My Project Car Search
March 1, 2002
By Scott Lewis
Let me interrupt for a moment. Below I will detail a lengthy search I made for a project car. I performed this search last year, around May - June time frame. I could kick myself for not calling about some of these cars. Today some of them seem like real bargains. I haven't decided if I think the Internet is driving the price of old cars up... but that is for another article. When you read the rest of this article keep in mind I researched and wrote it about 8 - 10 months ago. Now we will return you to your regularly scheduled reading...
Last month I wrote an article on what it would take to revive my Chevy 350 engine. This is an engine that I built back in 1986-1988. I have had this engine in storage since 1988. Quite a while ago I wrote an article about the possible cars I could put that engine in. I decided to see how much trouble it would be to find just such a car.
That original list included: 69 Camaro, 70-73 Camaro, late 70's - early 80's Malibu or El Camino, early to late 80's S-10, 72 or earlier El Camino, 62 - 72 Nova, and 66 - 67 Chevelle/La Mans/Cutlass/Skylark.
Looking back at that list I decided it was too restrictive. I dropped the idea of looking for an El Camino or S-10. I would not avoid one, but I think I would prefer a car to a truck at this time. Beyond that I have opened the door to get almost any Chevy, mostly 66-72 in vintage. Also, I think it would be kind of neat to find a decent 70-72 Vega hatchback. I always thought V-8 Vegas are cool. Today they would be considered "different." And I would not be against the idea of getting a 66-67 Tempest or Le Mans. Although a Pontiac, I should be able to swap my Chevy engine in it pretty easily. After all, it is really a Chevelle under the skin.
With this search I am specifically looking for a project car. Ideally it would be an inexpensive car to buy and bring home. I would work on it and my engine with the idea that the car would eventually be sold to fund getting a car on my classic car wish list. I do not know bodywork, so I want a straight car with no rust. I would also prefer a complete car. Often it becomes very expensive to scrounge up everything missing from a car that is disassembled, or incomplete.
This is very hard. Ideally I would like to find a car with a straight, rust free body that is barely running or has a lot of miles and an engine on its last leg. Unfortunately, that combination is hard to come by. Mechanical work is cheaper than bodywork, and bad bodywork does not leave you taking the bus to work. That means I can expect cars that are in poor running condition to have body damage or rust.
However, it is very important to set a budget. Ideally I would like to build a project car that looks and run good for a total of less than $10,000. After all, I found a few nice cars under $10,000 in my classic car search.
I expect to spend between $2000-2500 to get my engine in top running condition. That leaves $7500 maximum for the car. I would prefer to keep the price of the car itself under $5000, leaving $2500 leftover for the car, such as rebuilding the suspension, wheels and tires, brakes, etc. However, if I found a really nice car for $7500 I would consider it and just drive it while I worked on my engine.
Below are clippings from ads I found on the Internet. All but one has a picture. I used to be forgiving of ads that did not include pictures. Just check out my original classic car search. I had a lot of ads in that article without pictures. That was over two years ago. It is just too easy to upload a picture on the Internet. If you are selling a classic old car... at any price level... you should be able to buy a decent $200 digital camera or get a friend with a digital camera to help you out. There is no excuse for putting an ad on the Internet without a picture. Keep this in mind if you want me to look at your car when you sell it. And while I am griping about pictures... use good pictures. There are a lot of lousy pictures of cars out there on the Internet. Give me a break. There is no excuse for pictures out of focus either. Enough of my ranting... onto the article.
Top Dollar - Here were a few cars that were barely within my $7500 budget. All were around $6000 or more. Obviously it leaves little or no money leftover to work on the project, except putting my engine in. However, these cars shouldn't need anymore than that, and most don't even need my engine.
1967 Corvair Convertible, Completely restored. Like New.
Scott's Comments: This is the top dollar I would pay for a project car. This car isn't really a project car, but I couldn't resist. I would not be able to swap in a 350 V-8 in place of a flat 4 or 6 in the trunk while staying under my total project cost of $10,000. However, this car is in excellent shape and would need nothing but a quality swap to make it road worthy. I could drive it around as I revived my engine, researching what it would take to swap in the engine, and slowly acquired the parts. Sounds like a neat idea.Note: This car was taken from my classic car search.
|1969 Camaro SS Convertible,
A rare find, black,
327 V8, a.t.
Scott's Comments: Wow, a 69 Camaro SS Convertible project car. I like 350 engines much better than 327s, so the swap is a natural. This is a good logical project car. The picture shows this car to be rough. I would be seriously concerned about rust. The price is a little high for a project car, but the goal of this project is to eventually get me into a classic Camaro Convertible. That might open the budget on this particular car.
