Choosing the right project car - Mick's Tips 428

By: Mick McCrudden

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valiant ute front valiant ute front
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Buying a project car

What we're talking about today is something that might actually keep your partner happy, and that’s how to buy a project car without getting in over your head.

More than likely you’re going to have some sort, type or model in mind – something that seems worth all the time, money effort that will go into it. Remember, many people reach a point where they’re happy to throw the whole thing over the back fence, so having something you love might just save the whole enterprise.

Now here’s the second tip: take your time. It doesn’t matter whether you spend days, months or even a year or two on the hunt – it’s worth the effort. What you’re looking for is a car that has what we describe in this business as, "it has good bones".


Look for something that’s solid – particularly in the body. Now you are going to pay a premium for it. But it’s a false economy to buy one that’s cheap and discover all sorts of traps. Don’t forget that a rough body can cost hundreds of hours of remedial work, before you even think about paint.

Even if it is all nice and shiny, spend the extra time on a closer look. Does it pass the fridge magnet test – does it stick to the bodywork, or is that filler under the duco? Look for one that’s been sitting in a shed for years, out of the weather. Appearance doesn’t matter too much, so long as the chassis is reasonably straight and solid.


A great example is in our workshop at the moment. It’s an old Valiant ute and we took the time to literally scour the country to find it. In the end, it was hidden away in a shed in western Queensland. When it arrived here in Melbourne, it looked horrible and was still running – just. But under the dust, spider webs, bits of hay and bird crap, it was as solid as a rock. Perfect.

The money we saved on not having to do a full body shell rebuild could be put to better use building a nice engine and attending to all sorts of details that lifted the whole car. As a result, the owner ended up with a far superior machine than he would have otherwise, on the same budget.


Now here’s an opposite example, Unique Cars mag tackled an XY project years ago, and that swallowed a staggering 300 hours in bodywork before any primer.

In the case of the Valiant ute, we spent the money on getting it to work better. So it’s running Koni dampers all round. We put a set of Rod Hadfield’s drop spindles in the front, which in turn allowed us to wind up some pressure on the torsion bar and still get a nice ride height. We also ditched the old steering box and installed an old Commodore rack and pinion. Now the thing steers, handles and rides far better than it did back in 1966.


So, if in doubt, spend that extra time on getting the right basis for your next project. It could save you a bundle and you’ll end up with a better end product.

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Mick runs Glenlyon Motors in Brunswick, Vic. Tel (03) 9380 5082.


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