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Hagerty Employee

Let's talk about the 4 levels of project car

Project cars and motorcycles are funny things. Without focus and self control, it is easy to watch your bank account vaporize while somehow making a fraction of the progress you had planned or expected. At the other end of the spectrum, it's easy to just get a pile of parts running and call it good enough.
Hagerty Fan
Not applicable

A note: Concerning the Corvair, if you ever find yourself being in a spot where you're in desperate need of safety pins, and there aren't any because the world has slipped into an apocalyptic ruin...I would take this time to away yourself to the nearest ruins of a JoAnn fabric store, and select from the hopefully-not-picked-over-by-Road Warrior-like-scavengers-for-their-Corvair-headliners selection of curved sewing needles, that way, you could graduate from low-rent safety pins up to slightly-less-low-rent home-brewed needle and thread repair.
Intermediate Driver

Good idea, but Walmarts are easier to find than JoAnn's. Might have to buy an upholstery kit to get the curved needle, but either way it will be under 4 bucks. My local (small) Wally World has 3 brands available.
Pit Crew

Even better, find a woman with a sewing machine and take her out to dinner. That looks like a simple open seam that can be resewn properly once it is removed. Removal and reinstallation of a fabric headliner is an hour, two at most. You could probably even sew it yourself if you can borrow a machine.

Might be a two hour task on a corvair , it takes considerably longer on a falcon, since falcons and mustangs and cougars etc require the removal of the front and rear glass to install the headliner .

To be fair, if I was going to go through the process of removing and replacing the headliner it would make a lot more sense to just replace the headliner. The current one is dirty in addition to being torn and ready-to-install options are quite affordable compared to patching up something that will fail again soon.

"a fifth option?"
Of course there's one — sell it, right now.

"Suppose I added a Tenth Circle?" — D. Alighieri

The fifth level surrounds my family members, friends and myself:

"That should be a parts car"

Which if you put enough:
-sheet metal repair and/or panel finding
-engine rebuild/swap (if it even has a drivetrain)

Might get to the point of "Enough to be safe, that's it" but can turn into "no expense spared" easily... or "no expense spared but funds ran out"

Willpower and common sense can keep one away from these... but having them parked behind barns with clear title already is a constant temptation. But man, the satisfaction of getting one of these legally on the road... (I did it once with a 64 Buick).

Not sure willpower and common sense apply with most of us hobbyist (read addict).😁
Intermediate Driver

That is me, "Addict". Select a car that might at least return your out of pocket costs. That is what I shoot for, but not always attain. ......Jim.

The level of my cars/habit depends on the day. At one time, it is 2, then it becomes a 3 because the RideTech guy makes a compelling argument. Then, let’s be honest, even hot nailheads are pretty weak, I am measuring for an LS swap. Next thing ya know, the card is glowing and my wife is taking about Dave Ramsey again.

Why? Why not. Besides, being banned from taking my kids to school in the same car I was banned from taking to high school, pretty cool. Let this be a lesson kids: dual 3” exhaust is no laughing matter.
Pit Crew

I hear you, man. You’re preaching to the choir!
Advanced Driver

I seem to live in a multi-dimensional space where 1, 2, and 4 happen simultaneously...on the same car.
New Driver

We must be related!

Can relate.

I'm in the rabbit hole of upgrades. Sure, I considered simply rebuilding the engine in my '66 Beetle, but now I'm building a 2110 with dual 2-barrel Dellorto carbs and about 2.5X the stock horsepower. That means I am currently upgrading the brakes, transaxle mounting, and doing some (further) suspension mods to handle the additional power. Now I keep looking at this really slick rack-and-pinion setup from CSP in Germany... Oh, and the stock shifter will never do, and since I have to change the throttle cable I might as well upgrade the gas pedal, and rebuild the whole pedal cluster while I'm at it. And don't they make this heavy duty clutch pedal shaft as well? Oh, and then there's...

Not a rabbit hole so much as a stairway to heaven.

The missing Fifth level is missing.

Level Five: The I will get to it some day level.

