With so many cool body styles to choose from, ease of modification, and unparalleled performance, driving a high-performance Chevy is a blast. But as the most covetous of these cars are approaching the pricing stratosphere, what's a hot rodder to do? Be different. That's what hot rodding is all about. Find one of the Chevys that the market has not yet zeroed in on and build it yourself. Yes, with the right car, a little labor, and some cool performance parts you can transform an overlooked '70s or '80s car into a hot ride for far less dough.
We've compiled a list of some of the Chevys we feel are currently under-priced but offer returns far in excess of what they're actually worth. The list is full of affordable later-model cars you can probably find near your home. Most of them will accept a wide array of performance engines and transmissions. We've done the research. The majority can be yours for $2,500-$5,000. Sure, you may find pristine examples for more dough, but for those looking for a bargain there's lots to be excited about.
The specific modelswe'll show are:
* Second- and Third-Gen Camaro
* Mid-'90s Camaro
* '78-88 A- and G-body
* '94-96 Caprice/Impala
* '68-74 Nova
* '75-79 Nova
* Early-'70s Malibu
* '82-92 S-10 Pickup
Where to get 'em
Local papers that include a photo or online services listing cars in your area are good sources. It's generally best to be able to look at the car yourself before plunking down your hard-earned money. Don't pay too much, either, if the seller believes his car is worth close to a high-priced musclecar of the same or similar body style. For example, don't pay a Z28 price for an ordinary Camaro. On the other hand, stay away from super low-priced cars that need everything. Often you'll end up money and time ahead by spending more money up front and forgoing a lifelong career rebuilding junk that once was a car.Another very popular source is eBay Motors (www.motors.ebay.com). As the largest source of used cars on the planet, eBay also offers a variety of services to help you buy the car you want. These include on-site vehicle inspection reports that disclose the general condition of the car without your actually seeing it.
The eBay site also provides the market-selling price of a particular car nationwide. Unlike the old published pricing standards that may have little or no actual record of the selling price of the particular car you're interested in buying, on eBay you can actually see how much a certain model has recently sold for and how many people bid on the vehicle. Just enter the year and type that interests you on the eBay site search box and then check the Completed Listings box within the last five days (shown down on the left). We tested this feature with a '77 Camaro and found most prices ranging from $2,000 to $6,000 (at the time of this writing).
Another way to find great cars is to ask about ones not offered for sale. Maybe the owner has been contemplating selling the car, but just hasn't gotten around to it yet. Look around your neighborhood; ask friends, relatives, your mailman. You may be surprised to find that the lady next door to your aunt has had a mint-condition '71 Nova two-door that hasn't run since 1990 and is just taking up space in her garage.
Once you've decided on a model, consider being flexible on some of the equipment and colors. For example, you may want an overdrive automatic, but the car you've found has a three-speed automatic. The overdrive trans can be added later. If you plan on painting the car anyway, you may overlook the exterior color as long as the interior is the color you want. On some other equipment, though, hold your ground, especially on a six-cylinder versus a V-8 engine on later-model cars. This is because most late-model cars (computer controlled) incorporate extensive underhood wiring, cooling systems, and emissions control infrastructure specific to the original engine. Secondly, if the vehicle must be emission-control tested, a switch from a six- to an eight-cylinder will raise a big red flag when it's time to have an emissions test. On the other hand, if you have simply replaced a 305 with a 350, most emission- control test centers will not notice, providing you've completed the install to match the original appearance and function and/or have chosen certified aftermarket parts with the proper labels. An engine transplant on a pre-computer-controlled (or emission tested) model is generally not much of a problem.
With a little homework and effort, you can find a great car at a good price that you'll be able to transform into a boulevard stormer. Be honest with yourself. Buy a car that matches your abilities, budget, and schedule. Building a good car requires all these things.
Check and Compare
Be sure that...
.the car has a clear title
.the car doesn't have a salvage title
.the VIN on the title matches the car's VIN (on the dash in front of the driver)
.the car can be re-registered in its current condition
.your insurance company will insure the car
.you put the car on a lift and inspect the undercarriage for hard damage
.you inspect the front tires for unusual wear
.you check for excessive rust in the trunk, around the bottoms of the doors, under the carpeting, and the windshield
.you check for wet or mildewed carpeting
.all of the windows roll up and down
.you have the car inspected by a third party if you can't be there
.the car sits reasonably level on even ground