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.
Remember when we told you smoking hot deals were still out there? Well, Tyler Beuregard of American Touring Specialties decided to help us prove this point. As Tyler told Super Chevy, "I found this car on the Orange County Craigslist. It had a horrible description, no pictures, and no phone number. The price was listed at $9,500. I finally got a response from the seller via e-mail a few days later and requested some pictures. Because I get so many e-mails, I didn't even notice that he sent me a link to some photo-hosting page where you need to create an account and log in to view someone's album. I finally tracked down his car domain page, and the images I saw were amazing. The car ran, had nearly flawless bodywork and gaps, and we got it for only $8,500." The very straight rust-free first-gen ran so well that they drove it the 300 miles back to Vegas.
What's the difference between a two-door and four-door '72 Chevelle? Well, besides the extra doors, the answer would be a lot of cash. The asking price for this 61K original-mile Chevelle was a paltry $3,000, which we bet was very negotiable. With over $7,000 to spend, we're thinking we could build a hell of a Rat-powered sleeper out of it.
On the rugged end of the spectrum was this '67 Camaro. Sure, it was "only" 1,800 bucks, but it was a mess, and we doubt our remaining $8,200 would have even gotten it to the roller stage. Don't be so desperate for a bargain that you end up biting off more than you can chew. The key is to buy right, not necessarily low. By the way, we think those fender vents are going to be the next big thing. Not!
Outside of the box is something like this '72 Monte Carlo. At $8,000, it was much cheaper than a basketcase Camaro and in much better shape. The 350 had recently been rebuilt, and the paint was nearly perfect, as was the interior. A new set of wheels and a change of stance would make this one nice ride.
We thought this '70 Nova was the buy of the swap meet. The grandma-fresh Nova had a mere 47,000 miles on the odometer and was squeaky clean inside and out. At only $6,900, we would even have had enough cash to swap a V-8 in place of its factory straight-six. Did we mention it was a one-owner car? Deals are still out there if you look hard enough.
Thanks to eBay Motors, we found this numbers-matching, rust-free '66 Chevelle in New Mexico. The seller says the 327 small-block and Powerglide trans both work well and the car is "all there" and drives great. At $9,500, it fits our budget and was one of only a few sub-10K early Chevelles we found. If it weren't for the Internet, we'd have never found this one. Just remember to be careful buying online since cars always look better in pictures and the seller's "perfect 10" might only be a six on your scale.
Non-auction sites like Collector Car Trader Online are a good place to shop when you don't want to deal with the uncertainty and quick pace of an auction site like eBay. You can type in the model of car you're interested in, how far you're willing to travel, and the price you're willing to pay-instant gratification at its best. This '65 Nova SS had new paint and was pretty clean for $10K, but it was only one of many on the site that fit within our budget.
Getting Your New Ride Home
It's a big country, and chances are good that the ride you buy online isn't going to be local. This means you need to get it home from wherever it currently is. If you buy from a dealer, they generally have some recommendations in regard to transport. If you're buying from a private party, then you're on your own. Unless the car is local, your main choices are the following:
1.Drive to the car and bring it home on a trailer
2. Fly to where the car is and drive it home
3. Hire a professional transport company to bring the car to you
The option you choose will depend on how far away your new purchase is, your budget, and the condition of the car you bought. The further away it is, the less feasible it is to do it yourself. Hiring a trucking company may seem expensive at first, but once you figure the expenses to go get it and the time it would take, the price ends up being quite reasonable. A typical 2,000-mile roundtrip to get a car yourself will cost you around $600 in fuel alone. Add in a hotel stay, meals, and your time, and it's an expensive date.
When hiring a transport company, you'll need to decide if you want an enclosed or open trailer. Enclosed is the most expensive, but it also provides the most protection for your new ride. If it's clean when it leaves, it'll arrive to you in the same condition. Open transport can cost 50 percent of what an enclosed one would run you, but your car is open to the elements during its trip. What you choose depends on how protected you want your car. Open trailers typically chain down the vehicles, while an enclosed trailer uses soft straps. This is especially important on cars that are already nice. Both types of carriers will also have an additional charge if the vehicle doesn't run and has to be pushed or pulled onto the trailer.
Once you decide on open or closed, you'll need to find the right company, and there are many to choose from. You want someone who's been doing this for a while and is fully insured and bonded. Have them prove their insurance and ask them for referrals from other customers. Most of the larger companies have Web sites where you can check out their rigs and get an idea of how they do business. According to Dave Wilson, president of Intercity Lines, you should be wary of brokers. As Dave told us, "There are so many brokers in this business. If something bad happens, you are left stuck in the middle. If they ask for a deposit, then you're dealing with a broker, and there's no telling who they will hire to transport your property."
If your car is damaged in transit, a broker has almost no liability, and you're left to deal with the carrier he hired. It can become a mess. According to Dave, you want to deal direct with a company that owns their own trucks. He also says that unless you are transporting between countries, insurance is more important than being bonded. Dave recommends that the carrier have at least a million dollars in coverage for a larger trailer. This way you will be covered if the unthinkable happens. Intercity has been doing this for 25 years, and all its trucks are GPS-tracked so you know right where you shipment is. Several companies offer this service, and it's nice to always know where your new pride and joy is on its journey.
There are several other things to look at when choosing a transport company. Does the company return your calls quickly? Do you get a human voice when you call? Have they been in business a long time? The answers to these questions will let you know if you'll be getting good service overall. No matter how you get your ride home, don't forget to factor the costs into what you're paying for the car. You don't want to come up short of funds, because that would be a real buzzkill. -Steven Rupp
A Few Good Web sites For Finding Your Dream Car