This is the car that we see in a garage with a sheet over it and boxes stacked on it. Or worse yet one out in the elements that are rusting and decaying away and the owner says it is not for sale as I will get to it someday.

Some at this level are found as barn finds soon enough to get to one of the other 4 levels but too many end up just rotting away to a point they are not even worth a parts car effort.


Kit cars are often found in this state as they are bough and started but never finished due to people not having the skills to fix it or the kit car mfg. going out of business. 


There could also be a Sixth level of 90% done but never completed. I have friends that will get a car almost to the end but they never finish the project. Sometimes it is just a need for a few parts or a lack of detailing to the paint and other areas to ready them for show. 

Advanced Driver

What about the “I bought this in 1982 and someday I’ll restore it”. Or the disaster under a tree out back that the owner saw one like it sell at Mecum for 1million dollars, so he will sell you his for $999,999
Intermediate Driver

I have considered a stock Model A as a project car on numerous occasions. But, being the hotrodder that I am, it would have 15 inch wheels, a dropped front axle with reverse eye springs front and back along with 1940 era brakes. I could live with the Banger for a while. Sure I could! Do ya believe me? Banger motors can be fun when slightly worked over. Had one in high school.
Intermediate Driver

This is less about the level of restoration of the vehicle (whatever vehicle one is working upon), but more about the level of restoration that the person doing the build / restoration are looking at, doing (at that moment in time, which may change in the blink of any eye), or what they may be capable of doing (skills, or how 'deep the pockets'', or a combination of the either)..

Intermediate Driver

I have decided after completly refurbishing the interior , in my 65 corvette coupe , to just drive as it is rather than to re-spray , I am building a new vortec motor for it , I do all my own work except machine work , heads, ect. , It's a 20-20 now and I will live with it .
New Driver

My project cars are all about the cars I loved and drove when I was young. That was a long time ago. I have loved British sports cars all my life. So my current projects, an MG midget and a Jaguar XJ 12 are put back to the kind of cars I drove back in the day. Drivers ? Yes. But drivers that would go unnoticed way back when they "just used enough" that I could afford them. With only a brief dalliance with Corvettes, the Brit cars have always found a spot in my garage. I'm old enough now to have a complete shop and do all the work myself. One of the better parts of my retirement. Lot of time spent remembering those early years.
Pit Crew

I think a different category may be full restoration with subcategories of pure Concourse or resto mod.
Both would have complete attention to detail replacement of any and all items in and on the car and refurbishment of any and all items needed to achieve a very high standard.
It may not be no expense spared but could be a close facsimile to that.
New Driver

And there is purgatory, where you have too many projects and none of them are ever completed due to lack of focus. The new carpet is in for the 911 and I will swap it out while replacing the bushings in the shifter...., crap the flasher button on the Vette just went out and is messing with the dash lights and turn signals. I just rebuilt the automatic traction control module what else can go wrong? What, the battery just went out on the bike??? And, the daughter's brakes are squeeking now, daaadd, can you help......? Who is going to help me?!?!?! Wouldn't change a thing! 🙂
Intermediate Driver

AND the "sixth" option... Well, after sitting for 33 years in my Uncle's barn, I finally GOT that '73 Sonett RUNNING... wonder when I'll get 'round to figuring out those last 5 wires, that got chewed through by a rat... "Lessee... 3 are the same color blue, and 2 are the same color white... where DO they go?"... Oh yeah, I need to mow the pasture... I'll get back to this.
Pit Crew

All good points, but if you look at enjoying a car or the hobby, long term, none of this has to be done overnight. Put it safely on the road and enjoy it as you tweak it. Started with our Model A Pickup in 1970, got it road worthy, then enjoyed it 37 more years as we continuously improved it. When sold, the only parts on it from the original farm field find were the frame and the wheels. Lots of flea markets, some junk yards, lots of effort, reasonable cost and lots of enjoyment over the long haul.
Intermediate Driver

A loosing money pit. Now, after 15 years of work done by myself, I'm at the point where I want to finish it up and sell it. I'm done with the "hobby." BTW what is said that you couldn't build one for that amount of money is true.
Pit Crew

The project category that bothers me most is A.M.M. or "Automotive Mystery Meat" category.

