There are guys out there who will drop $15,000 on a rusted-out '67 Camaro body, but we don't want to know them. Our friends usually think more and spend less when it comes to scoring fast and cool. We can take advantage of cash-drained times like these, as hoarders of muscle car-era sheetmetal are sometimes forced to lighten their loads to pay for mortgages, alimonies, or their next tender. That opens the door for guys with a little less coin to get in on some sweet deals on project fodder if they know what they're looking at. As the prices for the really good stuff drops, pressure is applied to the dork who thinks his '80 wagon is worth 10K, making market prices dip there as well. So flash your cash at some of these prime pickin's.
No. 10: Cheap '65 to '72 Cadillacs
If ever there were a time to swipe a Cad project, it's now. There is virtually zero niche interest in these cars, as they are ignored universally by the tattooed rat-rod welder, the numbers-correct Barrett-Jackson broker, and the street/strip guy for fear of their sheer density and lack of double-sized spots for power parking.
But just because they are big doesn't mean they aren't great. Big cars have big factory engines, and cubes make power. Skip the expensive N/A builds and go right for the power-adders. Turbos, centrifugals, and nitrous spell huge grunt from huge inches, and these cars have the transmission guts and rearend beef to take it. We recommend you try the '65 to '75 Cads, since these cars were honored with having the best power-to-weight ratio of any base-model domestic car in 1965--and they were the first and only American passenger cars to enjoy a factory 500-inch powerplant.
'65 to '75 Calais, De Ville, and Fleetwood
'67-and-later Fleetwood Eldorado, '75-and-later Seville
Marty Stromberger of Stromberger Performance in Spokane, Washington, scored this minty-fre
Most of the Cads came with massive low-compression engines that commonly displaced 472 to
Marty's car has a factory 500-inch engine with 8.5:1 compression and a Kenworth turbo off
This is Randal Burns' '77 Buick Skylark. You might know him as The Silver Buick on CarCraf
No. 9: '75 to '79 X-Body Drag Cars
Want to practice your tubbing skills? Try a wrong-year Nova, Omega, Ventura, or Skylark. The V-8 cars are so cheap you won't have to do the six-to-eight swap. Plus, aftermarket second-gen Camaro front end parts and '67 to '74 Camaro/Nova rearend parts bolt right on.
Classifieds Quick Peek
We jumped on Craigslist Los Angeles to see what was available as this was written. All three of the cars we found were clean runners: a '75 Nova with a 454 and a four-speed, $3,800; a '77 Nova with a 305/auto, $2,000; a '77 Skylark, mint with 52,000 miles, 350/auto, $1,800.
The Freak show AMC
Yup, they're still out there, and yes, they are still cheap. Despite our attempts to glorify Brand X with the CC/Rambler '67 AMC Rambler American project car, people still ask what is wrong with us. We have no money. There, we said it. If you want to get attention and burn smoky donuts in front of interested teenagers, get into an AMC.
Burns swapped in a 455 from a '72 Centurion and later a TKO600 five-speed.
Muscle car-era AMCs are divided into small cars like this Hornet and big cars like the Ram
The other option is the wrong-year '71 to '75 Javelin like this near-mint '74. These cars
Nos. 8-5: The Department of Cousins: '78 to '84 Fairmont and Zephyr/'81 to '86 Ford Granada and LTD II/'83 to '85 Mercury Marquis/'83 to '88 Thunderbird
These cars share the same huge aftermarket parts mother lode that is offered for the Fox Mustang. If you can't find a factory V-8 car, you can use a swap K-member from any one of a million aftermarket suppliers and drop in a 5.0L from a Mustang. The 8.8 rearend housing is identical, so it will also swap right in--and you can even add disc brakes from other factory Fords. These cars are light, plentiful, and cheap.
All '70s and '80s Fairmont, Zephyr, Fox Granada, LTD II, and Marquis
Non-Fox-chassis LTD II, pre-Panther-chassis Marquis
This is Jesse Kershaw's '85 Ford LTD II. It will get a T56 six-speed, a 4.6L three-valve e
The LTD II will also get a K-member, front and rear control arms, adjustable coilovers, an
No. 4: Fast '78 to '88 GM A- and G-Bodies
We've been beating this drum since the mid-'90s, and mostly drag racers have listened. The A- and G-body platform uses the classic rear-drive configuration and usually has a small-block with a TH350 and a 10-bolt from GM. The most sought after is the '78 to '81 A-body Malibu with the single headlight, but the G-body '82 to '88 Monte Carlo and Cutlass and '82 to '87 El Camino and Pontiac Grand Prix are also desirable.
If you want to go fast, the A- and G-bodies swallow big-blocks with plenty of room to spar
Go ahead, hack away. Since you can't drive a race-gas, 10-second street car too far anyway
No. 3: '82 to '04 S-10s and Blazers
We spoke to the guys at Jaguars That Run (JTR) to get the deal on this way-cheap swap. The 2WD trucks are light enough that even a stock V-8 will make them fly, so really the focus is on performing V-8 swaps cleanly and getting the cooling system right. JTR says the best bet for low-buck fun is finding a truck that has a 4.3L six with a five-speed. The transmission will bolt to a Gen I small-block, and if you find an '83-and-later, you can reuse the hydraulic clutch. In 1995, the S-10 came with an 8.5-inch 10-bolt, so you can either start there or find a wrecked one and swap in the housing. To cool it all down, JTR recommends a radiator from an '84 to '89 Corvette and an electric fan from an '88 to '95 Ford Taurus.
'95 H.O. V-6 five-speed S-10
'82 to '83 S-10 with the cable-clutch BorgWarner five-speed--unless you want to run an auto
For dirt-cheap brakes, find a Blazer. The '98 2WD Blazer has big front and rear brakes tha
We've also seen the LS-series engine going into the S-10. This Blazer belongs to CC reader
No. 2: Wrong-Year Muscle
After seeing all the alternatives, if you still want a Mustang or Camaro for low bucks, buy the wrong year or body style. That means '74-and-later Camaros, Grande Mustangs, El Caminos, and six-cylinder cars. These cars aren't as collectible and are therefore cheaper but still use all the bolt-on goods of their flashy brethren.
We continue to be amazed by the number of six-cylinder '67 to '68 Mustangs we've seen for
We recently bought a running and driving '64 El Camino similar to this one with a 283 and
The Slant Six Darts and Dusters still show up occasionally at swap meets, and sometimes th
We also see pedestrian '74 to '81 Camaros still used as daily drivers and for sale for $1,
No. 1: The number one affordable project car can be seen here.
Tricks on the Negotiation
1. Be ready to walk away.
Do a lot of squinting to portray this guy's junk isn't worth your hard-earned dollar. Rent a Benicio Del Toro or Tommy Lee Jones flick and practice.
2. Bring enough cash to underpay.
If the guy catches a wad of hundos falling out of your wallet and doesn't try to mug you, he will at least stick to his price. Try to bring the same amount as the ad price to ensure you don't blow it and overpay.
3. Bring a friend who is not a problem.
Your car-guy friends will get more excited about the car than you and might even bid against you. It's happened to us. Bring a girl or a noncar guy to the negotiation.
4. Say less, listen more.
Most of the time, if you've spent the time to visit the car personally, the seller knows you are halfway serious and will begin to talk about the car. If you stand there and listen, he will likely begin to talk himself down from the asking price. Let him.
5. Don't talk yourself into buying.
As an addendum to the above advice, you can also talk yourself into not seeing the missing one-year-only rear glass or believing you can build your own door panels. You are wrong. Tell the mechanic/seamstress in your head to please shut up.