Midlana FAQ

Introductions, posting rules, FAQ - What is a "Midlana"? Can I build one? How long does it take? How much does it cost?
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Midlana FAQ

Post by Midlana1 » 20 Dec 2008, 21:21

In 1957, Lotus produced a car called the Lotus Seven, with later versions (with larger engines) being called the Super Seven. In 1973, production of the Lotus Seven was sold to Caterham Cars, where they continue to manufacture kits and complete cars to this day.

Due to the expense of Caterham kits, in the mid-1990's, Brit Ron Champion wrote, Build your own Sports Car for as little as 250 British Pounds. In it he coined the phrase "Locost", a play on words referring to a low-cost Lotus Seven knock-off. A more recent book by Chris Gibbs, Build your own Sports Car on a budget has effectively replaced Champion's book but they share the common design of a small, light, front-engine, rear-drive sports car resembling the original Seven. The Champion book is now out of print but the term "Locost" lives on, referring to any scratch-built sports car that resembles a Seven. Both books use parts commonly available in England but much less so elsewhere.

Because of hard-to-find parts, and with front engine rear-drive drivetrains becoming sparse, is where Midlana comes in.

What's with the name?
The name "Midlana" is a combination of things: it's a unique word, great for name recognition, "Mid" because it's mid-engine, and "Lana" is our granddaughter's name. I've always liked the sound of the word "Katana", a Japanese sword, and since my Midlana is partially Japanese due to its drivetrain, and our granddaughter being half Japanese, it just kind of all fit together.


What's a Midlana?
Midlana is my idea for the next generation Locost. In the U.S., there are a limited number of small front-engine rear-drive drivetrains to use in a traditional Locost, and not everyone wants to use a Miata engine. Until now, no one has created plans for a Seveneque-type car using common FWD drivetrains and mounting it mid-ship. Yes, the Arial Atom has such a layout but the curved tubes aren't easy to make in a typical garage setting, and not everyone wants wind blowing up their pant legs and freezing their gonads. Plus, Arial dosn't sell kits.

Midlana retains the raw elemental simplicity of the original Seven and uses a Locost nose and fenders. This means that builders don't have to mess with composites, spend thousands for a shell, and pay to have long tubes bent into curves. As with the original Seven and Locost, Midlana is designed to be easily built and maintained.

Midlana uses common Miata suspension and steering parts due to their light weight, availability, and reasonable price.

Midlana features:
  • - Many potential builders already have a favorite FWD drivetrain that they know well. Midlana allows transferring this knowledge straight across instead of being forced to use an engine they don't have and don't want to use. This is perhaps its biggest feature.

    - You aren’t forced to pick from a short list of rear-drive engines.

    - Uses commonly-available lightweight suspension parts instead of truck parts, which gives a much more comfortable ride.

    - Mid-engine means that the exhaust doesn’t cook your feet, melt brake master cylinders, or foul the steering shaft.

    - You won't go deaf due to the exhaust being next to your ear.

    - No big ugly mufflers on the sides of the car. (A quiet car is becoming a requirement as more and more tracks impose strict sound limits.) Good-looking but ineffective Cobra-type side mufflers are often too loud.

    - You and your passenger won’t burn the back of your legs on the exhaust when getting out.

    - The rear weight bias helps acceleration and braking by increasing rear traction.

    - Midlana has adult-sized foot wells so you don't need special shoes or having to drive barefoot (not an exagguration in some real Lotus cars).

    - Independent rear suspension gives a smooth ride on the street and excellent camber control at the track.

    - No driveshaft down the center of the car means more room for seats.

    - No concern about a broken driveshaft hitting fuel lines, the gas tank, brake lines, or you. (The axles are behind the drivetrain.)

    - Midlana uses the complete FWD transaxle as-is, unlike some Locost builders who go to a lot of effort to adapt rear-drive transmissions to FWD engines.

    - Less weight on the front tires means steering effort is lighter than with a front-engine layout.

    - The steering rack is used unmodified - no cutting or welding.

    - With the engine behind the driver, the front chassis area can be properly triangulated, greatly increasing torsional rigidity. Freed up space is also used as a lockable storage area.

    - A roll-cage is an integral part of the chassis and greatly improves safety and stiffness, not a tacked-on afterthought.

    - Midlana uses Miata suspension uprights, steering, and gas tank parts, no need to have an entire donor car sitting around.

    - Mid-engine means engine torque does not twist the chassis and cause odd handling.

    - The gas tank is in a much safer location than in a Locost.

    - Having the engine and fuel near the center of gravity mean the handling doesn't change with fuel load and the car has faster turn-in.

