Almost always, the first question is “What is it?”. Closely followed is “How long will it take to build?”. My build plan is broken up into 3 phases.
Phase 1: Build it
Seems simple enough. This is the ultimate Lego/constructor set and you get just about everything you need in the kit. A few other items like a fuel system, an exhaust, a bunch of nuts & bolts, an engine, a transaxle, and you’re set. Maybe a little more complex than a Lego set, but there are a good number of well documented builds and the SLC builder community is exceptionally quick to help fellow builders. I’ll be relying heavily on past lessons learned and on using my phone-a-friend lifeline should I get stuck. I have a very aggressive goal to have the car mechanically and electrically complete by about mid-August. Most other SLC builders will raise their eyebrows at this so let me clarify. The car will be drivable, but will in no way be complete. I know I will make mistakes and I know there will be many Gremlins to chase down – yes, the little green ones. I imagine there will be a few electrical gremlins to uncover and troubleshoot as well. It’s unlikely the car will be painted (that orange gel coat looks so damn good to me) and I’ll have to slowly build up to driving it further and faster before I do anything approaching mach speed in it. So my goal is to have it in a rough but usable state as quickly as I can muster.
Phase 2: Drive it
Yep, just drive it. As much as I can, and in as many different conditions as possible. Stop and go, uphill, downhill, highway cruising. Expose it to as many different scenarios as possible so I can shake loose those gremlins and figure out what needs to be fixed. I know there will be a number of decisions I make during the initial build that will come back to haunt me – now’s the time to find out what they are. I anticipate I’ll keep the SLC in this state for 3-6 months depending on how often I’m actually able to drive the car and how much time I’ll have to tinker with it. Ellie will be turning 2 at about this time and I’m sure she’s going to be running around telling me what’s what, moreso than she’s already doing.
Phase 3: Finish it
Phase 3’s going to be tough. Hopefully I will have learned enough during phases 1 and 2 that 3 will go somewhat smoothly. Phase 3 has me tearing the car back down to as far as necessary to stamp out all those creepy green freaks. It’s likely once I get the car stripped down it’ll either stay in this condition for the rest of my life or I’ll find the time and energy to rebuild it – faster, stronger, better. Well, maybe just better.
So that’s the plan. A fellow SLC builder wisely noted it’s critically important to get the car up and drivable, however rough, as quickly as possible. There is a very high non-completion rate for these types of projects and having the ability to get into the machine and have it make its own vroom-vroom noises will give the builder the continued drive and enthusiasm to see the project to its end. How many ex-FSAE guys remember sitting in their tube frame chassis with freshly hung suspension having to fight to take turns getting pushed around the parking lot? Pretty exciting moment!
It’s important to have realistic goals and expectations if I’m to stay engaged and enjoy the build.
Expectations – now’s probably a good time to talk about the ordering process and what you may expect should you decide to go down this same path. The Superlite website has been recently refreshed and it’s several orders of magnitudes better than the version it replaced. Between that, the GT40s website with all the build threads, and the very thorough Wiki, and you’re armed with just about all the information you could want on what it’s like to build this car and what pitfalls may lie ahead. If you decide to pull the trigger on placing an order you should be realistic about your expectations regarding order timing and communication with the factory. Take heed and you may save yourself a lot of frustration.
- RCR/Superlite is not a large scale manufacturer. They are a low volume niche market producer of really awesome cars. They, and their supply chain, are not setup such that you can walk in, place all the checkmarks next to the options you want, then setup delivery +/- a few days. Uh-uh. Expect that there WILL be delays and expect that you WILL NOT receive an entirely complete kit (although hell, I think mine was 99% complete, not sure if I got lucky and the stars were aligned or RCR have really spooled up their inventory management systems). The website states 18-20 weeks is typical. I think the prior site may have stated 16-20; regardless, plan to add a few extra weeks. Mine came in at about 26 weeks; I had a fair number of options but no customization of the hardware so most everything should have been off the shelf. I know at the time I placed my order I was queued up with a good number of other orders. Knowing this, I mentally told myself if it comes in at 20 weeks I’ll be ecstatic, 24 weeks is likely, and 28 weeks is getting long in the tooth but c’est la vie. The waiting period is pretty tough because you’ve financially and emotionally committed to the project and now you’re on pins and needles waiting to get word and see pictures of your build as it progresses. Do yourself a favor and pad your expectations on timing and you’ll remain calm and be a happier person. If you insist on believing your kit will be delivered at week 20 and it doesn’t, you’re just going to get upset and there’s nothing you can do about it. So don’t do it. Plan for delay and be delighted if it comes in “early”.
- Pictures. Everyone wants updates – is my chassis complete? What about the body? Wheels? Send me a picture! This is a tough one; I’m sure every person who’s got money down on a kit is pinging Superlite for photos of their build. That’s a lot of photos to be taking! I know, I did it too. As much as I resisted, I just couldn’t. I sent in requests for photos – but I didn’t get any, at least not until the car was on the cusp of being ready for shipping. No biggie, not a surprise. I think the company would have to hire one or two dedicated photographers if they were to answer everyone’s requests. Perhaps for those who are having real customization (ie, special roll bars, chassis modification for some crazy powertrain setup, etc) in-process photos may be critical to ensuring the factory is fabricating exactly what you’re paying them to do. But for me, and for most others, a standard factory kit is just that – there are a good number of photos all over the web showing what a standard kit looks like. What’s the difference between that versus yours? (other than it’s yours). So – consider yourself lucky if you get in-process photos but don’t be surprised or get all wound up if you don’t.
- Car’s done, come and get it! It may have been weeks of radio silence then suddenly one day you get that magical email from Vicki – your car’s complete. Wait, what?! Yeah – it’s something along those lines. No build up, no warning, send us the final check and come get it or arrange for transport (ok, maybe not so blunt, but it may feel like it). Hopefully you’ve prepared and you have the transportation thing figured out. If not, you’ve got to move quickly because you want that beast in your garage ASAP. If there’d been some warning you could have prepared blah blah … yeah, just be happy the car’s ready and do what you need to get the car home. No need to get bummed that you didn’t get enough warning. If you’re looking for transportation options I highly recommend Stewart Transportation and speak with Jolene (x206) – she was far and above (below?) my other quotes and the shipper she set me up with was fantastic.
All in all, the ordering process was a bit strange for me. It’s not an insignificant chunk of change and frankly I’m not sure what Superlite could have done to have made it a “better” experience. Hire more people to answer emails and keep me more abreast with my build perhaps, but then overhead would increase and the price of the kit would increase (it’s not inexpensive as it is, so NO, please don’t hire that photographer person). Given the constraints of the type of product and business I think RCR/Superlite are doing fairly well though this is my first component car experience. I had spoken with several builders before placing my order and had heard stories of backordered parts, parts missing from the kit, lack of communication, etc. Knowing this, I fully expected my experience would be no different so was prepared for the same. Given this, I think the overall ordering experience for me was relatively positive.
If you’re getting ready to place an order hopefully the above will help prepare you for the tedious and difficult waiting period. Just be patient and all will be well. Once you get your car you’ll see why it was worth the wait.