Classic Car Watch
Project Cars

March 1, 2005
By Scott Lewis

Project cars. That is hopefully what I will do for my next car. I want a car that is presentable in appearance, but needs some "things" to be complete. Complete being the way I want the car. A project car.

So this month I want to get back to the root of my classic car search. I am going to list cars that I feel make good project cars. How is this different from every other month. Well, it's not, but I am going to concentrate on cars that need modifications.

Since I want this month's list of cars to concentrate on project cars I will not list cars that have almost everything I want, or are close to the limit of $15,000 budget. I will try to keep cars priced reasonably enough to start some of the work and still be in budget. Finishing a car within the $15,000 budget is may not be possible. Ideally I would be able to buy the car and get enough done in my self imposed budget to get the car in condition for driving. Then I would expect to save for the rest of what the car "needs."

You need to keep a few things in mind when looking at this month's cars. Like last month I built this list by looking through the folder of ads I have already collected. Since there is a wide variety of cars here it would be too time consuming to search for other examples of each make and model. Since I tend to collect ads were the cars are in decent shape (I hope) then this is not the best sampling of project cars out there. If you are serious about looking for a project car you should determine which make and models you really are interested in and search specifically for them. If I did that here I could find plenty of plain 70-73 Firebirds, 68-72 Novas, and lots of GM intermediates (Chevelle, LeMans, etc.) that make good project car candidates. However, since my specific requirements for a project car including being able to drive the car while I work on it then this month's list is still quite valid.

If you are trying to do the same thing as I am, keep looking for cars in general. Anytime you come across a car that piques your interest you should search for more examples of that make and model to see if a better project car is out there hiding somewhere.

Let's see the cars:

1971 Chevy Nova - $3,700

71_nova_6_original_1.jpg (62200 bytes)Description: 6 cylinder, automatic transmission, power steering, less than 74,000 original miles, unrestored original. Have original protect-o-plate.

Value: $4,500 - $7,325 (+1.0%)

Source: Cars On Line

Comments: This is the perfect project car. It is totally unassuming and original. Nobody has ruined it... yet. This car almost didn't make it to the top of the list. Why? Mainly because it is not cool. This car is too plain. I know, that's why it is a perfect project car. You would have to take this car a ways before it would look good at a cruise night or local car show. What image would you be portraying if you drove around in this car as-is.

The initial price is the key here. At less than $4000 we have over ten grand left in our budget to start working on this car. Let's see... $3,500 for a 350/330 Deluxe HO Crate engine. My brother-in-law's brother can get me a four speed auto fully rebuilt for about $1,000. Figure another $1,000 to put it all into the car. Now add $1,500 for air conditioning, and another $1,500 for some really nice wheels and tires. That leaves about $2,800 for a really nice paint job. Now that's a project car. Then we just need to save a little extra to make the interior nice.

Granted, dumping $15K into a car worth less than 10K is not too bright. But we are not doing this as an investment. We are doing it to build a really cool car we can drive every day. Something different from all the current cookie-cutter cars. We can also try to keep the 6 cylinder engine and have some fun with it. Maybe a rebuild with a ported head and some speed parts. It would be different. The money saved keeping the 6 can be put into other parts of the car.

The biggest problem with this car is its location: Wisconsin. We have to check this car very carefully for rust. Otherwise we could be blowing all of our funds on bodywork. Since this is such a plain car I would expect it has rust.

Now, to see a very detailed build up of this car check out my Car Corner article this month. I list a lot of parts, complete with prices, to build this car up. I think you will like it.

1968 Chevy C-10 Pickup - $6,500

68_c10_6cyl_3speed_gold_1.jpg (25907 bytes)Description: Correct gold and white base/clear paint, original 250 6cyl with 3 speed on the column. Ice cold R-134 air. Super clean solid body. Runs great and easy on gas. Also included are lots of original paper work (protect-o-plate) and a 1970 synchronized transmission. Awesome daily driver, get lots of attention.

Value: $5,000 - $10,250 (+18.5%)

Source: Cars On Line

Comments: I know. You are thinking I am crazy for putting a truck in here. But give me a moment. I found this truck listed a couple of days after seeing the "final" installment of the Copperhead Pickup on the TV show Trucks. The host made a big deal about being able to build that truck from all aftermarket parts. He started with a frame and a cab. Well this is a fully assembled truck that costs just a little more than some bare frames and cabs. This truck looks good as is. There is no reason why we can't put it into daily use right away. Heck, it even has air conditioning. This is the perfect starting point for a project truck. As for daily driving, I live in Texas where people drive trucks all the time.

