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Hagerty Employee

What to do when your project goes sideways

Embarking on a new project brings its own high. The gentle clink when I pull a clean tool from my carefully organized tool chest can put goosebumps on my arms just like the sultry soprano of Cecilia Bartoli can. As I choose parts for my planned project, the anticipation typically doesn't subside. Each wrench, wire, and gear feeds my oil-soaked high as I contemplate the task of every component and how I can optimize different systems while my machine is apart for repair. It’s a dream.


Except when it’s not. Read the full article on



Great insight in this article. I've been in similar situations myself and have seen friends and family make choices that logic does not prevail. But in this hobby logic doesn't have to rule. I would have kept the bike and fixed it too.


I once cut up a 1997 Subaru Legacy wagon into a crude dune buggy or sorts. I wanted to see how it handled bush buggy duty with the awd. It was ugly and fun and just way too low to the ground to invest deeper into. I didn't make back my costs scrapping it (mostly due to popping a tire sidewall on a piece of steel) but the experience and fun was totally worth it. Next time I will use something with more ground clearance.

Hagerty Employee

any pictures left over of this fantastic contraption?
Community Manager

Yeah we need pics of that!
Pit Crew

That's a beautiful machine! I remember these from enduro racing in New England. Not the most exciting machine, but the smooth mild manners were well suited for long rides. I suspect you can easily regain your investment with a little margin for the next project. 


I haven't had the chance to hit the trails with it yet, but even just ripping around the yard a bit I have been pretty impressed by its handling. Perfect amount of power to be fun but not taxing. I think it will be hanging around my garage for awhile as a "loaner" bike.
Intermediate Driver

$700? I'd say you came out smelling like a rose, for a functional XL. Not quite sure what all the angst was about...

Pit Crew

Agree.  What was engine cost.  He had to know he needed seat, tires and chain when he bought it.  So an extra 2-300 for a full rebuild?


lets talk about swapping an oil pump and rear main seal on my SBC only to find bearings all wiped out.  After full swap of bearings ( rod and main) in the van, to find the underlying issue , rear main bolt stripped. That’s an unexpected surprise 


Not angst per se, but I entered with a plan of spending $300 or so and having a running/riding bike. Then it snowballed to over double the budget. I would agree, I am still ahead on this XR and have a great bike now. It should be a great summer trail bike and AHRMA racer.
Pit Crew

Oh yeah. I'm living that now with my 1967 Ford Ranchero 500 XL. After 3 years and thousands of dollars we were able to fire it up and get it running. But now, it's spewing tons of white smoke that smells like it's burning more oil than fuel. I'm not anxious to have to start tearing into the engine to determine what's wrong. Not sure I have the desire, the will, or the money to invest, but it would be a shame to abandon it at this point. 




Is it an automatic? Check the vacuum modulator. It could have a split diaphragm and white smoke usually is tranny fluid.

New Driver

If it has an automatic transmission check the modulator valve could be sucking in trans fluid would make lots of smoke.

Intermediate Driver

I have followed a couple of general guidelines in my past projects:

* If you really want that exact vehicle, n none other, then suck it up, spend what it takes and just get on with it.

* If you want one just like it, maybe part it out, sell or keep the parts, and find another.

* If you want to sell it to make a few bucks, think of selling it as a work in progress to someone else who wants one.  Be honest about its condition, though.  You may not profit, but you can minimize your loss.

My current project went sideways well into five figures and coming up on three years.  But i want that exact vehicle, not one just like it, and have no intention of selling it any time soon.

So I'll spend what is required to get it, and enjoy it afterwards.

Intermediate Driver

Had an "oh crap" experience of my own making while rebuilding a '96 Saturn single cam engine.  A neighbor came over to see what I was doing.  I know better to set down the tools and have a conversation.  But, I kept working and talking and got distracted and got the cam 90 degrees out of time.  When I later went to spin the engine over, while still on the stand, with the starter motor ( to prime the oil system as the oil pump is crank driven ) I broke the head off of all 4 exhaust vales.  The head and all 4 pistons were junk.  I have owned a lot of Saturn S series cars so I had a stash of parts.  But, I expanded the project and turned the motor into a twin cam 4 valve version.  This all added $600 to the project.  This definitely reinforced my don't wrench and talk at the same time policy.


