Road Test Review of La Bala

Recently North Carolina based Bala builder James Holley and his wife Deb stopped off in Phoenix to see the La Bala prototype in person and to take a test drive.You’ve seen lot’s of photos of the Grabercars La Bala prototype #0001 but probably haven’t read much about how the car actually drives or how it might compare to other cars. I’ve been telling you that La Bala is a fast car with a firm but suprisingly supple ride and is a blast to drive, but as the designer and builder what else would you expect?  Jim, ex-navy and a straight-shooter of a guy, posted a review of his experience with La Bala in the Grabercars forum.

Follow the link for his full review.

My wife Deb and I drove out to Phoenix a couple of weeks ago to pick up the blue body for NC La Bala. We arrived on Thursday evening and met Steve, his wife and kids. After talking cars for a couple of hours, Deb and I took the camper and trailer to a nearby Wal Mart parking lot to get some sleep. The next morning was the highlight of the trip for me. Steve took me for a 30 minute drive in the prototype. I was very impressed with with the little bullet. At the top of my list would have to be the cars simplicity and functionality. Strap yourself in, flip a switch, push the start button and go. The car has everything you need for a sunny day, and nothing else. Steve put the pedal to the metal a couple of times when we could find some clear road. The car pushed me back in the seat in first, second and third until Steve had to apply the binders as he was doing about 3 times the legal limit. When we returned to his casa he turned it over to Deb and I. First off let me explain that Deb is more into aesthetics and comfort than performance. She has liked the appearance of the car from the first time I showed her a photo and told her I wanted to build one. I think we both felt the car looks even better in real life than on paper or a computer screen. I have driven her around the Tampa area in a FFR, and a Shelby 427 CI CRX. She has also ridden in a friends Ferrari Testarosa. Deb liked the La Bala better than the Ferrari and the FFR, and thought it rode better than the big Cobra. I think one of the things that impressed us both was the lack of wind noise in the cockpit. Driver and passenger can hold a conversation at 50 mph without having to shout. Debs hair did not even get blown about. I don’t have that problem, with or without the hat.
When Steve turned it over he told me to drive it like it was mine, and take as long as we liked. I had already experienced the performance and concentrated on driveability and comfort. I’ll start with the only thing I found a bit uncomfortable. Steve is 6’4″, and I am 5’9″. He built the car so that when the seat is all the way back, his hand fell comfortability onto the shifter knob. When I slid the seat forward so I could reach the pedals, my elbow was behind my body when I shifted gears. On the La Bala I am building I have positioned the shifter a little farther forwad to make it more comfortable. I think each individual will have to decide what feels best for them. Driving this car really made me want to get home and get mine finished. It is FUN! I like the firm but not harsh ride, and the availability of all the power you could ask for in a street machine. The closest thing I could compare the ride and power to would be a slightly modified Subaru WRX STI. The Subaru is running twice the HP, twice the weight, and gets half the mpg. Not bad for a car built in a home garage. My car will be running about 70HP more than Steve’s, and should be scary fun to drive. I wish I had a chance to take the car up a winding mountain road. I think this is where it would really excel. From looking at the photos, reading the history of the build, and talking to Steve, I can see La Bala is still a work in progress. As Steve and future builders add modifications and tweaks to the Little Bullet, it is going to become the most kick ass homebuilt on the street or track.

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NOTE: These plans enable you to construct the La Bala Chassis, which is used as the basis for further construction of the La Bala-Street MR2 based Mid-Engine sports car. If you do not understand ‘Early Adopter’ please read this or contact me directly via the Contact Us form for an explanation.

Your purchase includes:

  • CAD Plans to build chassis (including suspension)
  • Parts List Spreadsheet
  • Link to download 3D eDrawing viewer with measurable chassis in 3D

The Chassis Plans consist of only the detailed and dimensioned CAD drawings with some other important annotation. Every tube and bracket in the chassis is dimensioned and when required, provided with a full-scale wrapping template that you can wrap around the actual tube. See an explanation of the wrapper templates. This innovative feature helps you make very precise miters and copes and removes all of the guesswork from your fabrication. The parts list contains general information regarding other parts and components you will need to source to complete your La Bala-Street.

The Manuals and Plans are in PDF(Portable Document Format). If you order the plans to be delivered via email they will arrive in PDF binders, which are groups of pdf files organized by chassis section. If you send a check via mail you can expect the files to arrive on a CD accompanied by the entire plan set printed out on 8.5″ x 11″ letter size pages.

To be able to view the Manuals or Plans on your computer, you must have a PDF reader installed on your system. You can use Adobe’s PDF Reader or Foxit Reader. Adobe and Foxit are both free readers but Foxit is only 1 MB in size while Adobe Reader uses over 65MB of hard drive space.

