Project Fox: We Bought a Used Race Car

Update by Tom Suddard to the Volkswagen Fox project car
Dec 13, 2018

We’re no strangers to building race cars from scratch. Multiple times we’ve started with a bone stock street car, then written about every single step of the process to prepare it for the track. And while that makes for good editorial, it’s a little bit hypocritical of us: We often write that the best way to get into racing is to buy a car that’s already ready to go, but we’ve rarely followed our own advice.

Until now. We’ve been making our Miata faster and faster, to the point that it no longer fits in to your average budget endurance racing field. Rather than build a new car from scratch for the 24 Hours of Lemons and ChampCar Endurance Series, we decided to buy somebody else’s discarded race effort. And after a few months of searching, we stumbled across this gem advertised in a Facebook post in a group called the Citrus Racer Lounge. The group’s title is a subtle nod to the 24 Hours of Lemons, and it’s a great resource for budget endurance racers like us.

VW Fox Ad

After a few messages back and forth, we were on our way to pick up the car. We weren’t really sure what shape it was in, or what exactly was included, but we couldn’t turn down a race car with spares for $500. We scooped everything up and dragged the whole mess home.


So, did we get a good deal? Based on looks alone, the answer is absolutely not. But looks aren’t the best way to go race car shopping. Instead, it’s important to focus on the big-ticket items–meaning the safety gear, the tub, the drivetrain and the spares.

First up, the safety gear. A used race car’s roll cage is arguably the most important thing to examine, as that’s most of the difference in labor that separates building a fresh car from buying a used one. Our Fox’s cage needed a little bit of touch-up work, but overall it was awesome. That means proper geometry, layout, bends, welds, and material. By skipping a trip to the cage shop, we’d already saved $1500-$2500. The cage was a bright spot, but the rest of the safety gear was not. It wasn’t out of date, but months of sitting outside in the Florida sun had ruined the car’s seat and belts. The Fox also lacks a fire suppression system, which 2019 Lemons rules require.

The car’s tub? Don’t let the dents and scrapes from few seasons of racing fool you: The car was surprisingly solid, with very little rust and no evidence of any major hits.

What about the drivetrain? We weren’t able to try starting the car before we picked it up, but once we got home the news was good: A new battery and some starting fluid woke the mighty Fox right up. This is probably a good time to mention the engine swap, too: The previous team swapped a later Jetta engine in, meaning our Fox was powered by two liters of fuel-injected fury.

Oh, and those spares: Score! We had no idea what came with the car, but lucked out on this one: We found a full set of extra body panels, a set of wheels and tires, two transmissions, a fuel tank, and a few boxes of miscellaneous mechanical parts.

What Next?

We’re going racing! Over the coming months, we’ll fix the Fox’s issues, update the safety gear, make it look a little better, and finally get on track. Will it ever win any races? Only time will tell–but we’ll definitely get our money’s worth of fun.

How to Get a Great Deal on a Car

We bought our Fox three hours after it was posted for sale. And no, we don’t mean we found it–we made the deal and committed to purchase it, then offered to send the seller a deposit to hold the car. That’s stupid, right? Well, yes and no. If you have the resources and the tolerance for risk, you can absolutely get better deals by acting just a little bit reckless. Here’s how you can get an awesome deal on a car, too.

Be Patient

We looked for the right car for months. Getting a good deal starts with finding the right car for sale, and by definition great deals are outliers. A corollary to this lesson is “don’t be picky,” because the pickier you are, the longer you’ll wait. By opening our search up to any car that would fit the 24 Hours of Lemons rules, we had way more options than we would have if we were only considering E36-chassis BMWs, for example.

Be Vigilant

It’s easy to get lazy over months of looking, but don’t: that’s what everybody else does. You don’t have to look at every single for-sale section online, but it helps, and it’s important to look every day no matter where you’re shopping. Again, we bought this car three hours after it was posted. Your job is to message the seller sooner than we did.

