The Truth About Buying a Project Car

There it is, that special car you've been lusting after for years just sitting at the side of the road. Excited, you pull over and take a peak. Your heart races when you see the for-sale sign.

Upon closer inspection, though, you notice the rusty fenders, the half-built engine and an interior that looks like it got into a fight with a bear and lost. Sure, it's rough, but you convince yourself that you can save it.

So you buy it, drag it home and get to work.

Then, the reality of the project sets in: in your haste to have a project of your own, you forget just how much time and money it takes to turn a project into something that actually runs.

To keep your sanity in check, we made a guide over on Classic Motorsports on how to find a decent project car and how to actually get it finished.

Have you ever found yourself losing the battle with a project? Did you cut your loses and run, or did you find a way to power through?

 

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Comments
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captdownshift (Forum Supporter)
captdownshift (Forum Supporter) UltimaDork
6/24/20 11:38 a.m.

Step 1) contact your local divorce attorney and ask them how much this project is REALLY going to cost before making an offer

 

Step 2) make the offer anyways

oldeskewltoy
oldeskewltoy UberDork
6/24/20 11:40 a.m.

NEVER expect to to get a return on $$$ spent (notice how I didn't say "investment")

frenchyd
frenchyd PowerDork
6/24/20 12:06 p.m.

In reply to Colin Wood :

If you aren't doing it for fun, Don't do it.  Do you buy a set of golf clubs to show a profit? Do you stop in at the bar to show a profit?  Does everything have to be about making money or are you allowed to have some fun in your life? 
I worked hard, long hours on the road selling. Racing vintage cars was a hobby. It cost money.  Really serious money, even more than I earned at times which is what credit cards are for.  
 

Later in life when I was going through tough times, my hobby rewarded me by allowing me to keep my home when I had no income or reserves.  

But even that " rate of return"  wasn't about profit.  It was about having something to sell instead of losing a house I had built with my own 2 hands. A house I cherished more than the cars.  

Life isn't always going to be about good times. There are bound to be bumps in the road.  Sometimes Horrible bumps or even detours.  Don't use all of your youth in a vain attempt to "insure" your future.  Stop and smell the roses. 

james Kepford
james Kepford None
6/24/20 2:32 p.m.

Over the course of my life time I have come to understand buying the rougher car at half price is not the way to save money on a restoration.

dherr (Forum Supporter)
dherr (Forum Supporter) Dork
6/24/20 3:26 p.m.

Definitely need to spend more rather than less for a solid start. Rusty bodies can be all fixed, but that MGB example is a great example of a project that can quickly be a money pit. For my MR2 project, I looked at many rusty cars for $500 - $1500 that all were going to require major work to fix right. I ended up getting one for $2,500 that was rust-free other than one front fender with some minor damage. Much cheaper in the long run with the $2,500 example.

frenchyd
frenchyd PowerDork
6/24/20 3:34 p.m.
james Kepford said:

Over the course of my life time I have come to understand buying the rougher car at half price is not the way to save money on a restoration.

No but it can be a "Time payment"  way to acquire a more expensive car.  
It's not the "flippers" way,  and if profit is your goal  Dont do it. 
 

My XKE V12 roadster race car started out as a $300 purchase.   Whenever I had extra money I would buy  parts or stuff for it.   In the meantime I could work on what I had. 
Actually that's the way I acquired all my "toys"   Since they weren't really marketable I didn't ever feel any pressure to sell them.  Thus sudden demands for braces or college money was met other ways. 

Snowdoggie
Snowdoggie Reader
6/24/20 4:36 p.m.

If you throw away the receipts because you really don't want to know, then it is just a very expensive hobby. 

If you pull out your wrenches and a beer and don't have to have it fixed by Monday, it's a rewarding hobby. 

If you are always checking the auction results for the same model you have thinking that putting enough work and money into it will help you catch the low mileage rabbit, it's insanity.  

 

NOHOME
NOHOME MegaDork
6/24/20 4:47 p.m.

The time commitment is the first thing to note. Car restorations eat up around 1000 hour if you know what you are doing; that is a six month long full time job.

 

If your goal is to drive what you are restoring, then don't start building one. Go buy a finished car. Car restoring is for people who like restoring cars for the sake of restoring cars.

 

There is an irony in that the people who are good at restoring cars probably want nothing to do with the finished car past a few drives and a couple of car shows. They want to time and money back to do the next project.

Snowdoggie
Snowdoggie Reader
6/24/20 4:56 p.m.

In reply to NOHOME :

But what if you don't know what you are doing? The fun of restoration for me is to learn something new. Of course it will take longer and cost more. It's for the experience. 