We could always put in a small or big block V-8 engine. Or we could just leave the 6 cylinder in there for a while. I would try to make this a great daily driver and keep the engine stock for a while. Why not?

For starters I would figure out what to do about the transmission. A good old three-on-the-tree. I would look into swapping in a 5 speed with a floor shifter if possible. With a shifter in place through the floor I would concentrate my efforts on the interior. A lot of new trucks are as luxurious as cars today. Let's do that with this truck. We can install a custom interior that makes the inside like a late model car. Sound deadening will be number one. I will do everything to quiet the interior down. Since I have two boys to drive around I would look for some kind of custom bench/bucket seat arrangement, were it is as close to buckets as possible with a place for a third passenger in the middle. This will negate a console, but I would try to think of something that would not interfere with a center passenger.

Next I would attack the exterior. This truck looks very clean, so we can concentrate on trying to make it look cool. Lowering the suspension is a must. Not too low, just a nice street stance. Wheels and tires will have to be part of it. That gold and white color combination is boring, but considering how clean it is I would put off painting it for as long as possible. Since it is a truck, when I paint it I can be less concerned about paint quality than with a classic car. Maybe we can paint the white to match the gold and have an all gold truck. A little wet sanding and buffing to really bring out the shine. I would also black out the grill. I have see this on another truck and it looks close to stock, or something the factory might do if they blacked it out. I think it would make a heck of a difference.

With the interior enjoyable for daily driving and a nice street stance we can start looking into performance. If we didn't improve the handling while lowering, we would do that now. Then add some horsepower. I don't know how much money I would throw at a truck to get it as fast as a car. So that will all depend on how I end up driving this thing.

And let's not forget... this truck is its own parts hauler. Cool!

1971 Pontiac Firebird - $7,999

71_firebird_bronze_350_1.jpg (372619 bytes)Description: 350, automatic, 2 owner car, the second owner bought her in 1972 with only 16k miles on the odometer. It was a California car its whole life until 2 months ago. She has 81K original miles, new brakes, and a strong running 350 with 225 horsepower. The powerful 350 engine is backed by a Turbo 350 transmission which shifts just as it should. The A/C blows cold. The paint has been redone sometime in her life but shows a few scratches on the nose, the interior however is in great shape, except for the drivers seat which shows wear. This is a very clean , original car that runs and drives great.

Value: $4,675 - $7,725 (+1.3%)

Source: Image Motor Company

Comments: I like early second generation Firebirds. I would go for a Trans Am look. I would stall off a repaint for as long as possible, but I would eventually have to paint this car when I remove the vinyl roof. Who ever heard of a Trans Am with a vinyl roof.

So, we start with the interior since the exterior looks presentable. Then I would get the mechanicals it good shape including rebuilding the suspension for performance.

When we move to the exterior we will put in the fender vents, add a Trans Am hood with the rear facing shaker hood scope, and the appropriate front and rear spoilers. Then we strip the vinyl rook off and paint the car. Of course we will need to have the "screaming chicken" hood decal put on. The only real issue is the color. I really like the bright blue that they used on the late seventies Trans Ams and would try to go with that color.

1970 Pontiac Lemans - $10,995

70_lemans_gold_1.jpg (155153 bytes)Description: 350 2bbl V8, automatic, power steering, power brakes, buckets, factory A/C car, correct AM radio, new interior & paint, dual exhaust, PMD Rallye wheels, vinyl top, original books & window sticker, very straight & clean car! Excellent driving car!

Value: $4,000 - $6,600 (+1.9%)

Source: Fast Lane Classic Cars

Comments: This car is a little expensive for a project car, but I really like the exterior look of this car. The gold looks good with the black vinyl roof. They say it has new paint, so I am expecting I can wet sand and buff it out to a super shine.

This car has all of the power accessory I want, so we don't have to worry about putting money there. They claim a new interior, but I find the interior to be lacking a lot. Too many shades of tan make me think the parts are fading at different rates. Regardless, the interior on this car needs to be black. So that will be a big part of this car as a project. Of course, we would add as much sound deadening as possible while we have the interior out.

Pontiac's 350 is one of the worst from GM. So I would save engine mods for last and concentrate on improving handling, including a nice set of wheels and tires.