The Bala chassis plans should be printed out so you can take the paper copies with you to the workshop.I encourage you to print 2 sets. One you will use to cut the templates and the other you can keep as reference for dimensions. When you print please make sure that your printer is not scaling the pages to fit as this will mess up the templates for the tube ends, which you will cut out and tape around the tube ends to make your cuts. When purchasing the plans electronically please make sure that you include the email address you wish to have the plans sent to as these pdf files will be emailed within several hours of receiving your order. I am located in Cave Creek, Arizona which is near the west coast of the United States of America.

  Early Adopter Price will remain in effect until Plan Set is complete, then will return to original $179 price.

Other Payment Methods: If you are old-fashioned and don’t like email you can snail-mail me a check. I will print and mail you the plans in a manila envelope.  There is an additional $10 printing/postage and handling charge for checks. Expect a 2-3 week delay for all mail transactions. Your check will have to clear my bank first. Make the check out for $109.00 payable to ‘Grabercars’ and be sure to include your return address.

How do I buy a La Bala?

There are two ways to build your own La Bala, Bala-Street (Mr2 Donor based), or Bala-Track (using all new components of the highest grade and a finished frame and suspension that meets SCCA safety specifications) . You choose which version best suits your needs based upon your intended use, your budget and time, and your ability to fabricate parts and source donor components. Expect to spend between $15,000 and $35,000 to complete your la bala-kit depending on version (Street or Track), engine choice, trim level, etc.

As of Sept 1, 2007 You can now purchase completed La Bala.  Completed La Balas are custom built cars and price will depend on many variables.

Please see my forum posting for details.

MR2 Donor based La Bala – Street edition

La Bala – Street can be built almost entirely in a 1 or 2 car garage.  The street edition is a sub-1,600Lb tube-frame, 2 seat mid engine sports car that is suitable for street and fun track use. It is built almost entirely from my CAD plans and build book. It re-uses many MR2 donor components, uses some new components and will required a decent amount of fabricated components that you will either have to make from the plans or purchase from a Grabercars distributor. You will have a car building experience similar to my own (which you can read in the build diary of this website. The best part for you is that I have already done all the nasty research and discovery issues and have built the bodywork. Since I have done all the hard work for you already — my CAD Plans, Build book and expert advice will combine to help you maximize your dollar and minimize your hassles.

Here is an overview of the parts of La Bala – Street (MR2 donor edition)

  1. Front Suspension: unequal length a-arms with geometry optimized for the MR2 steering rack and donor hubs. Yamaha R6 motorcycle shocks and bellcranks inboard pullrod configuration.
  2. Rear Suspension: deDion beam style rear axle for optimizing traction, designed to accept bolt-on MR2 hubs. Yamaha R6 motorcycle shocks and bellcranks inboard pushrod configuration. 4 Trailing bars and Watt’s Link all with heim joints
  3. Suspension brackets and bushings: Hand fabricated per build book.
  4. Chassis – Tubular spaceframe with integral roll structure. Built from Grabercars CAD plans
  5. Brakes: MR2 calipers and rotors (1987+), Wilwood front -hanging pedal set. Clutch/Brake with bias bar. .625 MC’s
  6. Accelerator pedal – MR2 donor on custom bracket, cable from MR2 donor
  7. Radiator – MR2 donor
  8. E-Brake – MR2 handle donor with custom cables
  9. Shifter – MR2 donor with cable extensions
  10. Engine/Transaxle/halfshafts – MR2 donor (power adders per customer choice)
  11. Engine mounts – MR2 donor and fabricated, with customer modification per build book.
  12. Fuel Tank – MR2 donor, end cut off and welded shut with additional inner plasticized coating
  13. Seats – Customer choice. MR2 donor seats do fit, but with modification. Racing seats and harness highly recommended
  14. Exhaust – MR2 donor to the flex-pipe. Customer fabricated beyond. Cat may be required in certain states. Builder responsible for meeting all local state and federal legal emissions requirements.
  15. Steering – MR2 donor system complete from tie-rod outers to steering wheel including steering column and switch gear.
  16. Wiring – Can re-use MR2 donor harness with modification or customer may choose to rewire entire car and use aftermarket ECM.
  17. Windshield – Geo Metro
  18. Bodywork – High quality fiberglass in 5 pieces. Front hood, 2 sides pieces, rear deck and windshield header cap. Mounted to frame with fabricated hinges and brackets.
  19. Lighting – Front lights are hella 90mm halogen units. Tail lights are custom aluminum tubes with 4″ round Led sealed lamp units and gaskets.


