How To Get Into Cars: Choosing Your First Project Car

The automobile is a wonderous invention, perhaps one of the most transformative of the 20th century. They’re machines that often inspire an all-consuming passion, capturing the heart with sights, sounds, and smells. However, for those who grew up isolated from car culture, it can be difficult to know how to approach cars as a hobby. If this sounds like you, fear not – this article is a crash course into getting your feet wet in the world of horsepower.

So You Like Cars, Eh?

Project cars let you do things that you’d never dare attempt in a daily.

The first step to becoming a true gearhead is identifying your specific passion. Car culture is a broad church, and what excites one enthusiast can be boring or even repulsive to another. Oftentimes, the interest can be spawned by a fond memory of a family member’s special ride, or a trip to a motor race during childhood.

Knowing what kind of cars you like is key to your journey. You might fall in love with classic American muscle and drag racing, or always fancied yourself in the seat of a tweaked-out tuner car a la The Fast And The Furious. Movies, posters, magazines, and your local car shows are a great way to figure out what excites you about cars. Once you’ve got an idea of what you like, it’s time to start thinking about picking out your first project car.

To Craigslist And Back Again

Choosing the right project car is a process that requires careful research, realistic ambition, and emotion. Your own circumstances, taking into account your living situation, finances, and the country you live in, all feed into this decision. Weighing these factors is key to sourcing a sweet ride that you’ll actually be able to enjoy.

Once you’ve got a good idea of the type of cars you’re into, this will help you narrow down what you’re looking for. If you want to go cruising out on the sand dunes, a drop-top 4WD or even a beach buggy might be for you. If you want to soak up the sun on a twisty mountain road, you might be looking at roadsters. Or, if you want to lay down the ultimate lap times, a high-powered coupe with serious track credentials could be just the ticket. Identifying what you want to do with your car will help you choose the right model. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other enthusiasts to ask for tips! Jalopnik have long run a great series helping people choose the right vehicle, and communities like OppositeLock are always open to questions. Alternatively, head out to your local Cars and Coffee, and start chatting with the owners of the rides you like best. The nicer members of the car scene will always be glad to chat and point you in the right direction.

Now that you’ve got an idea of what you’re looking for, it’s time to consider your budget. This should take into account not just the purchase price of the car, but other fees like insurance and registration. Being that you’re an enthusiast, you’ll want some cash set aside for modifications and upgrades, too, along with basic maintenance. Getting this right can be the difference between cruising the boulevards on a sunny summer’s afternoon, versus staring out the window at your former darling as it slowly rusts away under a tarp.

This author bought an MX-5 for a bargain price, thanks to the wrecked paint. “I’ll just respray it!” he said… back in 2016. Long story short, the paint has not yet been improved.

Consider the condition of the vehicle you’re looking at sourcing. You can generally knock money off the purchase price for body or mechanical damage. If you’re looking to do an engine swap anyway, buying a car with a blown head gasket is a great way to save coin. On the flipside, if you want a car that looks and feels nice, purchasing a car with heavily sun-damaged paint is going to cost thousands to fix. Money can be saved by doing the work yourself, but think carefully about your abilities and circumstances. There’s no point planning to respray your own car if you live in an apartment and have to work in the street!

There are several ways to keep things affordable. Certain cars become ultra-desirable, driving their prices up. If you’re just out of college with a part time job, you’re probably not going to be able to score a Mark IV Supra to build your own tribute to Paul Walker. Similarly, marques like Ferrari and Lamborghini will be out of reach. However, other factors also come into play. Certain vehicles, such as Mustangs and Miatas, are desirable to a wide range of enthusiasts. Despite this, as they were built in such large numbers, they remain affordable on the second-hand market. This has knock-on benefits, too. The popularity of these vehicles has led to a vibrant aftermarket, making replacement parts and performance hardware both cheap and readily available. For those on limited budgets, this can make all the difference. A set of shocks for a popular muscle car like an old Camaro can be had for a couple hundred dollars. If instead, you’re riding around in a 1980s Mercedes with air suspension, you could be looking at five times as much – if you can find the parts at all.

