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Top American project cars that won’t break the bank


When most people hear the words “project car,” they probably envision a vehicle that’s unsalvageable, one that will require a lot of time and money to get it road worthy again.

But where others only see rust and despair, gearheads perceive a beat-up car as a blank canvas where they can exercise their creative freedom. The only problem, though, is that the most desirable project cars cost more than the average do-it-yourselfer can afford.

However, who says you need to show up to the local car cruise in a first-generation Mustang, Camaro or Hemi ‘Cuda?

If you know where to look – and don’t mind the automotive styling of the 1980s – you can easily find a cool, drivable project for less than a few thousand dollars.

1979-93 Fox Body Mustang

It’s true, the 80s aren’t fondly remembered as the decade of performance, mainly because auto manufacturers were putting gas mileage ahead of muscle.

And even though their horsepower rating may seem weak by today’s standards, the Fox Body Mustang’s signature 5.0 L V8 produced 300-ft-lbs. of torque in a relatively light car.

In other words, these things were fast – and a crowd favorite. They’re a dime a dozen, but a late 80s LX or GT model can be bought off Craigslist or eBay for around $5,000. Add some aftermarket performance upgrades, which are produced by dozens of online retailers, and you got yourself one mean street machine.

1980s Turbo Chryslers

In response to the oil crisis, turbocharging was all the rage in the early 80s. And while some brands dabbled in forced-induction, the Chrysler Corporation took things to a whole new level by producing 20 turbocharged models powered by either a 2.2 or 2.5 L four cylinder during a 10-year period.

These vehicles, which ranged from the Chrysler LeBaron GTS and GTC to the Dodge Daytona and Omni, look like any other boxy car from the outside.

But under the hood is a completely different story, chiefly because Carol Shelby, of the Shelby Mustang fame, was brought on board to modify existing models for speed.

While they’re inexpensive and typically only range in price from $2-4,000, turbo Chryslers from this era can sometimes be difficult to find in decent shape.

1982-87 Olds Cutlass

The General Motors G-body may best be known for giving the world the Buick Grand National and GNX, the quintessential 1980s muscle car. But unless you have an extra $20,000 lying around, this isn’t the most affordable project car.

However, for the next best thing, opt for the Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme.

Sure, they’re not as aggressive looking as the Grand National and don’t have that signature turbocharged V6 that could hit 0-60 in 5.4 seconds.

But the two cars are based on the same platform, along with a half dozen other GM models, so parts are interchangeable.

Want to swap a GNX turbo into your Cutlass? No problem.

And the engine bay is also large enough to fit an LS engine if that’s more your type.

While a good condition Cutlass with under 100,000 miles can usually be found for about $4,000, it’ll cost a lot more if you want the rarer Hurst/Olds 442 edition.

If you have a project car that could use bodywork or a new paint job, give Andy’s Auto in Bridgeville a call at 412-478-9304. We can get your ride back to show-worthy condition.


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