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25 Project Path

The recipe for a project car is relatively simple: Mix a vehicle with a specific goal and a logical plan. The journey to the finish can be as varied as the people turning the wrenches, and the end product can range from a summer toy to a hardcore racer.

Magazines have been using project cars for years. They’re great tools for explaining techniques, showcasing products and inspiring readers to try new things.

The GRM staff has been building project cars since before our first issue left the printer some 25 years ago. To celebrate our silver anniversary, we decided to take a quick look back at our handiwork. These aren’t all of the cars we’ve built, but they are 25 of our favorites.

While we did a good job of avoiding silly fads—for better or worse, we never built anything that we’d be embarrassed to show today—the collection does a nice job of tracking our history and interests. Yes, we have built a lot of autocross cars over the years, but we enjoy other venues just as much—and have plans to continue opting for variety in the years to come.

The Precedent Is Set

You could say that it all began with our 1971 Datsun 240Z—it was out first project car as well as our first cover model. This one set the tone for the magazine as it laid a few ground rules: We’d be low-buck, hands-on and focused on finding good deals. While seen as a collector car today, the Z-car was only 13 years old when the project car series began in 1984—it was basically a used car.

Factory-Backed

In the spring of 1986 we received our first factory-backed project car, a brand-new Honda Civic Si. Getting Honda to lend us a car was a major milestone, as it showed that the manufacturers were starting to take our magazine and our market seriously. Honda tuning has waxed and waned since then, but at the time we used the car to introduce our readers to some then-new names in the business, including Mugen, Jackson Racing and RC Engineering. Debbie Barrett earned our Civic a national Solo title that year, too.

The Pobst With the Most

We followed the Civic with another factory loaner, a 1987 Toyota FX16 GT-S. A young up-and-comer named Randy Pobst helped us win a ProSolo championship with this one; the following year, he was road racing a factory-backed MR2. Today he’s a regular on the various pro circuits and has a pair of Daytona wins to his credit.

Lean Bimmers

Funds were a bit tight as the ’90s began, so we needed something neat and inexpensive for the 1991 and 1992 seasons. At the time, the BMW 2002 was a throwaway car, meaning prices were well within our budget. We built a pair of them: a really, really nice daily driver and an SCCA Improved Touring road racer.

Tough Triumph

Our 1979 Spitfire only made two formal magazine appearances—one in 1992 and another the following year—but we’d still call it a hit. It was a simple, effective car. We ran it up the Chimney Rock Hill Climb, took it to a Vintage Triumph Register convention, and even raced it at the SCCA Solo Nats.

Datsun Revival

These days, a solid Datsun 510 will set you back a few bucks. In 1993, we built a project from a rust-free example that was abandoned at a gas station. We paid $100 for the car and spent about $3000 total, turning the once forlorn classic into a hot little street machine.

Rotary Power

This issue doesn’t feature our first Pettit Racing-powered Mazda RX-7, as we have teamed up with the South Florida shop before. In 1993 we got a rust-free 1979 Mazda RX-7 roller from Pettit for free and added a low-buck, four-port 13B controlled by a Haltech programmable fuel-injection system. That car could pass everything but a gas station.

Oldie But Goody

Rupert Berrington Photo

Rupert Berrington Photo

Most readers probably don’t remember the Oldsmobile Achieva SCX, but when we got one back in 1993 it was pretty darn special. In fact, ours was one of only 16 cars equipped with the W41 handling package. We scored a trophy at that year’s SCCA Solo Nats with our Quad 4-powered wonder.

Gotta Wear Shades

Several Neons have passed through our hands over the years, and the cycle started with one of the five original ACR prototypes. We claimed a pair of SCCA road racing titles with the car in 1994 before moving to autocross and hillclimbing. After spending the end of the ’90s in suspended animation, it finally went back to Chrysler for termination.

Our First Miata

Rupert Berrington Photo

Rupert Berrington Photo

We fully admit to being fans of the Mazda Miata. It’s a simple, fun sports car that works so well in just about any circumstance. Our first Miata project car was a brand-new 1994 Miata R that we ran at national-level Solo events. Art Director J.G. Pasterjak grabbed a trophy at the 1994 Solo Nationals with this one.

Think Zink

John Swain Photo

John Swain Photo

We launched our first vintage racing project in 1996, a Zink C-4 Formula Vee. The car was all there when we got it, but we still completely stripped it for a full rebuild. We updated the frame and replaced the 1600 engine with a proper Noble-built 1200 powerplant. After running the Vee for a season, we sold it to make room for the Triumph TR3 that’s still in the fleet.