Your country of residence feeds into this, too. Corvettes and Challengers are a viable choice in the US, with parts on the shelf in every small town in the country. Junk yards are similarly full of old wrecks to pick over. If you find yourself down in Australia however, these cars would be a far more expensive choice. If you can get such a car in the first place, you’ll find everything from brake pads to universal joints have to be special ordered in from overseas, because it’s simply not viable for local stores to keep large stocks of parts for such obscure vehicles. Instead, those in the antipodes might consider picking up a Ford Falcon or Holden Commodore to get started with. This is a story that plays out around the world. Swedes will find it far easier to source parts for Volvos, while a Japanese resident will easily lay their hands on a Skyline that would be near-unobtainable in the States.

If you’re a beginner in the automotive scene, it definitely pays to go easy on yourself by choosing a vehicle with a strong local scene. On top of cheap parts, it also allows one to draw on the rich local knowledgebase when diagnosing problems. Finding a good local car forum or Facebook group can be a huge help when you’re starting out. Plus, if you’re lucky, you’ll meet a local greybeard or two with a few parts cars tucked away in a garage somewhere.

Narrowing It Down

One of these Jeeps is a cheap front-wheel-drive SUV with decent fuel economy, the other is a great base for a serious off-road rig. Spotting the difference can be tough for the uninitiated!

With the basics laid out, let’s consider an example. You’ve decided, after much pondering, that you’ve always wanted an offroad rig to tackle the trails in your local area. Lacking the knowledge to begin with, you join some local Facebook groups, and start eyeing off rides and asking questions. You’ve always been partial to Jeeps, but you want a car you can also use for the grocery run, so have a hard top in mind. Scraping the local classifieds, you’ve seen plenty of Jeep Patriots at used car lots, for fairly reasonable prices. This looks like a great way into the hobby, so you decide to post online to get some feedback before heading out.

Your post is met with a torrent of abuse and derision. Hardcore four-wheelers are laughing at you for considering a “mall-crawler”, and teenagers too young to drive are calling you a soccer mom in the comments. Thankfully, a handful of members reach out, asking a few questions about what you’re actually looking for in a car. You mention that you want to go offroad, do a little mudding, but as you’re looking for a second vehicle, your rig doesn’t have to be too nice and you’re not concerned about fuel economy.

The more helpful group members tell you that the Patriot, being a model based around front wheel drive and lacking good stock parts and aftermarket support, isn’t really the car for you. Instead, being based in the United States, they point you towards the XJ model Jeep Cherokee. With a stout 4.0 l engine, a rich community, and great aftermarket support, help and parts will always be close at hand. Plus, there’s plenty of beaters available for under a couple grand, so you won’t feel too guilty if you do end up wrecking out on the trail.

You end up doing a little more research, and with the help of your new pals, source a weather-beaten 1993 model with well-worn upholstery and plenty of charm. Being a simple car to work on with a huge fanbase, you begin to teach yourself to change the oil and coolant and do basic maintenance, and even manage to tackle the job of replacing your belts when the charging system suddenly conks out. With the help of your fellow wheelers, you slap a lift kit on and some big mud tyres, and have a great weekend wrenching while sinking a few beers. Your new rig can handle plenty of the local rough stuff, and you start eyeing off a classic CJ for your next build, just maybe!

It’s All About Community

Fundamentally, the best way to learn about cars is with the community by your side. It’s virtually a necessity too, particularly when trying to source rare parts or figure out how to diagnose strange sounds you haven’t heard before. By doing your research and learning about what’s out there before you buy, you can score yourself a great ride and begin an exciting project. Skip these steps, and you risk spending a huge wad of cash on a poorly performing lawn ornament. Good luck out there, and next time, we’ll look at what tools you’ll need when you’re starting to tinker with your new rig. Happy wrenching!

75 thoughts on “How To Get Into Cars: Choosing Your First Project Car

  1. As someone who leaves in an european country : You don’t.
    You can’t alter anything that would change the performance of the vehicle or worsen the safety by any stretch of the imagination, not even talking about emissions … So gone is the dream about beefed up MX5.
    Being a car guy here really sucks.

        1. Exactly this. You CAN do a lot, but especially in the Netherlands, IF you get caught and sent for a technical inspection by the RDW (RijksDienst Wegverkeer, the government agency for road traffic) you’ll be paying a hefty find AND be forced to undo all your work before your car is allowed on the road again.

