PHR photographer, Robert McGaffin, is about to embark on his first project car adventure. My advice to him is the same as for everybody else doing their first car.
For the past few months, Robert McGaffin has been on the hunt for his first project car, which he finally bought last month. It’s a ’65 Olds Cutlass that seems to have a lot of potential. Having nursed my share of project cars to completion over the years, I had some advice for Robert that has served me well when I’ve followed it, and bit me hard when I haven’t.
For starters, pick a car you can afford to finish. If you want a Hemi ‘Cuda, but can’t even afford the cowl tag for one, don’t go out and buy a rusty hulk. Choose something that looks similar—like a 318-powered car. Like a lot of guys, Robert wanted a Chevelle SS, but the Olds A-body cost a lot less, and he got a much nicer car for the money.
Pick a car that has good support in the aftermarket community. Unless you buy a creampuff, that AMX might not be the best deal. Robert got the ’65 Olds, which is well represented in the aftermarket. It can take all the suspension and chassis pieces from any ’64 – 72 Chevelle, making it a great choice.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew. You might have good intentions with a space-age chassis, fuel injection, electronic engine management, paddle shifters, 20-inch wheels, and enough billet to start your own space program, but keep it simple for your first build. Don’t underestimate the benefit of simple things like carburetors, HEI ignitions, clutch fans, mechanical fuel pumps, and standard steering boxes.
Don’t stray too far from your existing skill set, and experiment in new areas that won’t cost you a fortune to undo. Wanna try some welding or some body work? Start with something small, and work your way up.
When in doubt, stick with the OEM part. It sounds crazy and counter-intuitive, but stock stuff works, and it’s either free (you already have it), or cheap (‘cause you got it on eBay). If it breaks, you can always upgrade later and spend the money then. GM, Ford and Chrysler spent immense resources to make sure the stock parts worked, and would survive the warranty period.
Follow this advice, and you’ll get maximum enjoyment from your car. You’ll drive it sooner, you’ll drive it more often, and the upgrades will be within your mechanical grasp.