Jason and his dad want to do a car restoration project. Both are easy to use, but this will be their first rebuild of their cars. They want something with a timeless style, but with easy access to parts and resources. What car should they buy?
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This is the scenario:
My dad is retiring soon, and we’re thinking about buying a project car to work on and get it back. The problem is – we have no experience working on or restoring cars. So here’s what we need to know: What’s a great journey for us to get our hands on? We won’t have the ability to rebuild the engine, but everything else is on the table.
We love beautifully designed cars, more than we care about speed or performance. We also like the somewhat timeless cars in their design. Some random examples: MG-GT (I love the shooting brake design lines), Aston Martin Vantage (earlier model…it’s just amazing and perfect proportions), ’66-’70 Oldsmobile Tornado (long, wide and low).
We’re open to just about any body style and have a project completion budget of about $50,000, so obviously the car should be a bit cheaper than that.
budget: Much less than $50,000
Site: Westchester, New York
daily driver: number
Wants: Classic style, easy-to-obtain parts and support
do not want: Something very rare or complicated
Expert #1: Tom McBarland – Immortal for a Reason
This sounds like a great project for you and your dad to do. Of course, the big question is, where do you start? With an overall budget of $50,000, there are a number of well-restored cars that you can now enjoy without any work. But there is no fun in that.
If this is your first time diving in, I’d suggest a model with a relatively low cost to enter, a large number of easy-to-source parts, and a huge community. This is a Volkswagen Beetle. It may not have the same sporty pedigree as the cars it’s drawn to, but it does have its own timeless style. Two ex-Gallops, Jason Turchinsky and Raphael Orloff, have a fair amount of Beetle building experience and have also been known to Fix things on the side of the road. That’s how easy it is to work on these classics. Just don’t roll it.
The biggest challenge with the Beetle seems to be finding an example at the right price point which is enough work, but not too much. Here’s a $9,000 Michigan rolling chassis that the seller claims is “a complete vehicle that just needs to be assembled.”
Expert 2: Bob Sorokanich – Wow, no one saw this coming
Guys, welcome to the wonderful world of project cars. Just like the biker bar of your city, the project grounds are a great place that is also risky. My advice to you: start simple. Start with a jeep.
I know CJ is about the furthest thing from the sleek, stylish cars I mentioned above. But it’s also just as basic as a car can be, and if this is really your first project, basic is a virtue. Think of the number of gear heads you know who have a permanently stalled project (or a pile of project parts) haunting their garage. You don’t want this to happen to you. You want a light at the end of the tunnel.
I chose This is a 1987 Jeep CJ7 Laredo Basically random, based on its location: Albuquerque, New Mexico. From a mechanical and electrical point of view, the CJ is roughly on par with today’s mid-priced ride-on mowers, but Rust can turn even the simplest of a pocket project into a doomed project. Find your donor car in desert climates, away from the ocean and road salt. A project vehicle like this gives you a path to choose for your adventure: you can stick to the basics, return everything to factory working order and repair interior and exterior trim to create a fun, slightly restored looking cool runner, or you can tear everything down and rebuild it from the ground up. I advise you to treat this as an exercise – keep the goals simple, dress up the aesthetics to your liking, and by next summer you can have a lot of fun in this thing.
Then you can buy the MG Basket Box from the bottom of the lake and you already have a project in your hands.
Expert 3: Steve DaSilva – the answer is always
Jason, I envy you. Every time I see a Craigslist racket, I start getting ASPCA music I think in my head and want nothing more than to bring it back to its former glory. But I don’t have a garage, and I certainly don’t have a $50,000 budget to build. All I have are dreams, dreams I’m going to impose on you now like the dad of a quarterback in high school.
You want a beautiful design, and you care more about that than strength. You want something with a wide aftermarket market, but not something so old that factory parts can’t be sourced. You’ve mentioned several British cars as inspiration, but I’m willing to bet you’d like to run your newly restored car for more than a mile before the electricity goes off. Jason, you need a Miata.
I know, I know, it’s the primary option. But they’re basic for a reason – Miatas are perfect cars for learning wrenches. The support is there, with decades of forum users documenting every imaginable problem and solution, but first generation cars only started arriving at dealerships in 1989. You can still go to a dealership and buy oil filters, timing belts, and all the little parts you need.
Now, I said Recoveryso I found the absolute worst Miata in your area. That’s $2,500 in New Jerseyand he rubbish, destroy, destroy. But from this garbage you will have the opportunity to learn a lot – diagnose repair that does not start, rust, and even switch an automatic transmission with a manual. It’s all done, you’re not going down a new path, but it will teach you everything you could possibly want to know about rips. Get Miata and have fun.
Fourth Expert: Jose Rodriguez Jr – Can’t beat the JDM Classic
Jason, please congratulate your father on his upcoming retirement. I can’t think of a better way to spend so much time with a loved one than to rummage through old toolboxes, then argue about wrong socket sizes, etc., all of which culminates in reviving an old car.
If classic design is what you want, it should be the late 70’s Datsun 280Z Or the early eighties Datsun 280ZX. This was also known as Fairlady Z in Japan. The second generation Z-Car was the inspiration for one of the greatest cars of the ’90s, the Nissan 300ZXAnd the current generation Nissan Z.
But it seems that Fairlady Z can’t match any of her grandchildren. Really, the Nissan S130 is one of the few cars that you won’t be intimidated by Toyota 2000GT, which is close to perfect. The Nissan/Datsun is built in the spirit of Toyota with the signature styling of the era: a long, sloping bonnet and a cut-out rear end.
Datsun I linked It has already been restored, and the price reflects the work that went into it. You’ll have to find another cache to recover, but with your budget, it won’t be difficult, and you may have enough money left for parts overnight. Japan.
Fifth Expert: Kyle Hyatt Buy Big Benz, Frenz
So, unlike the rest of these jokes, I put my money where my mouth is when it comes to my recommendations. This is my Mercedes-Benz 280se 1970 (W108 chassis) I have been working for seven years on a mechanical restoration. It’s obviously a nice car with a classic look, but there are other reasons why a big, old Benz is the right choice for you and your bob.
The first is the availability of spare parts. Mercedes is legendary for preserving parts for its classic cars. It even runs a pair of Classic Centers (one in Germany and one near me in Southern California, Long Beach specifically). These not only stock tons of parts, consumables and more, but the folks who work there deal with classic Benzes all day, every day. It’s hard to beat this kind of knowledge.
After that, the car itself was superbly built by taciturn West Germans with no real regard for cost. This was the S-Class before the S-Class technically existed and it shows. It also makes surprising use of modern technology, making driving easy, even in 2022 in Los Angeles. It has excellent four-wheel disc brakes, power steering, standard air conditioning and more. Nor does it drive like a boat.
Of course, there are some downsides. The parts are not very cheap, but most of the consumables are very reasonable. This chassis and its more detailed sibling, long wheelbase, and W109 air suspension are rust-prone. Find a clean one and save yourself from a nightmare. It’s slow – mine has a 2.8-liter M130 inline-six with Bosch mechanical fuel injection, and while it will keep up with modern traffic, it won’t win any layoffs – and it’s got really appalling mileage. If I get an average of 12 mpg, I’m very happy.
Despite its flaws, it’s a great car to drive that gives you the best parts of classic car ownership without some of the awful or scary parts, And you can find sedans (other than the 6.3) for sale for under $25,000 in good all-day condition. In fact, you should just buy my car. (Quick, before my wife finds out.)
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