1968 Chevrolet Nova - $8,995

Description: This car features a fresh built 350 crate motor. Power steering. New Torque-thrust wheels and tires. Beautiful body and paint. Runs and drives great.

Value: $4,500 - $7,325 (+1.0%)

Source: Premium Motors

Comments: Hey, a nice Nova that is not priced twice what it is worth. I see a lot more Nova's overpriced than any other classic Chevy. Why? My guess is because it has just about the lowest value of any classic Chevy. And rightly so. This car was a basic economy car in its day. I know people that had Novas back in the 70s and 80s. They were cheap transportation. Even an old pickup is worth more as you can see above. However, this car's asking price has come down $1,000 since I first saw it on their web site. That's promising. It also relates to a technique I try to tell people. Track a car and see if its price goes down or it sits stale for a few months.

Let's look at this car on its own merits. The pictures suck! I need better pictures of the "Beautiful body and paint." If we bought this car we should expect to add air conditioning and restore the interior. I would probably convert the interior over to black. It will look a lot better with that black vinyl roof.

Since we are over price here we need to be careful of two things. 1) Rust! If this car has any I would seriously low ball the offer to cover the cost to repair it. 2) Resale value. Since we are overpriced now we could be in trouble after putting more money into this car. So how important is resale value. At under $10K this makes for a nice project car, but we may be stuck with it or take a big loss if we have to sell it later.

I would offer $8000 and start having fun building it up. I wonder how cool we could make this with a $15,000 budget.

1968 Plymouth Satellite - $7,500

68_satellite_plain_yellow_1.jpg (58109 bytes)Description: 2 Door Post Car. One of the nicer cars you will find at this price. Orig. 80,000 miles, California car, never been in any accidents. 318/727 Trans, P/S, P/B, all orig. interior. As straight as an arrow, runs perfect, will drive coast to coast. 

Value: $6675 - $9,375 (+24.2%)

Source: Cars On Line

Comments: O.K. What is wrong with this car? It looks like a clean, original Satellite that is priced right in the middle of its good to excellent price range. Could this be a car that is actually worth what they are asking? What is this world coming to.

With its bright yellow paint and dog dish hub caps, this car would make a perfect Road Runner look-a-like. And that is exactly what I would do with it. First things first, we need to add air conditioning so we can make a comfortable driver out of this excellent project car.

With A/C out of the way I would next turn my attention to the interior. It looks decent, but too boring... even for a Road Runner. I would like to convert the brown/beige color to black, or maybe black and white. As we work on the interior we can start looking for all the proper Road Runner appearance items for the exterior. Don't forget the Beep Beep horn. As the look starts to come together we can start tinkering with the 318, just because I like a challenge. Eventually I would like to put a crate 360 in this car, or may go for a real 383 to make the Road Runner look more accurate. Either way we need more power.

1968 Plymouth Satellite - $7,950

68_satelite_v8_white_2.jpg (39937 bytes)Description: 2dr Hardtop clean California car. Stock V8, Auto P/S, P/B, Bucket seats. After market wheels. New paint (Artic White). Excellent Interior.

Value: $6675 - $9,375 (+24.2%)

Source: Brockers Beautys

Comments: This car looks a little boring, but it can make a good Road Runner look-a-like. Because of the starting price I would look into swapping in a manual transmission. Eventually I would probably drop in a 360 crate motor. If I really want to mimic a Road Runner I should stuff in a 383. Either way I would convert the interior over to black and add all the Road Runner items to get the look down. And don't forget the Beep Beep horn.

1968 Pontiac Firebird Sprint - $10,900

Description: Original black plate car, rebuilt 4.1 L Sprint six cylinder engine, 4-speed transmission, new paint, beautiful interior. Parked in 1978 until 2004 restoration.

Value: $5,625 - $9,275 (+1.4%)

Source: Central Valley Classics

Comments: Why couldn't this be a 69 Camaro? Oh well. I would love to see what kind of performance I could get out of this Pontiac OHC straight 6. This is the only overhead camshaft engine I know of from the American market in the sixties. Plus this one is backed by a 4 speed transmission. I wonder how hard it would be to put in a 5 or 6 speed overdrive. Then add some decent gearing, like 3.73 with limited slip. Next we start seeing what kind of power that 6 is really capable of.

Unfortunately, my budget would dictate different priorities. First is air conditioning. I don't know if companies like Vintage Air make a setup for this engine, but they do make it for this car. At the worst we will need to fabricate some brackets to mount the compressor. Since we already have a 4 speed and not a 3 speed, we can move into some performance upgrades for the engine and suspension. I would probably look for some cool looking wheels. The original Rallye wheels look decent, but I think we can do better. Maybe Torque Thrust II wheels with some nice looking BF Goodrich Radial T/A tires.

