Make sure you know the “true costs” of a project car before you start your “perfect” build
I’ve got a confession to make and I don’t think I’m alone here. I love old, junk cars. I mean I really have a thing for cast-off, forgotten, neglected, rusted-out hulks sitting dormant for years. Seriously, I would rather wander around a wrecking yard full of junk than stroll through rows of shiny cars at the local cruise-in. When I spot the right project, I picture in my mind what it would look like with a certain stance, engine setup, and everything needed to make it the perfect car. What I don’t consider is all the hours and thousands of dollars necessary to pull off that vision.
For example, a few years back I purchased a very rusty 1966 Chevelle that had some local street racing history. Basically, the car was used and abused for years then put away in a field where the mice do ... well, what mice do. Let’s just say it was a complete biohazard inside. Ahh, the perfect project car for me. I rolled up my sleeves and with the help from a few friends we replaced a couple truckloads of sheetmetal, ditched the drag race gear, installed a new Art Morrison frame with Baer brakes and beautiful Forgeline wheels. It looked awesome!
We were moments away from taking it out and enjoying it, right? WRONG! After hours and hours of cleaning out the animal excrement and grinding rust, all I had was a cool and expensive Chevelle sitting in bare metal. There was no engine, paint, interior ... nothing. There was a long road to the finish line. Then I realized that the older I get the more that time becomes a rare commodity. This car represented another 2,000 hours of my life.
I jumped head first into a project without fully counting the cost. I believe there are still more unfinished classic cars stashed away in barns and garages than completed ones. They range from the old guy that says, “I’ll get to it one day. It’s not for sale,” to the completely ripped apart restoration project dissected by some over-zealous handyman.
Let me offer some advice when it comes to buying or restoring a classic Chevy.
I think the first step is to be brutally honest about the three resources everyone possesses in varying degrees: money, talent, and time. For instance, I had the money to buy a trick Morrison frame and the talent to pull it off, but with three kids under the age of 10 and a business to run, 2,000 hours of my life away from family to build a car sounds like a terrible idea.
Here are some examples to drive the point home.
Let’s say money is tight but you can do some wrenching on your own and $15,000 is the max budget to build a car. Then I wouldn’t buy a $10,000 engine-less 1957 Chevy project needing extensive repairs. Instead, I would search for the cleanest 1980’s El Camino or ’79 Camaro I could find and modify the suspension and install a 383 and have a blast. Just this morning I saw a mid ’70’s Camaro with an LS swap and $14,500 price tag. The deals are out there.
What if you’re at a point in life where the kids are off to college and the money is there to buy your dream high school car—probably a 1969 Camaro. A quick search on eBay brings up four-dozen possible candidates. $40,000 seems to be a comfortable price. You could pay more, but it’s still hard to wrap your head around the fact that a car you could have had for $3,500 in high school is so expensive in 2018. Buyer beware, there are people that are in the business to trade rust, body filler, and junk drivetrains wrapped up in a shiny paintjob for your hard-earned cash. Have the car inspected. These same thieves also run restoration shops. If you are low on talent or time and need to pay someone for work, do the necessary homework before buying a car or having a shop work on your baby. I have seen many dreams that turned into nightmares by shops unable to deliver on the work promised or cars purchased online but not inspected.
The last thing people consider when building or buying that Chevy is being honest about the intended purpose.
The intended purpose of a hot rod for me is driving the wheels off it, whether that is on the track or street. The perfect night would be hitting our local highway that takes you through some twisties on the way to the
Pacific Ocean. I don’t enjoy wiping cars down or stressing about where to park. That brings me back to the 2,000-hour Chevelle problem. In all reality, the car was going to be too nice for me to enjoy. I sold it to buy a ’68 Camaro that in six weeks we transformed into my perfect car. It’s loud, has patina, sports boosted LS power, big brakes for my newfound autocross addiction, and a smelly old interior perfect for taking the kids out for ice cream!
What is your perfect car?
Do you have what it takes?