Note: This car was taken from my classic car search.
|1969 Camaro, rebuilt 302, new interior w/SS console,
clean paint, new Centerlines, new tires, air shocks, alarm, good tags, CD
player, clean sound, quick & runs excellent, trades considered.
Scott's Comments: This car looks awesome. The body looks very straight. With a rebuilt engine you would think it didn't need my engine. However the ad reads 302. What is that? The 302 was only offered in the Z/28 from 67-69. This is not a Z/28. So maybe it is a 307, which was available in regular Camaros in 69. Is it a swap? Regardless, this car looks so good that it should need little except to be parked in my garage.
|1969 Camaro, 327 Powerglide, no's match, 96000
original miles, blue over black buckets, solid Wyoming car, mint redone
interior, drives awesome!
Scott's Comments: 327 with a powerglide tells me it is probably a 210 hp car. This car really need my 350+ hp engine. 69 is my favorite year for the Camaro. This one looks like it is in great shape. A truly excellent condition original Camaro waiting for me to turn it into something special.
250CI I6, 3sp Manual Transmission w/Factory Floor Shifter. Power Steering,
Manual Brakes. The cars numbers have been checked with the CRG - Camaro
Research Group. Numbers Match. Daily Driver - Drop in a Big Block and save
the six for a rainy day.
Scott's Comments: This car looks perfect. This could be the perfect project car for me. The car really doesn't need anything... except my engine. It even has a manual transmission. All I need to do is drop in my 350 engine and go.
Note: This car was taken from my classic car search.
| 1972 Camaro, RS Split Bumper w/
Matching #'s. 350 w/ 4bbl 650 Edlelbrock, K&N Air, Ceramic Headers.
Engine was prof rebuilt all new components. Crager SS Rims, All New
Tires, New Brakes, Pioneer Stereo. Comes w/ all Original Engine Parts, New
Chrome for entire car, new emblems, new leather seats, new door rubber, new
locks, new windows fletching.
Scott's Comments: What is "windows fletching"? I don't know. Maybe it is the window felt part of the weather stripping. After all it has new door rubber. Anyway, I am rambling. This car looks very nice. I love split bumper Camaros. The web site had many pictures, and they did an excellent job of showing this car to be clean but not perfect. I read that as nothing to hide. Clearly this car doesn't need my engine. Actually, that might take some of the fun out of it.
|1968 Camaro, Red, Dry Western car, 350, auto, runs/drives good, solid car, needs paint,
red bucket interior with console, rallies, needs a little tlc, PS, rear
spoiler, drive while you apply finishing touches.
Scott's Comments: This looks like a nice 68 Camaro. This is more than I want to spend for a project car, but it looks like it doesn't need much. The paint is quite dull, which is saying something for such a small picture but the flip side is that the paint on the car can't be hiding anything. That might make it a good car to drive while I work on it.
|1966 Impala Convertible, fresh paint, tires,
brakes, many new parts, 90% complete, runs/drives good.
Scott's Comments: This picture looks like crap. However, it is one of my favorite years for the Impala and it is a convertible. I am assuming the description makes up for the poor quality of the photo. Since this is near top dollar I would get lots of info, but it looks like it should make a nice convertible cruiser.
|1967 Chevelle, 350 4 Bolt, bored 60 over, 202
Heads, alum intake, 4-speed trans, new cam, new carpet & new headliner
with car cover, Partially Restored, Must See to Appreciate.
Scott's Comments: This car looks good, but it is already a hot rod. I have said this before... it is cheaper to buy someone else's project than to start from scratch. I really want a manual transmission car, which is the reason this car made the list. This car shouldn't need my engine. Then again, you can't always trust the quality of someone else's work. Another plus, this is my favorite year Chevelle in the 64-67 era.
|1966 Impala, Factory 327 4-speed, new paint, runs
and drives great.
