How to Plan For Your Hot Rod Project

Done Rite 01
Photo: John Gunnell

It’s the best and worst of times to modify your street car.

The best part is that there are an endless supply of aftermarket off-the-shelf engines, transmissions, axles, and parts available to build just about any kind of ride your little heart desires. The bad part is that the job market has a lot of people hunkered down with their cash, gas isn’t cheap, and modding a ride isn’t the financial priority it once was.

The situation demands that hot rodders plan their projects effectively and scrutinize every decision. Two major areas of planning include cost and scheduling. Here are a few suggestions to help manage those challenges effectively.


Everybody is concerned about costs, except perhaps rock stars and celebrities. But hey, they don’t build their own cars anyway. For everyone else, supplying enough cash to complete, or even begin, a hot rod project requires creativity and resourcefulness.

An easy way to get a handle on the cost of your next hot rod upgrade is the lowly spreadsheet. Sit down and lay out all the things you want to do with your project in good old Excel or an online spreadsheet program.

Want to swap in a new carburetor? No problem. You’ll obviously need a new carb. You’ll also need the gasket that goes between the carb and the intake manifold. How about the new fuel filter? Will you need to re-plumb for larger fuel lines? Don’t forget the new K&N air filter. The list could go on and on.

List everything in the spreadsheet. You can then easily estimate the cost of each component and put those numbers in their own column. Next time you’re at the parts store, price out your parts and put them in an “actual price” column. You might include a column for sales tax. You get the idea.

As you add more parts (and you might include services too) to the list and prices, you’ll start to get a great idea of how much any given modification might cost.

Now take it to the next level. Imagine all the parts needed for an engine swap. It’s a wonder anybody can afford to do them, when you break it down into hard numbers. How many partially completed hot rodding projects are collecting dust in somebody’s garage. Chances are, they didn’t anticipate and plan for the costs. If you are doing your first swap, tracking all the parts will make your next swap ten times easier. You’ll be able to estimate what parts are needed and effectively plan out how you’ll pay for them.


Scheduling should go through a similar exercise.

List all the tasks needed for your project on another page of the spreadsheet. Next, estimate how long it will take to complete the task. You could use hours, days, or whatever. Then, use a column to assign a start time/date. Use another column for end time/date.

Look back over the cost spreadsheet to joggle your mind on your tasks. For example, if you see “carb” on the cost spreadsheet, put an entry on the schedule page to “buy carb”. How long will it take and when will you do that? Add that information to the schedule.

As tasks are added (and possibly additional parts), the picture of the tasks required will materialize, as well as, their order and duration.

A spreadsheet also makes it easy to put your tasks in order. Shuffle them up and down in the list to optimize your time. The correct order will become very obvious. You certainly shouldn’t try to install the new crankshaft, after bolting the engine into position. Goofy example, although I’m sure readers get the point.


A nice neat spreadsheet makes it easy to do “what if” scenarios, as well. Collect or guess at your target time frames (and costs) and see if they make sense. Does your build schedule line up with obligations for the upcoming Christmas holidays? Do you have to allow for mail order parts delivery? Will mounting the new carb really take less than 15 minutes? Right…

Lots of people go with the flow and are in no hurry to get their project completed. That’s OK. It’s part of the fun of prototyping and experimenting with hot rods, especially if you are just starting into the field.

On the other hand, laying everything out in a well organized and regularly updated spreadsheet, will certainly help you gather your thoughts and streamline your build process.


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