Locost, plans to-date

Continued from Locost, part 3.

The same highschool friend that clued me in to Locost USA shares a tidbit of news he got when he purchased a bike engine and transmission for his project: there are some pretty strict branding laws regarding crashed motorcycles in Ontario that mandate damaged motorcycle frames never see road use ever again. Digging around, I find a FAQ at the Ministry of Transportation Ontario regarding vehicle branding that has a pretty damning footnote:

Vehicles branded as “Irreparable” can never be driven on Ontario’s roads and can only be used for parts or scrap. Motorcycles are included under the “Irreparable” category where there is frame damage requiring replacement.

What does that mean to me? Well, that means that if I want to build a Shrike, or any other reverse trike, it means I’d have to do one of two things:

1) Buy a bike that has not been branded, which would mean either a working bike, or a damaged-but-repairable bike.
2) Buy a branded bike, remove everything I need, and build a full frame for the vehicle, replacing the damaged motorcycle frame.

If I went with #1, I’d be looking at a very expensive donor vehicle. Motorcycles are not cheap to begin with, and only become relatively cheap once they’re written off. If they can be driven or repaired, a donor motorcycle is going to cost multiples of what a donor car would cost, especially if going with a plain-Jane FF econobox donor like a Corolla or Civic. If I went with option #2, I’ve negated the entire point of going with a motorcycle-based reverse trike, in that I’m back to building the whole frame, stripping a donor, and remounting everything. With that realization, and not being able to find good information on the exact cost of non-branded motorcycles, I had to retreat back to my previous plan of building a mid-engined Locost from a FF donor. That may decrease my chances of completion, but as it will be more affordable it vastly increases the chances that I’ll even be able to start.

What have I learned thus far? FR layout cars with manual transmissions are a lot less common in 21st-century North America than they were in mid-20th century Europe. While that doesn’t entirely preclude the possibility of building a traditional FR Locost, doing so would be entirely dependant on finding a suitable donor at a suitable price. Possible, yes, but the probability might be on the low side. I’ve also learned that building a motorcycle-based build is a good idea, but will either be more expensive than using a car donor, or about the same amount work as a typical Locost build. So that leads me back to where I was previously, in considering building a mid-engined Locost, using a FF donor and simply swapping the location of the axles.

As luck would have it, the all-knowing, ever-present Locost USA forums can help me with this too. A few of the members have built such vehicles, and one of them has even written a book on the subject. What’s more, since that book has been published, he’s built another such vehicle, and its book will be coming out… well, it’ll be out well before I have the space, time, and permission to fill half of our garage with a stripped donor vehicle and large welding and assembly table. The point is, there is help out there for building non-traditionally. Of course, being a designer doesn’t hurt, either. Once I’m familiar with my donor vehicle, designing a space frame around the drive train will be entirely feasible.

At this point, I now start the thought process of finding a donor. Previously, when considering a Miata donor, I found an online calculator for determining acceleration of your vehicle. Using baseline numbers from the original 1990 Miata (120 hp, 100 lb-ft) and an approximate dry weight of 1200 lbs for the Locost, it gave me a figure of 0-100 km/h of just under 5 seconds. Woo! That’s some zip! Obviously, I don’t need a monster 200+ hp engine to have fun here, so aiming for the 120 hp range seems to be a good target.

Such a target gives me plenty of possible donors to choose from. Obvious candidates are the Honda Civic, which would be an awesome choice, what with their high-revving engine. I had a Honda del Sol for a couple of years, and it was a fun vehicle. I’d go the Honda route again no problem. The Toyota Corolla, while quite a bit more pedestrian than the Civic, is another contender. Toyota reliability would be fabulous, plus the fact that the Corolla is one of the best selling vehicles in Canada year after year means I’m going to have lots to choose from. I also have a soft spot for Hyundai, as we’ve had a few vehicles from them that have been stellar (no pun intended). The 2003 Elantra we had was fun and gutsy – finding one of those 2L engines would put me at closer to 140 hp, which would be fun. Hyundais still suffer from low resale value too, which will only help me in my quest. Nissan has a bunch of engines I’d take, excluding the troubled QR25DE. I’ll stick to their smaller engines, or the older and proven KA24DE.

Vehicles I won’t look at? Volkswagen, thanks to my recent experience with VW quality in a 2000 Beetle TDI. I’d love a Subaru, but as every last one of them is AWD, I’d have to modify the transaxle to make it work in a 2WD capacity. That’s extra work I don’t need, thanks. Domestics don’t make my list, but that’s a personal preference.

One interesting donor idea occurred to me not too long ago: use a donor that is the same as my daily driver. Currently I’m driving a 3rd generation Hyundai Accent. It has a 1.6L engine that is rated at 110 hp and just over 100 ft-lb of torque. Not quite where I want to be, but I think it would be worthwhile giving up some power to go this way. Why? For the obvious reason – I’d have a working vehicle with identical mechanical and electrical components to reference during my build! Instead of wondering what height the engine was at in the chassis, I could just measure it. Can’t figure out an electrical connection? Look in my car. What’s more, if my donor vehicle has features I won’t need on a Locost but would like in my car (better stereo, cruise control, fog lights, etc.) my daily driver can benefit from it. Of course, that all depends on being able to find such a vehicle in the right price range… I’m not going to hold my breath for it to happen, but it would certainly be nice if it did.

That’s where I stand today.

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