    - Side vents bleed off high pressure ahead of the rear fenders, and the engine compartment exit vents help fill the low pressure area behind the engine, both helping to lower drag. Radiator air exits into low-pressure zones behind the front wheels, and a full undertray also lowers drag. A rear diffuser helps rejoin low-pressure air below the car to the air behind.

    - The oil pan is protected by the chassis so that it doesn't get destroyed by speedbumps or man-hole covers.

    - There is plenty of room for a real dead-pedal - no cramped foot wells.

    - Option for a free heater that uses hot radiator air.

    - A large frontal crush structure.

Is Midlana is better than a Locost?
It depends on what your definition of "better" is - some people only think it means faster. Since the primary difference between a Locost and Midlana is engine position, the only way to find out for sure would be to run the following test: Two cars, equal weight, equal wheelbase, equal track, equal aerodynamics, same exact engine, one mounted front-engine, the other mid-engine, and the same tires. Same driver, same track, same day. Drive 10 laps in each and see what's what - that's it. Any other comparison is meaningless because of so many factors which can throw off the results.

The chance of this test ever happening is about zero. Mid-engine cars have won every single F1 race since 1958, but they're hardcore downforce-producing race cars, but given the choice, why not start with what been proven as superior on-track, since that's what most builders aspire to do with their car. Why not start with what Phil Hill once said, "It was really astounding how just the placement of the engine [behind the driver] gave comfort to the drivers. The whole feeling of being - at the end of the string - was gone."

I do feel Midlana is better - because of the secondary benefits placing the engine behind the seats provides - foremost being a far wider choice of engines, the low PMOI, and much more roomy footwells.

Is Midlana easier to build than a Locost?
It will be about the same effort as building an IRS version of a Locost. It is designed so that no machining is necessary; you won't need a lathe or mill, though a drill-press is a big help.

A FWD drivetrain in the back? Won't it run backwards.
Think of the FWD drivetrain in a normal FWD car as pulling the car. With the drivetrain moved to the rear, the wheels still turn the same direction but instead of pulling the car it's now pushing - it's just a shift in perception.

Other mid-engine cars look better
They do, and derive their sexy curves from an expensive composite shell. This is perhaps Midlana's strongest selling point, that you don't spend $6000 for an composite shell (not including paint cost). That figure isn't an exaggeration, check around and see what full-body composite shells cost. Spending one tenth that on composite means at trackday events you won't worry - as much - about every little rock because there's less to damage.

What are the dimensions of the car?
64" front track, 60" rear track, and a 96" wheelbase. Overall height is 44", about the same size as a Locost but a little wider.

I want in-board suspension
Plans for inboard and outboard front suspension are provided in the book. Rear suspension is outboard.

I have a bunch of FWD parts laying around, can I use them?

How much does a Midlana cost?
How much does a house cost? The answer depends entirely upon you and how much you choose to spend on parts. For example:

1. Seats, 0 - $1200 each
2. Dash instruments, 0 - $3000 for a full flat dash setup
3. Gas tank, $200 for a self-built one, to $2500 for a real custom fuel-cell
4. Shocks, 0 - $2000 - each (really!)
5. Axles, depends on power level, $400-1000
6. Wheels and tires, 0 - $2000
7. Drivetrain, 0 - $20,000
8. Paint, from spray cans to powdercoat and car-show quality, $100 - $5000
9. Fenders and nose, $500

The actual steel and aluminum in the chassis amounts to about $1000. Miata donor parts (uprights, steering, and a few odds and ends) will be $100-400 depending where they're sourced, Craig's List on the one end - boutique-style wrecking yards at the other. As you can see, it completely depends upon you. If you really want an answer, here's an example:

1. Seats, $400
2. Dash instruments, $400
3. Gas tank, At least $100
4. Shocks, $1000
5. Axles, $500
6. Wheels and tires, $1600
7. Drivetrain, $2000
8. Paint, $1000?
9. Fenders and nose, $500.
10. Steel and aluminum, about $1000.

So that's under $10,000. (This price will be virtually the same as a Locost since it uses so many of the same components.)

I left out the chassis table, welder and tools. What they cost is somewhere between free and $5000. So the total for a lean Midlana is (figuring I'm forgetting things) around $10,000, - $12000. Of course, the cost is spread over however long it takes to build the car. Some builders think that'll happen in "six months, tops." Okay, but life will make it take longer, but know that the build is the fun. As said elsewhere, get rid of the cable TV, Starbucks coffee, and take your lunch to work. That alone adds about $250+ a month to the project bank account. In two years that's $6000, a serious portion of the budget.

