Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

Help Me Beome a Glutton for Punishment (or: How to buy a potential problem car?)

So I have a tremendously reliable and wonderful Honda Fit that I drive for every day needs. It is a rock, and I love it to pieces, and it’s running great.

But, I am the daughter of a mechanic. My childhood was filled with my dad’s project cars in various states of dis and re-repair. And I’m also an art historian, so I love old, strange, problematic things.

This leads me to today. My husband has given me the green light to get my very own project car.

I am obviously not a professional mechanic, but can do the basic bits of maintenance myself, and generally have good spacial/mechanical/building skills, can google, and can read and reason my way through a manual…maybe… and have access to a ridiculous garage of professional body tools, thanks to my Father in Law. I also have a dad to call and ask advice if needed.

The other part of this is that I kind of want an ‘ugly’ car. I don’t want a beautiful Corvette, or a perfect Mustang…I’m talking like an AMC Pacer, or an old Honda N600, or, my ultimate dream, a Chevy Corvair Rampside (swoon!). I’m prepared for a “2 years to engine turnover” type of project, and ultimately, this is going to be a Sunday driver/car cruise/light driving machine, and the Fit is going to be my daily steed.

But where do you start? It seems like most of the websites for antique cars are selling show-ready cars? Is Ebay the way forward? Do I need to become good friends with my local junk yard? And how much of a project do you bite off for your first one? Any idea how much budget I should have (for the initial purchase, I know the parts and etc will be more over time)? Am I crazy for trying to get a weird car, or should I aim for a bit of an “easier” beginner restoration project - if so, any suggestions on target models?


Sounds like a Corvair could be a good project for you. Join a local Corvair club. Keep an eye on Craigslist and eBay. The Rampside/Greenbrier will be harder to find, more expensive, and harder to find parts for, so you might set your sights a bit lower on a Corvair sedan.

Don’t know where you live, but there are plenty of Corvairs for sale near me in Ma for reasonable $$. Here’s a convertible in CT that would be a good fixer for minimal $$:

Sunday drives out to the country. You sill can find old cars that can be fixed. Also call the scrapers that runs adds. I have found cars for friends this way. I to have found cars scraping. It is funny, they wont sell that old car or truck, but I come by and I can get for scrap.

The other part of this is that I kind of want an 'ugly' car.

I remember seeing the remains of a '64 Dodge D200 pickup (at least I think it was a '64…the years with a reverse-sloped rear window, for sure). I was awed by its brutality…I still am. I’d restore it with a slant-6 (heck, even the engine throws symmetry the “bird”) and three on the tree. Just the sort of vehicle to drive through somewhere like Gunnison, CO.

Bad engines, bad trannies, etc…are all “bolt and unbolt” after a fashion…rust is the killer. You need to be able to fabricate parts out of metal, and that’s tough. Look, therefore, for a straight body, as rust-free as you can find, and build around that.

Go local, I almost jumped on a 68 caddillac the guy wanted $600 for on tradio, running condition even! As another thread posts muscle cars are the hot ticket, but a 71 or 72 nova with a 6 or small 8 I would near die for. they are few and far between, but let your frinds know you are loking for an old beater, and set a focus.

Well, for starters you’ve made everyone here extremely jealous.
Pick something you’re going to really like after it’s done. Don’t waste money on something just because it’s cheap. I personally have a fondness for Corvairs, as I learned to drive on a '61 then drove my dad’s '65 in high school… until I bought my '61 Beetle. Corvair Rampsides are very rare and valuable if they’re in restorable condition, so you can scratch that one off the list. Unless Jay Leno decides to sell his cheap.

I’d stick with a '60s American car. In '70 emissions mandates began to emerge and the cars had all sorts of operating problems even brand new, and in the '70s cars went to junk… and stayed that way through the '80s. Avoid the Pacer and the Gremlin at all cost. They were absolute junk even when new. My dad had a Gremlin.

If you live in a sunny climate, you have the option of a Meyers Manx. Check out the website.
In 1964 a fiberglass surfboard maker on the west coast by the name of Bruce Meyers created a 'glass “tub” with fenders designed to bolt the running gear from an air-cooled Beetle on and ride the dunes. The design became legendary. You can use Corvair running gear on them too. They’re affordable to build, reliable, and an absolute blast to drive… in good weather. And everything needed is still available.

Let us know what you decide. I’ll sit here and drool meanwhile.

