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Rebuilding with my son

I’m thinking about finding a junker to rebuild with my son as his first car and wondering if anyone has any suggestions. He’s only 11 so we’ll have plenty of time to complete the job. I’m thinking it would be good to do an engine and transmission rebuild in the process. Something that he won’t think is a ‘boring’ car so he’ll be more likely to maintain interest, but not something that I’d want to keep for myself ('67 Fastback and the like.) Just looking for something in the middle.

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Lets see, you need lots of room, money and tools that you probably don’t have. Does he really want to do this or is just going along with your idea to make you happy. In 5 years his idea of what to drive might be different than it is today.

If you end up doing this forget the car and find a decent old pickup truck because at least it will be easy to sell if you have to.

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A Fox body Mustang.


I think I would stick with a 1970 or older. But, depending where you live finding one that is not rusted will be difficult. Of course there are all the other issues, deteriorated rubber parts, ethanol incompatibility, etc.
Having said that, you got at least five years. If you have the facilities…go for it.
I would say truck, coupe, 2 door hardtop, or wagon. IMHO, 4 door sedans least desirable unless something like a 47-52 Studebaker Or pre 1942 for other makes.
What ever you find, research parts availability prior to purchase. Ford&Chevy are GENERALLY easiest for parts.

This is a big task that will require lots of time and money.

I would recommend something that has tons of aftermarket parts available for it. If you get something that is unusual, you will finding parts a nightmare and a budget buster.

Someone recommended a fox body mustang. That could be a decent choice. You can order anything you need for one of those out of a catalog. Also there will be tons of used parts available on craigslist.

I would recommend getting a rust free southern car. Body work can be very expensive and you could easily spend this money on other cool parts.

In five years his idea of what to drive will be anything that runs and that he can get his hands on. I happily drove dad’s Tercel when I was that age. I would have been delighted if I could have had a Ford Festiva for my own car.

I mean, sure, I wanted a Diablo, but at the end of the day anything that got me down the road that I didn’t have to pedal was great. If Dad had done a project like this with me it would have been fantastic, not only because I would have learned about working on cars a lot sooner than I did (which would have saved me a freaking fortune in college) but it would also have been quality time with Dad, and I’d have had my own car in high school, which I would have loved.


Two questions:
-What are your skills and facilities available? We have no idea what you can do.
-Why are you asking us, instead of coming up with something with your son? The restoration will go much better when it’s a car you both love.

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  1. A remote control miniature electric car.

  2. The public library may have some information.

  3. Visit a junk yard.

Melissa, the thread is about real drivable vehicles - Library, who does that when you can ask strangers on the internet - Visit junk yard for what?

A 1967 fastback like a Mustang, Camaro, or Cuda will be expensive, even if it needs a lot of work, and even if it has a 6-cyl engine.

If you want something simple, buy a 1974 or earlier vehicle to avoid emissions systems. You will have to work with a distributor and carburetors. Tuning cars with electronic ignitions is as simple as changing the spark plugs every 100,000 miles or so. More modern cars will have computers and sensors to run the emissions system. You have to decide which is simpler for you to deal with.

Remember that a junker with a poor body will need a lot of body work. That can be quite expensive, no matter how much the car cost to buy. I’d go for a car or truck with a good body and interior an mechanical systems that need repairs. In older cars, that might be difficult to find.

Also keep in mind that this is going to be a teenage boy driving this car. Teenage boys tend to cause wrecks. You don’t want him wrecking a '67 Mustang, both because it would wreck a '67 Mustang and because a '67 anything isn’t going to protect him as well as he should be protected in a wreck.

I got in a wreck when I was 18 (I went against the statistical grain in that it was not my fault). I got T-boned by a truck doing 40 just in front of the driver side door while driving a car from 1984. I ended up with a back injury that causes pain to this day. If I’d been in something from the 60’s, I might well be paralyzed. Or dead.

Keep your project to at least something from the last couple of decades.

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Pickup truck would be good project for a beginner. Not expensive, easier to work on and like was said, they always sell later. I’ve been seeing restored trucks from the 1980s for sale with higher than I’d expect prices, not sure if they’re actually selling. I wouldn’t give a 16 year old a fast or expensive car.


Teenagers often drive to suit the image of their car. Sixty years ago VW Beetles were great first cars.

If it were me, as long as my son was interested, the most important part would be the spending time together. The kind of vehicle or condition would be secondary.

I would teach and help him do any task on the car he wanted, knowing full well he’ll screw up and break many things. And after each thing he breaks, help him feel OK about himself and work together to repair it.


jtsanders- your memory is playing tricks on you, the emissions systems on 72-74 cars were horrible. I had a 72 Impala with a 350, never got over 12 mpg on the road and was slower than my 81 Horizon. I would avoid anything 71 t.o 89


I have doubts about an 11 year old maintaining interest for 5 years. Maybe wait until 14 so the waiting time will not be as long and if the young man really wants to do this.


I would go a little more modern, maybe a toyota supra hatchback?

Thanks everyone for the feedback.

To answer @texases questions.