This is a car you don't own, but you see everyday under a blue tarp next to a neighbor's house and that frustrates the hell out of you. You can make out the shape (bug-eyed Sprite, Early RX-7, Fiat 124 Spider... two of 'em! + a Subaru Brat)

These are the ones I see, yours may or may not be similar, and you know there's a potentially great car under that tarp that's being slowly steamed into rusty soup with every rain/sun cycle.

Day-after-day, year-after-year, you see this neglect and you begin to have nightmares. Why are these cars being tortured in this way? Why don't the police come and arrest these people for abuse?? What can be done to save these poor, helpless cars from a fate worse than death???

Well... with a modest donation of only $19 dollars a month to Save The Classics, you can do your part to protect these neglected project cars that have fallen out of favor. And if you donate today, in addition to your membership, we'll send you a miniature 2-inch square blue tarp that you can burn in effigy to show your solidarity with Save The Classics, along with an adorable old cotton t-shirt with a photo of the actual car your annual membership help saved on the front.

Wearing this t-shirt while working on your own project car in the garage will tell the world that you proudly support Save The Classics, and when you're ready to go shirtless in your automotive man-cave, this sweat-infused old cotton t-shirt can pull double duty as a soft-touch applicator for your favorite brand of carnauba wax.

Old cars deserve better... so won't you please help us save a classic car rusting away under a blue tarp in your neighborhood?

Operators are standing by, so please call or go online right now and pledge your support to Save The Classics and help us put an end to classic car neglect once and for all. Thank you.
Intermediate Driver

Wow, this sounds like such a great organization! One question, is my donation tax deductible?


You can't be referring to me, I had to upgrade to a heavier duty gray tarp.

I have a turnkey car in the garage I received October 2020, It's been on blocks since. The only driving I have done in it was from the transport into the garage. One person inparticular (besides the wife) keeps asking when it will be done? I used to reply as accurately as I could, my reply these days is "soon". I have another turnkey I bought in 2015, same story.
Intermediate Driver

A fifth option: Running but better. That's the clean regular daily driver that has tasteful upgrades and few if any noticeable issues. Basically something between the Corvair and the bike above. I think this is where a lot of projects live.
Intermediate Driver

I buy my vehicles to drive and enjoy. I try to buy them with around 50k miles, not to used but a mimimun of wear. They will get door dings, stone chips, etc and other things that will give them character. Stay on top of timing belts, radiators, diffs, and the like and they will repay you with miles of smiles!

Hmmm.....I think I have at least one of each. I also have what I would consider the 5th variety. No expense spared, long time frame, project. Where labor and correct parts seem more scarce than they should be.
That's what the hobby is all about though, isn't it, working on the project is almost more fun than finishing humble opinion.
New Driver

How about the "I know there's a perfectly restored one on an auction site selling for 30k, the restorer probably put 60k effort into it, 45k worth of parts and equipment, but I'll buy this basket case for 5k and put 70k worth of work and 50k worth of parts and equipment into it, because i can't see spending 30k all at once" option?
Intermediate Driver

I saw one of those cars that sold at auction north of six figures, claiming to be all original, numbers matching, blah blah blah. Three months prior I was at Fall Carlisle and saw the car up close and personal in the grand stand display area. For all the effort put into it, the body tag was affixed with Phillips head screws. Hmmm, I wonder if the buyer saw this befor plunking down over $110,000.

Intermediate Driver

Since I'm old I've seen a lot of "projects". One thing not mentioned is the timeline of life. When young and working, it's difficult to find the time and money for a car project. As one ages, if you're lucky, your disposable income increases. Early in life I bought good "beaters" that required a minimum of work and money, but were interesting to own and drive. They also worked as daily drivers so I could save money to buy a house. When I bought a house and a new car, I moved into projects that could "sit" for months in the garage while I worked on them. However, I sent the engines, transmission, and suspension work out to shops.
When facing a work relocation I sold off all my old cars.
Finally I retired and decided I wanted to attempt to do a full restoration doing a much as I could. It's taken years, but I rebuilt the drivetrain, including a complete and proper engine rebuild. I bought a press and rebuilt the front suspension. I stripped the interior, redid the seam seals, installed new carpet and upholstery. I even rebuilt some of the instruments! It's taken years, as planned, that have made my retirement enjoyable.
It's a great day --- I'm going out to the garage to finish some body work.
When someone asks me "When will that car be done?", I say "What fun would that be".
Intermediate Driver

