• Exo Cars: DIY Supercar Slayer or Enthusiast Pipe Dream?

Ever looked at a NA Mazda Miata and thought, "how do I make this lighter?"

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Every car enthusiast at some point has wondered what driving a go-kart on the street is like. You might have also heard about a growing automotive niche subculture known as "Exo Cars". The concept is simple. Take donor car, remove the entire body and build a custom tube frame chassis on top. Throw away safety, aerodynamics, and basic livability for one thing: lightness.

The idea is that light cars go fast. Yet, is it that simple? Is this the magic solution that enthusiasts on a budget can consider? Will your Exo-Miata be able to keep up with a 911 GT3 because it’s a couple hundred pounds lighter? There are a lot of compromises and risks one must take to make this a reality.

The Origins

Exo Cars: DIY Supercar Slayer or Enthusiast Pipe Dream?
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The true first road-worthy example of an exo-car is the Caterham Seven, first produced in 1973. Developed from the 1950’s design of Lotus Seven, this kit car is still in production today. Colin Chapman, the founder of Lotus, had a distinct philosophy for his vehicles:
"Simplify. Then, add lightness."

Caterham idealized Lotus’s mantra and perfected it. Those lucky enough to experience one of these cars will understand its appeal. It is about as close as you can get to the experience of riding a motorcycle while still being in a car. A direct evolution of the Caterham is the Ariel Atom. This limited-production go-kart for the street has become the standard for modern exo-car. Yet, its $80,000 starting price and six to 12-month build time make it unobtainable for most.

So the question begs, what is an average enthusiast supposed to do if they want this experience?

Built or Bought?

Exo Cars: DIY Supercar Slayer or Enthusiast Pipe Dream?
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The first question you have to ask yourself is what is the purpose of this car for you in the first place. Do you want the motorcycle experience without the associated danger? Do you plan to track it every weekend? You have too much time on your hands but still don’t have $50,000 lying around?

All legitimate questions that need answering. The fact is, 99% of people who build or buy an Exo Car actually want to ride a motorcycle. Yet, certain folks aren’t willing to take the risk or gain the skills necessary for riding.

So, a steel cage and seat belts quell certain demons but don’t solve everything. Anyway you look at it, there is going to have to be a compromise. It is a two-seat, open-wheel car with no storage or windows. Have you ever heard of rain? Yet, if your main concern is cost, a motorcycle is going to be the right answer almost every time. Yet, for those stubborn or scared, there are always alternatives.

Exocet or Regret

Exo Cars: DIY Supercar Slayer or Enthusiast Pipe Dream?
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Happen to have an NA Miata in the garage and it’s getting boring to drive? Willing to take away your already limited creature comforts for "performance?" Well, there is a solution. Welcome Exomotive Exocet.

This company sells complete Exo chassis and body panels to convert your Miata into a go-kart. Chassis start from $7,999 and range up to $8,999 with full roll cages. With some powder coating and freight shipping, expect several thousand more in cost. With a four-month lead time and average build time of over 100 hours, patience and a free schedule won’t be optional.

Not to mention, you’ll need special insurance and registration to even make the car legal to drive. As you can see costs can start to pile up. Will your local law enforcement also take notice of your go-kart on the street? No question.

Exomotive advertises selling over 500 kits of the Exocet. This means less than 0.1-percent of available NA or NB Miata produced have seen conversion. Considering the work and time associated, we understand why. But, what about if you don’t have a Miata at all?


Exo Cars: DIY Supercar Slayer or Enthusiast Pipe Dream?
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Let’s say you have your own project car that’s sitting and has been for years. You want to spice it up and cutting the roof off is the only thing that will make you happy. If you take it to any custom automotive fabrication shop, expect quotes in the tens of thousands.

Do the work yourself? You’ll need to learn fabrication, welding, and design to start. That doesn’t even cover having the tools, space, and time to make it possible. Even for the savviest of garage warriors, a project like this is a multi-year adventure. Do you trust your welds in the case of an accident? Is it worth the effort and risk for you?

No matter what you do, we’ll be the first to tell you that your exo-Miata will not be faster than a stock 911. It will not feel like a Shelby Cobra. Still want the visceral experience of motorcycle, but need seat belts? This Caterham Super Seven on Bring-a-Trailer has a current bid of $17,777 with 12,000 miles. Even if you paid $30,000 for the Caterham, we guarantee money well spent which will save you countless headaches. For more on the Exo Car craze, check out Quickshift Cars Youtube channel.

Daud Gonzalez
Daud Gonzalez
Daud Gonzalez is a lifelong car enthusiast and automotive writer with a specialty in modified and race-ready rides. He spends most of his time modifying his cars and ruining them in the process. He is currently the owner of a track-ready 2011 BMW 335i, a mild off-roading 1981 Toyota Hilux, and a 2008 Lexus RX400H for daily driving. Most of his free time is dedicated to making sure his vehicles survive to see the next day. You are likely to catch him at one of Southern California's race tracks on the weekends.  Read full bio
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