Buying A Project Car, Are You Ready For It? #blogpost
Buying a project car is something which almost every car enthusiast wants or has wanted to do since getting into cars. There are many ways which society will look at you with project cars, a harmless hobby, a way to express yourself, a money pit so horrible mammoths still entrenched in tar feel bad for you. But the question which I want to ask with my latest blog, are you really ready for a project car?
Now there are four points which I am going to cover which relate to if someone is actually ready for a project car. Those four points are money, place, time, and want. But, before I get into that, let me qualify you as the reader before we get into the meat and potatoes of the blog. This is not going to cover the lucky few who get a project car, before they can actually drive, and have people to help build the car and teach them. Those people have slightly different options before them and this blog is going to focus on those of us who still have to make it to work in the morning. Nor is this going to cover people who make their daily driver their project, that’s a whole other sack of bananas. With that, let’s begin with what one actually needs before embarking on the adventure of the project car.
First off, the easiest of the points for everyone to understand, money. Whether it’s dollars, pounds, euros, yen, or shiny rocks, if we want something, we’re gonna have to give up some of that money to get it. And for some people, the urge to get their hands on a project car can skew their understanding of how much money it’s going to cost.
Some people can get lost in the “deal” and focus primarily on the cost of the car from the person selling it. For example, an Austin Healey 3000 made its way onto my Craigslist tab, and it was priced at $10K. Now this car needed absolutely everything to be a good example again, and if I had that kind of money to spend, I’d have likely given up on restraint and bought it. But a little over a year ago, I had a little less money, and a little less expensive car and restraint again went out the window. So, this is a cost which is completely unavoidable if you hope to have a project in your possession, but there are more.
Now with most project cars, the project is going to require its fair share of repairs. Repairs cost money, potentially a lot. Depending on the car and the state of disrepair you buy it in, the repairs budget can make or break your dreams of flaunting your dream car at the local cars and coffee.
In close relation to doing repairs to a project car, there is the money which is spent doing mods to a car. These mods, like repairs will vary greatly depending on the car and the type of modification. And with mods, the price can escalate even faster than you anticipate because what you have in your head may not be as simple as your mind may have led you to believe.
Now let’s pretend that you’ve managed to buy this car, fix it, and do all the mods to do what you want to the car. Unless your whole motivation for the project was just to have something to look at, you are probably going to need to find a way to pay for getting the car registered and insured. And if your a male under the age of 25, which I assume is 99.9% of people who would read this. The insurance is primed to be a doozy. I remember winning a bet with my dad and he “had” to buy me a 73 corvette as my first car. So out of curiosity he asked our insurance agent what it would cost to insure the Vette for a 16 year old boy. It was something to the tune of $7K a year. Now, I think that may have been a particularly high insurance example but insuring teenagers is never a cheap task, especially with sportscars.
Storing the car is another cost which while not always obvious, is still a cost that eats up some of your funds you wanted to use on the car. Right now, I’m still trying to get my hands on a house with a garage and there is a very obvious markup when looking at apartments if they’ve got a garage somewhere on the property. I could easily find a cheap apartment, but finding one that costs less than I pay right now, and gives me a place to put the midget is not easy, or honestly even likely.
The last part of the price equation which eats away at your money for a project car is the one which is where, usually, more of your money should be going. The daily driver. If you have a Ford festiva as a beater this may not apply, but if you have a car which you actually hope retains all of its panels on its way to work. A daily driver, even if it isn’t where you want to spend money on frivolous things. You’ll likely still end up doing so. Whether it’s premium gas, upgraded wheels, speakers or simply touch up paint, your daily will still get the love you may not have planned on giving it.
Another of the requirements for buying a project car is having a place for the car to be, and this one can be tricky depending on the situation. This is going to be the most obvious in how I’m going to explain it. For storing a project car, the car should ideally be in an enclosed garage. And you should have access to your project car. Depending on your situation, this could be easy, or this could be absolutely maddening for you. For the vast majority of age groups, if you are living somewhere, there is likely a garage or similarly useful area for storing a car. Although if you happen to be going to college away from home, you may find the absolutely maddening situation is most similar to your own experience. To best explain this, I have been living at school for two years and have had to park my daily in the parking lot, and in that time it has been hit twice, and used as a trampoline while sitting in that lot. To quote the president, “Not Good”, but this is beside the point. My project car has been sitting at my grandparents’ house in the garage, where it frequently becomes a shelf. While I want to work on the car while I have free time at school, I can’t, because it’s not with me. And when I go home usually it’s only for half a day, and I don’t get a chance to do anything to the car. This is why, among other reasons, I am determined to get a house with a garage for my next year of school. If I want to get any work done on the car, this is an absolute must.