          Things like installing a drop-kit to lower ground clearance (or a lift kit to increase it) are basically off limits. And I expect the rules will get even more ridiculous in future as emissions become more and more of a “problem”

          1. my insurance company didnt bat an eyelid when i told them my mini went from 38 flywheel horsepower to 331. And neither did the police when they stopped me, they only wanted to know why flames were coming out the exhaust, and they did check all modifications were fully declared. I didnt know there was any power limit restriction on modified vehicles or is this a new thing?

        2. In the US you can increase it by 4 x and no one is going to care.
          I upgraded a 1980s Camaro from an anemic 2.8l V6 that barely made 100hp to a 400+ hp 350.
          Had to put a stronger transmission and rear end gear in it and upgrade the front brakes as well.

    1. Is the European car magazine “Chrome and Flames” still around? I used to buy the US version of it. Pretty neat because it was full color without any advertising, and all the articles translated to English. Sometimes in the photos would be the magazine’s logo in other languages “Chroom und Flammen” and others.

      A common thing mentioned in the articles was in many European countries it wasn’t legal to change anything from stock until the vehicle was 25 years old. For cars older than that, the go-to mod for rear drive rigs was often an aluminum Rover V8.

    2. Martin,

      Instead of asking what Big Brother will allow you to do, ask yourself what it is logical and safe to do. Automotive emissions for passenger vehicles have massively decreased to the point where they are no longer the “problem” source for emissions, with the exception of large cities which have high numbers of vehicles idling in slow traffic – This is solved by the start-stop feature of IC engines which has now been around for the better part of 10 years.

      You can significantly increase performance of your turbo diesel vehicles with minimal increase in overall emissions. It doesn’t matter what Big Brother tells you to do – You will find that you are in fact free to do whatever you want. Obviously, doing something which would cause a massive increase in emissions (think: these large transit trucks which belch black smoke) would be irresponsible, rude, and would attract a lot of attention but that is not necessary to gain significant improvement.

      This is why I could never live in the EU. People as a whole simply accept and immediately assimilate new rules and ideas from their masters. It confounds me.

    1. Well if you live in a state that actually has winters with snow then you will always have “some” rust, unless you’re willing to drive out of state. Even then it’ll be tough to prevent rust for more than a few years.

      1. If you get a 1960s muscle car ,a vintage Japanese car some rust is a fact of life you must deal with.
        I never seen an MR2 or any old Toyota without a little rust in the quarter panels.
        They sell patch panels for repairing it.

  2. If you live in an area with weather that is harsh on cars, consider going somewhere balmier to find something. Snowy areas are particularly bad for car bodies because of the salt that goes on the roads, so you might have trouble finding something that will run cheaply for another x00,000 miles for a few thousand dollars in those areas.

    Also, if you don’t need much passenger space, old pickups are nearly indestructible and you have a lot of options for what to do with the beds. Top Gear’s “reliability tests” on a late-80s Toyota Hilux is hyperbolic, but always a fun watch.

    1. As someone who lived in A norther US state between 1960-1990 and has been through the heartbreak of unstoppable rust, I will NEVER buy another vehicle that has been further north than 37 degrees latitude for more than a few days. Cars built after the mid 80’s are better but they are also sneakier; you can have a very nice car body on top of a frame and suspension about to let go, connected to the body with lots of bolts removable only with a flame wrench. Unless the vehicle is unique and/or you get it for free, ultimately, it’s never worth it.

  3. My favorite car hack I did was with a DOHC 16v VW engine. If you get an additional exhaust cam, you can cut the timing gear off and use it in place of the intake cam. I guess the idea was more duration on the intake side. Who knows if it actually made the car faster, but it was fun to do.

  4. It is a good idea to pick a really simple car for a first project:
    4 cylinder engine, longitudinal (engine cylinders line up with the length of the car, rather than sideways).
    Rear wheel drive
    Carburetor fuel system – naturally aspirated (no fuel injection, turbocharger or supercharger)
    Fewer electronics and fancy stuff makes it easier to work out the wiring.

