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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

6 affordable ways to dress up your project car

Once I have a project car working like it should, I find there comes an odd stagnation period in which nothing is broken but the total package doesn't yet fit my vision for the finished product. In this strange space there is a lot of interesting and satisfying work to be done, without having to pursue the nuclear option of a full cosmetic restoration.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/maintenance-and-tech/6-affordable-ways-to-dress-up-your-project-car/
51 REPLIES 51
HVACKRAT
New Driver

I'd love to saee a pic of the Cerakoted headers after a few thousand miles! Curious to see how it holds up. I painted the headers in dad's Nova with "header paint' from a rattle can and after one driver you couldn't tell I had done anything to them.
JGeske
Instructor

I cannot speak for the headers, but I have several cerakoted firearms, and I have fired them to the point the barrel is smoking on more than one occasion, and the barrel coating looks factory fresh. Seems like a good sign. I know it is used in a number of other high-temp applications as well, so something must be right about it.
okfoz
Advanced Driver

I have ceramic coated Stainless headers on an 87 Firebird Formula, they still look fantastic after 20 years and 20,000 miles. I do not know the specifics to how Cerakote is different than Ceramic however.
MoparMarq
Advanced Driver

Also not familiar with Cerakote vs. ceramic coating, but I have a Durango with ceramic coated headers on it. After 15 years and 50K miles, they only have a few small rust spots on the tubes near the flanges. They still look great otherwise. The header on the Supra was coated and has zero rust after 6 years. Worthwhile extra expense, IMO.
autowriter
Detailer

Depends on what level of "finished" one has in mind. I don't see much in pin striping, for example, but then I am rather more interested in restoration than "improvement." I had a 280Z "Black Pearl" that I did a resto-mod job on, and didn't mid the improvements like ceramic coated headers. Still, I tried to leave most of it alone. I did use larger wheels and different lower profile tires to improve the driving experience. Kept them tasteful within the aesthetic mode of the original and it looked very nice. I got rid of the dealer-installed sunroof. I don't find engine turning to be terribly interesting, unless the car had it in the first place. But the one thing I agree with 100% is a good deep cleaning. That more than anything else is where people should start.
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Glacier
Pit Crew

Chrome Valve Caps, baby.
Every car, bicycle, shopping cart, go kart or anything else I’ve ever owned or own that has wheels always has Chrome Valve Caps. Even the spare.
Reminder: Chrome adds horsepower.
DUB6
Specialist

I put so many chrome accessories and bolt-ons in my engine bay one time that the car was too fast, even sitting still.  I finally had to remove about half of it, as the speeding tickets it was getting while parked in the driveway were killing my bank account.

avideo
Detailer

Don't forget cleaning up chrome emblems or replacing rusted ones with new reproductions. Powder coating engine parts in a contrasting color adds some "pop"under the hood. And don't forget about cleaning up or replacing those worn out floor mats. I sold a pair of red C2 floor mats that were worn but still in decent condition for $20.00 - and the buyer thought they had struck gold.
Billthecat707
Instructor

One of my pet peeves is a car with a fresh , high $ paint job and pitted, discolored emblems. Even those parts not available as repros, can generally be refinished to near new condition.
964c4
Detailer

Nice article. It's very easy to forget that it is not always necessary to spend a bunch of funds to have fun with vehicles.
pcchuck
Intermediate Driver

'In March '73.. at age 23 I bought an 11 yr old 55K mile one local owner 62 MGA with the idea of restoring it next winter. Yes, the rockers and doglegs would get rust repair later, but I did a few obvious things.... a good cleanup, removed the stupid luggage rack and simply taped over the holes so I could get used to its' actual look. It was missing a headlight trim, so bought one from Moss. Now it was at least ''complete''. I drove it through the Summer and began to trust it mechanically and really start to like it. Also began gathering info on sources for parts and plan a calendar of results. Basically, I didn't spend for anything that would get undone during the restoration which included paint, all possible chrome, interior and all fabrics, gauge repair... a thorough cosmetic job which took all Winter. When it was finished it was 100% done and gone through.... very reliable for 27 more years... only walked once... ran it out of gas...
JohnnyD
Intermediate Driver

Good suggestions in the article! I Found that upgrading wheels and tires to be dramatic to appearance. In my case I tossed the ugly black radial tires and black wheels with trim rings and installed on my 1955 Plymouth original Coker 2.75" wide whitewall tires and original full wheel covers. Now i find people taking selfies in front of my car.