La Bala-Track is a sub-1,500Lb vehicle built from all-new components using GM Ecotec Supercharged engine/ 5-Speed LSD transaxle of 245Hp and is intended for competition track use only.
Please contact us for pricing and details regarding Bala-Track

We can also build fully finished and show quality la Bala cars to customer specification. Please contact us regarding this   

La Bala Purchase Options

LA BALA PURCHASE OPTIONS – All the time adding more product to our catalog!

Now available: fabricated chassis and suspension arms, complete rollers minus bodywork stage, suspension tubing included in tube packs.

DIY plans for chassis and suspension –  this is our MR2 Running Gear based car.  You use some mechanical parts from a MKI MR2 to save money instead of buying all new parts….

Please note Bala Chassis and Suspension plans are not finalized – Buy the plans now for $99 and as we finish the drawings we will send them to you free of charge. This means that every Early Adopter chassis plan purchaser will receive free upgrades to the plans and build manual for as long as the car is being developed. This guarantees that you will always have the latest drawing package

Chassis Plans – The Grabercars La Bala chassis plans include a drawing sheet for every tube in the chassis and suspension, a parts list spreadsheet listing all of the major donor parts, purchased parts and fabricated parts you will need to construct the La Bala Kit and a BOM with the length and weight of every tube in the chassis. In the plans every tube appears on a separate 8.5 x 11 sheet which doubles as the template. Simply cut the paper, wrap around your steel tube and tape down, then cut the tube to the line on the paper for ‘exact fit’ tubes with no guesswork.

Parts List – a very complete list of major items you will need to buy to complete the car. Includes donor parts, purchased parts and part numbers as well as which parts need to be fabricated and are available from Grabercars.

Chassis BOM – a spreadsheet that describes every tube in the chassis and front suspension. Includes length and weights in metric and imperial.

Assembly Guide – an assembly guide showing how it all goes together is still being written. When it is completed you will receive it as it is included in the price of the plans.Expected completion in Winter 2008.

Please note that the plans and the assembly guide are not finished and the price for this package will go up when they are.

Price Regular price $179 – (Special Early Adopter Offer) : $99 – This product is available right now!


Pre-cut steel tube packs – instead of buying and cutting your own, let us cut them for you.

Full Chassis and Suspension Tube Pack – Every 1″x1″ square tube, 1.5″x1.5″ square tube, 1″ round DOM tube and 1.5″ round DOM tube required to build the La Bala MR2 based chassis and front suspension plus rear deDion axle. Every tube is pre-cut, numbered and packaged according to the section of the frame. Includes the round tubes for the front suspension arms AND the rear deDion axle. This tubing pack includes all of the DOM round tubing pre-BENT to the correct shape! You will not need a tubing bender, or to do any tube bending if you buy this pack. You will still need to purchase flat stock, paneling and some additional steel locally.

Price: $1,425 (plus shipping) – This product is available right now!
Square Tube Steel Pack  –  Every 1″x1″ square tube and 1.5″x1.5″ square tube required to build the La Bala MR2 based chassis. These tubes are precision cut to length and will require you to miter the ends using the plan set templates.

Price: $650 (plus shipping) – This product is available right now!
Round Tube Steel Pack  –  Every 1″ round DOM tube and 1.5″ round DOM tube required to build the La Bala MR2 based chassis, deDion axle tube and front suspension. These tubes are pre-bent to the correct shape and will require you to miter the ends using the plan set templates. This tube pack includes all of the DOM round tubing pre-BENT to the correct shape! You will not need a tubing bender, or to do any tube bending if you buy this pack. Note that due to chassis modification the round tube pack no longer includes the windshield surround tube or cabin top tubes. Contact me for price quotes on individual tubes.
Price: $775 (plus shipping) – This product is available right now!

Steel Pucks for front suspension a-arms  –  The Grabercars front suspension arms require machined steel pucks to accept the outer balljoints of the uprights into the a-arms. This is one of the few machined parts required on the entire car.

  Price: $65 – plus $15 shipping (mainland USA) – This product is available right now!

Chassis with suspension arms – fully welded and primered chassis with front a-arms and rear deDion axle – Chassis is professionally welded, fully bracketed and braced, primered and comes with engine mounts for either Ecotec or MR2 4AGE. It is ready for rigging and paneling. Available in your choice of powder coat color for additional $400. Now includes suspension arms!

Price: $3,900 – plus shipping

Build manual – MR2 based build. Describes step by step assembly process with text, photos and illustrations. This is the assembly of components required to build a car using plans sold above. Includes a complete component list.

