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5 things to look for when buying a project car

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Updated 11 Oct 2019

Bruce McMahon

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Project cars can be the stuff of dreams - good and bad. So it’s always best to not let the heart completely overrule the head.

Best to have considerations for the practical side of rebuilding, restoring or rodding a car and keep emotions in check until it drives out the shed in all its new gleaming glory.

And remember, that could be well more than a month of Sundays.

Easy to say, if a touch kill-joy: what’s the budget here?

For there’ll be headaches and heartaches aplenty if you’re trying to rebuild a Ferrari on a Ford budget.

A swag of factors need to be added up, from what’s to be spent on the car all the way through to registration and insurance.

Will you need specialist tools? How much is a professional paint job?

Will there be transport or import costs?

This budget doesn’t need to be down to the last dollar and, obviously, if the project’s in a shed out back then it’d be easy to press pause to allow finances to catch up.


Where will you work on this machine? Can you access the shed at any time of the day or night? Can you make noise after dark?


Choosing the project might be easy - maybe you’ve always wanted a VJ Valiant, or a Fiat 850 coupe, or a hot-rodded F-150.

But steady up and think about how that’s going to work with the family or mates who may come in useful.

A two-seater may not win the hearts and minds of the nearest and dearest.

Research how others have gone about similar projects with similar machines; some pitfalls may be a turn-off.

Check whether there are parts to suit.

How do you rate your mechanical skills? Is this a major, chassis-up project?

Or is it a simple spit-and-polish with a new set of flash wheels and mud flaps?


Now have a good look around, right across the country - right across the world perhaps - for the right machine.

Be prepared to take time and remember budgets ‘cause it’d be better to realise the dream than handball it on half-finished if finances dry up.

The internet isn’t a bad place to start but don’t forget those magazines that focus on interesting machines.

And keep an eye on the daily newspaper, it’s surprising what turns up there.


There are dozens of stories out there for most cars, original or customised.

Some of these are found in specialist magazines, some on the internet and some at car club meetings.

Don’t be afraid to seek out and approach other enthusiasts, 99 percent of them are always keen to pass on knowledge and tips.

Put out feelers through the AutoGuru network for experts who may help guide your particular project.

Be prepared for setbacks. Remember your Zen.

There could be parts which take forever to find or have made.

The engine builder/fabricator/spray painter may not be able to get to your job for months.

Remember to document the build with photographs, receipts and maybe a diary.

And enjoy the resurrection.

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Written By

Bruce McMahon

Bruce McMahon is a Queensland-based journalist who’s spent a fair slice of his career dealing with automotive matters.

His first car was a 1949 Riley Roadster, followed by a mix of machinery from Porsches to Jeeps, Alfa Romeos and Range Rovers through to the current four-wheel drive Mazda ute.

He’s driven the Nurburgring and the Tanami Tracks.