Just For Kids

In the early part of the last century, the Popular Mechanics Company produced four collections of tips, tricks and projects culled from their magazine and geared towards boys, both young in age and young of heart, titled "The Boy Mechanic" series.

In Book 3, originally published in 1919, they provided plans for a homemade "Boys' Motor Car," styled after the "bearcat roadster" popular at the time. The plans suggested using a motorcycle engine to power the car, as well as the associated wiring from the motorcycle for spark and ignition control. All other components were cobbled together or custom built from old pieces of machinery and pipes. The frame, seat, hood and trunk were made from wood, and the wheels were strong bicycle tires riding on solid axles.

The author, P.P. Avery, said the boy could call in skilled mechanics if more help was needed during construction, but most of the work could be assembled on his own. The end result was a small roadster with few luxuries but having "an individuality that puts it in a class by itself."

Getting Started with Car Assembly

Most people who assemble their own cars begin small, with something like a kit car or a modified Volkswagen dune buggy. They're also usually mechanically inclined, have access to tools, and most of all, they're passionate about building the perfect car -- just like Steve Graber.

In 1997 Graber began building a replica Ferrari 250 GTO working from the chassis of a Datsun 280 Z. The Arizona computer animator and programmer (with a passion for cars) finished the project in a year, and in 1999 Graber's car was featured on the cover of Kit Car Magazine.

The car building bug had hit him hard. Worse still, he said he began thinking he could do better. "The designers did a great job with the kit but they had to make compromises," Graber said. "I thought, if I built my own car, then whatever compromises I made would be my own, not someone else's."

By 2001, Graber's GTO replica was sold to another auto enthusiast in Georgia, and the seed for building a car from the ground up was planted in Graber's head.

In 2002 he began building the La Bala, a custom-fabricated roadster with a graceful exterior mounted to a powertrain capable of about 180 horsepower -- a combination of muscle and mass. Occupying one half of the family garage for four years, the project produced not only a car but an education, too.

"The first step in any build is education," Graber, now 43, said. "It's very possible to build your own car, but it's complicated." Graber explained how a person embarking on a build cannot think through challenges and problems by considering them as isolated incidents. In a car, each layer or system in the car, is connected to other systems, which are in turn connected to other parts. "If you start with wheels and tires, this will determine what kind of brakes and suspension you'll need," he said. "Those numbers will determine the frame configuration, what the wheel base is, and on and on."

But, he added, if you're focused and determined, each of the individual problems can be surmounted. "If you try something and it doesn't work, try something else," he said. As Graber pointed out, cars are essentially interrelated systems and interlocking problems.

Keep reading to find out about those systems and see what you may have to deal with if you decide to assemble a car.