Invincible 318ti

We have sponsored BMW CCA’s Club Racing program since its launch and built our first car for the series in 1997. We prepped a then-new 318ti for the series’ Stock category, and while it wasn’t the fastest thing on track, it proved super-easy to drive. The car was tough, too, as it endured a crash into a tire wall as well as the resulting grass fire.

Rotary Curiosity

In a 1993 issue, we briefly pondered whether or not a rotary engine could fit into a Triumph Spitfire. This offhand comment invited a barrage of calls and letters. We gave in to the requests, and project installments started in 1997. Yes, the engine really could fit inside, and the result was a fast, great-handling car. Just about everything on the Spitfire had to be custom-built, and we’re still indebted to Steve Eckerich for his assistance with the fabrication.

Fleet Fixture

After most project cars run their course, they’re sold to make room for the next one. This 1992 Miata is an exception, as it has been with us since its 2000 debut. The original goal was simple: Make an interesting street car. It wasn’t the wildest or most radical Miata out there, but some head work plus the right bolt-ons made this one a keeper.

Trophy Car

We have always wanted one of the original BMW M3s, and in 2001 we finally got our hands on an example. This car saw a lot of autocross action and served as the tow vehicle for young Tommy Suddard’s kart; he turned eight that year and started autocrossing with Dad.

Practical Porsche

Merely mentioning the Porsche name usually gets people drooling over the company’s rear- and mid-engined creations. The front-engine cars deserve some attention, too, and during 2001 we turned a 19851/2 Porsche 944 into a nice street car. And while Porsches can get expensive, we had less than $8000 in this one.

Vintage Volvo

Who says that old school is a new idea? Late in 2001 we began our 1967 Volvo 122 project. The goal was to turn a timeless classic into a fun autocross and track toy. Adding some power, stick and attitude helped us meet those objectives.

Potent Powerhouse

Rupert Berrington Photo

Rupert Berrington Photo

Here’s another one that served as the first of many: We got our premier MINI in 2002, a fairly stripped Cooper model. Stripped doesn’t mean slow, as Mike King missed an SCCA national Solo title in the car by mere hundredths of a second.

Pony Car, Take Two

This wasn’t our first Fox-body Mustang project, but it was the only one that worked as planned. Yes, in stock form our 1990 Mustang GT’s chassis exhibited some weirdness, but during the 2003 buildup we learned how the right parts can negate those problems and provide handling equal to its forward thrust.

Roger Dodger

Rupert Berrington Photo

Rupert Berrington Photo

The Dodge SRT4 was a new take on an old concept: big power in a somewhat small car. We ran a then-new example in Stock class autocrossing during the 2004 season, and while getting the car to turn took some work, we feel that we didn’t give up anything behind the wheel. After all, multitime champion Mark Daddio handled the chores and drove the car to a fifth-place finish at the SCCA Nationals. Following that event, we piled on the modifications as we prepped the car for NASA track events and Street Mod autocross.

Rally Rocket

We have been covering stage rally for many years, and we finally built a car for the sport in 2005. We turned an $800 beater 1995 Subaru Impreza into a safe, competent contender. After getting our feet wet at some local rallycrosses, we joined the NASA Rally Sport circuit. We survived several stage rallies and applied the lessons learned to our follow-up rally effort, a Saab 99.

Red Oxide Rebel

Speed should always come before looks, right? When we decided to give our 1992 Honda Civic Si the ratrod look with a coat of red oxide primer, we figured it was the ultimate one-finger salute to the chrome and polish crowd. We put the car on the cover of a late-2005 edition, and rumor has it that Metallica front man James Hetfield voiced much approval when he saw the issue at one of the big collector car auctions.

Stage Rally Swede

The Subaru whetted our appetite for stage rally, and our 1977 Saab 99 allowed us to jump in with both feet. We totally tore this one apart throughout 2007 as we rebuilt the car for NASA RallySport and Rally America competition. The old Swede proved to be tough, finishing three of four events entered—not bad in our book.

Local-Level Predator

The National Council of Corvette Clubs organizes their own autocross series, and we joined them during the 2007 season with our 1999 Corvette Fixed-Roof Coupe—think of it as a non-Z06 and you’re on the right track. Their stock-category rules allowed just enough basic mods—shock absorbers, tires, exhaust and some tuning—to turn the car into a ringer on the local level. Our proudest moment came when someone accused us of cheating.

Cheap Competition

We love 20-year-old cars: Their prices have generally bottomed out yet they often still have plenty of life left in them. In 2007 we prepped a 1989 BMW 325is for NASA’s red-hot Spec E30 class. We went road racing for less than the cost of a brand-new, stripped-down econobox.

This article is from an old issue of Grassroots Motorsports. Get all the latest how-tos and stories for just $20 a year. Subscribe now.