Price: $30 – This product is not yet available.

Complete Bodywork for La Bala – Made of Hand Laid Fiberglass – Includes the front clamshell with integral headlamp buckets, rear clamshell, side panels, lower rear valance and windshield/dash frame. This is not some crappy high resin chopper gun body, but the highest quality hand-laid fiberglass. It is lightweight and very stiff. With our bodywork there is very little prep work required compared to many fiberglass products available on the market today. This saves you money in the paint prep stage. You could even leave the car in gel-coat with no paint and it will look good. These parts have virtually no ripples and only the smallest flashing lines. Specify black, white or gray gel-coat when ordering. Additional gel-coat colors are special order.

Price: $4,970 (Plus shipping) – This product is available right now!

Windshield Frame/Dash Combo of Hand Laid Fiberglass – The Dash Windshield is a complicated piece to manufacture with multiple layups bonded together in final assembly before being pulled from the molds. It not only serves as the dash and gauge pod on the interior of the car, it is also the windshield frame. The glass it uses is 1996 Geo Metro. It is designed to bolt onto the chassis and is also held in place by the front clamshell, which lays down over top of the leading edge of the glass. This assembly deletes the windshield steel frame from the chassis plans.

Price: $840 (Plus shipping) – This product is available right now! 

Lower Rear Valance of Hand Laid Fiberglass – The rear valance is a piece that attaches to the lower part of the rear clamshell and is a cosmetic enhancement to the rear bodywork. This part is a very lightweight hand laid fiberglass cloth of the highest quality.


Price: $350 (Plus shipping) – This product is available right now!
Complete Roller minus bodywork and driveline – Now you can have a complete La Bala roller delivered to you minus bodywork and engine. This package includes every part from our Track Package below minus bodywork and items attached to the bodywork.
Price: $16,900 (Plus shipping) – This product is available right now (90 – 120 day lead time)!

1- LA BALA TRACK – Self-Assembly Car in crates – We build the complete car minus engine for you, then disassemble, crate and ship to you. This product includes all components required to assemble a complete roller minus driveline and paint.

  • Fiberglass body panels, unpainted
  • Complete tubular spaceframe chassis with aluminum panels
  • Interior panels and center console
  • AIM mychron auto dash
  • Team Dynamics Pro 1.2 wheels with Falken Azenis RT-615 tires
  • Wilwood brake package front and rear
  • Custom CNC Cut and bent plate steel welded uprights
  • Steering rack
  • 2 aluminum racing seats with covers and 5 point harness
  • wiring harness for main electrical (not including engine harness)
  • tail lights and headlights with lexan covers
  • front windscreen
  • shifter
  • mirrors
  • All suspension components and quality dampers
  • engine mounting brackets (for designs in-stock)
  • cooling system
  • fuel tank and filler
  • and more… Pretty much everything needed to build a track car minus the engine, shifter cables and engine-specific wiring harness, minus half-shafts, minus paint prep and paint.
  • We can also assemble your la Bala and have it shipped to you with the engine of your choice. Please email to discuss this option.

Price: $25,000 – There is currently a 90-120 day lead time on this product.

Note: La Bala Track is sold as a track car, for off-road use only. If you desire a street legal product you may be able to accomplish this yourself, but you will need to ensure that it complies with your local state requirements. We will give assistance as we are able.

Shipping – For bodywork orders we have to crate the bodywork and then will ship via freight F.O.B. to your destination. It is a light crate, but large due to the shape and size of the clamshells. You are also welcome to come personally to pick up from our shop. Call ahead to determine space and weight requirements for your order.

Orders and Deposits – (Explanation of terms and conditions) Deposit will be 50% of your order. Since we are a small company your deposit is very important to ensure the fabrication and timely delivery of your product. Your deposit kicks off the wheels of industry at Grabercars. The arrival of your deposit will ensure that your car receives a production date and that all the required parts in our inventory are allocated to your car. The deposit must be included at the time you place your order.
Orders are filled in the sequence that they are received. Delivery date for your order will be stated at the time we place your order into the production schedule. We will try to provide a very specific date for delivery, but the date given will in effect be an estimate and will be subject to change.
OrderingIf you are interested in ordering a Grabercars  la Bala or in receiving more information about our production scheduling and delivery times

DIY CNC Router with Downloadable Drawings

Copied from a popular thread in the grabercars forum, CAD plans to build your own cnc router table are being made available to the general public.

