The Case for the Kart Hack: Where to Start?

In part one of this story, I talked about this hopefully emerging trend of kart hacking.  It’s the idea that you can strip every possible part off of a car to still keep it functional, then add some caging and a better suspension.  Here’s how I chose my ideal car platforms.

Is the C4 Corvette the best car to start with for a kart hack?  The short answer is yes, and for several reasons.  Due to its fiberglass skin, the C4 is a body-on-frame vehicle, meaning that you can unbolt every body panel and still have a fully functional, rigid car chassis underneath.  But unlike older BOF cars, the C4’s isn’t some flat ladder-frame.  There’s an actual cage around the passenger compartment, perfect for rigidity and safety.

Later Corvettes are also, technically, body-on-frame.

The C4 is also V8-powered, made faster with simple mods, and relatively unloved, usually sitting at the bottom of the average Corvette ranking charts.  That last bit is important, because with all of my cavalier disregard for looks, I still like cars that look cool, and I don’t want to wreck anything particularly classic just for the sake of the middle finger.

The only issue with the C4 is cost.  If you can find a cheap, wrecked, or ruined C4 like the Hot Rod team did, hack away.  But most on the market these days have started to creep back up in value.  Also, many are automatics, and no one needs any of that nonsense.

A company called Cleveland Power and Performance sells kart-ready chassis pre-hacked. Most customers use them to build custom hot rods and such, but Cleveland claims that more than a few have been hooned as karts beforehand.

I started adding a mental filter to my daily Craigslist binge so I could hunt down other ideal platform candidates, keeping the following parameters in mind:

RWD: In my scouring of the internet, I’ve seen several examples of front driven kart hacks, and while I believe that they’re plenty fast and fun, I’m opting for a pusher instead.  Yes, a FWD kart would probably be easier to build, since there’s no drive shaft and more options for rear suspension, but I want to hoon, and I’ve been stuck with FWD cars almost exclusively all my life.

Manual: Duh.

Unloved: I’m not going to butcher an E-type.

2-door: Body deletes on 4-door cars look goofy, like you’re driving around in one of those electric utility carts that Austin powers got stuck in that hallway.  Two-seaters are ideal, but not terribly common for the price.

Cheap: Speaking of price, I need something extremely cheap.  Cheap, however, is a subjective term.  Someone might have no problem dropping 8 grand for a C4 they’re about to trash.  That’s why I came up with a clever bench mark for cheapness:  Selling the parts I remove from the car should cover the initial cost of the car.  I’m not counting any modifications I have to add to the kart afterward, but I want the body panels, interior, HVAC, and anything else I strip off of the car to let the car buy itself.  Free cars are always great.

In addition to these requirements, there are a couple of electives that I think I would find helpful.

Another from Cleveland Power and Performance

Roofless: Not all kart hacks are without roofs, but I want mine to be.  I’m not keeping out any weather once I take the doors off, and more importantly, if there’s a convertible top, targa, or a pair of T-tops, that’s good money. A chopped up bit of sheet metal in the shape of a roof isn’t going to fetch as much.

Also, convertible performance cars, at least at our price range, always suffer from rigidity problems.  The kart hack cage should take care of that, and no one needs to chop up a superior factory coupe.

Valuable parts: Again, the more money I can make from those parts, the better.  Wrecked cars are great, but if every panel is crunched, I’ll get scrap prices.  And I’m all for making an extremely common car very uncommon with a kart hack, but if the parts are dime-a-dozen, no one is going to spend less on your used parts.

Needs work: Is the clutch out?  Does it need a head gasket?  Maybe a timing belt?  There are tons of projects with relatively cheap parts but expensive labor, and often owners will sell their cars for cheap if they don’t want to pay for the fixes.  I wouldn’t let that deter me.  Imagine how much easier it would be to work on the car if it didn’t have a body.

With all of these filters in place, I’ve settled on a surprisingly small number of finalists.  Here they are, in no particular order.  I couldn’t find kart hacked examples of any of these, except one, so like so many things in life, you’ll just have to squint and imagine.