Scott's Comments: I must admit, this is my favorite version of the early Impalas. A factory 4-speed is a huge bonus for me. Too bad this wasn't a convertible, but that's just too much to ask. I remember back in the early eighties seeing a 66 Impala with a two-tone paint scheme. It was black with silver below the body crease that ran the length of the car. I always think about that car when I see a 66 Impala. This car could duplicate that look for me.
|1966 Pontiac Tempest Convertible, white/red interior, new
tires, original 326 engine, protect-o-plate, original bill of sale, nice
Scott's Comments: What? Am I crazy? A Pontiac? Here we have a nice Pontiac. All of GM's intermediate cars (Chevrolet Chevelle, Pontiac Tempest/LeMans, Buick Skylark, and Oldsmobile Cutlass) will take any of GM's engines. Since Pontiac's 326 was never a decent performance engine, my 350 Chevy engine would make a great swap here. This car seems to be in very nice shape. It is a lot to spend to start taking it apart. However, I should be able to get my engine in this car and stay under my total $10K budget. Then I could gradually turn this car into a GTO clone as I drive it. My only problem with this car is the white on red color scheme. Yuck! But it is a convertible... a very nice touch, and ultimately the reason this car made it into this article.
First Choice - These are the cars that really caught my eye. They are all affordable at about $5000 or less, and should make good project cars. There would be money leftover to start working on them as soon as I got them home.
|1967 Camaro, 59000 original miles, 6-cylinder,
conv, auto, power steering, am/fm radio, new top, & tires.
Scott's Comments: I should have found this car for my classic car search, not my project car search. This looks like a decent condition original Camaro convertible. This car is in Pennsylvania, so I would look very carefully for rust. Otherwise this is a perfect project car for my 350 engine.
|1969 Camaro, power steering, Powerglide
transmission, rear spoiler, 2 sets of tires, low miles.
Scott's Comments: This looks like a really nice, unmolested 69 Camaro. Just what I need. The price is right (under 5K). I could see myself driving this car... with more horsepower of course.
|1970 Camaro Rally Sport, auto, 350 stock.
Scott's Comments: Whoa! A nice looking split bumper Camaro! And less than 5K. The car looks good. With the stock engine this car is hopefully a decent running car, but in serious need of a high horsepower engine. This should be a fun drive-as-I-go project car.
|1971 Camaro, good condition.
Scott's Comments: Nice description. Actually I ran across shorter descriptions in my search. From the picture this car looks like it actually is in good condition. Also, the price is very attractive. I would look hard for rust, but this car is in much better condition that a lot of cars I saw for more money. Call! Here is an example of how emotions effect the car buying decision. The previous car looks to be about the same condition, but costs more. So why rank it above this one? Simple, the split bumper option looks so good to me that I am very much willing to pay extra to get it.
|1970 Camaro, yellow w/stripes, new engine, new
carpet, new windshield and much more, power steering, V8, automatic
transmission, power brakes, p-seats, fair condition.
Scott's Comments: The picture looks good, so what's "fair"? I really like the price. In my search I have seen wrecked cars for more than this. It would be worth a call to see what "fair" means.
|1968 Camaro, 327 210hp, automatic transmission, maroon,
needs interior & engine work. original owners.
Scott's Comments: Oh my gosh! An original owner first generation Camaro that needs engine work and looks real nice. Have I found that diamond in the rough? Assuming the car is rust free, and we can believe what the ad says, this is exactly what I want for a project car... great body that needs mechanical work. Too bad it's not a 69. That's almost too much to ask. I love the half hub caps, they make for a great sleeper.
|1971 Chevelle, SS, good condition, 350 V8,
factory bucket seats, console, new motor, tires & trans, running,
needs some engine work.
Scott's Comments: You have to wonder why a new motor already needs work. Well, maybe you have to wonder, I think it is perfect for my needs. The car looks sharp, but has engine trouble. I have an engine and need a car. The price is very nice for my total budget. Looks like a match made in automotive heaven.
67 Chevelle Convertible, new top, windshield, tires and trunk pan, was V8 auto, no rust on right side, minor on left, been in storage for 25 years, excellent frame, no holes in floor pans.
Scott's Comments: "Was V-8 auto." What does it have now? Does it have an engine? Does it just need mine? If this car has no engine then the rust might be a problem. The price is nice for a convertible though. I get very worried when rust is mentioned. I only kept this on the list because it was a convertible. I would call to get pictures.
|1966 Chevelle, wagon., low miles, original 230,
automatic transmission, 24-mpg., 16x7 Americans, moving-must sell.
Scott's Comments: What, a wagon? Hey, I can be as flexible as the next guy. Wagons can make neat rides. This one looks pretty clean already, so why not. Ditch that 6 cylinder for some real power and light 'em up.
|1972 Nova, V8, automatic transmission, power
steering, power brakes, air conditioning, solid, no rust, second owner,
runs good, needs interior work, must see, lots of extras, new tires, 3
sets of wheels, fresh paint.
