Looking for a 'project car'........ideas?


My garage is not full enough so I’ve decided to buy a car that needs work and, well, work on it. I’d describe my experience level as mid-range: the biggest project I’ve done was replacing the manual transmission in a Corolla. What I am looking for is a small (two-seater is fine) pre-80s convertible, foreign or domestic. Preference goes to vehicles that are easy to work on as opposed to vehicles that have readily available parts. I’m not too interested in having to buy a lot of specialized tools. This will be for fiddling around with, getting it running or getting it running better, not for complete show-quality restoration. I’d like to spend under $1000 for the initial purchase.

Anything come to mind? Anything I should avoid?

Many thanks,


You may have to rethink this issue. Convertibles were a dying breed in the 70s (especially around 1974 and later).
Any early 70s convertible usually means a fairly high price due to the old saying “when the top comes down, the price goes up”.

Even the old VW Bug and Beetle convertibles bring pretty decent prices and I’m having a hard time thinking of a topless anything that can be had for a grand; other than a total project car, a.k.a complete rust bucket.

You can pick up an old Porsche 914 pretty inexpensively. They are easy to work on simple cars. To get an ok one might cost 2-3k, but not bad for a car with a lot of potential.

I really love the 914,early fuel injection was a real pain.Really fun car to drive.try to find a 2.0 litre.They have a host of other problems but I think you should really consider the 914. My career started as a VW mechanic in CA. in the early 70s after I mastered the Bettle the boss moved me up to 914s lots of memories

Yup, lose the fuel injection and bolt on a pair of webers. Replace the vacuum distributor with a centrifugal advance unit and electronic ignition.

Fiat 128 Spyder. If you want to work on a car, there’s nothing like a Fiat to keep you working. Fun to drive when they run, though. Try to find one without a lot of rust. You can get pretty much any and all parts via mail order, including body panels and such, and they are pretty simple cars.

I’ll second the Fiat Spyder suggestion and agree with the easy to service/fun factor part. Had forgotten all about those cars.

Don’t know if this is in your area or not.

Another possibility could be a Triumph TR7 if you could find one. A friend of mine had one with a bad engine and he converted it with a Nissan truck engine. Another one in this area had a Buick 3.8 V-6 in it that would burn the roads up.

What about a Fiero?Some good engine swaps for these cars. The Fiat was also a good call. Your under $1000 inital purchase price makes me think of 60s pickups,lots of support for these vehicles and definetly not to technical.

I nominate the Triumph TR4A ,TR250 and TR6.

Probably not for $1000.

In my opinion I think you would be further ahead expanding on your thought a bit more. The old 60-70s muscle cars are perfect for hobbie mechanics. And I agree with everyone else, you just can’t beat the old VW Bugs, although you really have to be careful about where you would buy an old Bug. For example, back in my Dad’s hometown you won’t find a Bug for less then $3000. Where I am you can get one for as little as $800-$1000.
My family had the great fortune of having Ed “Big Daddy” Roth as a family friend and he and my father worked on restoring older cars, and sometimes helped with Ed’s customs. Its a good hobbie but can be very expensive if you don’t have the right resources. When you get into whatever car you are going with, use the internet as a source of buying parts. Internet purchases aren’t federally taxed yet and most sources will take your word for it if you claim that you need the parts wholesale.
I’ll give an example of how and where to look for a good deal. I used to live next to an apartment complex and would walk through the parking lot during my morning-reduce-cholesterol-walks. For about a year I watched an old GM pickup in the parking lot not being moved. One morning there was a tow away warning on the old heap and I also left a note telling the owner that I would buy it. He wanted $5000 but I talked him into $2000 because it wasn’t running. Long story short, now 5 years later I use this as a dayly driver and sometime take it to the regional track where it does the 1/4 mile in the high 6’s. It turns out that the old pickup was bought for a high school graduation present and then the truck got too expensive to drive when the owner started a family unexpectedly. He had no idea that the old truck was initially started off as a restoration/drag strip toy. The power train alone is worth $10,000. All I have done is put a new ignition system and carburetor on it.

I use this as a dayly driver and sometime take it to the regional track where it does the 1/4 mile in the high 6’s

My BS meter just pegged.

I guess the criterion I’d put on the list are

something with a full frame. It’s far easier to restore body rot on a full frame vehicle than it is if the body is also the chassis.

Something rear wheel drive. Transverse FWD vehicles drivetrains can be more difficult and expensive to work on.

Manual tranny.

Shocks rather than struts. Easier and cheaper to change.

Something “classic” enough that you can readily get replacement frame members, rocker panels, body parts, and mechanical parts. A trip through restoration body parts websites will give you a good idea what’s readily available. Selecting from that category will also give you availability of upgrade parts such as disc brake to replace drum brakes.

Something you like.

I must have 10,000 tools, but it seems like everytime I do something new I have to buy a new “specialized” tool. You may need to accept this. Especially with an under $1000 car.

have fun.

Honestly, anything you can buy for under a grand is, most likely, not something you want to buy.
Maybe an early Miata or something like that. A popular swap for those cars is/was a Boss 302ci Ford V8 engine.

An AH Sprite or MG Midget might be available in rough condition. Find one with a decent body that needs engine work. There isn’t much simpler than these.

How about a early model Mustang.

An MGB would have the same “work on it for fun” factor as a Spridget and be far more comfortable. I have a couple that I’d sell for a grand, but you’d have to start working on them right away.

Thank you all for the great suggestions and tips. I’ve compiled a list of likely candidates to check out this weekend. Does not look like I will have any trouble finding something that fits the bill price-wise or condition-wise. It rains too much here for there to be a premium on half-dead convertibles! Lucky me.

But you can’t drag knuckles in an MGB! It’s still a fun car, though, and has more power than the Spridgets.

There are many great cars to work on in that era. It really depends on your personal tastes. I’m with Norm…in I LOVE the old Muscle cars of the 60’s. That would be one of my project cars if I had the time/money/space.