In previous installments of this series, I talked about what a kart hack is and what car I’ll start with when building mine. Now, for the third and final part, it’s time to get to work. Well, it will be someday when I have the money and space, but anyway, let’s get hacking.
The Unbolting Stage
Whether I start with an SN95/Foxbody Mustang, a 4th generation Camaro or Firebird, or an E30/E36 BMW, the first step will be to start removing body panels.
Unlike the classic Hot Rod segment that birthed this whole idea with a near-dead C4 Corvette, I can’t just use a reciprocating saw and a dumpster. Everything will be carefully unbolted and safely stored, because as you may recall, the goal is to sell it all to cover the cost of the car.
In fact, I’ll probably have a friend who doesn’t feel like getting dirty take pictures of each part as it’s removed. I’ll put these in my for sale ads later. Thankfully I won’t have to keep screws and bolts organized, but I’ll save all of it anyway.
I also plan to weigh each major piece I remove and keep a running tally of weight reduction as I go. This will help create a rough curb weight when I’m ready to choose suspension.
Impact tools will help as I remove the hood, fenders, doors, trunk lid, bumper covers, and any rocker-area panels. No wires will be cut yet. The top or T-tops will be carefully removed, along with the power motor, latches, and switch gear. I’ll want to keep the whole system together.
Next I’ll move on to the interior. Seats, carpet, dashboard, and air bags will all come out. The shifter will stay in, but anything surrounding it, along with the center console and center stack, will come out. The wheel will come out temporarily, but the air bag will come out of it for good. I’ll leave the column switch in place.
Now that it’s exposed, I’ll remove the entire HVAC system. Actually, having the freon evacuated might be the first step, because I’ll have to have a shop do it if needed. Out will come the ducting, fan, heater core (I’ll drain the coolant first, of course), and controls.
The Engine Bay
That will take me smoothly into the engine bay, where there won’t be much to do at all. I’ll pull the battery so I can relocate it, though the BMWs house those in the back to begin with. Next the AC compressor will come out, along with the condenser. I’ll explore my options with the power steering pump. Some systems work just fine without pressure, but others require the pump or the rack will wear itself out. This will probably require a custom length serpentine belt.
Air intake boxes and extra ducting will go, since I’ll just have a cone filter sticking up in the air on a piece of tubing. I’ll leave all fuse boxes in place for now. I’ll remove any overlarge coolant overflow tanks and replace them with some silly Mountain Dew bottle or something.
This should be it for the unbolting stage. Everything that comes off with fasteners will be off or out of the car. And that’s where my current expertise runs out.
But that’s okay, because this can be a great learning project! I’ll want to start cutting now, but that’s a bad idea until I know what parts of the body are and are not structural. And how to reinforce them.
Once I’ve figured this out, I’ll make a plan for the cage, then saw off the trunk area and rear bumper area if I can. This could involve relocating the fuel tank, so I’ll drop that for now.
From there I’ll weld a cage from the lower support parts of the body, creating a new external rear bumper. This structure will extend forward and over the cab, complete with cross braces, and terminate around the front of each door area.
A branch will extend from each side, at the base of the windshield, forward, incorporating the forward strut towers before curving downward to create a radiator support/front bumper. I’ll also hack off the front bumper and hopefully the front clip area forward of the strut towers.
With the cage in place, I’ll mostly be done. Since the car started as a four-seater, there will be a space behind the driver. Here I’ll put the battery, ECU, and all fuses and relays in some waterproof boxes.
This will be rather intensive, since it will involve a whole lot of wiring, but it all needs to be sealed and out of the weather.
Above that, and extending back ward, I want to affix some kind of cargo tray or basket. After all, I’ll still want this thing to be practical. The fuel tank, probably some kind of hot-rod style external tank, will be mounted here.
I want to bolt a similar basket to “roof,” and here will be rolled a shade cover I can stretch across the basket when I need it.
Windshield time! Yes, that heavy glass is coming out, along with its frame, since we have a roll cage to put some plexi on. I’ll hack it out and throw it away, then add the plexi. With it will probably go the wiper system, unless I can make it work on the new windshield. It might be legally required.
Finally, I’ll add some cheap, simple, LED lights all the way around. Headlights, tail, brake, reverse, and turn signal lights will all be added.
I’d like to build a custom exhaust system with cutouts, but I’ll probably use most of the original system in this.
Inside I’ll add some all-weather racing seats and harness, some simple gauges, and a power inverter, into which I’ll plug a weatherproof boombox strapped in somewhere.
And here is where many would stop. This would be a mistake. Even Hot Rod learned that when you remove that much weight from a stock vehicle, the suspension becomes unloaded, meaning that you’re always riding on topped out springs and struts. This can mess with stability, alignment, and steering, and some attempting kart hacks found extremely unstable rides on the highway.
This is solved with some shorter, stiffer springs and struts, and once I know how much the kart will weigh, I can find a car of similar weight and try to put together a system based on that.
Now, one of the best things about a kart hack is that you don’t have to worry about it getting bashed up if you take it off road. But with such a stiff suspension, the dirt could be a problem.
I think I’d try a simple, elegant solution: different wheels and tires. On the pavement I can have some wide, slick, low-profile sport tires, and then I can switch to some big off-road wheels and tires as desired. If the ride feels too stiff, just air down the tires a bit. I can even mount a small compressor and plug it into my inverter to make adjustments as needed.
Would this ruin my awesome sport suspension? Maybe. Would it be worth finding out? Absolutely.
The whole kart hack idea is worth exploring. It’s time to shed some weight, to unbolt and saw off the old trappings I’ve been tiredly hauling around since middle school in the ’90s. They haven’t aged well, anyway. It’s time to build a car designed for a single purpose: fun.
And I might get some sneers. Some won’t understand. But in those moments I’ll remember that I left my concern for their opinions on my garage floor with old fenders and AC parts.
Let the age of the kart hack begin.
Andy Sheehan is a blogger, aspiring novelist, and relentless hoon. He plans to will his 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon to his firstborn, plans his daily commute around the swoop of its roads, and doesn’t plan to ever buy an automatic. A cool-car omnipath, he loves the common Mustang or Chevelle, but hunts for the weird and wonderful Velorexes and Cosmos of the autoverse. And when he can afford a garage, he’s going to turn an MX-5 into a race car.