Whether it’s a ground-up rebuild or adding more mods than your car is actually worth, we’re on the lookout for the best project cars.
Every car person has a budding shadetree mechanic lurking somewhere in their subconscious, just waiting for the right barn find or grandma’s hand-me-down sedan to entice them down the project car rabbit hole. Below is our list of the best project cars accounting for price, how hard they are to work on, and how cool you’re gonna look wrenching on them in your driveway.
2009 Ford Crown Victoria – carsforsale.com | Shop Ford Crown Victoria on Carsforsale.com
Be on the look out for former police interceptors, with their 4.6L V8s, power breaks, and multi-link rear suspensions, and upgrade transmissions; or, in the words of Elwood Blues, “It’s got a cop motor … cop tires, cop suspension, cop shocks.” You might even get lucky and find one with a spotlight and/or a push bar up front. Sure, given that they were police vehicles, these puppies have probably been ridden hard and hung out to dry on your local used car lot, but let’s be honest here, you’re not planning on being gentle with yours either, are you?
1996 BMW Series 3 E36 – carsforsale.com | Shop BMW 3 Series on Carsforsale.com
For all those mechanical masochists, aspiring drifters, and Teuton-ophiles, there’s always an eminently affordable used BMW (read money–pit) for you to spend your evenings and weekends troubleshooting. But, once you’ve worked out the kinks and gotten your Radwood ready Beamer out on the road, you’ll reap the rewards of owning one of the coolest looking, best driving project cars you can buy. Even with all that shade thrown, the E36s aren’t that bad in the reliability department, as far as BMWs go.
1977 Ford F-100 – carsforsale.com | Shop Ford F-100 on Carsforsale.com
When you think of that old beater of a truck that’s been passed down from father to son to grandson, the truck you’re thinking of is probably an F-Series. Many of these things haven’t seen the inside of a service bay since they rolled off the lot, with everything up to engine and transmission swaps having been done in the barn or home garage.
Since the F-Series has been the best-selling truck and best-selling vehicle for decades, there’s plenty of spare parts to be had. In fact, most of those spare parts are interchangeable between the sizes of these trucks. So just because you’re working on an F-350, doesn’t mean you should pass by that F-150 as you’re scouring your local junkyard.
1985 Mercedes-Benz 300D W123 – carsforsale.com | Shop Mercedes-Benz 300 Class on Carsforsale.com
When your dear old dad tells you Mercedes makes the most reliable luxury cars around and you nearly choke on your Cheerios, remember it’s cars like the Mercedes-Benz 300D your dad is referring to. These cars were over-engineered but in the best possible way. Unlike modern Mercedes where that means lots of complicated and expensive parts, the 300D was built with the same over-engineering we’ve come to love from the likes of Toyota. Foolishly building vehicles to last decades rather than years.
With a 3.0L turbodiesel I-5, few cars sound like an 80s 300D. And tank-like isn’t just applicable to the exhaust note either. The modest 120 horsepower means this puppy is the opposite of the AMGs when it comes to raw pickup, but don’t be fooled, this is still a driver’s car. The smooth ride feels all the smoother knowing there’ll always be plenty of work to do on with your 300D, but it’ll (probably) be roadworthy regardless.
2002 Jeep Wrangler – carsforsale.com | Shop Jeep Wrangler on Carsforsale.com
Are you a MOPAR enthusiast who loves to traverse ridiculously treacherous terrain on four (and sometimes only three) wheels? Then your next project car has got to be a Jeep Wrangler. You’ve only got to answer these questions for yourself. How high do I want my lift? What kind of gnarly off-road tires am I going to buy? What kind of cheeky spare tire cover am I going to get? The possibilities are nearly endless with the Wrangler.
1994 Nissan 240SX – scalesuspension.com | Shop Nissan 240SX on Carsforsale.com
Dreaming of getting your Tokyo Drift on? While it’s no Silvia S15 a.k.a. the Mona Lisa, the Nissan 240SX might still make your dreams a reality (plus, then you won’t have to illegally import anything). The 240SX chassis was built for drifting: lightweight, stiff, and well-balanced. The original 2.4L I-4 isn’t exactly slow, but let’s be real here, you’re not looking to settle for stock. Possible engine swaps candidates include aftermarket GM’s LS small-block V8 or a 2JZ if you’re feeling frisky. For max drifting potential, you could also find an LSD (limited-slip differential) or go for the gusto and just weld that open diff yourself.
1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata – carsforsale.com | Shop Mazda MX-5 Miata on Carsforsale.com
Some people still make snide references to hairdressers and housewives when they talk about the Miata. Turns out, hairdressers and housewives (and car lovers) have been right all along. The Mazda MX-5 Miata is a small, fun, perfectly balanced convertible (with a manual) that offers more joy than mere mortals can stand in anything but small doses. That means if you’re a gearhead looking for the perfect project car, look no further. Easy to work on, easy to mod to your heart’s content, and easy to love, the Miata’s greatness can’t be measured in horsepower, but smiles per mile might be a good substitute.
Got a project car you’ve been dreaming of? Or a labor of love in the garage with the engine disassembled? Let us know about your project car in the comments.