be far too long.
I decided that the only thing to do was to try to find a coil over which would fit the space I now had available, after a lot of phone calls I found there was no off the shelf solution, however I contacted Chassis Dynamics who offered to make some specials to my specification, not only that but the cost was the same as their standard range which was considerably cheaper than the Spax units.

Several other problems were identified around the front wishbones at this time, most worryingly with the wishbones mounted as per instructions and the recommended ride height set with blocks under the chassis there was an alarming lack of movement in the suspension, the wheel only moved around 15mm upwards before the upper balljoint ran out of movement. I was put in touch with the man who had designed the wishbones who visited me and acknowleged that there was indeed a problem, he specified a different balljoint with more movement and slightly altered the angle of the top wishbone and the problem was solved. There is now plenty of movement available.


Whilst waiting for the coil overs to be delivered the back axle which I had picked up at a breakers yard was cleaned up and the old spring mounting pads removed, it was wheeled into position at the back of the chassis the swinging arms assembled and aligned, after carefull allignment and measuring of its position the swinging arm brackets were tack welded to the axle tube, the whole thing removed again and stripped, then final welding was done. A good clean up was followed by several coats of sperex competition black. The hub bearings were renewed whilst the whole thing was in pieces, the back plates reassembled, new shoes, springs and wheel cylinders fitted and it was ready to bolt back on. Seven weeks later the coil overs were delivered and to my relief they fitted, the front end looks very neat with the shocks mounted like this. With that done the chassis was rolling.

By this time it was the middle of 1996 and things had slowed down somewhat we were in the throes of a house move, the Locust build was put on hold for the duration but the good news was that the "new" house we were moving to not only had a garage on the property but there was room in the garden to build a decent sized "workshop". We moved in September and the workshop was up by the end of November. After we settled in we were back into the cold winter weather and the workshop came into its own. It was now time to test fit the body on the chassis and a couple of volunteers were found to give me a hand, only a couple of minor changes needed to be made to the bodywork around the front suspension towers otherwise all was fine!

The body was now ready for "skinning" in aluminium but the glue for this job needs a temperature of 70 degrees minimum to cure properly so I decided to delay this until the spring, there were still hundreds of other things to work on in the mean time so the time wouldn't be wasted, during this time I worked on the steering column, fuel tank, hand brake, gear box mount, instrument layout, radiator mounting and the whole chassis was stripped again and painted for the last time.
O.K. so now it's spring 1997 and for the last couple of years the government has been threatening to bring in the dreaded Single Vehicle Approval tests, there have been several dates quoted for the start of the tests but these have all come and gone, cancelled at the last minute, there is no doubt that the scheme will start sooner or later but it still looks as if I may need to prepare my Locust with the SVA in mind, I still seem to have lots to do!

I decided to bring the body to my house for skinning, mostly because of the limited space at Mums place, the chassis was getting in the way. We managed to get the body in the back of a Ford Transit belonging to a friend of a friend and set it up on trestles in the garage. Ray Clark had already skinned a couple of Locusts and had made a great job of them, he offered to give me a hand, I wasn't really looking forward to this stage so I gratefully accepted Ray's offer, working at a steady pace it took a couple of days to complete the skinning and it seemed a good idea to cover the under bonnet area as well, it looked so different with the ally on and I was very pleased with the result.

I spent the rest of the summer working on A standard 1600 engine which I purchased from a local kit car manufacturer I rebuilt it myself in my new "workshop", after a strip down I found it was only necessary to fit new rings, shells etc. Once it was in one piece again I took it down to Mums and trial fitted it in the chassis with the gearbox, measured up for the prop shaft and had the original shortened to suit.
With the body finished the same chap with the Transit was bribed to do the return trip and the body once again re-united with the chassis. Although it now looked more like a car it was now obvious that I still had an awfully long way to go, the bonnet had to be made and fitted, the wiring had to be done, the dashboard had to be finished, the wings and nose cone had to be finally fitted, not to mention all the "plumbing" for the engine and the exhaust system!

I plodded along through another winter, working my way through a list of jobs which didn't seem to get any shorter and by the spring of 1998 I heard that the SVA was being delayed again, this time until July 1st 1998. I'd been keeping an ear to the ground regarding any more delays to the SVA and got the distinct impression that this really would be the final delay.
It was as a result of this last delay that I decided that if I were able to spend a little more time on my build I could be very close to being ready for an MOT before the SVA was obligatory. With this in mind I managed to arrange for a very nice man with a car transporter to pick up my car from mums and bring it home for me. With the Locust at home it meant that I would be able to spend a lot more time on the car in the evening and everything seemed to be working out fine. The idea was to get the car finished in its most basic "MOTable" form, i.e. no lighting except brake lights and no windscreen or wipers etc. I wasn't particularly worried about putting the car through the SVA especially as I would qualify for the exemptions given to builders who purchased their kit before January 1st this year. However, the cost of the test at 165 seemed like an unnecessary outlay when I could get the same result for the price of an MOT test, also there's nothing like a deadline when it comes to getting a sluggish build back into top gear!