In the engine compartment I found Eastwood (coatings and aftermarket company) has a wide range of application specific paints and coatings to restore and improve all types of surfaces and they seem to take the heat under the hood. Engine detailing gets kudos and gives owner satisfaction.
Snailish
Instructor

Fuzzy dice, extra antennas, raccoon tails on said antennas, dingle balls on the headliner along all window openings, shift knob and locks replaced with dice or skulls, curb feelers, Lady Luck/Mr. Horsepower etc. decals/stickers...  maybe some of that chrome trim in a roll...

 

...that's how you dress up a car without breaking the bank, amiright?

BossGreg
Detailer

Sometimes they just need a car cover to look better. Very easy and cheap
Billthecat707
Instructor

😄😅🤣😂
topside
Advanced Driver

A serious cleaning & detailing is probably the #1 bang-for-the-buck, with a bonus of being therapeutic. I've done the wheel & tire swap too, though I tend to settle on a look and leave it...which is why I have 4 more wheel & tire sets than I actually need for the cars. Did a "hood patch" on one of the dailies as a damage-repair, but mis-matched whole panels don't appeal to me as they detract from the overall design. Swapped the goofy pedestal spoiler on my '97 Mustang for a more flush style, but that was a flirtation with paint jail. Several times I've added a front air dam to vehicles that saw a lot of highway use, and with a mild lowering, those were functional improvements as well. I've removed adhesive emblems & nameplates from several vehicles for a cleaner, less-cluttered appearance.
Rick2
Instructor

The first thing I ever do is to remove dealer ads on the car if they are there. It only takes a few minutes and not one dealer ever offered me cash to leave them on!
BigDog
Intermediate Driver

I'm with you Rick, I always remove the "free" ads from my vehicles
janedon
Advanced Driver

I do that also-
FloridaMarty
Instructor

New carpet is huge. I recently replaced the flooring in my woodie with a non woven carpet. It's a semi plush material and super pliable for those hard to lay areas, and super cheap to do. Under $50 for the front and middle row. The install took a couple days to fit it just right, but it was my time not someone else's, so the price was right.
Tinkerah
Engineer

You need such a small amount of carpeting for a car than a room. I picked the one I liked best from the remnants at a local salvage lot store. Can't remember the cost but it was insignificant.
Waterboy1KHY80
Detailer

All good ideas, I am just trying to get mine moving. I have nearly completed an LS swap with a 4L65E trans and a 2006 6.0 LS motor (flat top piston 10 to 1) however, I have no forward or reverse gears. So it seems from my reading, it is either the speed sensor or the throttle position (TPS) sensor. The TPS however, is new, fingers crossed I can very soon get to the boring, what do I do next part. LOL
JGeske
Instructor

A step I see too-often ignored when someone is doing a restoration and have the engine out, is to clean up and repaint the engine compartment. Nothing looks worse than a nice engine in a partially painted or multi-color painted (or heaven forbid, rusty) engine bay. If the engine is already out, this is an easy, fast, and cheap way to make things nice.
JGeske
Instructor

Taking this a step further, and again in the spirit of a cheap way to make a project look better: If the engine is out and you lack time and budget, just rattle-can some black high temp enamel in the engine bay. Sure, brighter colors and a proper application method look better on a high-buck restoration show car, but on the cheap side, for cars that won't see extensive prep/cleaning prior to shows (like a daily driver), black enamel will look better than a bright color as accumulated grease and grim won't show if you didn't wash the engine bay out prior to the show, or did but then drove to the show.

Maestro1
Technician

You're right about cleaning the interior and replacing what needs to be replaced. Makes a huge difference.
DanC
Intermediate Driver

A Good-looking girl can be the most affordable and easiest way to way to make ANY car look better...or the most expensive and hardest way...
Only time will tell.
KYColonel
Detailer

If you really want to save money, Cerakote an ugly girl.
denali94
Intermediate Driver

The one girl I thought might add to the beauty of a once owned car, well, as Jimmy Buffet said; "cost me much more than a ring."
Grumpyoldcoot
Intermediate Driver

My AR-15 rifle was cerakoted. Turned out great and after ten years, no discernable wear.
Gary_Bechtold
Specialist

A good cleaning always makes the car look good.