    Often a first project car is not a car you really love initially…but something that is very common – with lots of spare used parts available from wreckers. When you start investing your time and fixing it – that is when it becomes a special car for you.

    My first project car is a 1990 Toyota Celica GT4. It has been a lot more complex due to having a turbo charger, all wheel drive, and was produced in limited numbers. In retrospect, I probably should have started on a Toyota Corolla or Mazda MX5

  5. Don’t be a wuss. Dive straight in with a self build as your first project. It’s the ideal way to learn. You get to strip the manky donor, recondition as much as you like, and then put it into a load of nice clean new parts.

  6. It’s great to see a Hackaday Article about Car Hacking!

    The biggest take away is getting something feasible as your first project. I am like droves of others who “bit off more than I could chew” with my first project. I did not pick something common by any means. My first project is a 1975 Bricklin SV-1 (a Canadian made, gullwinged rarity with less than 2800 produced) and even though it shares lots of compatible parts with AMC muscle cars and various Ford platforms, there are many, unique and some straight unobtanium parts for the vehicle. The car had serious issues that were not visible to the trained eye, and definitely not for my untrained eye when I was purchasing it. So even if the paint looks good, do your research. Look for rust, damaged rubber etc.

    But once again, do your research (and more and more and more research), keep it simple, find some enthusiasts and stay motivated! The hardest bit for someone who has not built a vehicle (and has been one of my struggles) is the motivation to continue when there are setbacks. Hold your head up and keep in mind it’s a project and it’s never truly finished!!!

    Even with all the hurtles though, only 2 years have passed and the car is nearing completion with most of the restoration work done by me or friends (another good takeaway, make friends that can fabricate!). Every part has been either found as new or rebuilt for performance and with all of it, I’ve learned a ton, and that was the most important part of the exercise!

  7. It’s a slippery slope! Having spent my youth tinkering with all things electronic and mechanical, I’m the first person my friends call when they have a problem with their car. Even to the point where I’ve spent more time fixing friend’s cars rather than my own. Then there’s the dilemma when you see the quote on the major service on your daily driver – do you pay the money and live happily ever after or do you think you can do it cheaper yourself? Of course you do it yourself – but afterwards you question the economics of it.

    Would I have done it any differently? Hell no! I learnt Italian from trying to translate a Fiat manual – no interwebs or Google translate in them olden days!! When I was introduced to the term ‘Poke Yoke’ in later life, I immediately understood. With a Fiat engine – you can put the bearings in any which way – but only one way works! In a Toyota engine – there is only ‘one way’.

    Luckily today there is the interwebs – you may have heard of it. If a car (or motorbike) is anyway half popular, then there’s a forum for it. You can do your research on common things to look out for – like 2000’s Mercedes with dodgy wire insulation that breaks down over time or BMWs with plastic bits that crack and fail over time – not like the old days where things were simple and solid. Of course, where there’s a problem, there’s opportunity.

    Since I hate panel beating, my thought was to cover a car in rgb leds – I dare say someone has done that already….

    1. Yes, it is a slippery slope,
      and while you are contemplating whether you should step off,
      I’ll be right here behind you,
      strapping on your jet pack and roller blades.

      (From the OldTools mailing list)

    2. 1980’s and early 90’s Volvos with air soluble insulation on the wiring. A friend owned one of those wagons, the first generation that was all square corners. He carried a toolbox and several rolls of different colored wire along with a butane soldering iron, wire cutters, solder and a lot of electrical tape.

  8. I don’t think many people start by just wanting a car project, any car project. Most people have a good idea of want they want when they start. That drives what happens next. Some people like body work, others like engine work, others like fabrication. If you have sufficient support from people who have done it before, you can jump right in. If not, it comes down to money. If you can afford it, you can outsource what you don’t want to do yourself. If you can’t afford that, it is probably best to start learning on a relatively cheap car, getting to understand how everything works. Learn basic car maintenance and expand from there. I found that once you have the basic knowledge you can jump into some quite complex projects if you research properly and take care. You will make mistakes. Some will be expensive but exentually you will get good at it and you will be able to have the car you want. For electronics folks, there are quite a few opportunities to build car electronics such as custom ECUs, data logging, entertainment systems and so on. I am currently fitting a turbo onto a home built “Locost” car which has a couple of custom electronic devices, one to synchronize the wipers and one to integrate a capacitive fuel sender. I will be building a data logger, a custom ECU and electronic turbo controls at some point. Once you start to mod a car, it is hard to stop.