If you want to see some photos of what Jim has built so far, please visit  Image Gallery Here . Hopefully I will be able to update with more photos as Jim gets them to me.
Jim from Australia writes:
I use a CNC 5-axis router for making Foam Plugs. The machine is scratch built and the cutting area is 3m * 3m * 2m. I use the machine for building aircraft and boat molds. All up it cost me about $3000 AUD ($1500 US) to build. The router is a classic Gantry style unit. The slides are made using 2 pieces of equal angle to form an X with bearings between them. The XYZ axis is driven via a threaded rod suspended on each end with a pillow block bearing. I machined the threaded rod to attach a sprocket and ran a chain drive to a stepper motor. The router motor is a 17turn RC car motor running on 12V with a PWM speed control.

The motors and steppers are driven from the parallel port of an old PC using interface boards I assembled myself (kits) you can get them at (prices are Australian Dollars) (Steve’s note: does anyone know where to buy these items stateside?). Software on the PC is Mach2, which is found at you can download a free copy. To generate the CNC Gcode I use Featurecam.

I designed the parts in SolidWorks. Obviously my router is not big enough to do an entire plug in one go so I split it into sections using the split feature Solidworks. To each split section I then add locating dowels. This aids in assembling the plug from sections. The foam I use is standard 2-part Polyurethane expanding foam. I use fairly large cell foam as it much cheaper. Once the section is machined I spray it with a hibuild undercoat (spray on body filler) and machine it a second time. This leaves very little work to prepare the plug section for creating a mold. Once this is all done the sections are assembled to form the plug. The joins are filled and sanded to complete the plug.

Jim has decided to give his CNC router plans away for free. The Solidworks files are available for download here  If you want the files in IGES format, you can download those here. (Note: files are packaged in compressed zip files. You must extract the files and keep the directory structure intact).  Right now I am looking for someone to take the existing SW 3D files and convert them into working drawings. If you have Solidworks experience and want to help out, feel free to contact me about this.

You can get the 3D Solidworks viewer from the link to the left. This will allow you to view all the components and take the machine through all it movements as well as get the dimensions. The viewer is free.

My advice is to build a 3-axis machine first then upgrade that to 4,5 or 6 axis later. With 3 axes you can’t effectively cut anything along the edge without gouging. IE; it depends on the length of the cutter and how deep you can go before the collet hits the job. A 4 or 5 axis can get around this a fair bit but it still has limitations. You also have to have some very good software to generate Gcode for more than 3 axes. Its also a lot harder to get the Gcode right for more that 3 axis, IE; a lot more learning to do.

Here are some tips:
If you approach CNC as 2.5D (3 axis) all you need to do is make sure that

1. You have a flat surface on the underside
2. The cuts don’t allow the spindle to hit the job by cutting too deep. You can cut deeper if the cut slopes away at an angle
3. No undercuts if what you are cutting fails in any of these conditions you simply have to split the job up into smaller pieces to get around it.

You can use anything you like to machine your parts from however, the harder the material the longer it takes. I use foam because its cheap and quick to machine, although I have to do an extra finishing pass after applying hibuild primer, but again that’s cheap. There are lots of materials to use such as MDF, Clay, Wax among others. All have advantages and disadvantages. With foam I have no storage issues as I make it up when needed, its light, which is great for big molds, its quick to machine and cheap to make. Foam is not as good as say wax for the finish but after filler is applied there is no real difference. Best of all foam is cheap.

To prepare the foam I have to make up the blocks. I use a box to make the blocks. The base is an MDF sheet to which I screw on the sides. The sides are removed once the foam sets leaving the Foam Bonded to the MDF and ready for machining. I change the size of the walls depending on how big a foam block I need. The foam is split from the MDF at the end with a hot wire cutter that runs along the X-axis.

If you download the documentation (pdf) from the Oatley Electronic site, it will explain everything about interfacing the stepper motors. The sofware will drive up to 6 axis, Torch Contoler for Plasma, Digitiser, Servo or Steppers, Encoder feedback, and lots more. As for my setup I use Lpt1 for the XYZ axis and limit switches and LPT2 for the AC axis. LPT 2 is also used for the THC (Torch height control) on the plasma but that does not use the AC axis. If you use the controlers from oatley you need one constant current psu per axis plus one controler per axis. IE I have 5 controlers, 5 cunstant current units, 2 switchmode PSU (12V & 36Volt), PWM motor Control, THC, breakoutbaord with 4 relay outputs mounted in a 19in rack case. As for Art’s software you can use 2 lpt ports (5 inputs per port and 12 Outputs per port) USB (Up to 32 inputs and 32 outputs) Keyboard Emulation (any KBD switch) Joystick (USB or Game Port) for Jog functions Their is lots more options than that but thats the basics. As I said download the Software and Manual its all explained there.