Wheels can definitely make or break a look.

Cerakote looks great on so many parts.
JSievers
Instructor

Real pinstriping? Fine. Pinstriping tape? Handle with care. Just because there's some left on the roll doesn't mean you have to find a place to put it! Less is often more.
Snailish
Instructor

While I agree with you, this is where my brain went:

 

 

"More is more" and why not put $2000 worth of cheap pinstripe tape all over something "precious" because you could and then take it to a "precious" show and enjoy the kudos...

CentauroRider
Intermediate Driver

I changed the painted headers on my 67 Camaro to a name brand Ceramic coated headers and they didn't hold up well, at least in the Northeast where my car is garaged but not in a heated, dry garage. You could see rust bleeding thru the header coating around the cyl head flanges after the first year! Disappointed! Makes me wonder about the CeraKote and it would work on headers in my my climate situation????
Jimmyo
Intermediate Driver

Every time I see a late model Corvair, I can't help to think what a good looking car they are.
DUB6
Specialist

Agreed! 😀

SAG
Technician

vinyl wrap?
You could have it 'Refinished' for Less.
so why ???
SAG
Technician

Like the 'Panasport Wheels'
on the Corvar
Billthecat707
Instructor

A total vinyl wrap is $4-5k . Decent full paint $20k +.
DUB6
Specialist

Yeah, I talked to a local outfit about wrapping a stylized printed design (of a waving U.S. Flag) on my hood once, and it was quoted at $750.  Just to paint it in a solid color was $2 Grand.  This was maybe 10 years ago, so I'm sure the prices are both higher, but the comparison was surprising to me at the time.

Air_and_Water
Instructor

Not if you wrap it yourself.
You can do that on the cheap, as you only need to buy a roll of vinyl in whatever color you want. It's much more forgiving than paint to the novice, as it can be pulled up and moved to avoid wrinkles, then hit with a heat gun to remove the remainder. It still needs a good prep, but it's easier than paint.

That said, I'd rather have actual paint, but if you want a change in look like that black hood and it's an original car, the wrap is removable, unlike paint.
77GL
Detailer

The key word here is 'Project car'.
TG
Technician

The thing about pinstriping is that it has to be nearly perfect and put on in the right locations to look good. whether painted or tape, it also seems to have a limited shelf life before looking aged
DUB6
Specialist

This is true, in my view.  And to me, some cars are much more "stripe-able" than others.  Generally speaking, older cars (especially fat fenders and pre-war examples) look better with custom striping than more modern vehicles.  It's not that way for all examples, but I'd certainly rather look at pinstriping on a Deuce Coupe than a '73 Cutlass.  By-the-way, this holds even more true for flames than pinstripes, in my opinion.  😊

Gary
Detailer

Good cleaning and detailing makes all the difference in the world. Did this before selling, The car looked so good I decided to keep it
OnScout
Intermediate Driver

Here’s a real “cheapie…” Find yourself a suitable window sticker or decal that suits your vehicle and enjoy its addition to your classic. It’s not much, but adding your local car club’s badge, a make/model sticker, or a manufacturer’s logo gives your car a quick and easy update.
janedon
Advanced Driver

Inexpensive yet eye catching improvements can be as simple as adding chrome hubcaps to steel rims or even painting steel rims--The moment I added full moon Chrome hubcaps people assumed I did a lot more than clean the car--
spiderdriver
New Driver

While not exactly a budget concept, I would have also mentioned that since a nice paint job is such an expense, laying on a clear paint protection film (PPF) after the painting takes huge worries off the driving experience.
Billthecat707
Instructor

Wheels and tires are a great way to personalize your car and a huge upgrade in driving enjoyment if done well. You can easily return it to stock for shows or when you don't drive it anymore.
Ragtop69
Detailer

Kyle, you forgot the Appleton spotlights and the "dingle balls" from J.C. Whitney.