So you’re on the lookout for a project car, then. Exciting times, for sure – but knowing where to start out, and deciding on what sort of car you’d like to build, can be a bit of a minefield.
Do you want something that’ll be great fun on a weekend track day, or are you after something that’ll look the part on the road once you’ve made a few cosmetic modifications? Maybe you want to build a go-anywhere off-roader – when it comes to project cars, the sky really is the limit.
Of course, there are plenty of things to consider. If you’re a beginner, arguably the most important considerations are budget, the availability of upgrade parts, and whether or not a car is easy to work on in the first place. Whatever your ultimate goal might be, the below article outlines 10 of the best project cars for enthusiasts.
10 good project cars are:
- Mazda MX-5
- Lexus IS300
- BMW 3 Series (E36)
- Toyota GT86
- Ford Fiesta ST
- Honda S2000
- Land Rover Discovery
- Toyota Celica
- Nissan 350Z
- Toyota Hilux
1. Mazda MX-5
The Mazda MX-5 has been around for donkey’s years now, but in all of that time one thing has remained constant: these little convertible sports cars are fantastic fun to drive thanks to its lack of weight, excellent manual gearbox and the fact that it’s rear-wheel drive. That said, they’ve not always been the most powerful sports car you could buy.
Still, early examples are readily available on the used market for not much money, as are a wide range of parts that can help you to eke out a bit more performance (think turbochargers, superchargers – that sort of thing). You can also easily upgrade its suspension to sharpen the handling, and better brakes and tyres are another quick win to help make your MX-5 even better in the corners.
2. Lexus IS 300
You may have a bit of a hard time finding a ‘clean’ example of a Lexus IS from the early 2000s, largely because they are so exceptionally popular amongst modders. With rear-wheel drive, decent performance and the availability of a manual gearbox, they make for excellent budget track or drift cars.
You’ll find no shortage of information online as to what the best approach to modifying your Lexus IS will be, and their popularity means there’s a wide range of parts available. You can pick one up for not much cash too, but just be aware of the fact that many will have been project cars in the past – so you might have your work cut out for you getting it up to scratch. That’s no bad thing if you like a challenge, though.
3. BMW 3 Series (E36)
The BMW 3 Series is another excellent choice for a project car – particularly if you go for one of the traditionally more unloved models such as the E36. They can be bought for relatively little cash, and with thanks to their rear-wheel-drive layout they make for excellent budget track cars.
There are a wide range of parts available that you’ll be able to fit yourself with a bit of work to improve your car’s handling and performance (think uprated suspension, brakes, ECU remaps and exhaust kits). And if you get stuck, their popularity as project cars means there’s a wealth of information online to help you out.
4. Toyota GT86/Subaru BRZ
While these cars might be a bit more expensive to buy used than other cars on this list, they’re popular project cars that have plenty of modification parts available. Suspension and tyre upgrades are a good starting point that you can probably fit yourself, and if more power is what you’re after there’s a range of turbocharger and supercharger kits available too – though you might want a professional to fit these.
5. Ford Fiesta ST
The previous-generation Ford Fiesta ST is one of the all-time great hot hatchbacks: it’s quick, handles brilliantly and looks the part too. But if you want to sharpen it up even further, there are loads of upgrade options to choose from.
Tuners such as Mountune offer a huge range of Ford-backed parts for the Fiesta ST, with everything from ECU remaps, lowering kits, exhaust systems and uprated brakes available. They’re not terribly expensive to buy used, either, which is always a good thing for a first project car.
6. Honda S2000
The Honda S2000 is a sports car icon from the 2000s. It looks fantastic, has an incredible, high-revving naturally-aspirated engine that packs an impressive punch, and it handles brilliantly too.
Owing to this car’s popularity on the tuner scene, there’s a wide range of bolt-on parts available that you should be able to easily install to give your S2000 a bit more edge. That popularity is a bit of a double-edged sword though – even though the S2000 went out of production in 2009, they continue to hold their value pretty well, so will be a bit pricier to buy.
7. Land Rover Discovery
Who says project cars have to limited to track-focused builds? Perhaps you want to create a go-anywhere off-roader that you can take adventuring. If so, an early Land Rover Discovery 1 or 2 might be a good shout.
Even the base cars are accomplished off-roaders in their own right, and they can be bought for relatively little money these days. They also don’t have quite as much hype surrounding them as early Land Rover Defenders do. Lights, snorkels, tyres, underbody protection – loads of off-road mods are available for these cars, and many for not much money, either.
8. Toyota Celica
While the seventh-generation Toyota Celica might not be the prettiest car to wear this famous badge, it was still an excellent front-wheel drive sports car when it was released in 1999. This solid foundation allowed it to become popular on the project car scene too, and even today there are still a wide range of upgrade parts readily available to help turn this car into a fun track-day weapon.
Owing to their age, you won’t have to break the bank to pick one up either. And as with any popular project car, there is a wealth of information online to help point you in the right direction when it comes to selecting the modifications that you want to make.
9. Nissan 350Z
With a powerful six-cylinder engine, rear-wheel drive and handsome looks, it’s no wonder the Nissan 350Z has become a bit of an icon on the project car scene since its launch in the early 2000s.
Today, these excellent sports cars can be picked up for relatively little money, and make for fantastic drift and track project cars. There is an exceptionally wide range of upgrade parts available – many of which you should be able to fit yourself – and as with any popular project car, you’ll find no shortage of helpful information online detailing the sorts of changes you should be looking to make.
10. Toyota Hilux
Although it might be better known as a work vehicle, the Toyota Hilux is still an incredible off-roader. Being a Toyota, they’re famously bullet-proof when it comes to reliability too. Early examples are now becoming quite collectable, but the seventh-generation models built in the mid-2000s can still be had for a good price.
If you want to build a tough, go-anywhere off-roader on a budget, this model of Hilux is a pretty great place to start. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you could even fit the flatbed out for sleeping in, too.
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