Another major factor in acquiring a project car is the time aspect of ownership. Frankly, sometimes there just is never enough of it to get what you need to do, done. Let’s ease into it with a component of time for project cars which, should be done, but isn’t always. There should be a lot of research done before buying or even selecting a project car to purchase. Things such as what goals are you wanting to achieve with the car? How much are you willing to invest in the car? What kind of problems will you run into and are you capable of overcoming them on your own? If you are unsure of what you are looking to get from a car, you can end up with something you didn’t really want. So even before buying a car, time is still going to need to be a huge investment.
Another question you absolutely must know the answer to is are you going to have time to work on the car after you’ve purchased one? Sure there is always the answer of just putting in long nights to get the car done at the sacrifice of sleep, but in doing so, you are also going to sacrifice the quality of your actions in everyday life. So instead of that being the answer, let’s look at a typical weekday. Let’s say you wake up at 7:30, and are off to work or school by 8:30. Most likely, you make your way back home by 4:30 as a median time for people in school or who work full time. You probably are going to have a few errands which need addressing or for students, homework which needs doing. Let’s say that gets finished up by 6:30, again, median time. You want to get to bed by 11:00 so you have what is approximately 4 hours which could be spent working on a car. This is assuming that you have absolutely no friends and are basically a shut in with a project car. So let’s lop off 2 hours and chalk them up to human interaction. You now have 2 hours a weeknight to build the car of your dreams. Unfortunately unless you are a walking Haynes manual, you are likely going to have to do some research to figure out just what you are trying to accomplish. So let’s take an hour, because we are all incompetent and need everything done in step by step how to’s on YouTube. Okay ONE HOUR! We have one hour to just be a one man pit crew and assemble this beauty into what we see in our heads, and like clockwork, we don’t have the right tool for the job. Either from here you can call it a night and just pick up a tool tomorrow to do it right or you can try to make it happen with what you have and subsequently take the head off that bolt you can just barely reach. Now, maybe your schedule is a little bit less demanding, but hopefully this will give you an idea as to how time gets used when learning with a project car.
The last part of time is something which some people have no issue with, but others struggle with immensely. This is the question of how much time do you really want to spend with this car. Some people have one car, they want, and nothing else is going to get in the way of getting a hold of it. These people are lucky as can be. Their goals aren’t subject to the whipping winds of car culture. Some people, namely the writer of this, has major issues with this. Almost any car from AMC Pacers to Eldorados to sileighty’s become the apple of my eye all within the span of an hour. So when choosing a project car, how much time are we willing to allot to getting this experience from it before passing it on so we can get our next fix from the next car? This is the kind of question if we don’t know the answer to, can set us up for a huge disappointment.
The last part of the equation for obtaining a project car is understanding Want. What and why we want a project car is one of the questions we often have an answer to, but is not always answered fully. Want goes deeper than just a simple desire for what we think is cool. First off, we have to know what it is we want. Do we want a classic muscle car? Maybe a lightweight roadster? Or even something obscure may be what we desire. But knowing what you want is key to having successful searches when you go to look for a car. If you are sure that you want a Miata, you can search exclusively for a Miata and find exactly what you are looking for in one of the examples you see for sale. Rather than searching “convertible” and fingering through the listings of every car which needs a new top.
Why do we want the car we desire though? Well there are a lot of factors which impact why we want a certain car or type of car. But the single largest influence on why we want a car is those who surround us. I have another post which delves into who and how society influences our decisions with cars. Here though I am going to open up the question of the viewpoint society takes with a project car. Car culture for better or worse, places high value in the words “project car”. Those who own a project car are perceived as more devoted to their aspect of car culture than those who do not. For example, let’s say you own a civic, and you really want to get into track days (bro). You only have this car to both get you both to work, and to enter said track day. You may live in an area with really bad roads so your civic needs to be of reasonable comfort and can’t afford to eat through Michelin SuperSports at a rate which makes Hellcats run away. So the only mods you are willing to do are things like cooling upgrades and maybe better brakes to make your sessions last a little longer. Now let’s assume that someone else decides to build a car specifically for the track. This person has different options available to them, such as not needing a title because the car isn’t going to be used on the street. All this person needs is a trailer, a hitch, and some basic sense of driving a trailer. This person can build their track car to specialize in being the best it can be on the track. This is the car which is going to be capable of beating what would be expected to be much faster street cars on the track.
