Best cheap Project Cars
Similarly, don’t buy a car that’s redundant to any other part of your “fleet”. Already own a pickup? Don’t buy a second as a project. You’ll almost never use it. Same goes for any other car role you want filled. Give the project a real reason to be driven and you’ll be surprised what it does for your motivation to fix and/or drive it. Also, using a classic or project for honest work (or honest top-down-in-the-sun cruising) is far nobler than just driving it so the carb doesn’t get gummed up. My Country Sedan and Wagoneer saw/see regular bulky-crap-hauling duty.
Buy a Runner (or Very Close to it)
There’s nothing so fun as driving your new purchase to work the Monday after you buy it. Particularly for a beginner, it’s orders of magnitude easier to keep a car running than resurrect one that hasn’t been. Do not, under any circumstances buy a car that’s incomplete in some major way, even if the engine comes with it. They will sit just taking up space. You will be annoyed and lose interest long before it ever moves under its own power.
…or maybe this super clean, but 5 years dormant Ford-powered Benz for 00
Know Your Limitations
The biggest mistake I made with my Country Sedan was buying a car that needed body any paint work. The need was obvious the day I bought it, but I just kinda brushed it aside, “oh yeah, I guess I’ll have it painted some day”. If it was just bad paint, that would’ve been fine, but the rusty way-back floor and tailgate needed more than a Maaco spraybomb; they needed real metalwork that was well beyond my reach.
In general, I discourage people from buying cars that need body work, because it’s expensive and un-fun to do yourself. Endless unbolting/bolting jobs are doable (or learn-able) for anyone reading this, but actual metal patching should either result in a massive price decrease or disqualification.
Beware the Aftermarket
Be very, very careful about previous owner modifications. They’re tempting, as aftermarket stuff typically adds less than 1/4 its retail price to the cost of a car, potentially saving you money on upgrades you were already planning. Talk to enough serial car buyers (myself included) and you’ll find previous owner mods just never seem to play out in the end. They end up being not what you want, not done right or distracting from more basic maintenance issues. It’s a classic rookie mistake (that I made at least once) to get all wrapped up in “it’s already get like five grand in mods done!”, without realizing that five grand is only the first half of the bill to make it all work. Typically, you’re better off to start stock(ish) and just drive the thing; then upgrade what’s actually keeping you from enjoying it, not what everyone on the forums says you need.
This early Audi S4 (did they really make S4s in ’93?) is the aftermarket false-economy poster child. , 000 price tag, a long list of mods and talk of >300hp. Has the makings of a very expensive good deal.
Look for the “Good One”
For any car of any generation, there’s always a “good motor” or “good transmission” to be had. The aforementioned model-specific forums are good for this kind of knowledge. Chassis and drivetrain variations across sub-models or years can save you tons in future modifications as well maintain future resale value. Case in point: as a wagon, ’67 Country Sedan was equipped with the “big bearing” 9″ rear axle with 31 spline axle shafts, an upgrade over the lesser 28 spline “small bearing” example found in most sedans and 2-doors. Similarly, the “Z-code” 390ci V8 meant it was 10.5:1 compression instead of the lesser 9.5:1; both saving lots in upgrades if I really wanted to make it scream. Another quick example from Toyotaland is to hunt down a 1985 vintage truck or 4Runner, as they’re the only years with EFI and a solid axle.
Parts Availability is Your Friend
My Falcon is based on a chassis that was used from 1960 to 1980 for at least six different models, including the hojillion-selling Mustang and Falcons. The 260ci V8 shares almost every maintenance item with 40+ years of Ford small blocks. There are almost no Falcon-specific (functional) parts, and for those there’s falconparts.com or five minutes on eBay motors.