’94-’98 Mustang V6/ Fox Body Convertible

Let’s face it, guys.  The years between the Fox Body and the New Edge were a bit awkward.  Pair that liquid ’90s styling with a 150 hp Essex V6 and you’ve covered the “unloved” category pretty well.  These are cheap to buy, though the parts might not cover the cost.  Let’s see…  Used hoods are going for about $100 on Ebay.  Weight starts at 3,245 lbs, so dropping it below 2,000 might not be too difficult.

Ford’s third generation of the Mustang has been coming back around, and decent examples of 5.0 Fox Body GTs have attained classic status.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t find a 4 cylinder convertible for $1000 somewhere.

An SN95, 4th gen Mustang. Just picture it with wheels and a cage.

E30/E36 Convertible

Like the Fox Body, everyone’s favorite BMW 3-series has experienced a recent renaissance, and finding a cheap coupe has become so rare that now BMW fans have begun to snatch up and modify the sedans.  Yet the convertible remains forgotten and discarded, which is perfect for our purposes.  The ragtop E30 came with a 1.8 four cylinder making 136 hp, or a 2.5 straight six making 168 hp.  Considering that both weigh about 3,000 lbs or less, that should be more then plenty.

The E30’s successor hasn’t quite reached the same level of fandom, so cheap coupes are still relatively attainable, but convertibles are even more so.  The straight six made 192 hp, and the weight only went up by about 100 lbs.

I repeat: Do not kart hack an E30 coupe. This is just for reference.
The $2016 Challenge Firebird, pre-hack

1992-2002 Chevy Camaro/Pontiac Firebird Convertible

Here’s the obvious answer to the Mustang hack.  The mulletmobiles of the ’80s are already classics, and the new ones are too expensive, but 4th gen F-bodies are plentiful, and available in both targa and convertible forms.  The L32 V6 made a handy 160 hp, and the later L36, a variant of GM’s legendary 3800, made 200 hp.  Not bad for a car weighing about 3,400 lbs pre-hack.  Well, it was bad, but it won’t be after you rip 1,000 lbs off of it.

So much was hacked that the team had to put some canards back on for stickers

In my “research,” which mostly involved Google Image Searching several terms and clicking on whatever looked cool, I discovered a racing team who actually kart hacked a Firebird of this generation.  They built it for the awesome Grassroots Motorsports $2016 challenge, which is exactly what it sounds like.  Except that they built the entire car in a hotel parking lot.  It had an awesome G.I. Joe theme, and the end result was amazing.  I recommend that you read the whole thread.

The finished product, complete with roof-mounted “cannon” for full G.I. Joe effect

And that’s about it.

I know that you probably have some other platform ideas, which I encourage you to share, but these seem the only cars plentiful, unloved, and cheap enough to get the job done.

The best looking Fiero ever

Miata is, of course, always the answer, but there are all kinds of other fun things to do with one of those, and industrious owners have already blessed us with plenty of Ghettocets.  The Fiero is an interesting option, but as this battle Fiero proves, there’s not too much weight to strip off, since most of the body is fiberglass.  You’ll also likely be stuck with an Iron Duke four, which is good for exactly nothing.

Your mind might start to wander to Nissan, and some of the ’80s-era Zs could do the job, but the 240Z is too cool and expensive, and the ’90s cars, well, we need to cut them a break.  They’ve all been drifted to smithereens, and there aren’t many left.

Older RX7s would work if you can stand to rebuild the engine every 60,000 miles.  Z3s are too pricey, Monte Carlos too big, and if you find a cheap Honda S2000, you’d better hang onto it and dust it with a diaper every day.

All of the finalists have pros and cons.  The Mustang and F-body parts won’t be as valuable as the German ones.  The Mustang is also a live rear axle, which could be more or less fun, depending on what you want to do.

The E30 unibody will probably look the best, since it’s the most minimal, but aftermarket suspension bits will probably cost more.  The advantage of the C4 Corvette is that you can actually lower the rear suspension with a wrench.

The BMWs would probably be faster, but that Camaro’s 3800 will be the most reliable by far.  Any of them will probably have great gas mileage pushing as little weight as possible.

I can’t decide on which one I’d rather use, but it doesn’t really matter.  I’ll probably just go for whatever I can find cheapest and most easily when the time comes.

And then I’ll get to work.  In the next and final part of the series, I’ll talk about what modifications I plan to do.

If you own at least one villa and still want to kart-hack something, why not a Viper?
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.

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