  9. Where I live, it’s worthwhile trying to find a pre-1976 car, because they had relaxed emissions standards, so you didn’t have to deal with a lot of emissions hardware on the engine and exhaust, and if you can get it working well enough to meet the regulatory standards of roadworthiness you either don’t have to ever take it in to deal with testing emissions, or only have to do so once every five years. I have two coworkers who have bought really nice 2010+ cars and done a huge pile of upgrades to the engines to get 500+ horsepower out of them, and now have cars that they can’t legally register because despite their best efforts they can’t manage to pass emissions testing. I’m driving my 1975 Triumph Spitfire with a modified Datsun engine to work happily. Sure, it’s not 500 horsepower, but on the other hand, it’s legal.

    1. Some cars newer than that were also optioned without emissions controls. So if it was federally allowed it should be able to get stickers. I got a 91 Probe LX with no emissions control from factory. Hoping to never need a comp for it because all I ever find are cars with it. I’m sure you’d have to look around a lot to find one of any car without emissions from factory, But they are out there.

    2. In the USA, “one ton” and higher rated trucks were 100% exempt from all emissions laws from their start in 1975 up into at least the 1980’s. The reason was that manufacturers often sold them as a cab and chassis onto which 3rd parties would mount all kinds of things. Flatbeds, van boxes, ambulance bodies, wrecker cranes and more. It was impossible to test all the potential variations.

      That loophole was how Dodge was able to sell the Lil Red Express Truck and the Warlock truck in the late 70’s, with engines built to pre 1971 specifications.

      I assume some time in the 90’s the rules were changed for those so they didn’t care about aftermarket pre-retail modifications. With or without a bed from the factory they’d just use the same standards as the 3/4 ton and lighter rated trucks.

      So if you live in California or somewhere else in America that insists (despite the federal waiver for vehicles 25+ years old) that all vehicles from 1975 on have to be maintained with their factory emissions control equipment (yep, upgrading to *reduce emissions* from stock isn’t allowed in California), get a heavy duty truck that never had any emissions controls and do whatever the hell you want with it.

  10. If you’re interested in tinkering with the software that runs on the engine computer, consider a Subaru from about 2004-2012 or so (maybe later – that’s just when I stopped following closely) or a GM from around 2000-2007 that uses a P01 or P59 powertrain control module. Both platforms have free software and cheap hardware for reading and writing the firmware of the ECU / PCM.

    For example there’s a thread at where people have shared IDA files for a bunch of different Subaru ECUs from that era. And there are XML files that will show you where to find most of the useful tables in ROM (needed for tuning) and variables in RAM (needed for logging) and there’s and IDE for compiling C code and even debugging in an emulator if you want to change the code. And there are some open-source examples of various sorts of hacks.

    For GM stuff, the software only recently became available, so things are just getting started. is where the action is.

    I was pretty active in the Subaru community for a long time, learned a lot from people there, and enjoy it a lot. But then I went out and bought a new toy… so now I’m trying to help build a similar community for GM stuff.

  11. buy a cheap simple car, and keep it running and improve it. thats how i got into cars (minis , when they were cheap haha)

    you will learn everything form paint and fabrication to engine / gearbox building and electronics. the downside is back in the day, car manuals were better and forums existed, now with forums dying left and right DIY technical stuff is getting harder to find.

    1. Yea I remember when a popular forum died basically because one guy with too much time on his hands went on every post and said you can’t do that at home take it to a mechanic. Dude it was replacing a sensor, anyone with a 8mm socket could have done it or OMG you have to rent a special tool to press that ball joint in. He would ride everyone until they left and made newbs leave because he made the smallest thing seem impossible. I haven’t even went on any forums for years how bad have they gotten?

      1. I frequent only a handfull, but you basically summed it up, either people bashed newbs till the forum died, or server costs killed it, or the forum owner just got fed up. Photobucket messed up alot of good tutorials too when they decided to lock down hotlinking.

  12. +1 for the Jeep XJ. I sold one last year for £350 with 2 days’ MoT left, so still legal.

