Caged Beast

Words & photography: Dave Smith

I say, that car has no clothes on! This Roadkill-inspired superkart has racked up the miles all summer long.

Have you ever watched Roadkill? It’s the best TV programme out there… and it’s not even on TV. Messrs Freiburger, Finnegan and the rest have the sort of automotive fun we all wish we could have, and sometimes they can plant the seed of an idea you’d never have thought of…

This was exactly the case when they published episode 35, towards the tail end of 2014, an episode in which they cut the body from a ruined C4 Corvette, caged it, then took it to the desert to pitch it against a brand-new Lingenfelter ‘Vette. It certainly had an impact on Gary Leece, from Cumbria.

“I watched that episode, and thought that it looked so much fun!” says Gary. “It took me a couple of years to get my arse in gear, but during that time I built myself a tube bender – I bought the mandrels from the US, but built the rest from YouTube tutorials – and practiced by making a roll hoop for my MGB and a movie-spec cage for my Mad Max Falcon.

“I found the Corvette on eBay in July last year. It was over at Tattershall, Lincolnshire – I recognised the area from the Lakes Run that was held there years ago! It was a 1985 base-model ‘Vette, the first year of the Tuned Port injection, and was one of a handful of project cars the sellers had brought in from the States. It was unregistered, a non-runner with flat tyres, a cracked targa top, a cracked windscreen and a knackered steering lock, but none of that bothered me. I put a bid in, but it didn’t make its reserve. Then, a while later, the seller got in touch and said ‘make your best offer’.

“I got it home, put a new battery on it and it fired up and ran sweetly. I fitted a couple of part-worns in place of two of the tyres that had sat flat for a while, replaced the steering lock, and re-‘glassed the floor where someone had punched holes in it by picking it up with a forklift. I fitted amber rear indicators to make life easier down the line, then removed the windscreen and wiper spindles altogether. It passed the MoT with no problem! It never went on the road like that; I just needed to test it to get it registered, and waited until I got that done before cutting it up, just in case there were any issues.

“As soon as the log book came through, I started removing all the parts I could. The interior was completely goosed – all the plastics were sun-bleached, the dashboard was cracked, it was way beyond restoration, but I did manage to salvage the seats. The bonnet, nose cone, doors, glass hatch and rear panel just unbolt – it’s really only the rear quarters and the strip over the fuel tank that are bonded to the chassis. I cut out the floor behind the seats, cut the roll hoop and screen surround, removed the aluminium rear bumper brace and fuel tank support, and was left with a Corvette chassis with a floor and bulkhead.

“I worked out the height I needed the main cage to be, then made a wooden support frame to measure from. Using photos from the internet, I worked out the angles I needed to bend the tubes to. I reckoned I’d need seven five-metre lengths of 1.75” CDS seamless tube to do the job, so I ordered eight lengths and used exactly seven! I bent the tubes, and welded them to the chassis, then turned to the engine.

“The TPI system has so many wires, sensors and connectors that I expected it’d be very susceptible to moisture, so I took it all off and replaced it with an MSD Atomic bolt-on EFI system on an Edelbrock Performer RPM manifold. The Atomic kit comes with an inline fuel pump and filters, so I made a square aluminium fuel tank that gravity-feeds a swirl pot just ahead of the rear axle. I removed the whole wiring loom, sold the TPI harness with the TPI set-up, and stripped the redundant wiring out of the factory loom – I lost over half the loom! I fitted Land Rover rear lights, because they’re cheap, and Lotus Seven-style headlamps with indicator lights in cups on the bumper ends.

“The exhaust is a set of Hedman headers, part of the stock system, and a couple of Cherry Bombs with the tailpipes kicked up at the rear. I removed the smog pump and the air conditioning, and fitted a belt tensioner from a Ford V8. The dash is a mixture of gauges I had lying around – Smiths, Auto Meter, whatever worked – with an electric speedo, and the seats are Sparco Sprint black vinyl buckets with eBay harnesses. It has a computer-controlled 700R4 four-speed auto, but I removed the computer and just fitted a toggle switch to switch out the lock-up. I’ve no idea what the wheels are; they’re just the 8×18” Chinese flaky-chrome crap that came with the car, but I have a set of Jag wheels with M&H Racemasters for the track. I had to change the bolt settings on the rear arms and remove shims from the front upper arms to correct the camber, but otherwise it’s on its stock fibreglass monoleaf springs. I have six inches of ground clearance, but with the number of speed bumps around here, that’s a good thing.

“Its first trip out was in January this year, and the weather was … crisp. I took it to have it re-MoTed, just to check everything was OK, then I just went out for a run. It’s really good fun to drive. You have to wear a crash helmet, or just goggles for a short trip. I’ve done a couple of thousand miles in it so far; I drove it to Shelsley Walsh for the Retro Rides Gathering, which was about 170 miles each way, and up to Blackford for the Phantoms Hootenanny, which was 130 miles each way and it belted with rain! The Hot Rod and Hills weekend was great, as always.

“It’s lots of fun – I’m still smiling now – and if you want to be silly you can light the tyres up and lose the back end any time, wet or dry. I’m going to change the auto ‘box for a T5 manual, and I may swap the cam for something a bit wilder, but I’ll see what it’s like with the T5 first. Otherwise, I’m just going to drive it.”SM

Vette-Kart

  • 1985 Corvette C4 chassis
  • Stock running gear
  • 1.75″ CDS tube cage/frame
  • 350ci TPI V8
  • MSD Atomic bolt-on EFI
  • Edelbrock Performer RPM manifold
  • Hedman long-tube headers
  • 700R4 overdrive auto
  • Sparco seats with harnesses
  • Stock 1985 Corvette kerb weight – 1,465kg/3,230lbs
  • ‘Vette-Kart kerb weight – 1,060kg/2,336lb