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Comments

View comments on the GRM forums
Karl La Follette
Karl La Follette UltraDork
3/22/17 8:38 a.m.

Very Nice Deal Thanks !

DocV
DocV New Reader
3/22/17 11:56 a.m.

Man i want a time machine so I can enjoy an example of each like your projects-- 240Z, early Civic Si, FX-16, 2002, 510, RX-7, E30 M3, 944 turbo.... that's the stuff dreams are made of.

AWeinman
AWeinman
4/4/17 7:23 p.m.

I'm reaching the end of a similar build to yours - goal is an unusual street car. Fiat 850 rust out gift chassis, fiat 1608 100 k gift engine, Porsche 901 5 speed $200 transmission, adapter cost more than transmission, 124 spider brakes all 4 corners, Spitfire rack and pinion (to allow clearance for coolant and fuel lines to front radiator and gas tank, seats rebuilt from rusted shells using re-sewn wrong-year seat covers, you get the picture. Made an aluminum lathe out of a re-engineered wood lathe using wood lathe cutting tools - only way I could machine the Porsche to Fiat speedometer drive - well, I'm putting final finishes on it starting this weekend. Goal is complete in time for the Italian Car Fest show this fall, September 10 - Do you wanna hear more about it ? I believe it may somewhat resemble some of your project cars. As I am older than the usual racer, my goal is a good looking, unusual street machine. ART

Robbie
Robbie UberDork
4/4/17 7:41 p.m.

In reply to AWeinman:

Um, I want to hear more and see pictures!

Rupert
Rupert Dork
4/11/17 9:49 a.m.

I really enjoyed that article!! I owned and enjoyed several of the same rides as well. Sorry you didn't include my two favorite autocross cars. The '85 CRX Si, & the Fiat X19 were the most fun autocross rides I've owned. And the CRX, yes they did make Sis in '85, was a sure fire trophy winner every trip out.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
4/11/17 10:10 a.m.
Rupert wrote: I really enjoyed that article!! I owned and enjoyed several of the same rides as well. Sorry you didn't include my two favorite autocross cars. The '85 CRX Si, & the Fiat X19 were the most fun autocross rides I've owned. And the CRX, yes they did make Sis in '85, was a sure fire trophy winner every trip out.

Glad that you enjoyed the article. You know, we have never done a first-gen CRX project at the magazine. We have done the Civic version, but not that first CRX.

Kreb
Kreb UltraDork
4/11/17 10:23 a.m.

What strikes me is how many of those cars that I remember, and therefore how long I've been reading your magazine. One by one I've dropped my other subscriptions, but GRM still ends up on the table. Kudos. Maybe someday I can even get a pithy remark in your readers remarks column, or even, dare-I-say, a car in your mag. A fella can dream....

Robbie
Robbie UberDork
4/11/17 10:34 a.m.
Kreb wrote: What strikes me is how many of those cars that I remember, and therefore how long I've been reading your magazine. One by one I've dropped my other subscriptions, but GRM still ends up on the table. Kudos. Maybe someday I can even get a pithy remark in your readers remarks column, or even, dare-I-say, a car in your mag. A fella can dream....

Get that thing in your profile pic done - that'd be a good start!

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
4/11/17 12:08 p.m.
Kreb wrote: What strikes me is how many of those cars that I remember, and therefore how long I've been reading your magazine. One by one I've dropped my other subscriptions, but GRM still ends up on the table. Kudos. Maybe someday I can even get a pithy remark in your readers remarks column, or even, dare-I-say, a car in your mag. A fella can dream....

Thank you! And that's an older article from an older issue. Man, we have built a lot of cars.

oldtin
oldtin PowerDork
4/11/17 12:53 p.m.
AWeinman wrote: I'm reaching the end of a similar build to yours - goal is an unusual street car. Fiat 850 rust out gift chassis, fiat 1608 100 k gift engine, Porsche 901 5 speed $200 transmission, adapter cost more than transmission, 124 spider brakes all 4 corners, Spitfire rack and pinion (to allow clearance for coolant and fuel lines to front radiator and gas tank, seats rebuilt from rusted shells using re-sewn wrong-year seat covers, you get the picture. Made an aluminum lathe out of a re-engineered wood lathe using wood lathe cutting tools - only way I could machine the Porsche to Fiat speedometer drive - well, I'm putting final finishes on it starting this weekend. Goal is complete in time for the Italian Car Fest show this fall, September 10 - Do you wanna hear more about it ? I believe it may somewhat resemble some of your project cars. As I am older than the usual racer, my goal is a good looking, unusual street machine. ART

build thread with pics please....waiting...

Toebra
Toebra Reader
4/11/17 1:07 p.m.

$200 for a 901 transmission? Wow, I got a deal

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