Throwback Thursday

How to Choose the Perfect Project Car

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1980 C3 Corvette (Source: Rutsim / Panoramio)
1980 C3 Corvette (Source: Rutsim / Panoramio)

Buying a used car can be a painless experience if you are just looking for a transportation appliance; that is, if you just value a car for point to point transportation and nothing else. If you like cars as much as we do, you probably have a few questions to ask of your potential new ride.

[quote align=”right” color=”#000000″]Your first action should be to find an online community of people who own that car.[/quote]

Many tools exist to help verify the history and virility of older rides. Your first resource should be online. Carfax & similar online history reports will give you any DMV or dealer reported damages & service. Older cars are less likely to divulge their past, so care must be taken to ensure your budget and time will be worth the effort.

Your first action should be to find an online community of people who own that car. Begin by reading as much as you can about quirks, recalls, service bulletins and aftermarket support. Ask other owners about their experiences and what to lookout for. And, familiarity with the friendly nature of the hobby will probably give you a few bargaining chips when it’s time to negotiate the price.

Compression Test Kit (Source: AutoZone)
Compression Test Kit (Source: AutoZone)

In looking over a potential project car, you can’t do enough investigation. Ask the owner’s permission to pull back the carpet, look behind the fenders, check all the fluids and take many photos that you can analyze later. If the car has been idle for months or longer, you need to compression test the engine. Buy a kit from your local auto parts store for a few bucks and have a friend bump the starter over to make sure all cylinders still have enough muscle to fire. The same kit can be used later for diagnosing other engines, like the ones in your motorcycle, ATV or personal watercraft.

Look at all the suspension bushings and connections. These usually aren’t costly, but if the car has an independent suspension be prepared to spend time getting your chassis ready to support the work you will be doing above. What follows is not a fabrication, so indulge me if you will.

[quote align=”left” color=”#000000″]In looking over a potential project car, you can’t do enough investigation.[/quote]

Yours truly always wanted a C3 (1968-1982) Corvette. I spoke with many owners, attended Corvette shows and looked at many good, and bad, examples for sale to get a better understanding of the C3 market. I then joined an online C3 forum dedicated to keeping these cars on the road. Members told me to look for signs of fiberglass repair, bad electrical grounds and rust-prone areas of the steel skeleton of the car’s interior, also called “the birdcage.”

Armed with this knowledge, I searched high and low for a perfect example in my price range. In 2001, my Domino’s Pizza delivery budget of $6,000 allowed me to purchase a basket case 1980 model. The interior was removed & stored in moldy boxes, the calipers oozed brake fluid, and the trans fluid resembled the crud inside the oven of a modern pizza franchise. Due to all the leaks, my dad forbade parking on his pristine driveway, so I had to cover the concrete with construction grade Visqueen vinyl.

I apologize for the crummy picture quality, this was 2001…

The headlights were stuck open, nothing electrical worked, and the 20 year old Goodyears would go flat in a few days of sitting idle. Everyone laughed as they thought I bit off more than I could chew. Armed with online knowledge and the Chevy factory service manuals, I was able to troubleshoot the gremlins. Knowing I would be leaving for college in the fall, my summer was spent sweating, cursing, testing and rebuilding various components of a body style that was well into production by the time Neil & Buzz walked on the moon.

Without going into specifics, early Corvettes sacrificed ease of maintenance for wild styling, leaving the technician to resort to innovative techniques to repair & replace parts. Hard work pays off, and in the end I had a practically new 1980 Corvette. I had new paint, tires, brakes, gauges, carburetor, exhaust, carpet, seats and a fully functional AM/FM/CB radio, a very rare factory option made popular by the Smokey & the Bandit trucking CB craze.

Finished C3 Project with new C5 in background

The moral of this story: do your homework. If you know what to look for, you can budget for necessary repairs and replacement parts, and learn how to do it from the online community. I was able to sell this car for a nice profit knowing I could apply what I learned to future projects and daily drivers.

Tell us about your project and what online resources you have used. Stay tuned to Autofluence and our Facebook regarding exciting changes and our new experience.