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Choosing the Perfect Project Car

Updated: Jan 5

Classic cars, a selection of potential project cars

In Alberta, finding a truly 'rust-free' classic can be difficult. With our many cold and snowy months, any old vehicle sitting in a farmers field is bound to be missing some metal. When it comes to shopping for the perfect project vehicle you may be looking for, there are a few things you should prioritize regardless of budget.

1. Condition of Body Panels

If you're thinking of overall cost of basic restoration, your body panel repairs are going to take up the majority of your given budget outside of the cost of your original vehicle purchase. Even if you are doing said repairs yourself.

Material costs for body work and paint are high and most of the time, unknown compared to mechanical troubleshooting and cost of basic mechanical parts. Because of this, I'd suggest looking for your desired make, model, and year with the best overall body condition. This may end up being a vehicle that has a thrashed interior, does not run or drive, or has no powerplant at all.

Unlike the generally unknown costs of metal repairs, body work, and paint; it is not too difficult to find estimated pricing for interior components, mechanical parts, crate engines, etc. In this instance, it is also easier to visualize the areas that need addressing, whereas major rust and structural issues can be very well hidden under shiny paint and filler. This unfortunately also makes it difficult to tell what condition the body is in.

What looks at first glance like your dream classic car in amazing original condition, might just be lipstick on a pig.

If you are able, take a good look at the condition of the potential project car form the underside. Give the lower body panels a light knock and see if they sound like metal or something else. If you are able to pull up the carpet in the trunk or under the drivers feet, you can usually get a decent indication of the condition of the body, whether you have floors, whether the vehicle is mostly good metal or something you want to stay away from.

2. Availability of Parts

Aside from the general body condition, you want to keep in mind the availability of either original or aftermarket manufactured parts. For example, it's much easier to find a brand new quarter panel for a '68 mustang than a 50's Studebaker.

Try to be mindful of how feasible your restoration will be, try to be realistic. If parts for your chosen project car are rare, they are usually expensive, most people these days "know what they've got". Your dream vehicle may be considered 'less desirable' and therefore the vehicle purchase itself may be affordable, but this also might mean that companies are not making replacement parts. Be ready to put the time in to hunt down hard to find replacement body panels, parts cars, trim pieces, or window glass. Consider too, the cost of fabrication if parts and panels cannot be sourced.

3. Desirability and Value of your Project Car

People often make the mistake of thinking they can recoup the money they spend on a restoration with the sale of a fully restored classic vehicle, this is more often than not improbable.

Don't go into your build or restoration with resale in mind, because you will not make a profit. Choose the vehicle that YOU have always wanted to drive without making emotional decisions.

Attachment to a specific classic car or truck because it belonged to family is not necessarily the car you want to spend your hard earned money on, try not to get too sentimental unless of course your budget is unlimited.

Trends come and go, a c10 ten years ago cost a small fraction of what you would pay these days. Modern classics are up and coming with 90's cars being the slightly more affordable route to having a cool 'hot rod' without the classic car price tag. So regardless of trends, build what you want to build and what you can afford to build, not what you think might have value in the future.


Like how many projects should one have? Do you know where one can get help if maybe they can't stop buying them? Asking for a friend..


Awesome, truthful, honest, and, to the point. Thank you for the article. And, I look forward to seeing many more in this future, regards, Lane K.

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