Competition car: Build or Buy?

mg zr rally car abingdon carnival

So you’ve made the decision to start competing in motorsport.  Having spent your hard earned cash on all the personal safety equipment, the next major step is to get yourself behind the wheel of a competition car. It’s at this point that you’ll have to make a big decision. Do you build a car yourself or buy a car already prepared for competition?

Seeking advice is important as it will have a big impact on your fledgling motorsport career. However, everyone will have an opinion based on their own circumstances which may differ from yours. I’ve been in this position myself so hopefully my experiences will provide some clarity and help you make the right decision.

Build 

Firstly, let’s assume that building a car means you will take on the majority of tasks, not simply deliver a car to a preparation company for them to build. Assistance for some aspects is inevitable but on the whole it’s mostly down to you.

Building a car can seem like the purest way of competing. You toil away to create your amazing competition car, and when the successes begin, you have the pride of knowing its due to your combined driving and car preparation skills. The car is built to your exact specifications and has not been exposed to the rigors of competition. And when the car does inevitably need attention, you know the car inside out, so troubleshooting is a whole lot easier.

Unfortunately, as painful as it is to admit to ourselves, we aren’t all capable of producing a winning car on our own. It’s here that you need to be honest with yourself. Ask yourself ‘Do I want to build my own car and if so, do I have the required skills to prepare it to the required standard?’ Also, ‘do I have access to the tools, equipment, and facilities needed?’ For many of us, the honest answer is no, unless we work in the motor trade or related industries. Even then the biggest commodity is time. If the work is done during evenings and weekends, it will inevitably take a lot longer than you think.  Maintaining motivation can become a real challenge as heading off to the garage on a cold winters evening quickly loses its appeal. It’s not unusual for car builds and conversions to take years to complete, or not be completed at all, as the number of ‘unfinished project’ ads on ebay will testify. Even once the car is built the car may have aspects that you know could have been done better.

building a competition car

Finally, it’s easy to become precious about your car after spending so much time and energy building it. I may seem crazy but for some it can have a negative effect on their driving as they try to avoid damaging their pride and joy.

Buy

The biggest benefit of buying car ready to go is being able to compete straight away. If this is you, buying is the best option as you get the benefit of someone else’s months (or years) of hard work. This might seem to good to be true. Surely buying is more expensive than building it yourself right? Well, yes and no. If you total up the costs of the base car plus all the required parts, you’ll often find you can buy a pre-built car of similar specification for around the same price, or even less. OK the car you buy has already been used but you effectively get the labour for free. And any work it does need should be far less time consuming and costly than a full build.

To give a real world example, below are the costs of buying a Ford Puma road car plus the approved kit of parts to allow you to build a race car for the Dunlop Puma Cup race series. The list also includes all other miscellaneous parts required to complete a typical build.

ItemCost £
Total4284
Base Car400
Custom Cages Cage918
Gaz Suspension828
Rear Beam bush kit48
4x Dunlop Control Tyres437
Superchips ECU remap120
Team Dynamics wheels403
Seat250
Seat Mount50
Harness120
Extinguisher100
Pull cords/cut off switch40
Steering wheel70
Misc (brake pads/consumables)500

Cost of buying a pre-built Puma Cup car: £5000-£5500.

This is where the economics of buying a car really make sense. As you can see in the example above, even if you can build it all yourself including welding in the cage, the effort of building the car will only save a few hundred pounds. For classes where greater modifications are permitted or more equipment is required such as in rallying, buying is by far the cheaper option.

Puma Rally Car Interior

The skills and equipment required to maintain a car are far less than for building a car, allowing you to develop your mechanical skills more gradually. The car should also come with a usable setup to work from, for example spring rates, damper settings, ride height, tracking etc. If you’re lucky, the deal might also include a spares package.

Of course there are disadvantages to buying a car. There are many cars out there for sale. While some are well built, others might not be finished to such a high standard. The car could also have been in an accident or led a hard life. It may also not have the specification you require so will need to factor in the cost of replacement parts. This is where a good understanding of your requirements is essential. If you’re unsure of what to look out for, take along someone who does. Buying a successful car from previous years is also no guarantee it’s a good buy. Such cars are often worn out and need money to put right.

Summary

As you can see, there is a lot to think about when deciding whether to build or buy. Much depends on your own personal circumstances. If you are not in a rush to get out and compete, and enjoy the build process as much as competing, which many do, then building could be the way for you. However, for those who want to focus on driving and/or don’t have the skillset to build a car, the decision to buy a car is an easy one. Just make sure the car is sound, and not worn out (i speak from painful experience here..).

I hope you’ve found this article useful. If you have an opinion about the build vs buy decision, please comment below.

2 Comments on Competition car: Build or Buy?

  1. Wise advice. It’s always cheaper to buy, but it often takes a season or 2 to make a car reliable as you are inheriting a lot of unknowns/bodges from former owner(s)!

    • You’re right John. Buying the right car is important. It’s always worth taking someone along when viewing to ensure you’re aware of what work may be required. If there’s too much work involved to get it as you want, its probably better to keep looking.

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