When talking about these four levels and to what degree you want your car completed to, one has to take into account the project car itself, and what resources, skill and finances the owner has. Bringing an exotic euro sports coup to level 3 could cost more than completing a frame on restoration of typical GM A body from the late 60s to early 70s.

Until the outrageous 'car porn restore shows', most everyone had a project solidly between #1 and #2 (fix it so it runs, or fix it so it runs and looks decent). The variations often happened when it came to body work - 'just bondo' vs. 'cut it out and weld in new metal'.

My own project was the 'weld new metal' plus 'full engine rebuild'. As to the rest, it looks decent and is a blast to drive.

But the full 'concourse restoration' is, in my opinion, reserved mostly for those who won a lottery or otherwise have tons and tons of cash. A pox on all the 'reso-porn' shows that imply that anything less is a waste of time.

p.s. (same goes for home reno-porn shows, IMO)
Advanced Driver

Level 726 - my wife's 2016 Optima. I think I'll take the wheels off, remove the battery, drain the gas tank, and put some old sheets over it. When I get around to fixing up this incredible "barn find" 10 years from now I won't have much to do. Just think how much I'll get for it on BAT! Surely enough to get my kids through college. Thanks for the opportunity to daydream Kyle, financial planning was never my strong suit.
Advanced Driver

The last -- No Expense Spared. It's a 1966 Corvair, and I have a 55 year history with it. Bought it in 1/68, sold it in 78 along with five other Corvairs, all good. Including YS043. Lost track of it.
Found it in 2014, bought it and figured to just make it into a driver. Then I discovered that it was a basket case full of bondo. After years of judging a couple of concours events, I decided one day that what I really wanted was a car that would be competitive in its class in a concours. I could have bought one ready-made. But I decided that This Corvair Corsa convertible would be it. Spent 7 years -- took it down to a bare metal chassis, it spent two years on a rotisserie having massive corrosion replaced from a donor car, then another couple of years finding, reconditioning and installing every single component, right down to the fasteners, with the precisely correct replacement parts. The last major component, the remote control mirror for the driver's door, was found and installed a month ago. It is now as it should be. Last weekend at the Forest Grove event, it was in a Really tough class - GM cars 1960-1972. That included pretty much all of the muscle cars of that era. There wasn't a bad car in the lot. Mine placed second in class to a stunning 396 SuperSport Chevelle convertible. I agree -- it was a Magnificent car. But for my mere Corvair to outpoint a bunch of other really nice cars is satisfactory altogether. My mission has been accomplished -- it was competitive in its class at a reasonably important show. I couldn't be more pleased. I have a Ton of money in it, lots of time and a great deal of anxiety. I now have it Exactly the way I want it. There is Nothing else it needs for me to think about. Just to put the icing on the cake, it is also a pleasure to drive. I shan't do anything like this again. I don't want another special interest car. I don't even want another Corvair. Just this specific one. It will be the last.
New Driver

Congratulations...I saw your car lining up for the Vineyard Toru...very happy the judges were in agreement with my assessment. My car is a Triumph Spitfire that I found left under a tree ( a tree growing through it!) that I drug home, and two restorations later, also show. Only good enough for a 3rd at Forest Grove, however...
Advanced Driver

Hey! A top three award in class at Forest Grove is nothing to sneeze at. I judged a different class from yours of British roadsters. In ours (Q2) there was a recently restored TR-250 that took BiC. It was really good! To be quite frank, I was somewhat disappointed in the preparation the owners did on several of the cars. They could at least clean them properly or have them detailed by a competent shop. If you have a Spit that you did in order to show, good on ya! Kudos!
Pit Crew

The fifth option: buy it done!

