Choosing a project car is not an easy task. There’s a lot to consider, like budget, build goals, how easy it is to find parts, and the rarity of the car, to start with. Additionally, budding project car owners will have to decide if they’re willing to take on most of the work at home or rely on a shop to do most of the heavy lifting for them.
Now, relying on a store is always going to be the most expensive option, and there are plenty of owners out there who wouldn’t want someone else touching their pride and joy anyway. So the only option is to build a house, but that comes with its own set of challenges. A good candidate for home building must be easy to work with, have a thriving aftermarket, and be affordable to buy in the first place. Plus, it has to look cool in the end. These ten cars tick all of those boxes, and there’s enough variety here for almost any type of project car builder.
ten BMW M3 E46
The E36 and E46 are the two cheapest ways to own an M3 right now, and are a great choice for a project. However, the E46 is a particularly attractive option, as it’s the newer of the two, so finding a decent example won’t be as difficult.
E46s come with plenty of power when in stock, but are easy to upgrade with the wealth of aftermarket parts available. They are currently a favorite among the drifting community, but would work just as well as a stripped down track day toy or a slammed static.
9 Mini Cooper
Prices for classic Minis have skyrocketed over the past few years, so anyone looking to pick one up as a project car is going to need a big wallet. However, they have a unique and quirky character that other cheaper options simply cannot match.
A newer Mini is one of those cheaper options, but for the cool factor alone, we’d have to go for the classic style. They originally rose to prominence as world famous rally cars, but there are plenty of opportunities to turn them into retro track monsters as well.
They might come with more of a stereotype than most, but there’s no doubt that the Honda Civic is one of the most user-friendly cars around the house. An unparalleled supply of aftermarket parts along with large modding communities in the United States and abroad make the Civic an ideal starter project.
It has the advantage of being a practical everyday driver, unless it is immediately knocked to the ground by its new owner. Even though it’s in static form, the Civic is still one of the easiest cars to modify, and if done right, it can also look undeniably cool.
7 Ford Bronco
Modifying a car isn’t just about street builds or race cars scraping the ground, because an offroad or land build can be just as cool and open up a whole new world of adventure. For a classic SUV that’s easy to work on, it’s hard to go wrong with a Bronco.
Since the launch of the new Bronco, prices for older cars have risen a lot, but more high-mileage examples should still be within reach for many buyers. It’s a bit more unique than, say, a Jeep Wrangler, but a Bronco still has that boxy retro look that makes it perfect for a modified off-road build.
6 VW Beetle
The Beetle, or Bug as it’s sometimes called, is one of the best-selling cars of all time, so finding a used example should be as easy as pie. The last Beetle rolled off the production line in Mexico in 2003, but there are still plenty of them in active service around the world and as a result there are plenty of parts available.
Their enduring popularity has meant there’s plenty of inspiration for nearly every type of build, from a beachside static to an off-road buggy. There’s very little you can’t tweak with a Beetle, making it one of the most versatile rigs out there.
5 BMW 3 Series E30
If an M3 seems a little overpriced, there’s always the option of a regular 3 Series. The E30 generation of the car is a perfect candidate, as it has that iconic retro look, but in non-M form it’s still quite affordable to buy.
There’s such a good aftermarket available that once a full body kit has been fitted most people won’t be able to tell a regular E30 from an E30 M3 anyway. Since these M3s are way out of budget for most buyers, a regular 3 Series is pretty much the only affordable option.
4 Lexus LS400
They’re still a relatively left-leaning choice compared to some other JDM cars of the era, but a Lexus LS400 ticks all the right boxes for a very reasonable price. Fans of the big-bodied Japanese sedan look will find exactly what they’re looking for, and there’s a V8 ready for upgrades under the hood.
Adding stance seems like the obvious choice here, especially as the car’s large proportions mean it doesn’t lend itself well to more sporting pursuits like track racing. Tinker enough with that V8, however, and the LS400 could make for a very impressive street-racing sleeper build.
One of America’s favorite cars, the Ford Mustang is just about the easiest performance car to buy used in the United States. Any era of Mustang is ripe for customization, but Foxbody cars are currently at a sweet spot in terms of price versus build options.
Parts are usually as easy to find as a Toyota Prius, except you’ll actually have fun driving the Mustang. Just try not to ride it in the crowd ’cause, you know, the stereotype is bad enough.
2 Subaru WRX
Another favorite among young first-time project car owners, the Subaru WRX is both tough and easy to work with. It offers a higher level of off-road ability than most of its competitors, but it’s still a great candidate for slamming too.
Whether it’s a rally monster or a floor-scratching static, a WRX is an affordable and easy way to enter the world of modification. Just like the Civic, it’s hard to make the Subaru stand out, but if done right, it can look as cool as anything at a car show.
1 Mazda MX-5 Miata
JDM fans who want an easy-to-use car at home can opt for a number of options, but the most common choice is a Miata. The lowest used prices ensure that almost anyone can buy a Miata for peanuts and then modify it with any number of spare parts.
Whether they opt for a high-end bespoke kit or simply buy a widebody kit off eBay, there are so many options that almost every type of project car builder will be covered. Stance, drift, track or street, whatever an owner wants to do with their build, with a Miata they will be able to do it.
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