Be Ready

Here’s our rule of thumb: Never require more than 15 minutes to go from getting home to leaving with your trailer in tow. We keep our trailer empty, even when we could use the space to keep a car out of the weather. We keep its winch battery charged. We keep its straps inside. Our tow vehicle full of tools sits right next to it, and we never park the van with less than 3/4 of a tank of gas. We know that this preparation is only possible because we’re lucky and we have a big backyard, and those that rent or borrow trucks and trailers can’t move as quickly, but guess what: In order to get the good deals, you need to be quicker than the average buyer. You don’t have to go as far as we do: One simple step if you’re renting or borrowing is to keep a bin in your garage with your jump box, air compressor, basic tools and tie-down straps. That will save you 20 minutes of gathering before you leave for the U-Haul office. We’ve found that being ready helps in two ways: Obviously, it lets you literally beat other buyers to a good deal. But more than that, it lets you show the seller you’re serious: Messaging somebody with “Hey can I come and look at the car tomorrow?” Is way less effective than messaging somebody with “I can be there in 45 minutes with my trailer to pick up the car.”

Be Easy

Cars are sold cheaply for all sorts of reasons, but great deals almost always have a combination of a car with issues, a seller who’s over it, and a market that’s disappointing. Even better for buyers, these issues are often related, each pushing each other closer to that dirt-cheap cliff. Our car’s issues were obvious: It’s a weird make and model, it didn’t run, and budget endurance racers can be an indecisive bunch. We’ve found that it’s pretty much pointless to ask for more information or photos when you’re trying to get a great deal, as people like us will have already bought the car by the time the seller responds (if they even bother). Read what’s been posted, make contact with the seller, then go look at the car in person. And bring everything you need to complete the transaction on that first visit, too: That means cash, your trailer or a second driver, and a notary if your state requires notarized title transfers. Remember, the seller is tired of this car and this process, and it’s your job to show up as a one-stop instant solution to it all.

Be Disappointed

The information we used to purchase this Fox? Only what’s shown in the screenshot above. We never even had a phone call with the seller, though we did exchange a few WhatsApp messages to confirm the pickup location. If you’re deal hunting, always be prepared to be disappointed, and be prepared to walk away if you haven’t already committed to the purchase. We’ve driven thousands of miles, only to come home empty-handed because we were just a tad too pessimistic. But that’s just part of the game, and when you’re bargain hunting you’ll come out ahead in the long run.

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View comments on the GRM forums
Stampie GRM+ Memberand UberDork
12/12/18 1:07 p.m.

I got to the ABA swap and thought well that's a weird engine swap for a Fox body then said ohhhhh ... that kind of Fox.  

noddaz GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
12/12/18 1:12 p.m.

And I also was thinking "another Mustang build up".  Thank you for making me wrong!

And glad to see it has the "good" ignition coil/transistor.

Klayfish PowerDork
12/12/18 1:18 p.m.

Love it!!!  Tom has been a race teammate a few times and is a great guy.  The car was pretty damn fast and well cared for by him.  It did make him want to pull his hair out though...

Javelin GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
12/12/18 1:37 p.m.

Came for fox-body content.

Leaving optimistically disappointed?

Appleseed MegaDork
12/12/18 3:55 p.m.

I knew I wasn't the only one expecting Mustang. Ha!

captdownshift GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
12/12/18 6:52 p.m.

I give it 36 months before it sees a rallysprint

pinchvalve MegaDork
12/13/18 7:27 a.m.

Wheel/Tires, coil-overs, 2.0 motor > $500.

Klayfish PowerDork
12/13/18 7:50 a.m.

The car in its' racing prime....

Tyler H
Tyler H GRM+ Memberand UltraDork
12/13/18 8:58 a.m.
pinchvalve said:

Wheel/Tires, coil-overs, 2.0 motor > $500.

Agreed that's a great value.

Rules-wise, one of the best things Lemons has done in recent years (unofficially) is lighten up a little and allow cars that aren't steaming piles.  BS judging has done a pretty dang good job of classing competitively.  Show up as a dark horse with a nice car and you're going in A.  Your racing results (consistent pattern of failure) will get you reclassed appropriately.  Lemony cars that have a pedigree of winning move up and/or get laps.  

It's a system that seems to work well, even if it infuriates rulebookineers.  There's other low buck series more tailored to that style though.  

Congrats on the purchase!  I look forward to racing with you guys some time.

paranoid_android UltraDork
12/13/18 12:09 p.m.