Be wary of comparing Midlana's price to vendors claiming that you can get their "complete" kit with its sexy shell for $10-15K. Their idea of "complete" typically includes only the shell, chassis, and suspension. No drivetrain, wire harnesses, wheels, tires, seats, fuel tank, pedal assembly, steering rack, instruments, and a hundred other odds and ends, never mind paint. They low-ball you into buying the kit and then nickel-and-dime you for the rest over time. To get a better idea of what a kit really cost, drop to the bottom of their price list and see what they get for a turn-key car, which is usually around $30K. While that includes a bit for profit, it's far closer to the actual cost.

As a real-world example, a manufacturer offers a mid-engine kit of similar size and layout, one using a Honda drivetrain, with the main difference being that it uses a fiberglass shell. The factory's own estimation of builder expense (no labor cost) is over $33k (as of 2018).

Is Midlana cheaper to build than a Locost?
It'll be virtually the same. If you want a newer (>1995) drivetrain, presumably the OBDII computer will have to be replaced with an aftermarket unit - though the same applies to a Locost.

What is unique to Midlana is needing custom half-shaft axles. It's very unlikely that the axles will just happen to be the right length and spline count, so assume you'll be buying axles, about $250-$1000 depending whether you stick with stock units, build something with 500 hp(!), or reuse the existing CV parts. Keep in mind though that the expense will be offset to some extent by what it would have cost to shorten the driveshaft.

My budget's only $3000, can I still build one?
That's very challanging, but yes. Doing so would mean using everything possible off a near-free donor. Engine, tranny, seats, instruments, stock OEM ECU, adapting the OEM wire harness, steering, rack, and Miata wheels and tires.

I would do things different
Well then Midlana is an excellent choice for you. The book notes areas where builders must make choices based upon their own goals and preferences, it's okay to be different. Renderings of different ideas are included so builders can pick and choose what they like, or they can make their own unique modifications.

I'm no styling expert and want people to customize their car. I'm a slim 6' tall; if you're taller or shorter, the roll cage and passenger compartment can be changed to suit. If you're heavier or slimmer, widen the car, narrow it, move the seats forward or back, or tilt them and bring the cage down. Want to add tubes to the cage, great. Want to change the engine cover look? Great. Variations are a good thing.

Think of the book as a cookbook. If you - the chef - want to add a little more or less sugar or butter, great! The point is, it's a starting point, a known solution for a fun competitive car that works, but individual variation is encouraged. As long as the suspension geometry isn't changed, where the tubes go isn't a big deal, really.

I want more hip space, can I make it wider?
Yes, but the body then must taper inward more sharply toward the nose, so unless the nose is modified it’ll look odd with the dissimilar angles. Also, the car is already 72” wide at the outside of the tires, so the “I’ll just add some width” might cause it to end up as wide as a HUMVEE - without exaggerating. Making the car wider also has implications for the suspension because it lowers the roll-centers, but whether the builder cares or not depends what the car is used for.

I don't like the windscreen frame
A few people were concerned that the front windscreen frame could collapse in a rollover because it doesn't have proper bracing.

Per the SCCA/NASA Rule Books, it is true that the front corners aren't fully supported. The reality is that the occupants have to be able to get in and out of the car. It was a judgment call that most builders don't want to squirm in through the top of the cage or slide in through the side like in a stock car. Most importantly though the frame will not move much. Draw a line from the top of the main hoop to the front of the chassis and it shows that the frame can deform approximately 5". Additionally, the windscreen framework and overhead X-tubes serve as strong points for hoisting yourself in and out of the car and is much stronger and safer than a Locost because the Locost has nothing forward of the main hoop. The framework also lends itself well to the addition of doors.

Regarding the windscreen frame, a race car designer wrote: ...there's nothing wrong with the forward corners of the cage - they have a long ways to go before they contact anything (unlike the main hoop and its proximity to the occupants' heads), and having some give helps absorb energy. Keep in mind that formula and sports racer cars have no forward corners at all... However, I want builders to feel safe in their car, so alternatives with additional support are offered as well.

Does it have power steering and power brakes?
Neither are necessary nor needed. Steering is extremely light due to having so little weight on the front wheels. Even at a standstill, steering is not a problem - really. Eliminating the power circuits also has the benefits of less weight, fewer hoses to leak, fewer lines running down the center channel, and two less things to maintain.

I want an aluminum chassis
Many people think they want an aluminum chassis. To make a long and contentious issue short, a steel chassis can be flexed a small amount forever and never fail. If an equivalent aluminum chassis is flexed any amount it will fail - eventually. To be blunt, some builders don't know what they don't know.