Ouch! Kinda like the folks who (wisely) don't drink and wrench at the same time.
Intermediate Driver

People please ! ... No matter what you saw on TV. 

 Don't use starting fluid to fire-up an engine that has been sitting for a long time. Ether starting fluid is meant to help gasoline vaporize, to start an engine under extreme cold conditions. 

  Ether will remove any oil that is left on pistons, rings, cylinders, and "yes" VALVE GUIDES.  If the engine does start on ether, all these critical parts will be running dry, and are subject to scoring and seizing.

  If you are going to check out a project vehicle, and want to fire-up a long dormant engine, bring a squirt bottle of two-cycle gas and oil mix. It will quickly get some lube on those moving parts at startup, and maybe save the engine. ... V

Intermediate Driver

Didn’t Honda race these bikes in Baja? They got caught switching bikes in the middle of the race one year by a guy who spotted one bike had hand guards and the other didn’t. Tech officials went question the rider after the race and the rider wouldn’t come out of his motel room. The joke used to be: how many bikes will Honda use to win this year? I always admired the tough guys that could fly through the wilds of Baja on those XRs. I just sat in the passenger seat of a class 6 sedan watching the back markers struggle to the finish. Leaving tracks on the course and I could see where the rider went down and got back up to struggle on. Balls!


I can't say I have heard about this bike swapping before. Do you have a link or source I could read about this tale at?


The XR was the desert race sled of choice for Honda before SCORE capped displacement at 450cc in recent history. The big winner for Honda was the XR650R, and having owned one for a few years I can see why it made such a wonderful wide-open spaces racer. That thing had power everywhere.


In the fall of 2013, I rebuilt the 289 in my 65 Mustang.  I added some aftermarket goodies to include a set of aluminum heads.  Got it all together, and fired it up for the break-in period.  It ran for a couple of minutes and all of a sudden it stumbled and then shut down.  I tried cranking it both with the starter motor and by hand, but it wouldn't turn.  Fearing the worst (oil pump failure and seized the engine), I opened the oil pan drain valve, and for the first minute or so, all the coolant drained out, and then the oil.  Uh oh...  The next day, I started the tear down, starting on the passenger side.  When I got the head off, I found the head of the #1 intake valve sitting on top of the piston and a big hole in the cylinder, along with all the other associated battered parts.  To make a long story short, the intake valve had failed and broken clean off.  Luckily, the heads were still under warranty, so I ended up getting a new block, heads, pistons, camshaft, gasket set, bearings, etc., to put it all back together.  It took a couple of months of back and forth emails, and finally a letter to the head of the head manufacturer to get it all worked out.  This was definitely a job that could have gone sideways as I wasn't going to be able to cough up all that money, again, to start all over.  Sometimes one just has to step back a little, ponder the next plan of action, and then go for it.  This time, for me, it paid off.


Looks like a lot of fun for $700. Maybe not what you expected but still good. I bought a new Corvette is 2007, had buyers remorse (should have got the Z06) so hot rodded it instead. The head and cam upgrade added more power but cost me 2 rear end rebuilds and a transmission before the drive line was strong enough. The car also depreciated like a rock. Things are a little pricey in Canada (including the exchange on everything). So I now have a car that I have about 100k Canadian in to it and its worth 25-30K. Sure I had fun, but it was an expensive experience. I am now working on a classic Mopar. Sure I am spending some money on the old gal, but I am finding it more fun, less costly, less complex, and basically no depreciation. If I ever tire of the old car (not any time soon) I can likely at the very least get the cost of the parts back (or my kids can when I am gone). I think the old classics are the best way to enjoy this hobby.

New Driver

one stripped/broken bolt from a 20 minute job turning in hours

New Driver

This hobby continually reminds me to step back, think it through, and do it right, or again until you do.  Short cuts only get you lost and take longer to get home.   So many good life lessons come out of the garage.