When to walk away from a project car


You know the feeling. The one you get when you open the garage door and see that bottomless pit staring back at you. That black hole of mechanical doom that’s drained most of your savings and vaporized your weekend family time. Then there are the parts, those glorious parts that used to fill you with a sense of pride. Now they terrify you.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2018/05/21/when-to-walk-away-from-a-project-car


nice write-up and good advice. But…this is not a split bumper car, at least not from the factory. We can tell by those “banana” parking lights, they always go with a solid bumper. The round parking lights up high in between the grill and headlights always go with split bumpers.


@cdkalin - Sharp eye. Just one more thing I’m sure he wish he would have know at the time he purchased that Camaro.


The same thing applies to motorcycles…been there and done it.


I have one of those now… such a beautiful body but a mechanical mess. Since it was a limited production model, parts are not easy to find. I’ve rebuilt everything on this car, except the body. If I hold on to it for 20 years, I might break even.


This car is a butchered mess a real Z28 would go for a lot more money.


Been there and done that. I purchased a 1975 Corvette knowing that I had to do a lot of work. The engine had been replaced and the tyranny was in good shape as well as the body except for the front bumper (he has installed a bra). About 18K later and 18 years of blood, sweat, tears, and numerous cuss words I am almost done. I love the car and what I have done to it. I will never get my money back but I enjoy the car and will keep it till I can not drive anymore.


I almost did that with a 66 Chevy truck. First it was a thousand miles away. Second it looked like new online. I decided to have an inspection service go out and look at it. The pictures online must of been taken by a professional photographer because the inspection photos showed body panels that were full of filler. The guy wouldn’t budge on the price, which was about twice as much as it was worth. The inspection was the best $350.00 I ever spent.


good advice given here… id say the number one thing I always check before all else is cars structure for corrosion or damage… avoid rusted cars or those that have had repairs that are detectable… you alway save money by buying the best, most original car you can find… anything with new paint can be suspect without full photographic documentation of the before and after process…


Isn’t this what you are supposed to do? Buy a car for $6k, put in countless hours and money, and then eventually sell it for $8k? I’ve been doing this my entire life.


All great advise, if only some could not give in to their dreams. My story is sort of on the other hand. I too was in that same predicament. I had bought a 1967 442 convertible that did drive but needed a full restoration for $2800.00 back in 1984 with full intention of restoring it. I collected parts for the next 30 years to do so. During that time along came family and priorities. I even built a garage to house everything. At present I am 62 and came to the realization that this project just isn’t going to happen. By chance I found a 1967 442 sport coupe that had been fully restored 7 yrs earlier but the builder had passed away and left it to his brother who carefully stored it, but was now selling. It recently suffered a detonated piston so he was asking $8000.00 I quickly liquidated my car and parts except for a 425 engine for $9500.00. I put $4000.00 in the new engine and am now making up for the past 30+ years. For what was done to the car I couldn’t have touched for the $12000.00 I have in it. Best decision I ever made.


I have but one simple rule. "Buy the SELLER not the car. …Jim.


I’m in one now. My own stupidity didn’t check the car out good enough classic car dealer seemed like a real honest guy bosted on all the cars he sells all over the world , thought well he’s a nice guy “WRONG ! “. 69 Camaro looked great, ran good, and had lots of extras I thought I’ve done this before. This will be a great car. Well about $14,000 and still not done. Didn’t see any rust looks like all new body panels. They where. But wheel well, air intake cowl, and rear tray rotted away. My mind is telling me how could someone replace all the exterior panels and not change $400 worth of parts when they where off. Bent axle, interior, trans seals,door guts, glass,and the list goes on and on. The only thing I’ve got out of it is a real life lesson and I lost twenty five pounds( which I needed to do). Every time I fix something two other things are broke or need to be replaced. I’ve done cars before but this baby’s a nightmare. I keep telling myself when I’m done this will be a great car and I know I’ll get my money back. I really kidding my self (and my wife). I’ve made good friend with the parts suppliers we’re

On first name basis now and they no my credit card number by heart. But I’m not a quitter and I keep chugging along. Size 38 waist is too big now anyone got any 36’s they don’t need?


OMG does this hit close to home. I used to mess with a variety of Triumphs. TR3, TR6. Loved them. Then an opportunity came up on a TR8. The care was a mess. Hit in the rear, rotten interior. That was in 1988. I don’t want to think about how many dollars in parts and labor and sweat have been poured in. It is close to the finish line but I have had it with the project and it sits forlornly on the lift in my garaged, covered so I don’t have to look at it. No one on the planet wants this car at any price. Sigh


@ksae - Looks really close to completion! If the wiring the last thing to do, that would make me run away too. Looks like the big stuff in done though.


Wiring is done. Delco alternator, Painless fan switches, etc.


Don’t try and drive a car you are restoring, structure structure and structure! no rust unless you have the abilility to repair it. 70 challenger R/T FAIL! '73 Dodge Dart swinger, not too shabby LOL!!


Most enthusiasts can easily find themselves overly enthusiastic. Especially when there is some underlying emotional attachment to whatever their project is.
I did it with my second Harley Davidson Ultra Classic. Next thing I knew I had more invested in it than any sane human being would buy it for.
My current project is a 1966 Pontiac Tempest Custom. It’s solid, all factory original steel with no holes or patches. The previous owner changed out the whole drive train. In went an Olds 455, Muncie M20 4-speed and 3:55 Posi-traction BOP 10-bolt rear end.
It’s nice but it will never be a real 242 GTO so I need to remain conservative with spend. The best advice I’ve gotten is to have the car appraised and to make sure I don’t exceed the appraised value.
Sometimes it’s better to be satisfied with a reasonable quality driver than it is to try and make it what it will never be.
Good story and good advice.


I’m showing my wife this. Obvious proof of my genius. The '63 Nova SS I bought for $6000 was a much better deal. Three years of my life (bodywork/paint/all new interior/trim/chrome/4 speed conversion/wiring, etc.) and $10,000 (as far as she knows) later my car should be worth at least $16,000. At least I’ll be able to go out in the garage and be annoyed at all the little things I goofed up. Definitely worth it. Definitely.


I’ll say this over and over.
Due diligence. Due diligence. Due diligence
Don’t get emotional. Don’t get emotional. Don’t get emotional.
Last, tear it apart, tear it apart and finally tear it apart…