    But yes they tend to rust a bit at the back, best thing to do is to weld in stainless sheet, at least it won’t rust again.

    Easy to work on, you don’t even have to jack them up to get underneath!

    Full pdf service manuals available and forums where all the niggles have been discovered, so you can just work through the likely fixes one by one.

    1. Jeeps are fun, relatively simple vehicles to work on and modify, but oh lord, you can spend a lot of money on them wirhout trying very hard. There’s a reason the joke in the Jeep community is “Just Empty Every Pocket”. :)

      That said, I’m getting close to finishing the engine swap of my TJ. Looking forward to being able to drive it again.

      1. I’ve heard of people buying parts for the Mahindra Roxor to use on their Jeeps. Why? Because they’re brand new parts and in many cases better built than the originals, thanks to decades of refinement of the designs.

  13. TLDR:

    Go to car/truck shows in your area and talk to people. Its always the first step as you are more than likely going to need an extra set of hands to fix something at some point.

  14. also, check state emissions and DMV laws, as they may preclude ever driving anything fun. Engine swaps that CARB will allow, are relatively rare. changes to intake, homemade supercharger or turbo kits, etc are verboten. hell, even any change in engine management tune will preclude you from getting registered. So any attempts at woodgas systems, homemade hybrids, or weird veggie oil diesel engines in small cars are right out. That’s why you get so many 3 wheeled experimental cars, we use that as a loophole cuz they’re considered “motorcycles” which aren’t smogged….yet. When I first moved into CA, I had purchased a donor car to build a car that Dodge promised but never delivered in the mid 80’s, only to find out that what I could do in my home state was a big no no here.

    1. With a little creativity, you don’t have to register the car in the same state you live in. Own the car through a corporation in another state, lease it from yourself in another state (in california you won’t even have to have a license plate for 6 months – google “steve jobs license plate”), or give it “on paper” to a family member in who-knows-where.

      In state: Farm exemption (probably trucks only, though). Check your state’s “antique automobile” laws – in my state it’s 1994 or older this year (25 years, at 50 years you don’t even have to have a title). Used car dealer license – drive without registration. Transporter license – drive cars that don’t even have a VIN (yet!), let alone title, inspection, registration, or plate – also it was an idiotic-but-cool movie. Check how many times you can renew a temporary tag in your state – here’s it’s 2 months a year – have to have a VIN & title but no registration. In my state, I can drive on a failed inspection for 30 days “while I repair it”, park it for a day, and turn around and go fail another inspection – but I have to carry the receipt with you. Or, you know, just drive the thing once in a while and pay the occasional ticket – it doesn’t go against your insurance (again, in my state).

      I’ve done five of these with various projects and/or junkheaps. Protip – AAA won’t pay for towing unless you have a plate, so there’s that…

  15. So here’s one route, and it’ll maybe prove out to be more fun in the long run than other directions you might go. Fair warning, this assumes one is from the US but the basic principles still apply:

    If we consider that life is about the memories you make, and not the raw amount of stuff you collect, it follows that “stuff” is only as good as the memories it will give you. So when considering a first project, think about the memories you want to make and then go from there. Too many people get hung up on “which car” but then discover it wasn’t what they were wanting when it comes to the activity of working on it or enjoying it!

    Some possibilities:

    Do you want to emphasize learning about cars and how they work? Pick a car that’s really cheap and simple. Like super simple, and plan a large scale project that revolves around taking the whole thing apart and putting it back together. Though that’s a big scope, it will be made smaller by choosing the simpler car. And nothing beats taking something apart and putting it back together again in terms of learning how it works. Don’t be afraid either. Most of the time your biggest screwup will only break the part you’re working on and maybe the thing it’s attached to.

    Possible candidates: to keep it affordable, go for basic passenger cars from the 80s through about 2000. Ford Festivas are a really popular option in some circles, but you could also go with a base model Subaru or the like. Basic passenger cars are much much easier to find parts for, with some models still supported by the manufacturer.

