Built Not Bought: The Arrogant Man’s Mantra


There has always been a divide between those that build their cars and those that don’t. This divide has been discussed, debated and argued about hundreds of times over.

Many words have been written about the topic, and admittedly we may not need more. However after becoming quite familiar with the Ridler competition this year I was compelled –some might say triggered– to share a few thoughts.

With an extreme focus on engineering, creativity, and workmanship the Ridler is one of the hardest best of show awards to win.

People may debate each of the Great 8 finalists aesthetic merit but from a craftsmanship view-point they are all remarkable.

After immersing myself in the selection process, and writing a few articles on the cars, I noticed that there is some level of contempt around the competition. One of the most prevalent criticisms is that it has become a cheque writing exercise.

Some enthusiasts turn their nose at the entire competition because it doesn’t lend itself to the back yard builder, despite the fact that there are no rules against their entry.

Detractors state that it is easy to build a car to Ridler standards when money is no object.

But it’s not. Just ask any of the builders involved if it was ‘easy’ to put together a car of Ridler caliber.

Pundits also claim that those who have someone else build their car are a lesser form of enthusiast.

But they’re not. Talk to any of the vehicle owners and try not to hear the passion in their voice as they talk about what is now their car.

The notion that a build is any less remarkable because of the money that went into it doesn’t really make much sense. Owning and modifying a vehicle is not a great numbers game. Often it is cheaper to buy a car than it is to build one. Furthermore purchasable options are also usually easier to maintain, better performing and an overall better investment.

But in a hobby where individualization is an integral part, buying something that anyone else can fails to impress.

Creating a custom vehicle takes much more than money, it takes vision and execution. More often than not it also takes a combined effort from a number of individuals.

Devaluing a build because it was paid for by someone with the means to do so unfairly takes away from the people who put in the work. Those individuals had the talent, the client just provided the medium and often the idea.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of capable builders out there whose work goes virtually unnoticed because the right project never comes along.

That might be fine for some but there are many who both want and deserve for their work to be seen. It’s unjust to dismiss the efforts of these builders simply because they were hired by someone who could afford to pay for their talent.

Similarly dismissing everyone who commissions their builds as a lesser enthusiast is an arrogant and narrow-minded perspective. Yes, there are some who write a cheque at the beginning and only reappear at the end. But, there are also many who can’t/won’t/don’t spin a wrench but stay involved throughout the entire process.

These enthusiasts have sketched the car of their dreams out on napkin several times over, but have opted to have it built instead of building it themselves. Many race car drivers do not built their cars, are they not enthusiasts?

The reasons for outsourcing a build are plentiful but the most common is skill. Not everyone is capable of building something themselves. The analytical thinking, attention to detail, and motor skills required to safely build a vehicle is not a common trait among all people. Is it better to try, and potentially put yourself and others in danger or know when you are in over your head and call in the pros?

This question is rhetorical, and one I am constantly battling with on my project.

I am, at least historically, more a car assembler than a builder and there plenty of things outside my wheelhouse. Some of those things I have a desire to learn, or improve my skills at, and others I have little interest in and thus problem with outsourcing.

Time is money and sometimes its more worth my time to pay the money.

Most who chant built not bought are in the same boat but too afraid to admit it. I’m sure there are plenty of cars with built not bought stickers on them sitting incomplete in garages around the world. The owners of these cars would no doubt love to have them out sooner if they could but a few extra dollars towards enlisting some help to lift them past the next hurdle.

There’s really no shame in that either because time is the second most relevant reason to call in the cavalry.

Life doesn’t want anyone to build a car. There’s only 24 hours in a day to figure out a problem, and most of those 24 hours are dedicated to things other than the build.

Days become months, months become years, and timelines are easily blown out as priorities change. Paying a shop, a good shop, means that a build will be done by an established date.

If you’re the type who enjoys the drive more than the build then paying makes perfect sense. For those that enjoy the build over the drive paying someone else for the fun part doesn’t make sense.

But really it’s just two different sides of the same enthusiast coin, and often the ones who take the time to build things correctly don’t criticize those who pay to have things built.

Usually the reason for this is because they are the one’s being paid to do the building.

The die hard do it yourself crowd may not realize it, but the pay someone to do it crowd is an important part of the enthusiast community and industry.

Many of the best back yard builders are given the opportunity to do what they live for a living simply because people are willing to pay them for it.

If you’ve gotten this far I’m sure you are wondering how I feel about people who buy completed cars that were modified by their previous owner.

Honestly, those people just might be the smartest of all. Cars are, typically, horrible at holding their value and there are tons of great deals to be had if you know where to look.

If you’re comfortable with buying a finished or unfinished project then by all means give it a go. I’m surely not one to talk or judge, the chassis going under Project Why Wait is one I bought and didn’t build.

Finally, contrary to what those who live by built not bought mantra might think, paying for a build is not easy. It requires resources, and usually these resources come from hard work. Hard work in a different way perhaps, but hard work all the same.

One person’s talents might lie in creating a frame from scratch and another’s might lie in working the stock market, or renovating a house for profit. It’s all relative and one skill is no less valuable than another if it contributes to a car build.

The choice to build or buy is rarely ever a simple binary decision, and instead of drawing lines in the sand it’s much easier to let people do what they are comfortable with while you do the same.

Built not bought, bought not built ultimately doesn’t matter if at the end of the day it puts a smile one your face.


  1. there is a Youtuber with 2 ZL1s that has a built not bought sticker on it. though, he thinks his is built not bought because he is HAVING, as in not doing it himself, it built up as he can afford it, not bought finished. that is a clear misunderstanding of the sentiment.
    me, i like all cars, and if you think about it, really all of them are bought…….

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