I’m interested in Corvairs myself and have seen a couple with under 70K for under $4000 in the Indiana area. I’d like to find a Morris Minor myself. My BIL got a 64 Fairlane out of Arizona for about $500 with no engine and its on the road with new paint, chrome, interior, etc. Don’t know what he put into it but probably under $10K if you are careful. I really think you should go to the auto shows like the Back to the 50s in St. Paul, and see the varous cars in various stages of finish and talk to the owners to get a sense of what you want to do. Doing your own painting and assembly is one thing but major rust repair is a big problem.

Having just embarked on this journey myself here are my pieces of advice: firstly, avoid rust as much as you can. The frame has to be solid or the project is a non-starter. Floorboards can be replaced. Secondly, take a strong look at the available parts aftermarket and what’s available for the car. You will need things random and specific that you don’t even realize. You’ll also have to search through several parts dealers to find the one who rips you off the least, for every part. You’ll need access to a decent set of tools, and a jack/stands. Lastly, spend as much as your budget allows up front to
Get the most amount of car you can start with. I ended the day cussing out the car and packing up my wrenches. You’ll have days like that, especially as the problems reveal themselves. Sometimes one step forward makes 2 steps back. That’s all part of the process. Outside of that, you will learn a whole lot and you’ll have fun. TAKE YOUR TIME deciding on what you want and take your time sourcing the car.

I should also note, make sure you don’t look at this in any logical financial way. Unless you’re restoring a 2 door 57 Chevy convertible, or some other major popular car, you will never recoup what you put in. It is a labor of love as they say.

Rough but running, don’t get a basket case, missing parts could be very tough to find.

Agreed with the others about avoiding major rust if at all possible because that is the one issue that can consume your life and your bank account trying to resolve.

No matter the make you decide on, try to find one as complete as possible. Mechanical issues can often be worked around. The sticky part is trying to find body parts, interior trim pieces, and things of that nature and once found those pieces may be pricy to obtain.

If you’re into air-cools then why not a VW; maybe one of more rare variants such as The Thing or a Karmann Ghia…

Old VW bugs are plentiful and relatively cheap. Supposedly very easy to work on too.

Car people are some of the most friendly and helpful out there. It’s summer. Spend a few weekends at local car shows and swap meets. See what’s out there. There are always clubs and organizations out there sponsoring gatherings, and at those places are cars you would never have thought of and cars for sale or trade. Spend some time looking around, see what’s popular and available in your area. Don’t go looking for your one dream car. Let the car find you.

If you have a truck and trailer and time to search for the right project there are many restorable cars and trucks out there.

Ahhh. A lovely bride with grease under her finger nails. Your husband is lucky. Really, anything old but with parts still around to keep the frustration level down. I vote for starting out with an older compact pick up 4 cylinder. Get a Chevy or Ford Ranger ( much less so) if you want to keep repeating the same repairs for practice, or an old Nissan or Toyota if you don’t. Rest assured, body repair and maintenance practice is the most fruitful thing to learn to enhance your car’s value and will be most valuable to learn. Include that idea in any project car. An old truck in good repair is the key to practical job well done when finished.

I agree across the board with the posters here. I’d add a technique to find your project. Since rust is SUCH a pain to repair, especially for an unpopular type of project car, go west young woman! Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas provide dry climates for old cars. The interiors will be cooked, but the sheetmetal will be decent. Plan “old car tours” to Phoenix or Fort Worth or Reno aided by Craigslist, Ebay and a list of scrapyards. Searching more humid states like Alabama and Georgia can net you decent interior parts in rustbucket cars. Plus, don’t forget car swap meets in places like Hershey, PA. You will see vendors there that have done the traveling for you. Don’t settle for the first rusty Rampside you see. Get the right one for your skills. Good luck.

You’ll find restored classics on there, but you’ll also find stuff that you literally have to bring a trailer to buy if you want it to get home.

There’s a nice, ugly, and virtually unknown here in the US, 1964 Humbler Super Snipe Estate going for $800 right now in Seattle.

Here’s a question for the OP: what kind of car do you REALLY like? Whatever you buy, you’ll be spending lots of time and money on it, so you’ll want to like it.

But where do you start?

Google, old car shows/swap meets- the big ones, local car shows- networking with people who have the same disease, pure luck barn finds or older junk yard finds or the town eccentric with acres of stuff stashed away…

a pacer???

I do like gremlins tho…

and volkswagon things are so ugly they are beautiful