Let's see how this car stands up to scrutiny and then offer $9,000 based on CPI's value. This should make for a nice project car, but we have to decide if we are willing to lose money because this car will not go up as we put money into it.

1969 Pontiac Firebird - $10,950

69_firebird_400_4_speed_white_1.jpg (49511 bytes)Description: 2dr hardtop, rare find! 400ci V8, 4-speed trans, P/S, bucket seats & console, Stage II Rallye wheels, dual exhaust, new paint & interior, nice chrome & stainless. Nice!

Value: $8,075 - $13,025 (+2.7%)

Source: Brockers Beautys

Comments: I am not a huge Firebird fan, particularly the first generation birds. I much prefer the early 2nd gen. Firebird and Trans Am. But this car is just too much to pass up. We have a 400 cubic inch big block with a 4 speed. That's nice. This car should have the kind of power to get me to forget about a Camaro.

Let's get down to the details. What is with that big white section on the dash? Does that belong there. First things first... we need better pictures. From the pictures we have this is a nice white on white Firebird. That should help in the Texas sun, but I still want to add air conditioning. We will also want to add power disc brakes. These two items are easily accomplished within our $15,000 budget. We will need to address the dash. It looks like there is an aftermarket stereo. Depending on our feelings toward an original looking interior we may have some work to do there. Finally, I would add the console mounted gauges and the hood mounted tachometer that were options on these cars when they were new. I would check out that paint carefully. It could be covering up bad bodywork, or a cheap rust repair.

1970 Chevrolet Camaro RS - $12,000

70_camaro_rs_red_1.jpg (38276 bytes)Description: GM Code 81 Red. Original 350 bored .30 over, Edlebrock 600 carb, Performer intake. Mild cam, headers, dual exhaust. Interior in excellent condition. Rallye wheels w. BFG Radial TA's. Original TH350 tranny rebuilt by TCI mechanic. Runs and drives fantastic. 4 year restoration completed 5 years ago by 2nd owner. He showed it for 4 years and then sold to me.

Value: $6,000 - $9,900 (+4.2%)

Source: Cars On Line

Comments: I love the look of the split bumper Camaros. This car is a bit expensive for a project car. However, it has a lot of curb appeal, and it already has air conditioning.

The engine compartment shows non power brakes. He doesn't mention power steering either. We should probably plan for those.

Hopefully that is all this car needs and we can concentrate on details. Regardless, the price is just too high. I think this car is better off in the $10-11K range. We can make the offer and see if he bites.

1970 Chevy II Nova - $11,900

70_nova_396_1.jpg (73880 bytes)Description: 396, .060 Over, Lots of Extras, Turbo Trans, Power Steering, 3" Exhaust w/Flowmasters, Runs Very Strong, Originally Small Block, 2 Owner Car.

Value: $4,500 - $7,325 (+1.0%)

Source: Noel Davis

Comments: This car intrigues me. A big block in a Nova. A good friend of mine when I was a kid had one. Since this car fits in my budget with some money left over I would like to give the car a looking over. This might make a fun and fast project car. Air conditioning and cleaning up the interior are top priority.

1968 Chevelle Malibu - $ 7,995

68_chevelle_clean_blue_1.jpg (143057 bytes)Description: 350, at, ps, pb, SS rims, new tires, Blue with black int. Very Good condition throughout. Nice driver!

Value: $6,275 - $10,400 (+3.0%)

Source: Just Muscle Cars

Comments: Something doesn't jive here. Why is this car so inexpensive. I rarely see nice Chevelles at affordable prices. Too bad the web site only had one photo of the car. At this price it is definitely worth calling for more pictures.

1969 Pontiac LeMans - $6,500

69_lemans_original_white_1.jpg (47643 bytes)Description: White exterior with the original Black vinyl roof. Interior finished in white vinyl with black carpet and dashboard. We recently purchased this car from the original owner who bought it new here in Miami. We have the original Florida title that was issued in 1969 along with original build sheet, protect-o-plate, dealer sales invoice, owners manual, warranty papers, & delivering dealer document pouch. Original 350, 2-brl. V8, Turbo 350 automatic, p/s, p/b, factory a/c (blows cold), bucket seats & console. Car runs and drives like new.