So between these two individuals, how is a group of enthusiasts going to interact with the two and what differences will be seen. Let’s put the two cars (theoretically) side by side and compare without the owners with the car. A group of enthusiasts will for the most part, avoid the civic with all of its body panels, and start visually picking apart the specialized track toy. A car which has the mods which others want to do is going to satisfy the demands of society more than a car without them. Putting the owners with the cars doesn’t have much, if any shift in perception for the humble civic owner. Anyone who asks the civic owner about their car will get the response of wanting to take part in track days, but not being able to specialize their car because of everyday driving needs. People talking to the owner of the project car will be greeted with answers to questions they have about mods they’ve considered for their own cars. “How much does doing x y and z affect the car?” The specialized toy which doesn’t have to worry about everyday driving can give the masses the answers they want.
The result of this is that the project car from a social perspective has more value than a car which doesn’t get to try out mods which affect its everyday usability. And the owner of said project car gets the praise and attention of their peers. This both satisfies the need for acceptance from peers for the owner of the project car, but simultaneously creates a feeling of disconnect from the community which the non-project car owner wishes to enter. And the most obvious way to rectify this situation is to obtain a project car because it symbolizes devotion to an aspect of car culture. This can be a reason why so many project cars either never get finished or never really achieve the goals they were intended to. They could have been purchased as a solution to a social issue they felt, but did not fully understand. I don’t want to seem like I’m ripping on buying a project car but there are huge financial and psychological commitments which come with purchasing one which shouldn’t be taken lightly.
And lastly, will we even still want the car down the road? Again if you have desires which are very susceptible to which part of car culture influences you that day, this can be a huge issue. If someone is purchasing a project car to get a stronger foothold in car culture this is very risky. We only have so much time and money which we can spend on a car. We have another amount of time and money which it will take to get the car to where we want it. And we still have another amount of time and money which we intended on spending on this part of car culture. With all the inequalities between these situations, is it safe to buy a project car? For this, no it isn’t, if those numbers don’t line up within a few hairs of each other, it can leave your experience of owning a project car with a bad taste in your mouth.
So instead of choosing to round up this blog with hypotheticals, I feel that it is more appropriate to bring what little experience I have in this field to the table. A smidge over a year ago, I bought what is undoubtably, a project car. I have a 1971 MG Midget which a previous owner stuck a 1500 into. Over the year, really nothing has changed about the car. It still doesn’t drive, and still has some old wasp nests in it. Let’s take a look of how my ownership experience stacks up so far with the logic of the blog.
With concern to money, the midget seems like it hasn’t been a huge toll on me. I got the car for less than $1000 and haven’t really put enough into it to shake a stick at. But this car is going to cost me more, a lot more. With progress is gong to come cost. It is going to need its fair share of rust repair, new parts, and not to mention, getting it legal to drive while also keeping my daily from falling into disrepair. But so far I don’t feel that I’ve wasted my money on the car as it’s not really cost me anything while it’s in stasis. With respect to place, I completely failed on this one. In my mind I’m only a half step away from leaving the car outside exposed to the elements. I didn’t have a place to work on the car when I had available time to do so. And had I recognized I wouldn’t really be able to work on it, I likely would have been able to purchase a better car to start with than the Midget once I actually had a place with me to put it. With concern to time, I feel that I do have an okay amount of time to fix the car as well as friends who are willing to help which saves time. But until I have the car with me, and if my situation changes over summer, which it may, the time aspect could change. With want, I think I’ve done okay, but not good. I wanted to get a project car which I could learn on and there is certainly a lot I can learn from the Midget. And I also wanted something inexpensive to buy, also not far off as of now. But there are other cars which I wanted a lot more and still want more than a Midget. Cars such as a first generation Monte, a S30 Datsun, or even a big old convertible Cadillac to slap white walls on and just lumber around town in. All of these cars have their own things which need addressing and would have put a considerable amount more into my initial investment but overall I think I would get more value from them.
So to sum up, I don’t regret buying the Midget, but I wouldn’t do it again. I know now more of what I need to account for and my particular Midget just doesn’t stack up compared to other options.
Wow, that was a long one! I think this may have usurped the trophy of longest blog from my blog on the perfect car. I didn’t want to leave anything out because I feel that this is an important topic which does get trivialized in car culture. So tell me do you think I’m right with what to consider when looking at project cars? Was the Midget a mistake? Should I try to condense these posts into more abbreviated versions? Only you know the answer to these questions, and I’ll be happy to discuss them!