Some point at an aluminum chassis OEM car (such as Ferrari) and say that if they can do it, so can we. Sure, anyone can weld together an aluminum chassis; the critical difference between Ferrari and us is that they have engineers who've figured out the fatique life of the chassis. It's just metal, but knowing what alloys to use and how to distribute it is where the skill is. I won't do it because I know what I don't know, but that doesn't stop some builders. I'm always tempted to ask builders of aluminum frames for their structural analysis, suspecting that there isn't any. To me, dismissing an aluminum chassis design as trivial is an ignorant slap in the face of structural engineering, sometime accompanied by the flippant, "they're thinking inside the box." Yes they are, and that box is called "metallurgy."

Igorance hasn't changed the physical properties of aluminum. These same builders seem oblivious about heat-treating the chassis, but I guess if they don't know about it, it isn't necessary... :roll: So, no, there is no aluminum chassis for Midlana - if you want to do it anyway, you're on your own.

It looks like a dune buggy
The cage can be left out but doing so cuts torsional rigidity in half and of course having the cage there is safer than not (on-track at least). It's all about choices. For example, if the windscreen is removed along with its frame, the passengers lose a great way to hoist themselves up and out of the car and also lose protection from getting pelted with bugs and rocks. The frame is also a convenient attachment point for doors, too. Everything's connected to everything else...

I want to start building now!
You can get started right now:
  • - Research your local motor vehicle registration process to ensure it'll be legal to drive after it's built
    - Clean out the garage, build shelves and get everything off the floor
    - Locate and buy a welder (this alone can take months if looking for a used name-brand unit)
    - Build a chassis table
    - Collect donor parts
    - Decide on a drivetrain
    - Find and buy said drivetrain
    - Rebuild the engine if needed
    - Rebuild the transmission
    - Research which ECU to use
    - And which seats, and steering wheel, and quick release hub, and wheels, and tires, etc, etc.
This also gives time to build the budget, since a fair number of parts need to be purchased up front, before the chassis is done.

If you want to get a sense of what it's like to build a car, check out my book on building a mid-engine tube-frame Mini from the ground up; the chassis and drivetrain layout are similar to Midlana, http://www.kimini.com/book_info/.

You keep mentioning SCCA/NASA rules like everybody's going to race their car.
I don't expect many to race in pro events, but some will take their car to trackday events.

I don't know the SCCA/ NASA class rules, but I imagine running Midlana in these events wouldn't be much fun, running against cars utilizing ground-effects, highly aerodynamic bodies, and running 1" ground clearance. I lean on the rule books because it makes for a safer design. Builders are free to go with smaller or thinner tubing but it will be their full responsibility to understand the consequences of doing so. My constant reference to the rule book is an effort to produce a safer chassis without crash-testing. Using what the SCCA has learned over dacades seems wise and exceptions are noted where builders must decide their own course.

Where are the parts lists?
I do list some parts here but not anything integral to the design; if they were listed, many people won't buy the book. This forum is a meeting place for builders who already have the book and those thinking about building the car. Neither group needs specs and sources; the former already has it, and the latter is simply wondering if they want to build one.

How long does it take to build one?
How long does it take to build a house? It all depends how much time you have available, if you have help, and how efficiently you work. I'm actually not a good example since I designed the car in parallel with building it, never mind writing a book at the same time. Existing builders are a better source of data, but I can say that it'll be longer than you think due to life getting in the way... it just does. When people say they'll be done building a project in a given timeframe, they never meet their self-imposed deadline. This isn't a reflection on Midlana but more a commentary on overly-optimistic human nature when applied to any large project.

What does the book include?
Full plans and hundreds of pages of pictures, guidance, tips, and options. Think of it as me being in the garage with you, providing drawings, the plans, and a lot of helpful input, but only when asked!

How much is the book?
It is less expensive that the very few other mid-engine sports car books/plans found on the Web, and those books don't provide 400 pages that walk you through the entire build process, never mind options.

Can I buy pre-cut parts?
Not for now. Midlana is aimed at the Locost community, where people build cars because they haven't the money to do otherwise. There are other kits on the market which supply pre-cut tubes but these come at a high price, a price many potential builders simply can't afford. (And as said above, some can't even afford the book.) I don't feel there's a large enough market to warrant the overhead, but we'll see.

What are your qualifications?
I am neither a degreed mechanical nor chassis engineer. (I did HW/SW design and am currently in Field Support.) I've designed and built a car once before, http://www.kimini.com/, and the new owners seems happy with it - not one phone call. Anyone can build a car if they do the research and take their time. Many Locost builders do most of their own design work because it's the only way they can afford a sports car, and they aren't engineers either. That's much what happened to me; I started reading like crazy and went from there. Here's the list of design books I recommend: http://www.kimini.com/Reference/index.html