Buying your next, or first, Chevy project car is both exciting and headache-inducing. The headache comes from having to sift through so many rocks in the effort to find the gem that will eventually become your dream car. This task is made even more difficult when you add in that you only have so much cash in your wallet. It's the "champagne taste on a beer budget" scenario. And with the escalating prices of older Chevy muscle, your dollar just doesn't go as far as it used to. But if you dig around and are open to different models, you can still get into a cool starter car for a reasonable amount of cash.
The big question is, "What is a reasonable amount of money to spend on a new project car?" For each hot rodder, the answer will be different. For this story, we decided on a budget of $10K or less. I remember buying completely done cars for $10K, but that was then, and today it's almost the opening bid to get moving on a car. With ten grand in your pocket, you won't be scooping up a '57 Bel Air or a clean '69 RS Camaro, but there are lots of Bow Tie-wearing rides out there that fall nicely into that price range. Buy a less popular nameplate or a rougher example and you'll have some change leftover from that cash in your wallet to start fixing up your new project.
The key is to look hard in a variety of places. Sometimes you'll stumble on a car while driving down the street. Other times you may need to hit your local swap meet. While we may not have flying cars and personal jet packs here in 2008, we do have the Internet, and it's a great tool for finding just the right car that you can afford. By looking in a variety of places and being open to a variety of models, chances are you will find a Chevy that will have you grinnin' from gear to gear.
With an imaginary $10,000 in our pocket, we went down to the monthly Pomona Swap Meet to see what we could afford. The first car we stumbled across was this very nice '68 Chevelle. The paint was good, the interior was clean, and it had your basic run-of-the-mill small-block under the hood. The price had just been dropped from a budget-busting $10.5K to $9,500. This wouldn't leave us with much for fixing her up, but it was a pretty clean car to begin with.
Besides your local car swap meet, the Internet is another great place to find cars. Instead of the few cars within driving distance, the Net opens up cars all across the country. In some cases you might even find a treasure in your own backyard. Senior editor Nick Licata had been searching high and low for a second-gen Camaro project car when he found this '70 on pro-touring.com. The car was in pretty good shape and had a nice interior, but the engine had a bad rod knock. He was able to nab the Camaro for $7,500. With our fictional $10K budget, that would leave $2,500 to fix the engine. No problem; in fact, there would probably be enough leftover to ditch the outdated painted bumpers.
This '68 Camaro was parked right next to the Nova and shows how being flexible on which model Chevy you want can make a big difference. With the exception of the new tires, the Camaro looked like it was just dragged out of a field, and it still cost $2,000 more than the super-sano Nova next to it. First-gen Camaros will always bring a premium price, so if you're on a tight budget, you might want to consider thinking outside the box.
Maybe you're looking for a Chevy for the track? If so, then this '91 Camaro 1LE Z28 is just the ticket. It had a long list of modifications, including a new 330hp GM crate engine, rebuilt T5 tranny, limited-slip Borg-Warner differential, new four-wheel disc brakes, and that was just a part of the list. It was set up for SCCA racing and had all the safety gear, like a six-point cage and a Halon fire suppression system. The asking price was $10K, and you could take it to the track tomorrow and have a blast. One thing's for sure: You couldn't build the car yourself for that price. Best of all, it's still street legal.