Good read. My two classics live in level three - not show stoppers but very nice drivers. I simply can't drive a car with the headliner polishing my head as I go, or water damaged door cards, etc. So they are probably nicer than necessary, but it makes me feel good. And isn't that what this hobby is all about?

Kyle, thanks for this. I'm a bit of an iconoclast. My cars are updated, that is, the brakes,
suspension if necessary and tires are immediate as well as appropriate ignition necessities. Some have electronic ignition, others do not. I will install Vintage Air for cars
I use a lot, hopefully with a Senden Compressor. I do like Power Windows, seats and so on
but will only consider that when it's a car I use all the time. I'm going to buy a '79 Olds Cutlass Brougham when I find one, entirely a sentimental purchase, and outfit it where
necessary (accessories not present upon purchase) since the plan is to use it all the time. Among others.
I've also stopped wrenching since I've had a Stroke and so my restoration costs have
increased substantially.
So I guess I'm between the Corvair and the No Expense Spared. More towards the Corvair (do something with the headliner!)
Intermediate Driver

As hyperv6 says, a 5th level is just sitting there. My 1971 S111 E-Type drove into my garage in 1999, got its fuel tank cleaned and a new reproduction fuel pump. I also fixed its left front (drooping since the prior owner had the ball joints replaced), but nothing since as I had a 1 owner 1979 F250 and a Mercedes SEL 6.9 living outside, and here in the Pacific NW it was almost a full time job to keep both moss-free. Both are now gone, I'm retired, have lots of free time, but also have RA which makes manual work difficult.
Fortunately a liberal coating of dust keeps the Jag rust free. Hopefully it will see an uptick in value before I croak:-(
New Driver

For me there are daily drivers and show cars. One may show his daily driver at any "cars and coffee" or "club show". But if it's a judged show...every effort should be made to make it as original and pristine as possible, IMHO. My car has undergone a "get-it-back-on-the-road" restoration during the first year that I owned it (having found it under a tree (a tree growing through it!) which consisted or engine and mechanical rebuilds (all done myself, except for the machine work), buffing out the paint, and a new interior (that I installed). I paid $500 for it, and maybe spent $2,000 on getting it back-on-the-road. I showed it at various club evets, and the occasional cars and coffee, winning or placing in People's Choice competitions. I drove the car often and spiritedly...Great fun. After about ten years, though, it was getting pretty tired...I then did a full frame-off restoration (took two years) and this time I spent probably something in the range of $8,000. It was then competitive in judged shows as well as rallies. It was just as much fun to drive as before. I have always done my own work (except machine shop and paint) and thoroughly enjoyed the process and the result.

I am all about driving them, so I don't get too fussy about trying to take them back to 'new'. Mechanically sound with a good '5-foot' paint job (looks good from five feet away but don't get too close) and I'm riding.
My layers of car projects tend to involve how much do you really know about what is wrong with them before you start, and how far do you go?
When I went to look at my current 65 Impala project, I went with a buddy who was also interested. His mental model was that he was going to put a set of plugs and tires on it and flip it, but I heard the seller say 'there was something wrong with the engine that was too expensive to fix' at least half a dozen times, so I bought it expecting a toasted drivetrain - and was correct. Where this project hit me was body work - this car needed a lot more than I realized, and a lot of the shot metal are parts of the car folks aren't reproducing. So, not being a body man, I have been very patiently replacing the worst parts (sometimes with available parts) and settling for a finished product that is all there, but probably not 4.0. This will be a 5-foot car. Maybe down the road after I get some enjoyment out of it, it will go to a professional body shop, but nowhere in the foreseeable future

   I agree with many other posters that there are more levels. 

   Certainly there is the "Hey, have you worked on that _________ lately?" 

a) "No, ran out of money for awhile."

b) "No, can't find the parts I need/want."

c) "No, low on motivation right now."

d) "No, wife found me several other things that need done."

e) "Sure!  Why, I spent several hours on it just last, last, oh, when was it?  Let me think... oh yeah, in February 2020."


   I've got one that any of those answers fit... 😋