Value: $4,000 - $6,600 (+1.9%)

Source: Bumper to Bumper

Comments: This is one of those rare cars that just survive. They are not worth a lot, but you have to look at them because the GTOs in the world are so expensive. I would love to work on a car that is completely original.

1970 Pontiac LeMans - $7,995

70_lemans_plain_green_1.jpg (212075 bytes)Description: 350 V8 engine. Automatic transmission, power steering, power brakes. Factory air conditioning, not working. Factory sport wheels.

Value: $4,000 - $6,600 (+1.9%)

SourceOldies But Goodies

Comments: I like cars like these. This is your basic, very basic, car from the Muscle Car era. It is just another car. It would have been over looked even during the big rise of Muscle Cars in the mid to late eighties. Yet today it fetches twice what it cost new. Image that. Do you think the car you are driving today will ever sell for twice what it sold for new. I can't imaging my 93 Z/28 ever selling for $40,000.

This car is priced a bit too high for me. Dealers, go figure. But we have a non functioning air conditioning system to help negotiate the price. I could easily see offering $6,000 for this car, and maybe go a little higher. At under seven large we have plenty of money left over for the project.

1970 Ford Torino GT - $11,500

70_torino_gt_blue_4_speed_1.jpg (65460 bytes)Description: 2-door sports roof GT model. Original rear window sport slats. 351 4-V V8 Cleveland engine. Hooker headers. Approx. 12k miles on rebuilt engine. Approx 186k miles on automobile. 4-speed top loader standard transmission with Hurst floor shifter. Seats reupholstered to original factory open-air weave style. Original trunk floor mat covering. Original set of four (4) chrome beauty rings with matching brushed aluminum moon caps. Original owner with original DMV registration when car was first sold as new in February 1971. Car runs great. NO ACCIDENTS!

Value: $5,475 - $9,025 (+6.8%)

Source: Cars On Line

Comments: Three different wheels on the car. Wow! He showed a picture of the trim rings in one of his pictures. Anyway, we will be doing some wheel and tire shuffling with this one. The 351 Cleveland and 4 speed are what I really care about. And it has air conditioning too. What more do you need in a Muscle Car.

1972 Pontiac LeMans - $9,995

72_lemans_400_4speed_yellow_1.jpg (40709 bytes)Description: YS 400 engine, 4 speed Muncie M20 transmission, original HURST roundstick shifter, HAYS clutch, bucket seats, suspension overhauled, transmission rebuilt, Flowmaster exhaust system, Rally II wheels w/radial tires, factory A/C, factory radio.

Value: $3,875 - $6,400 (+4.1%)

Source: Play Toys

Comments: What is wrong with this vehicle? Why are they only asking 10 grand? I know CPI and NADA both list this car is the six thousand range. But this is looking a lot like a GTO. Why aren't they selling it for $20K as a GTO clone?

I just can't pass this car up. The color is the only question. That is one bright yellow. The interior looks like it needs some TLC. We have power brakes and air conditioning. I can't see a power steering pump in the engine picture, but it might have that too.

Overall I just can't pass up a GTO look-a-like with a 400, 4 speed and A/C. At this price it also makes a good project car candidate. Where do I sign?

1970 Dodge Dart Swinger - $10,950

70_dart_swinger_yellow_pw_2.jpg (44782 bytes)Description: 2dr hardtop, recently restored, 360ci V8, automatic, P/S, P/Windows, bucket seats, dual exhaust, rear spoiler, hood scoops, beautiful paint & interior, drives excellent!

Value: Dart Swinger 340: $7,850 - $9,975 (+33.0%)
             Dart Swinger:         $4,350 - $6,225 (+13.1%)

Source: Brockers Beautys

Comments: I am not an expert on Dart Swingers, but this car seems worth investigation. First, is it a real Dart Swinger 340? A regular Dart Swinger is worth a lot less that the 340. The 360 engine wasn't available until 72 or so, so this is not a numbers matching car. They are asking more than CPI says it is worth. NADA puts a Swinger 340 at exactly $10,950 for high retail, just what they are asking. In my opinion that price should be for a numbers matching car, which this is not.

The power windows is a nice touch, but this car still needs power brakes (probably needs a disc brake upgrade, too) and air conditioning. By the time we add those items we will have quite a bit into this car. Do we really want to put more money into a car than it is worth. Because this car is priced at top dollar I would have to negotiate that down. I would be willing to go up to $9,000 for this car.