A long, long time ago when Matt was 16 he bought his first project car- a classic mini in British racing green. It cost him £1200 and, as he quickly discovered, was made from 90% expanding foam and newspaper.
When it rained water sprayed in from every angle. Matt had to carefully avoid puddles and was once followed home by the police for suspected drunk driving (a breathalyser test quickly revealed that, in fact, his car was just shit).
Then, a few years later, when I was 18 we bought our first VW Bay Window Campervan. It came with no interior, the roof leaked and, as it turned out, the air-cooled engine had a massive crack down the middle of it- which explained the oil leak that refused to stop. (Quite terrifyingly, we reluctantly sold that engine to a very eager buyer who planned to do a welding repair on it. Never did hear how that turned out- I wish him well.)
So Matt put a TDI engine and 6 speed gearbox in the campervan, which was pretty cool but not quite perfect, so we took it off the road about two years ago determined to give it the full, no expense spared resto we felt it deserved as the van we knew we wanted to keep forever.
Annnnd with all the other stuff we've had going on with the business it's been left like this:
So as you can see, our first project cars were in many ways complete disasters. But do we regret any of it? Not really. We've learned loads from the experience and owning a VW campervan led us to meet some of our now closest friends.
Everyone has to start somewhere. Hopefully you have/will start somewhere a lot better than we did!
But one of the reasons we started this blog and our workshop was to help people avoid some of the mistakes we made with cars in our early days of restoring and working on them.
So here's our pick of the best 5 cars that we think would make a great first project.
CLASSIC VOLKSWAGEN BEETLE
When we set up the workshop I bought a 72 Beetle to restore- my first ever real project car. I'd be lying if I said the progress had been good but that's (hopefully!) going to change this summer.
Beetles make great first project cars because they're so adaptable. People sometimes compare them to Go-Karts because everything easily unbolts, including the shell (unless some idiot has welded it to the floor pan.) Admittedly, with so many of them still around, they're not the most original car you could go for but at least parts are still pretty easy to come by and not too expensive either.
MAZDA MX5 MKI
If you want a sports car with a reasonable price tag as your first project this one's for you. Small and simple to work on, the Mazda MX5 has a good market for parts and when you need some advice there's a thriving and enthusiastic online community out there.
These little rear wheel drives are really fun to drive and as with most Japanese cars they have really reliable engines too.
This is another project car that Matt had as a teenager (yeah, back before everyone else thought they were cool).
Besides looking awesome and being a fun drive, one of the great things about the MKII is that, unlike the MKI, they have a subframe. Running a subframe makes a car much easier to work on and with the MKII a lot of great MKIII features will bolt straight on- like power-steering. So you'd get the convenience of a modern car and coolness of a classic without too much hassle.
Like most classic VWs these cars (and their parts) are shooting up in value at the moment so if you want one now is the time to make a move.
PEUGEOT 106 RALLYE
Perhaps one of the only cool French cars these are getting quite rare, especially in their original condition.
The Peugeot Rallye is stripped down and basic which we think, rather than being a detriment, gives the car it's own special edge. Great if you want something you can just get in and drive without all the bells and whistles.
Another quick little car that's fun to drive (yes, they are all fun to drive) and will definitely stand out in a crowd now.
As Matt's first project car this had to make the list.
The mini is probably the most iconic car on our list as one of the first cars to have a front engine and front-wheel drive.
Classic Minis make a great first project car thanks to the cheapness and availability of parts. It's still possible to buy a full new shell for one of these bad boys. Ok, it will set you back about 7K, but you'll never be stuck in a situation needing parts.
Did We Miss Something?
What do you think of our picks? Are you looking for a first project car right now? Or do you want to share your own first project car experience? Let us know in the comments.
For some more advice on buying a first project car check out The Do's and Don'ts of Buying a Car. Or how about some car resto tips? Check out the Car DIY section of the blog to see if we've got what you need. To help you on your restoration journey have a quick read of 5 Tools to Transform your (Car Related) Life.
See you next time!
Our blog delivers brutally honest advice for the “rotbox” in your life with the aim of raising the standard of car projects everywhere.
Practical, direct, actionable ideas and zero bull.
Here at Rotbox Rustorations we do proper vehicle welding, repairing and modifying- the way it should be done. Since 2014 we’ve been committed to providing decent work at a decent price from our North Yorkshire based workshop. Our customers appreciate our frank and honest attitude- explaining things exactly as they are without the jargon or condescension.
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