  1. I have what I would say are intermediate skills. I do most of the work on the cars I have now and can ask my auto mechanic dad if I have questions that a book or the internet can’t answer.
  2. This is an ongoing conversation with him and not just my crazy idea. If it were completely up to him and cost was an afterthought we’d be rebuilding either a 1969 Pontiac GTO or a 1977 Trans AM

I’m asking here mainly because I’m trying to unveil what I haven’t thought about. Such as restoring a truck instead of a car or resale value if he’s disinterested in the car at the end of the project.

This is definitely intended to be a learning experience for both of us. Me to learn the things I feel I don’t know and for my son it’s time to spend together and hopefully to help him learn what it takes to maintain a car. So he can save himself a bunch of money down the road.

I think @VOLVO_V70 hit the nail on the head with ‘In five years his idea of what to drive will be anything that runs and that he can get his hands on’. Also a great idea to just talk about it for the next year or two to see how his interests and tastes change and be ready to start it up when he’s a little older.

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Some thoughts:

At minimum you’ll want an engine crane, an engine stand, a good floor jack, and at least 4 good jackstands. If you want to restore it more than just cosmetically you’re going to want to replace a lot of engine components, and it’s easier to do that with the engine out of the car.

You can get the crane and the engine stand at Harbor Freight for under $300, especially if there’s a coupon. I know they have a bad reputation for crappy tools, but I can personally attest that the crane and stand are fine.

Northern Tool occasionally puts their Arcan 3-ton floor jack on sale for $100 - watch for that sale and grab it when they do.

Go overboard on the jack stands. I use 3-ton capacity on my MR2, which weighs… A lot less than 3 tons :wink: You and your kid are going to be crawling around under the car, and those jackstands are the only thing between you and being crushed to death. Make sure they’re good ones.

Oh, and also at Harbor Freight, when they have a parking lot sale they almost always have the ergonomic creeper at a very cheap price. It too is a good piece of kit - it’s my favorite creeper by far because it’s so comfortable. You guys will want to each have a creeper so you can be under there together.

I don’t know what kind of garage space you have, or what kind of finances you have to tool up for this, but if you can afford it and have 10 foot or higher ceilings, a lift is a really nice thing to have when doing long projects with a car.

Both because it makes life a lot easier and because when you aren’t working on the car you can lift it up out of the way and park your daily driver under it. A decent home 4-poster from Bendpak will run 4 grand, so only consider this if you’re flush with cash.

If the car is really rusty and you want to do it right you’re going to want to strip the car down to the bare chassis so you can get at the stuff that needs re-habbing. If you want a fun pre-project project, consider building a restoration rotisserie for the job (you do know how to weld, right? If not, learn - you’ll need it before this project is over):


Being able to roll the car over to any angle makes restoration much easier. Note the piston on this one: It’s designed so that it can pick the car up by itself. Most rotisserie designs require you to lift the car into place which can be frustrating.

Obviously, the lift and the rotisserie aren’t 100% required for the job, but they do make life easier.

You’re also going to want good tools. Again, Harbor Freight’s torque wrenches are surprisingly accurate. Get a big one and a little one. Especially when you’re rebuilding the engine, you’re going to want a torque wrench to do it right.

You will end up with a lot of tools for this job, including several socket wrenches and duplicate sockets, pliers, wrenches, screw drivers, grinder, drill(s), specialty tool kits (brake, compression tester, tap and die, timing light, etc).

If you don’t already have them, start off with the mechanic’s tool kit from Costco. It’s a pretty good deal for all the stuff in there. And you’ll need a place to put them:

In short, get the tool storage sorted now. Your dad probably has a multi-thousand dollar rolling cabinet from Snap-On or something - a lot of mechanics do. You don’t need that. If you’re in the midwest, and there’s a Menards near you, their Masterforce rolling cabinets are excellent, and you can get them for under a grand. If not, the new Husky cabinets at Home Depot are good too - actually their newest line appears to be really good from the little I’ve messed with it in the store. And Harbor Freight’s higher-end ones (they have 2 lines, you’ll be able to tell the difference just by opening a drawer) are good, especially for the price.

I would not want to take this project on with just a couple of tool boxes as you’ll spend half your time hunting around for the tool you need, especially with two people using them. Get your stuff organized now, and devote the last half hour of shop time to putting tools away so you can find them next time.

If you don’t already have a workbench, build one. You’ll need it. Sitting on the cold concrete trying to fiddle around with getting parts together sucks. They’re easy and cheap to build. I built mine for under $40, and that’s including the hardware that lets it fold up to the wall when you aren’t using it. There are lots of plans online that make it easy to build what you need even if you’re like me and aren’t any good at building things out of wood. If you have the space, don’t bother with a folder. It’s cheaper and nicer to have a permanent one because you don’t have to clear off the whole bench every time you stop work for the day.

These are some ideas you can look at working toward in the intervening years between now and when you and your kid start the project in earnest. And at worst, if your kid abandons the idea before you get started, well, you now have a nicely equipped garage which is nice to have even if you’re between projects at the moment. :wink:

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One more option: a kit car such as a T-Bucket