Towards the end of June 1998 things still didn't seen to be on schedule for the first of July so I decided to take four days off work and really try to get things moving, but half way through my long weekend it still seemed that I had an awful long way to go and there was only just over a week to the deadline. During a surprise visit from Dave Chalk and Peter Lathrope I was convinced that I was actually nearer to being ready for the test than I had thought I was. What had I got to lose? "Take it for the test!" they said, "if it fails at least you know what you've still got to do!. If you don't have it tested now, you won't have time to sort it out anyway and who knows you may get a pass, it looks ready to us!". This was late Friday evening and there were several things which still had to be done; mirrors and final suspension securing etc. I worked the whole weekend and on Monday morning I thought it was as ready as it would ever be.
Frantic phonecalls were made to insurance companies and the MOT station, an appointment was made for three thirty that afternoon. A quick phone call to the vehicle registration office in Maidstone and I discovered that unless I got my paperwork to them that morning they wouldn't be able to arrange an inspection till after July 1st. After the phone call I was there in a flash, paperwork handed over and an inspection arranged for Thursday afternoon (June 25th). if everything went well I should both just make it!
By now it was about 12:30 and I still hadn't even test driven the car further than the length of my very short driveway. A road test was clearly needed, I decided to take the car for a quick blast around the block and in general I was very pleased, it went round corners o.k. and the ride was quite comfortable, sure it went o.k. but there were next to no brakes, now was the time to panic! More frantic phone calls to Dave Chalk and he was there in no time helping me to bleed the brakes again. Another test drive and things were very much the same, it would stop but it didn't seem to be up to MOT standard. The only thing to do was to re-adjust the brake pedal to give more travel and re-set the brake light switch. Twenty minutes later and everything was re-assembled just in time for me to set off for the MOT test centre. I didn't have time to enjoy the drive there as I was too busy thinking about all the problems the tester could find. I must say, the weather couldn't have been better for a first drive, bright, sunny and the forecasted showers holding off for the duration.
When I arrived the tester was in the process of writing out a failure slip for a very nice looking newly restored Mini, it had failed on brakes! The owner was livid! Just before he drove my car onto the ramps a woman came to pick up her Peugeot, he handed her a failure slip. Yes, you guessed it, brakes! This did nothing for my nerves but the tester seemed friendly enough and was genuinely interested in the car, twenty minutes or so later the man was writing out another slip, this one was the right colour, I'd passed!!
The drive home was altogether more enjoyable as could easily be seen from the silly grin all over my face. I was quite surprised how good everything felt, hardly any rattles and bumps and to my knowledge nothing actually fell off!

Two days later on the day of the inspection and registration it was a very different story. The day was very dull and full of heavy showers. The Maidstone registration office is about 15 miles from home and I'd hoped that I could get there and back between the showers (you will remember that I had no windscreen). When the time came for me to set out it was looking grim. The black clouds were rolling in again but waiting any longer would mean missing my appointment. Working on the assumption that with no windscreen, if it rained I was going to get very wet, I decided that I would get the least possible amount of clothes wet and went in jeans and open neck shirt. Of course as soon as I left home the heavens opened and despite sheltering under the awning of a petrol station for ten minutes on the way, when I arrived I was wetter than a thing which was very wet indeed. By now of course the rain had stopped and I dripped my way into the registration office and announced my arrival. Ten minutes later the inspector had checked the chassis number and issued the registration number,

Q133 KKL was born!.

I was very pleasantly surprised with the way the car performed on the way home and although I shouldn't have, I couldn't resist putting my foot down (just a little bit!) and very soon with the sun out, both Locust and I were literally home and dry!
Now that I have the test behind me and (technically) the car is road worthy I can relax a little and concentrate on getting the car finished. I'm sure things will be even better once I've fitted the windscreen and with lights, I may be able to take her out after dark.

I must thank Peter and Dave for persuading me to go for the test, if I'd left things any longer I wouldn't have had time to "beat" the SVA. Thanks also to Ray Clark and John Bardoe and to others too numerous to mention, whose help and encouragement over the last three years or so, have kept me going. Most of all, thanks to my long suffering wife who has already had a three year taste of "Locust widowhood" and has never (well hardly ever!) complained and has always been supportive and encouraging, It's nearly over Debbie, another three years should see it finished!!!

....... Phil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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