Part 2 of our series on turning your junkyard find into a strip burner looks a little more closely at potential avenues for FINDING that perfect project car, including figuring out what kind of vehicle you wnat. When looking around for a project car to turn into a strip burner, there are a number of questions that you need to ask and answer before seeking out the actual vehicle. Project car buyers these days have so many options it makes the head spin. Back in the day, I had something like three options, all of which are still around today. In today’s article I’m going to walk you through the questions that have to be asked and answered before you can even think of looking for a car to work on.
Step 1: Ask Yourself Questions
Unless you’re one of the Koch Brothers, the first question you have to ask yourself is how much you’re willing to spend. This is a two part question. Part one is how much you’re willing or able to spend on acquiring the car. Part two is your budget for getting the car ready to put people to shame on the track.
Next you need to pick your poison: GM, Chrysler, or Ford? Then you need to break it down further: what model do you want? Camaro? Mustang? Charger? Trans Am? Cougar? Roadrunner? Finally, big block or small block? All set here? Great. Let’s move on to locating the project car.
The advent and growth of the Internet has made it both easier and harder to find your next strip burner project car. It’s easier because you have so many new options that I didn’t have and harder for the same reason. Where to start? This is where we plug our own site. RacingJunk.com has an extensive collection of cars and parts posted by individuals and dealers and the site is searchable by price, location, and time posted. You can look for project cars, engines, complete vehicles, etc. Other online sites, including eBay and Craigslist also have automotive sections. Of course we think RacingJunk is the best, but we also have to acknowledge that there are other great sites out there that might have what you need.
But, when you’re looking online make sure you’re looking at the region carefully and that if you’re buying a vehicle in another state, you either negotiate or factor in potential costs for transportation. Heck, even if you’re looking for a vehicle in your neighborhood, make sure you take in to account how you’ll get the vehicle to where you need it to be.
You can also check the forums of your favorite automotive sites to see if anyone is selling their project car. But as with all of these suggestions, Let the Buyer Beware! Be careful about sending money to people you don’t know. Try to see the vehicle in person or get somebody to verify that it is what its being advertised as. Use your common sense!
If you’ve exhausted the sites that you regularly frequentl, Google what you’re looking for. “Chevrolet Camaro for sale.” “Car sales.” “Where to buy project cars.” Get creative with search terms. Get descriptive to narrow the results down. “1967 Ford Mustang for sale in USATown, USA.” “Wrecked 1969 Chevy Camaro for sale in MyTown, CA.”
It sounds simple, but sometimes we get so invested in thinking about our project that we forget the obvious strategies.
Check the Classifieds of the Local Papers
Since I first started building and driving cars, this has been my first step when locating my next project car. Good papers list cars by maker, minding that Chevy Camaro a little easier. Even better, papers list their for sale cars chronologically with the older cars at the end of the list. I have found that since these ads cost the least, these are the car owners I can dicker and bargain with to get their prices down some. However, keep in mind that plenty of people don’t get the paper anymore, so this avenue may not be as fruitful as in the past. Still, if you’re looking local, its definitely a place to start.
Regional Car Sales Magazines
These are the (usually) smaller magazines you find right by the door at convenience and grocery stores. They’ve got names like “Auto Trader” and “Classic Chevy.” These guys gained popularity in the late 80s where I lived because they offered color pictures of the vehicles and parts for sale. Those that list their cars in this type of publication are usually fairly set in their asking price, although you always want to dicker over price.
I’ve belonged to two of these in my day, mostly as a quick and easy way to find cars and parts for sale. Club members almost always have something juicy that they only make available to other club members. You’re also likely to the best prices here because most members want their pieces going to homes where they know the car will be cared for. These guys are also usually the go to guys for many of the hard to find parts for older cars. Even when a club member doesn’t have that part or the car you’re looking for, chances are they’re going to know someone who does have it and just happens to want to part with it. These clubs are gold mines. Treat them carefully. The members are also usually great resources when you get stuck in a part of your project.
Local Parts Stores
This can be the O’Reilly’s or Autozone down the street, although I never had luck there. My luck was always in the professional parts stores such as Napa, Parts Plus, Parts Connection, etc. These are the shops that deal almost exclusively with professional mechanics. Get on the good side of the guys behind the counter and see where they can point your nose. Treat them carefully also, as even if they don’t currently know where what you want can be found, they’ll remember you if they find one in the future. That’s how I replaced the right front hub on my 65 Charger. These guys are typically gearheads, not some high school kid that’s just looking to earn insurance money.
Local Schools with Auto Shop Programs
I will admit that this possibility has drastically decreased over the past 30 or so years as high schools get rid of their shop programs. However, most community colleges have some sort of automotive technology program. These programs will often buy two cars in order to a complete car. You can dicker with the program instructors to see if they’ll sell or give that stripped down rolling chassis to you for cheap.
The junkyard can be an excellent place to find your next project car. In fact, if you’re really lucky, you’ll find one that others have done all the hard work for you and stripped all the useless junk off it and left a rolling chassis or a rolling chassis and body, with or without rust holes (rust can be repaired). The main problem with getting a car from the junkyard, once you’ve determined that it is worth your time and money is getting home legally since most states don’t allow vehicles with junkyard/dismantler/totaled titles to roll on city streets; you have to transport them on a flatbed tow truck or a four wheel car trailer.
Check Out Local Events
This was one of my favorite ways to find new project cars. Not only could I enjoy an awesome race (and usually go home with someone else’s EX car) but I could do a little shopping and networking. Those of us in the racing community usually have several cars collecting dust in our shop, garage, or driveway. Many of us have a spouse telling us one of them has to go. Whether it’s a Show n Shine or an NHRA sanctioned race, you’re going to find people selling parts and cars. You just have to look and ask around. This goes for local swap meets/flea markets.
Peruse the Ads Sections of Car Magazines
The last dozen or so pages of most car magazines is usually devoted to ad space. This is especially true of performance magazines. These are usually ads for services and parts, but you can find a hidden gem being sold. I actually found my favorite Camaro in the back ads of an issue of Hot Rod Magazine. You can too.
Step 2: What to Look for in a Project Car
Once you’ve found the car, you need to take some basic steps to make sure it’s in the condition you need it to be and that you know the difference between stuff you can live with or replace and stuff that is a deal breaker.
1. You need to inspect the vehicle.
- Forget the condition of the seats; we’re most likely throwing them out. If you plan on using the car as a daily driver as well as a strip burner, consider replacing the front seats with racing buckets.
- Make sure the frame looks to be in good condition with no or limited rust.
- Check the condition of anything you plan on reconditioning or reusing. If something like the rear-end is too badly damaged (like a cracked axle housing), it won’t be able to be reconditioned or rebuilt.
The inspection process is going to be governed by your answers to those questions you asked – how much money and how much time? Planning on popping the body off and going with pre-made fiberglass body panels? Don’t worry about rust in the body panels. Unlike a daily driver car, I also wouldn’t worry too much about rust in the floorboards/floor pan as we’re going to be cutting and chopping down there to fit the roll cage anyways, or should be.
Something far too many people overlook when buying a project car is the condition of the title and registration. Are they clear and clean or are there tickets and other worries? If the car doesn’t run, is the registration up to date enough to tow it home, or will you need a flatbed?
What about the wheels and tires? Are they in good enough shape to get the car home on or do you need to bring extras and/or a compressor?
Check your local and state laws and ordinances for any issues you might have getting the car home or wherever you’re going to be working on it at. These few basic considerations will help you find the car you want, and prepare yourself to bring it home!