    Do you love driving and have a competitive streak? Go racing. Race cars can be pricy but they don’t have to be at the lower club levels. Somewhere nearish to you is an SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) chapter. They run events like autocross, where folks get out everything from daily drivers to fully built cars and run around parking lots and airports in timed runs (no wheel to wheel). It might sound lame at first (or not), but the racing is real and it’s highly accessible! The culture is usually pretty great too, no wheel-to-wheel results in a less adversarial culture and folks are more than willing to help out new folks.

    Possible candidates: the list is long, and a lot of these cars start out with a sporty daily that gets slowly modded over time into something faster. You’ll even see the occasional 70s land yacht out there, or trucks too. Fairly popular though are things like STIs, Miatas, older BMWs, and so on.

    Are you more into the restoration and collecting side of things? You don’t have to have a huge budget for that either. As long as it wasn’t in a movie or lusted after by those currently in the 40-70 year old age bracket, you can find some less-common to rare cars that car folks will appreciate if you bring it to a show. Restoring one of these looks a lot like the “take apart a car” option listed above, but perhaps with a model that’s harder to find parts for and more emphasis on restoration skills like bodywork, engine repair, and so on.

    Possible candidates: There are some cool old Datsuns, Hondas, and Nissans out there from the days when the Japanese were coming into their own in the early 80s that are dirt cheap considering their rarity. Remember, rarity does not equal desirability to the car market at large :) But restore something like that and car guys will absolutely sit up and notice because they love cool old stuff that you don’t see all the time, even if it doesn’t have a legend behind it. There are some options in the world of european imports, but you might be paying more. Domestically, it’s a bit tougher if you’re going for interestingness since the US saw this stuff all the time, but take a look through Autotrader or CarGurus and see if something whets your interest.

    If the idea of jumping in and buying a car to mess with is still overwhelming, start with some basic maintenance on your daily driver. Doing brakes, oil changes, even something like a power steering pump is a good way to build some confidence to make the jump to something bigger.

    Most of all, have fun! YouTube is a go-to source for knowledge (as per usual), but specialized forums are great too. If you’re on Facebook, there’s a group for just about darned near every make or model out there and lots of folks with knowledge to share.

  16. A good way of getting into cars is getting a second, cheap car and fix it yourself, and drive it when it can. This way you don’t have the pressure of “it needs to drive tomorrow”, and you will learn a lot just by fixing it, and best of all: The stakes are incredibly low, and can often save you money!
    I started by driving a 500 dollar Golf mk3 with a shitton of rust and 300k km on the clock, which had trouble starting in the winter and when it was very damp outside. Turned out to be a bad intake-gasket and a split ignition-housing, which taught me a lot just by taking it apart and fixing it. Then the exhaust sprung a bad leak and i learned to weld from a friends dad, but of course, welding for the first time, it didn’t last long, but that’s another story. I also learned a lot about electronics by putting in a new sound system. All in all i drive that car about 15k km and spent around 1000 dollars total on it, and got 400 dollars for it from the wrecker about a year after i bought it.
    I know drive a Golf mk4 TDI which had 390k on it when i bought it 4 years ago, for 1500 dollars. It had wiring for an upgraded soundsystem and good speakers in the front, sat on some nice alloy rims and started and ran perfectly. To this day it have done 100k km more in it and i have put around 1000 dollars into keeping it running, and it still goes 20km/l@100km/h and 16km/l@160km/h and towes a 1500 kg trailer a couple hundred kilometers on the highway no problem. I got lucky with this car, but even if i didn’t, i could get 1000 dollars for it with a blown engine(Since the gearbox, alternator, interior, etc. would still be good), so i would’be lost 500 dollars and learnt something. Only issue i have with this is it could have more power when towing (Only 90 hp…. in 1998), the lack of AC and these older diesels are quite noisy, so it’s hard to chat with the wife or other passengers when driving on the highway.

  17. Here in Oz the engine of choice is the ford “Barra” in-line six it’s got a bulletproof bottom end and with a girdle better rods and forged pistons is unbreakable, easily fitted with a large turbo (there is a factory option for a turbo) they will make 700kw all day.

  18. I liked how you mentioned that you should think about what kind of car you want before buying a project car. My brother is wanting to get his first project car and he was wondering how he can decide on what he wants. I’ll be sure to tell him to consider if he wants an American muscle car or a tuner vehicle before looking to buy.

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