Scott's Comments: Alright, a rust free Nova with a V-8. The picture looks good, and the price seems reasonable. New paint can always be hiding something so I would look very closely for bondo or covered up rust.
|1968 Nova, new paint, new tires, car has 96000
miles, 350 motor, Powerglide trans, call for details.
Scott's Comments: From the picture this car looks like a nice, original, unmolested car. Once again we have new paint, which can hide many things. Look for rust carefully, especially around the bottom corners of the rear window, around the "wind wing" windows, and the wheel wheels.
|1967 Impala SC Sports Coupe, 400 mod, auto on floor,
runs great, body excellent.
Scott's Comments: I really like this year the most for the post 66 model Impalas. I love the rake to that fastback roofline. The price is great, especially if it is rust free. This car could make a nice cruiser hot rod.
|Pontiac Tempest/Le Mans
|1967 Pontiac Le Mans, good interior & exterior,
newer paint, aluminum mag wheels, overhead cam 6, no winters.
Scott's Comments: For those of you that don't know... GM's cars are a lot more alike than you might know. For example, all the intermediate cars in GM's lineup have all the holes drilled in the frame to accept any of GM's engines. That means that I could bolt in my Chevy small block into this Pontiac with the proper set of frame and engine mounts. An easy swap. The Sprint 6 from these cars is starting to become a desirable collector piece, so it makes perfect sense to save the original engine and put mine in.
This car looks very clean, and the price is right for my project. Do you see the big contradiction here? The add says "no winters," but the picture was taken in the snow! Snow = winters = rust! If this car has managed to escape the rust trap it is a perfect candidate for my engine. Pontiac purists would say I should put in a 400 or 455, but I already have the 350 Chevy engine. I would probably put Chevrolet script valve covers on the engine to make sure I piss off the Pontiac crowd. He He! Another possibility for a swap on a car like this would be GM's new DOHC Inline 6 from the Trailblazer/Envoy/Bravada SUVs.
Leftovers - I found plenty of cars during a fairly short search. As long as you are willing to travel to find a car, you should be able to find something. Here are some more cars I found. I would wait until I exhausted the cars above before calling on these.
|1970 Camaro, V8, air fresh, bucket seats
console, red, black stripes, new tires, rims, brakes.
Scott's Comments: This looks like a clean car. The price is just within range as well. Too bad this car doesn't have the split bumper RS option like the 70 Camaro above, otherwise it would have made the grade. I would save this ad in case the split bumper car didn't pan out.
|1972 Camaro, new headers and belts, good classic car, runs good, good
Scott's Comments: This looks like a clean, straight Camaro with cheesy wheels. Seems reasonable. Probably worth a call after some of the other cars on this list.
|1972 Camaro, nice car for restoration, dead
Scott's Comments: Here we have what could hopefully be the perfect project car. It looks like an unmolested car, it definitely has engine problems, and it is hopefully complete. If it is running (even barely) it could be a blessing considering the price. The price leaves a lot of money leftover to get going. Check for rust!
|1967 Malibu, body only.
Scott's Comments: I would be torn between paying this low a price for a car without an engine versus paying more for a complete running car. It will probably cost more in the long run to scrounge up all the little pieces you need (i.e., alternator, a/c, power steering, brackets, radiator, wiring, etc.) But if the goal is to work on a car this might be worth it... if it is rust free. That would be my biggest concern here. BTW... my brother-in-law just got a new trailer rated at 8000 lbs, so I might be able to tow it home for just the cost of gas.
|1972 Nova, all original, one owner since new,
garage kept, 6 cyl., 2 spd., Powerglide, AC ice cold.
Scott's Comments: Here we have a one owner, unmolested, all original car. The 6 cylinder engine definitely needs replacing with my engine. However, this is as much as I want to spend for a project car. This car might be a good project car, but there seems to be plenty of nice cars on this list.
|1971 Nova, 6-cylinder, automatic transmission,
new exhaust, runs great, reliable.
Scott's Comments: This car is priced right, but it doesn't inspire me like another Nova on this list. I just don't know if it is worth it, even with the great price.
There you have it. A couple dozen cars to get me started turning wrenches again. Researching this article was bitter sweet. I enjoyed seeing a lot of these cars, but it was time consuming and I had to look at a lot of crap to get to this handful.
By the time you read this (I wrote this in May/June) I should be just about done with my house. I would like to start looking for a car to fill my third garage bay sometime in the Feb - Mar 02 time frame. Money will ultimately decide whether I get a Classic Car or a Project Car. Either way the real search is only a few months away.
Stay tuned I will of course detail the real search in this column.