But then again, learning will make you a better mechanic. A better restorer. What is that worth? 

NOHOME
NOHOME MegaDork
6/24/20 6:06 p.m.

In reply to Snowdoggie :

That would be why you have no interest in the finished good...no challenge left so off it goes so you can escalate. 

oneway
oneway New Reader
6/24/20 10:05 p.m.

My resurrection projects are certainly not aimed at the financial end.  Time spent on my projects is considered as the some of the "green pastures and still waters " my LORD provides for me in what can be a very demanding world.  What is the price tag for restoring my soul and enjoying an interesting hobby that brings relief, a sense of accomplishment, time without phone calls or other demands?  Thanks for the time, John.  Love your publications!

Snowdoggie
Snowdoggie Reader
6/25/20 10:01 a.m.
NOHOME said:

In reply to Snowdoggie :

That would be why you have no interest in the finished good...no challenge left so off it goes so you can escalate. 

I am building it for me to drive, because nobody makes what I want. I won't be selling it off when I am done. 

NOHOME
NOHOME MegaDork
6/25/20 10:23 a.m.

In reply to Snowdoggie :

That's what I used to say. wink

oldeskewltoy
oldeskewltoy UberDork
6/25/20 10:46 a.m.

NOHOME - I guess it depends on the person....  Surreptitious (my AE71) has been my daily for about 10 years now... it took a few years to get it mostly complete, and I've enjoyed putting 30k miles on it

 

CrustyRedXpress (Forum Supporter)
CrustyRedXpress (Forum Supporter) Reader
6/25/20 11:07 a.m.

In reply to Colin Wood :

Project car link appears to be borked. 

Tom1200
Tom1200 Dork
6/25/20 11:56 a.m.

My wife only asks one thing of cars I drag home; they must run, they don't have to run well but they need to be running.  I like this because I'm good at 3-6 month projects but I'm not good at 3 year projects. After a certain point I get frustrated because I hate non running cars or motorcycles taking up space.  I like cars that I can drive while going through the systems. Things like rebuilding an engine can be done in a few weeks, so the car won't be off the road for long. Paintwork is the only exception but I can still drive a scabby looking car.

 

wrenchedexcess (Forum Supporter)
wrenchedexcess (Forum Supporter) Reader
6/25/20 11:18 p.m.

Over the years, I have had more than a few project cars. Some I have even made money on. Over all I am glad that I have probably broke even. Some just needed minor repairs, I could drive them right away and then flip them. Others needed more work, was able to repair them and do the same and still others ended up being a black hole. A 62 Bonneville that I rebuilt the engine and then lost the garage space, ended up being a rusted hulk since I had no place to put it. A Saturn SC1 that I put in a Buick 3.8 and a Fiero 4 speed trans for the challenge. Wiring issues with the fuel injection. I could get it to start but not stay running. Others ended up being parts cars, frame body or both too far gone to do anything with. Several Corvairs fit in that catagory. I always looked at it as you buy them really cheap so if it does not turn out the way you wanted, at least your only out a few hundred and maybe picked up some experience as opposed  to being out several grand. If you can atleast get it running and driving thats half the battle. The rest can come later. As far as time goes, I never include it because it is something that I enjoy and there is no price to put on that.

Professor_Brap (Forum Supporter)
Professor_Brap (Forum Supporter) SuperDork
6/26/20 5:55 a.m.

I'm in the middle of this now. PO of my glh didn't believe in putting any bracket or all the bolts back in. 

james Kepford
james Kepford New Reader
6/26/20 1:35 p.m.

In reply to Professor_Brap (Forum Supporter) :

I have an 84 GLH I used to Autocross sitting in my field.

dropstep
dropstep UltraDork
6/26/20 10:51 p.m.

I've been driving my project car for 7 years and had less then 2500 total invested until a month ago. I'm building it because it's what I want and I managed to find a really solid example cheap. I'll still own it when I die unless someone hits it. 

ddavidv
ddavidv PowerDork
6/27/20 6:03 a.m.

My new project car rule is that it has to have paint and body structure at a level I can live with looking at. The most expensive parts of fixing up/restoring old cars are metal work and paint. It also happens that those two things are tasks I don't enjoy at all. So I'll pay more for something that has acceptable paint or at least interesting (barf) 'patina' that I won't be tempted to 'fix'.

Raze (Forum Supporter)
Raze (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
6/27/20 7:22 a.m.
frenchyd said:

In reply to Colin Wood :

If you aren't doing it for fun, Don't do it. 
... Don't use all of your youth in a vain attempt to "insure" your future.  Stop and smell the roses. 

Sage advice right there

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