If ever two words were meant to be together, it would be “Fox” and “project.”


I jest- this will be a cool project to follow!

Petrolburner Dork
12/13/18 12:14 p.m.


boeheed None
12/13/18 3:06 p.m.

We took over for Tom in the Lemons Fox camp last year with a sportwagen. They're delightfully awful cars. Let us know if you're gonna coax it up to the northeast.

spitfirebill MegaDork
12/13/18 3:41 p.m.

I am so chuffed this is not another poontang build. 

Mike T
Mike T New Reader
12/13/18 4:54 p.m.

The 1987 Fox that I bought new and autocrossed made a great street car. A somewhat less than mediocre Autocross car. No idea what sort of road racer. If you want a car with a really low 1st gear and really high 2nd gear well then this is the car for you. I look forward to future episodes.


Mike T

irish44j MegaDork
12/13/18 7:41 p.m.
Javelin said:

Came for fox-body content.

Leaving optimistically disappointed?

I figured it was fox-body but clicked anyhow on the off chance it was a Fox

So I'm leaving highly pleased :)

bvward1227 None
12/14/18 2:08 p.m.

A lot of the suspension is Audi/Dasher compatible, as is the drivetrain. It is possible to put a 1.8/2.0 16V motor in it if you use Audi 90 2.0 liter intake and exhaust manifolds. One issue is the distributor sticking out into the battery tray.

Unfortunately, most of these Brazilian beauties have rusted back into the earth here in the Northeast...

I had one that was gifted to me, needing only a passenger side half shaft. Used that car to Marshal the Maine Forest Rally back in '02. John Buffum gave everyone $20.00 for gas ;)

Car had an issue with aquaplaning... Great in the snow, though.

Danny Shields
Danny Shields GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
12/21/18 5:42 a.m.
Mike T said:

The 1987 Fox that I bought new and autocrossed made a great street car. A somewhat less than mediocre Autocross car. No idea what sort of road racer. If you want a car with a really low 1st gear and really high 2nd gear well then this is the car for you. I look forward to future episodes.


Mike T

That's funny! I had a 1993 Fox that I bought new on April Fools' Day 1995. The car was a good value, not really memorable, but I will never forget that huge gap from first to second gear. 

ernest New Reader
1/14/19 7:30 p.m.

Like previous posters had mentioned: the Fox carries over alot of drivetrain parts from the '80 - '87 Audi 4000. The trans, subframe and front suspension/struts should be swapable.

The hot ticket is to get some '89-'91 audi 80/90 10v 2 piece front struts, you can modify them for xtra camber at the knuckle and also use G60 Corrado 11" rotors calipers and carriers (big brakes!), the downside is you have to drill the hubs for 4x100 bolt pattern. You can also run mkII 16v GTI rear discs and get rid of the crappy drums!

nutherjrfan UltraDork
1/14/19 7:56 p.m.
MrChaos GRM+ Memberand Dork
1/14/19 8:57 p.m.

In reply to nutherjrfan :

i dig the purple interior


Donatello New Reader
1/28/19 6:45 p.m.

You are brave. Should have been called the Volkswagen "fix". This is the car that made me love Hondas. Although the previous owner's success with it is a good sign. If GRM needed any more proof that they support the underdog this is it.

Jumper K Balls (Trent)
Jumper K Balls (Trent) PowerDork
1/28/19 7:27 p.m.

I'm on the other side of the continent but I did dig a close ratio Audi 4000s 5 speed out of my storage building today to put on craigslist.......

Mike924 Reader
1/29/19 7:16 a.m.

I don't know why, but I have always liked the VW Fox.  Probably because growing up I was a kid in the back seat of an Audi Fox.  I will have a soft spot for these cars.  But i can never find one.  I will need to look at the links above for the abandoned projects.  

+1 for following this build.

noddaz GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
1/29/19 7:30 a.m.
nutherjrfan said:

some other guys abandoned project foxes. smiley

Way too close to me.   Good thing I am broke.

JohnInKansas Dork
1/29/19 8:33 a.m.

Relevant to my interests. My dad bought one for scrap price a couple months ago, got it running and now it sits. My brother and I may build it for the Challenge this year.

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